Monday, May 12, 2008

Updating the Former Tigers

Due to my love for the Atlanta Braves, I've had a chance to follow Jair Jurrjens pretty closely this season. As I'm also a huge Detroit Tigers fan, it's been interesting to compare his performance to that of Edgar Renteria. Admittedly, it's early in the year and we should never make too much of one month's stats, but I'd like to look at some former Tigers and their performance thus far in 2008.

Note: (I'm only examining the players we let go or traded away since the end of last season)

The Atlanta Trade
Jair Jurrjens (4-3, 3.10 ERA, 41 K, 17 BB, .202 BAA)
--- Jurrjens has acquitted himself quite nicely in Atlanta's rotation. In fact, with Smoltz, Hampton, and Glavine all missing time with injuries, Jurrjens and Tim Hudson have been the lone constants. Today's start against Pittsburgh was the first time he failed to go six innings since April 2 and also broke a string of 5 consecutive quality starts. Only 22, Jurrjens may not have the upside of Miller or Verlander, but he is already a solid major league starter with the potential to be a #2 down the road.

Gorkys Hernandez (.309 avg, .378 obp, .568 slg, 5 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 5 SB, 6 BB, 14 K) 
--- Playing for the Braves' High-A affiliate, Hernandez is more than holding his own. Only 20 years old, Hernandez has displayed a newfound power stroke. After slugging just .391 last year, he already has the same amount of triples he did all of 2007. He's doing this in one of the toughest hitters' leagues in the minors as well. These stats are what gave Cameron Maybin the "can't miss" label a couple years ago. So far, it seems Atlanta has won this trade. While Renteria has performed adequately, Jurrjens has been a solid starter and Hernandez is developing his all-around game quickly. Plus, both players are 22 and under, while Renteria is 32.

The Florida Trade
Andrew Miller (3-2, 6.52 ERA, 29 K, 16 BB)
--- Miller struggled mightily to open the 2008 campaign. However, he has shown some promise in his last two outings. In those starts, he went 13 innings, had 11 Ks, 3 BBs, and allowed just 2 runs. Keep in mind, the two starts were against San Diego and Washington, but Miller had been awful in two previous starts against the Nationals. I think Miller was severely rushed to the majors, and could probably still use time at AAA. However, Florida has no other options at this point so Miller will continue to learn on the job. There's no doubt he has the fastball to get major league hitters. The question is whether he can harness his control and off-speed stuff to shut down the better teams in the league.
Mike Rabelo (.239/.284/.299, 1 HR, 14 K, 4 BB, 4/14 CS)
--- Hurt for the beginning of the year, Rabelo has yet to find his stroke at the plate. Really, he doesn't have much of a chance of improving on his 2007 numbers. Rabelo is nothing more than a backup catcher. However, all he needs to do to keep his spot in the majors is hit a homer every couple weeks or play solid defense. Simply doing that should keep around until his late 30s.

Cameron Maybin (.242/.373/.419, 5 HR, 3 2B, 2 3B, 6 SB, 51 K, 25 BB)
--- Playing for Florida's Double-A affiliate, Maybin hasn't produced as expected. I think last year's unnecessary 3-level jump to the majors sidetracked Maybin a bit. Back with his age group, Maybin is still just 21 years old. I love the on-base percentage; it seems he's walking a fair amount. But, I'm not sure what has happened to his extra-base power. It certainly is no cause for concern at his age, but it is a small step backward after 2007.

Burke Badenhop (1-2, 6.31 ERA, 21 K, 10 BB)
--- Mostly a throw-in to the deal, Badenhop surprisingly reached the majors before Maybin. Needing help in the rotation, Florida turned to the 25-year-old after one start in Double-A. He's been old for his league so far in his career, so there doesn't seem to be much potential here. But, he has been solid nonetheless in the minors, suggesting a future as a back-end starter. For now, he has already been shifted to the bullpen.

Eulogio De La Cruz (5-1, 5.40 ERA, 31 K, 18 BB, .314 BAA)
--- De La Cruz would seem to be the quintessential Quadruple-A player. He had a great year in AAA last year only to falter when he reached the majors. At AAA again this year, he has bounced back from a rough start to post 3 great outings in his last 5 starts. However, he still doesn't miss enough bats to be productive enough at the big league level. Remember, it is possible for a pitcher's control to be different than his command. Almost anyone can throw a pitch for a strike; it's the pitcher that can locate that pitch anywhere in the zone that succeeds. So far, De La Cruz hasn't shown that ability.

Dallas Trahern (0-3, 7.59 ERA, 15 K, 6 BB, 8 HR, .326 BAA)
--- The final piece of the trade, Trahern is also pitching for Florida's AAA squad. Trahern was decent for the Tigers' AA team in 2007, but the jump to AAA has been a struggle thus far. As you can see, the homeruns have been a killer for Trahern. He gave up 12 all of last year. One reason may be his home park as Albuquerque is a hitter's haven. But, he had problems in his road start as well. He may be injured or he may just not have the stuff to succeed at the higher level. A few more months should tell the real story.
Omar Infante (4-13)
--- Infante was just recently activated off the DL by the Braves. There's no real point in analyzing his 4 games worth of stats. The only thing I can say for sure is that I like him much better than Ramon Santiago. Infante's versatility and offensive ability trump Santiago's defense in my opinion. However, Leyland never took a liking to Infante for whatever reason. As a Braves fan, I'm happy for his irrational favoritism.

Sean Casey (.346/.424/.462, 6 2B, 0 HR, 7 BB, 4 K)
---Another former Tiger who has spent time on the DL this season, Casey has produced wonderfully in his limited playing time for Boston. Bear in mind, that 45 of his 52 ABs have come against RH. Limiting him like this really ups his potential production. There's no way he'll keep up that stat line, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get his first .300 avg or .400 slg since 2005. There's no question he can be a solid bat off the bench. But, the Tigers were smart to let him walk rather than keep him as a starter. We had a superior bench player in Marcus Thames and cheaper help at AAA in Mike Hessman and Jeff Larish. 

Tim Byrdak (1-0, 8 games, 0.00 ERA, 2 K, 7 BB) 
--- A strange stat line isn't it? I was initially confused when the Tigers let Byrdak go, but given the performances of Seay and Rapada, my doubts have been quashed. If he continues to walk batters at this rate, there's no way he'll keep that ERA. In fact, five of the walks have come against RH, proving he can only be counted on to retire lefties. Let the Astros deal with the eventual breakdown.

Chad Durbin (0-1, 17 games, 1.50 ERA, 13 K, 12 BB) 
--- Durbin has been a pretty effective member of the Phillie bullpen. I like that Charlie Manuel has used Durbin for over a inning per, as Durbin's starting background shows, he has the repertoire to do so. Much like Byrdak, Durbin's lack of control may eventually doom him. Yet, for less than a million dollars, he's a great weapon to have as a long reliever or spot starter. 

All told, it seems the former Tigers are experiencing much success early in the season. The veterans are certainly faring better than the youngsters. But then, that was Detroit's plan. It could afford to give up the young guys because they didn't have the time for them to develop. Their window of opportunity is now; that's what makes the pitching implosion so difficult to watch. Plus, if the struggles continue, it could get ugly when Miller, Jurrjens, Maybin, and Hernandez become All-Stars. Let's hope that backlash doesn't happen, but for now, it seems more likely than not.

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