Showing posts with label Victor Martinez. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Victor Martinez. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tigers gamble on Justin Upton reversing their decline

Justin Upton
Both Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are better players than Chris Davis. So, after Davis got paid by the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, you just had a feeling that Cespedes and Upton would soon get their big paydays, as well.

Cespedes still is on the board as of Tuesday afternoon, but Upton agreed on a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Detroit Tigers on Monday.

Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBIs for the San Diego Padres last season, and he fills the hole the Tigers had in left field.

But does he make Detroit a legitimate contender? I knew the Tigers would make big splashes this offseason. They are coming off a last-place finish in the AL Central, and their owner, 86-year-old Mike Ilitch, has shown that he's willing to spend his millions on trying to build a winner sometime before he dies.

Here's one problem for the Tigers: Several members of their core (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez) are aging and coming off years where they've spent time on the disabled list, or played through injury issues.

Here's another problem for the Tigers: Despite an active offseason, they won't be entering 2016 with a better roster than the one they had 12 months ago.

Think about it: They have Jordan Zimmermann instead of David Price. They have Upton instead of Cespedes. They have Cameron Maybin instead of Rajai Davis. They have Francisco Rodriguez instead of Joakim Soria. The rest of their core is the same.

Which of these four would you rather have: Price, Cespedes, Davis and Soria? Or Zimmermann, Upton, Maybin and Rodriguez?

It's close, but I think I would take the group with Price and Cespedes. The Tigers had those guys last year, along with Cabrera, Martinez, Verlander, et al., but after an 11-2 start, they slumped badly. They were back to .500 by the first week of June and never got it going again. They struggled so much, in fact, that former GM Dave Dombrowski broke up the band, dealing Price, Cespedes and Soria to contending teams at the July trading deadline.

Dombrowski was ultimately fired for abandoning the win-now mentality that has existed for years under Ilitch. Normally, I'm a proponent of the win-now philosophy, but there's something to be said for a front office that realizes its window has closed. Dombrowski knew that last year, and he changed gears. Just because ownership dismissed him for that decision does not mean he was wrong.

Even with the addition of Upton, I'm looking at a Detroit roster that has significant question marks, and costs roughly $200 million. For that kind of money, a team should probably be a favorite to win its division. But to me, the Tigers (and everyone else in the AL Central) are still looking up at the Kansas City Royals, and frankly, they aren't as close to the top as they believe they are.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw win MVP awards

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout on Thursday was named the unanimous MVP of the American League.

The 23-year-old received all 30 first-place votes and finished with 420 points. Detroit's Victor Martinez took second with 229 points, while Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley placed third with 185 points.

Let me say this: I do not disagree with this vote. But what's funny about this is Trout didn't have as good a season in 2014 as he had in 2012 or 2013:

2012: .326/.399/.564, 30 HRs, 84 RBIs, 49 SBs
2013: .323/.432/.557, 27 HRs, 97 RBIs, 33 SBs
2014: .287/.377/.561, 36 HRs, 111 RBIs, 16 SBs

Sure, Trout's power numbers were up in 2014, but he also struck out a league-leading 184 times. The batting average, on-base percentage and stolen base totals, while good, took a noticeable dip. I feel like his best year was 2013, when he finished second in the MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera. Trout also finished second to Cabrera in 2012.

Frankly, Trout has been the best overall player in the American League for each of the past three years. What was different about this season that swung the vote in Trout's favor? For one, Cabrera regressed to the point where he was no longer the best hitter on his own team. (Martinez was.) And two, the Angels won a league-best 98 games and made the playoffs.

The Angels did not make the playoffs in either 2012 or 2013, and there is always that subset of voters that believes the MVP *must* come from a team that qualified for the postseason.

Again, Trout deserves the award. It's just funny that he finally received his recognition in his weakest season of the last three.

Clayton Kershaw wins NL MVP

It's been a good week for Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who won the NL Cy Young Award on Wednesday and the NL MVP on Thursday.

Kershaw went 21-3 with 1.77 ERA, a 0.857 WHIP and six complete games in 27 starts this year. There's no denying he's the best pitcher in the league. The debate surrounding him was whether a pitcher should win the MVP award over an everyday player.

Here's why I think it's OK for starting pitchers to win MVP:

Dodgers record with Kershaw on the mound: 24-3 (.852 winning percentage)
Dodgers record with all other pitchers: 71-64 (.526 winning percentage)

The Dodgers are a decent, but not great team when Kershaw doesn't pitch. But with him on the mound, they rarely lose. I'd say he's pretty valuable, and you can justify voting for him for MVP on that basis.

Eighteen voters agreed and named Kershaw first on their ballot. He totaled 355 points. Miami's Giancarlo Stanton got eight first-place votes and 298 points for second place. Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 winner, finished third with four first-place votes and 271 points.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Victor Martinez re-signs with Detroit Tigers

Designated hitter Victor Martinez has agreed to a four-year, $68 million contract to stay with the Detroit Tigers, according to AP sources.

Martinez, 35, is an American League MVP candidate after hitting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs for the 2014 Central Division champion Tigers. The switch-hitter missed the whole 2012 season with a knee injury, but aside from that, he's been a consistent offensive force for nearly a decade. He has hit over .300 in eight of his last nine seasons.

That said, the Tigers are taking a risk here with the length of this contract. Martinez will be 36 years old when the 2015 season begins. His batting average and home run total this past year were career bests, and he's unlikely to meet or exceed those numbers again. He will still be a productive middle-of-the-order presence even if he regresses to his career norms, but for how long will he be able to play at this same level? Nobody knows for sure.

White Sox fans who were hoping to see their team sign Martinez this offseason should not despair. Yes, the Sox need somebody who can swing the bat from the left side to put between Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia in the middle of the batting order, but I would caution against giving a four-year deal to a soon-to-be 36-year-old who doesn't do anything but DH.

It makes more sense for the Tigers to hand out this kind of contract, because they are in their window to win. In fact, they might be coming toward the end of that window. Injuries and Father Time seem to be taking their toll on both Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Max Scherzer and Torii Hunter are free agents this offseason. Who knows if they'll be back? If you're the Tigers, a team with an aging core, there has to be urgency to get things done right now. If Scherzer walks away, they are going to need their offense to carry them on a lot of nights, and Martinez was their best hitter last year. For them, he was a "must-keep," and the contract they handed out reflects that.

From a White Sox perspective, they are likely a year and potentially two away from returning to legitimate contention. If they had been able to add Martinez to their lineup, sure, they would be immediately better. But he wouldn't fix the problems with the pitching staff, and by the time the Sox are ready to win, Martinez would be 38 years old and likely in decline. Unless you're ready to win right now, it doesn't make much sense to add a designated hitter at the price of more than $16 million a year.

Just in general, I think it would behoove the Sox to seek younger players who can provide long-term solutions to the holes on the roster. Martinez, to me, is not one of those guys. Much like the Tigers as a team, he's coming toward the end of his window for success. In that regard, team and player are a perfect fit for each other.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A defense of Chris Sale in this whole 'sign-stealing' thing

White Sox ace Chris Sale is taking quite a bit of criticism for the way he handled himself during and after this whole sign-stealing, bench-clearing incident thing with Detroit designated hitter Victor Martinez on Wednesday.

The thing that amuses me most about the whole deal is the fact that few in Chicago have paid any attention to the Sox whatsoever over the past month or six weeks -- Bears obsession in this town runs deep -- but after this incident where Sale plunked Martinez and supposedly accused the Tigers of stealing signs, all the pundits have suddenly come out of the woodwork to comment on Sale's actions during Wednesday's 6-1 Detroit victory.

It's clear to me that most people did not watch this game. They were probably too busy discussing Jay Cutler's mechanics, or "breaking down" Sunday's matchup between the Bears and the Green Bay Packers. That's fine. That's where their bread is buttered, and I get that. But if you didn't see the game, let's not form our opinions based upon Sale's non-answers to the media after the game. Let's also not form our opinions based upon a few angry soundbites from Detroit manager Brad Ausmus. He's an even more biased observer than I am.

It seems that some folks have dismissed the accusations of sign-stealing as completely implausible. But something that happened in the third inning -- three innings before Sale nailed Martinez in his left shoulder with a fastball -- is enough to raise some eyebrows.

Martinez came to the plate with two on and two out in that third inning. Sale looked out toward the outfield a couple times early in the at-bat, and with the count at 2-1, catcher Tyler Flowers paid a visit to the mound. It's pretty clear what they discussed. On each of the next three pitches, Flowers set up on the inside corner, but Sale threw the ball outside.

On the 2-1 pitch, Martinez swung and missed a Sale fastball that was way off the plate. Martinez couldn't have hit that pitch with an oar. On the 2-2, Sale fired a backdoor slider that was just off the outside corner. Martinez swung and just got a piece of it, fouling it off to stay alive. The next pitch was a fastball that was high, outside and well out of the zone. Martinez swung and missed. Strike three, inning over. Sale walks off the mound and gives his now-famous tip of the cap to somebody in the outfield.

Forget about the cap-tipping for a moment. The key point here is Flowers set up inside three times in a row, and Sale threw the ball outside three times in a row. Quite obviously, they suspected someone was tipping location to the Detroit batters, and they reacted the way professional ballplayers should: They changed their strategy and got the desired result.

We don't know for sure that somebody in Detroit was trying to tip location to Martinez. What we do know is Martinez -- who has struck out just 41 times in 627 plate appearances this season -- was swinging wildly at horrible pitches like a blind man. He uncharacteristically struck himself out in a critical RBI situation, against a pitcher he has owned (15 for 29 lifetime) in the past. Isn't that interesting?

It seems likely Martinez was looking for the ball in, only to get the ball away, throughout that at-bat. Maybe he was looking for the ball in because he could sense Flowers move toward the inside corner. Or maybe, someone was signaling to him that Flowers was setting up inside, causing him to look in, only to be fooled by pitches away. It's not as implausible as Sale's critics are making it out to be. Stealing signs and stealing pitch locations has been a part of the game for decades. There are ways to combat it, and Sale and Flowers employed one such method in the third inning.

Then, Martinez comes up in the sixth inning, knowing he struck out on an outside pitch in his previous at-bat. Flowers sets up on the inside part of the plate once again, but this time Sale really is coming in with a fastball. The pitch hits Martinez, who was probably looking away. He glares at Sale. The fans boo. The Tigers say, "That's intentional!" Cry me a river.

Maybe it was intentional. Or maybe Sale figured he had Martinez looking away, so he was going to try to bust him in this particular at-bat, and the ball was just too far in. That stuff does happen, and when you're facing a guy who is 15 for 29 off you lifetime, you gotta try different things. Even if Sale did hit Martinez intentionally, so what? Again, 15 for 29. Isn't it about time Sale do something to make Martinez less comfortable in the box against him? I don't care if the Tigers' feelings were hurt. It's competitive athletics. It's not about feelings. It's about winning. If Ausmus doesn't like or respect Sale now, who cares?

And don't get me started about this lazy media narrative about the Tigers being "fired up" by the incident. First of all, the Tigers are trying to win an AL Central division title. They entered Wednesday's action with a one-game lead over the Kansas City Royals with five games to play. If they need a pitcher on a fourth-place team to do something to get them excited to play, well, they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Secondly, the Tigers didn't win this game because Sale "fired them up." The game was tied, 1-1, when Sale left the mound. Detroit scored five runs after the Chicago ace departed. That's not a coincidence. Sale struck out 10 and allowed just the one run in this contest. Tiger hitters did next to nothing against him. Javy Guerra and Matt Lindstrom are significantly lesser pitchers than Sale. We've see throughout the course of the season that opposing teams don't need to be "fired up" to score runs against mediocre or less-than-mediocre Sox relief pitchers such as Guerra and Lindstrom. Poor pitches by those two bullpen guys were the deciding factor in the game, not "the fire and the passion."

From where I'm sitting, Sale did nothing wrong with any of the pitches he threw Wednesday. His biggest mistake was the cap-tipping thing after he struck out Martinez in the third. People get angry about antics like that -- maybe more than they should -- but the moral of the story is an athlete never wins in the court of public opinion if he makes a gesture of any sort toward the fans. I'll bet Sale received a talking-to from his manager about that. Hopefully, he doesn't make the same mistake again.

That said, I have no problem with the way Sale dealt with Martinez. If this bothers some folks so much, well, they can go back to breaking down matchups in the Bears-Packers game.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Max Scherzer outduels Chris Sale in marquee pitching matchup

There aren't many hitters in the American League who routinely get the best of White Sox ace Chris Sale. Detroit Tigers 1B/DH Victor Martinez can count himself among the few.

Martinez hit a solo home run off Sale in the top of the fifth inning Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field, and that proved to be the game-winning hit as the Tigers avoided a sweep with a 4-0 win over Chicago.

Martinez is now 13 for 25 (.520) with two home runs in his career against Sale.

The much-anticipated pitching matchup between Sale and reigning Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer did not disappoint.

As we've noted, Justin Verlander is no longer the Detroit ace. Scherzer is, and he delivered the first complete-game shutout of his career (179 starts) on Thursday. The right-hander limited the Sox to just three hits, while striking out eight and walking three. Only twice did Chicago have two baserunners in the same inning. The Sox' best scoring chance came in the fourth when they had runners at second and third with two outs after Conor Gillaspie reached on an error and Alexei Ramirez doubled. However, Scherzer (8-2) retired Dayan Viciedo on a flyout to avoid any damage.

Sale (5-1) once again pitched extremely well. He simply got outpitched in suffering his first loss of the season. He allowed only one run on five hits over seven innings. He struck out 10 hitters (all swinging) and walked none.

Unfortunately for the Sox, Sale had thrown 116 pitches through seven innings and had to be removed from the game. The Tigers scored two runs in the eighth off reliever Jake Petricka and another run in the ninth off Daniel Webb.

But on this night, all Scherzer needed was one run, and the Sox missed a chance to get out the brooms against Detroit for the first time since 2008.

Yes, you read that right. The last time the Sox swept a three-game series against Detroit: April 4-6, 2008. Six years is a long time to go without a sweep against a team you play 18 times every year.

Suffice to say it will be easier for the Sox to beat Detroit once Martinez and his .327 lifetime average against Chicago retire. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tigers trade Prince Fielder to Rangers for Ian Kinsler

How is this for a trade nobody saw coming? The Detroit Tigers have agreed to send first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The particulars are still being finalized, but it's a one-for-one deal. There are no prospects involved, and that's the thing that makes this trade so intriguing. How often do you see two established major league players traded straight up for each other? Not too often. Most trades nowadays involve veteran players being dealt for future considerations. That's not the case here.

So, which team got the better of this deal? It's an interesting debate, and I've heard good arguments made for both sides. My vote goes to Detroit, even though I acknowledge that Fielder will likely be more productive for Texas in 2014 than Kinsler will be for the Tigers.

To me, Detroit wins this deal because of the money it just freed up. Fielder's contract is an albatross. The 29-year-old slugger has seven years and $168 million remaining on his deal, and his numbers have slipped. You can make a case Fielder's production in 2013 did not justify his hefty paycheck. If he's overpaid now, he's really going to be overpaid three or four years down the road when his skills further erode.

Here are Fielder's statistics over the last three years. Note the downward trend in on-base and slugging percentage:

2011: .299/.415/.566, 38 home runs, 120 RBIs
2012: .313/.412/.528, 30 home runs, 108 RBIs
2013: .279/.362/.457, 25 home runs, 106 RBIs

To be fair, the 31-year-old Kinsler's numbers have slipped as well:

2011: .255/.355/.477, 32 home runs, 77 RBIs
2012: .256/.326/.423, 19 home runs, 72 RBIs
2013: .277/.344/.413, 13 home runs, 72 RBIs

However, Kinsler is owed just $62 million over the next four years, a much more manageable figure, and he plays a premium defensive position. Reports indicate the Tigers are paying the Rangers $30 million to take Fielder off their hands. So, instead of paying $168 million for Fielder, Detroit is coughing up a combined total of $92 million for Kinsler and the payout to the Rangers.

That provides the Tigers with a net savings of $76 million, which is huge because Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014 season. Two-time league MVP Miguel Cabrera hits free agency after the 2015 season. Suddenly, Detroit has a lot more money to play with if it desires to extend the contracts of those two players, both of whom have been more important to the team's success than Fielder.

In addition, the Tigers will be able to bolster their defense by moving the immobile Cabrera away from third base and back to first base where he belongs. Kinsler solidifies second base for them. Third base is an open question, but prospect Nick Castellanos seems poised to get a look. Detroit could also sign a defense-first infielder like Juan Uribe to provide some insurance at the position. With Victor Martinez as the designated hitter, Cabrera still should have adequate protection in the lineup. Even without Fielder, the Tigers will look like favorites in the AL Central, and they'll have money to spend to retain key pieces like Scherzer and Cabrera.

What about Texas? Well, the Rangers needed a middle-of-the-order bat, and they got one. Fielder is a clear upgrade over Mitch Moreland at first base. Texas could pursue Robinson Cano to take Kinsler's place at second base, but more than likely, the Rangers will slide highly regarded prospect Jurickson Profar into that spot.

I tend to believe Fielder will help the Rangers in the short run, maybe another two decent-to-good years, but players with Fielder's body type don't tend to age well. By the time 2017 rolls around, Texas is going to be stuck with a bad contract for a portly first baseman who can't play anymore. Better win now, Rangers.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chris Sale vs. Max Scherzer

I've said it many times: I'm a bad American. I often don't care about things other Americans care deeply about. And no matter what ESPN says, I can't get excited about a supposedly critical early-season NFC East matchup.

Instead, my eyes were cast toward U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night as the two best pitchers in the American League this year went head-to-head.

White Sox left-hander Chris Sale struck out eight over eight innings and allowed just a solo home run to Victor Martinez and four hits to lead the South Siders to a 5-1 win over the Detroit Tigers and right-hander Max Scherzer (pictured).

Sale's strikeout of Austin Jackson to end the third inning was his 200th of the season. He became the first pitcher in Sox history to record 200 strikeouts before hitting the 200-inning plateau. Previously, Javier Vazquez was the fastest Sox pitcher to 200 Ks in one season. Vazquez recorded his 200th strikeout of the 2007 season in his 207th inning. Sale got there in just 190.2 innings.

This was not a good night for Scherzer (19-3). For the third consecutive start, he was denied in his bid for his 20th victory. He allowed five runs (four earned) and needed 90 pitches to get through four innings. By the fifth inning, he had been removed from the game.

That said, Scherzer is still going to win the Cy Young Award in the American League this year. His team is in first place, and how can you argue with a 19-3 record? He's been awesome. But if you look at the statistics as a whole, the only category Scherzer has a significant advantage over Sale in is the won-loss column. Sale is just 11-12 because, well, the White Sox stink. Sale has posted a quality start in seven of his 12 losses. If he had a real team behind him, he'd have 18 or 19 wins, too, and we'd have a neck-and-neck race for the Cy Young. Let's look at some of the other stats besides the won-loss record:

Sale's ERA is 2.90; Scherzer's is 3.01.

Sale has four complete games this season; Scherzer has none.

Sale has a shutout to his credit; Scherzer does not.

Sale has thrown 195.2 innings; Scherzer has pitched 194.1.

Scherzer has 215 strikeouts; Sale has 207.

Scherzer's WHIP is 0.962; Sale's is 1.037.

Scherzer strikes out 10.0 men for every nine innings pitched; Sale fans 9.5 for every nine innings pitched.

Sale's K/BB ratio is 5.05; Scherzer's is 4.48.

These two men have similar numbers in every category except one: wins and losses. They have both been just outstanding. Scherzer will get to show his stuff in the postseason again this October. It is too bad Sale's brilliant season has gone to waste on the 2013 White Sox.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Tigers have the Indians on the ropes

For most of this season, I've been of the mindset that the American League Central Division is a one-team race. The Detroit Tigers are the best and most complete team, and barring an unforeseen rash of injuries, they are going to the playoffs. That's just how it is.

But give the Cleveland Indians credit. They have made things interesting for longer than anyone expected. However, I think the party might be over for the Tribe following the events of this week.

Flash back to Monday: Detroit came into Cleveland to open a four-game series. The Tigers had a three-game lead in the division. Critical series? Well, not exactly. But it was an important series; important enough that it could be a huge turning point if one team or the other swept.

Well, the Tigers swept. That first game Monday night set the tone. The Indians took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning. They were three outs away from trimming Detroit's division lead to two games. If closer Chris Perez could get the job done, the race would be on. Instead, Perez imploded.

He faced four batters and retired none of them. Prince Fielder doubled. Victor Martinez singled. Andy Dirks walked. Then, Alex Avila (pictured) hit a 3-run homer. Suddenly, the Tigers led 4-2, and that would be the final score. In a blink of an eye, Detroit had a four-game lead in the AL Central -- the top of the ninth inning Monday night representing a huge two-game swing.

On Tuesday, Detroit's Justin Verlander outpitched Cleveland ace Justin Masterson as the Tigers prevailed 5-1. Wednesday brought another crushing loss for the Tribe as they fell 6-5 in 14 innings. Detroit ace Max Scherzer finished off the four-game sweep on Thursday. The likely AL Cy Young winner is now 17-1 after earning a 10-3 victory.

The Tigers left Cleveland with a seven-game division lead and a 12-game winning streak intact. The New York Yankees broke Detroit's winning streak with a 4-3 win in 10 innings Friday night, but Cleveland failed to take advantage, falling 5-2 to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Entering Saturday's play, Detroit leads Cleveland by 7 games and red-hot Kansas City by 7.5 games. The Royals have won 15 of 17 and could take over second place by the end of action today. The Indians, however, look like their chances are dying. It's been a terrible week for Cleveland, and if the Tribe fails to make the playoffs, this recent series with Detroit will be the one they look back on as the one that cost them.