10 positive signs from first 10 games of Detroit Tigers season

Tigers 4-6 to start 2018 season

Jose Iglesias and Leonys Martin celebrate a Detroit Tigers win over the White Sox on April 8, 2018. (David Banks/Getty Images)
Jose Iglesias and Leonys Martin celebrate a Detroit Tigers win over the White Sox on April 8, 2018. (David Banks/Getty Images)

DETROIT – The 2018 Detroit Tigers season is already 10 games old, and fans are starting to learn about the cast of players tasked with beginning the organization's rebuild under new manager Ron Gardenhire.

While the Tigers are just 4-6 through 10 games, they've been more competitive than many people expected. Five of the six losses have come by one or two runs, and the other came in extra innings.

Several players are struggling, but there are some positive signs on the mound and in the batter's box. Here are 10 positive signs through the first 10 games:

Leonys Martin drawing walks

We'll lead off the list with the Tigers' leadoff hitter, who has already drawn six walks despite not been able to do so throughout his career.

It's unusual to see a player such as Leonys Martin play six seasons in Major League Baseball with a walk rate around 6 percent suddenly spike above 10 percent as a 30-year-old. But that's what Martin has done so far.

There were reasonable concerns regarding Martin as a leadoff hitter, mainly that he has a career on-base percentage of .301. His best walk rate came with the Mariners in 2016, when he walked in 7.6 percent of his plate appearances.

Through 41 plate appearances this season, Martin has six walks and a .317 OBP despite batting .200. If he gets his average back up around his career .246 mark and maintains a walk rate anywhere near his 14.6 percent mark, he will be a solid leadoff option.

Dixon Machado doubles

Here's a stunner: Light-hitting infielder Dixon Machado leads the Tigers in extra-base hits.

That can be taken as a positive or a negative, but since Machado ranks second in the league with six doubles, it seems like a good sign for the Tigers.

Machado has never been much of an offensive threat, so this extra-base outburst is certainly a surprise. He's put 32 balls in play this season and 15 have registered as hard contact.

Machado still has an OPS of just .653, so he needs to get on base more often to become a true offensive weapon. But his ability to prove some extra-base pop from the No. 9 hole has been valuable for a struggling offense.

Miguel Cabrera hard-hit rate

Reports of Miguel Cabrera's demise were premature, as he's hitting the ball as hard as ever.

Incredibly, Cabrera has put the ball in play 30 times this season, and none of those hits have registered as weak contact. He's only been rewarded with nine official hits so far, but he's hit the ball hard 14 times and registered medium contact 16 times.

In other words, Cabrera has been the victim of bad batted ball luck. Again.

For a player with a career .344 batting average on balls in play, Cabrera should be at or above that mark with the contact he's making. Instead, the 34-year-old has a .276 BABIP, which is sure to skyrocket if he keeps hitting the ball hard.

Nicholas Castellanos hitting it hard to all fields

Throughout his tenure in Detroit, young hitters have greatly benefited from playing alongside Cabrera. Nicholas Castellanos is the latest example.

While he was never afraid to use the entire field in the minors, Castellanos is now doing so with more authority to right and center fields, much like Cabrera has done through his career.

Castellanos has the best hard-hit rate on the team at 51.7 percent, and more than a third of his balls in plays have been line drives. He's gone to right field 34.5 percent of the time, which would be a career high.

As a potential future centerpiece of the Tigers offense, Castellanos needed to make strides as a 26-year-old this season. He's entered his baseball prime, and that appears to be coinciding with his best all-around start to a season. That's great news for the Tigers.

Jeimer Candelario breaking out of slump

The Tigers made several moves to build for the future last season, and the Justin Wilson trade with the Cubs is already paying dividends.

Jeimer Candelario is the most MLB-ready player the Tigers acquired during last season's fire sale, and while he got off to a slow start this season, he broke out with three doubles Tuesday in Cleveland.

Candelario was on base after all four trips to the plate Tuesday, including doubles to both left and and right field. He was an excellent on-base guy in the minors, and now he's got the third-best OBP on the Tigers.

Gardenhire has Candelario hitting in the No. 2 hole of the lineup, so he needs to get on base often and show some extra-base power. His three-double game was a sign of why Gardenhire felt so good about the 24-year-old third basemen.

Joe Jimenez limiting hard contact

Coming off a rough rookie season, Joe Jimenez is now showing why he was the top relief pitcher prospect in the Tigers' organization.

Jimenez allowed a line drive to Corey Dickerson on Opening Day, and in the five appearances since, he hasn't allowed a hard-hit ball. While he hasn't been dominant in terms of strikeouts, Jimenez is missing the barrel of the bat, and that's allowed him to record five straight scoreless appearances.

Batters have put 14 balls in play against Jimenez, with a hard-hit rate of 7.1 percent and a weak contact rate of 35.7 percent. If he can harness the swing-and-miss potential that allowed him to get seven swinging strikes in one inning against the White Sox last weekend, he could be a nightmare for hitters.

Matt Boyd pitching without traffic

Matt Boyd has only been in MLB for parts of three seasons, but he's already developed a reputation for being very hittable at times and allowing a ton of base runners.

In 300 career innings, Boyd has allowed more than a hit per inning, and has issued more than 100 walks. As a result, his career WHIP is 1.44, which is way too high for someone who hopes to stick in the Tigers rotation.

Through two starts, 2018 has been a different story for Boyd. He allowed four base runners in each of his first two starts -- six innings against Kansas City and seven innings against Cleveland. Boyd doesn't have swing-and-miss stuff, so he has to avoid getting into big jams.

Daniel Norris' nasty stuff

After he missed out on a spot in the starting rotation, there was talk that Norris could be send down to Triple-A Toledo when Mike Fiers came off the disabled list.

Norris made sure that didn't happen during his only appearance, which came in relief against the White Sox. He got 10 critical outs for the Tigers, which allowed them to stay close and eventually win the game in extra innings.

For a pitching staff that lacks strikeouts, Norris has true swing-and-miss upside. He faced 13 batters, struck out six of them and got 13 swinging strikes.

While he's struggled to stay healthy, Norris has some of the best pure stuff in the organization, so it's a positive sign that he's still on the MLB roster. Norris is only 24 years old, so he's a part of the Tigers' future plans.

Jordan Zimmermann's underlying stats

The Tigers have been carried by their starting pitching so far this season, but the one player who hasn't been effective is Jordan Zimmermann.

In two starts this season, Zimmermann has allowed 10 earned runs, which is double what any other pitcher on the Tigers' roster has allowed. He's allowed 15 hits, has a 1.65 WHIP and an ERA near 9.00.

Why is he on this list? Because he's due for some regression.

Zimmermann is allowing about the same amount of hard contact and nearly double as much soft contact as his career numbers. He's yet to allow a home run despite 17 fly balls, but overall, he's had some bad luck through two starts.

Batters are hitting .455 on balls in play against Zimmermann, and he's only stranding 41.2 percent of runners. Both of those numbers will regress closer to Zimmermann's career .300 BABIP and 72.6 percent strand rate.

Even if Zimmermann doesn't return to his Washington Nationals form, he won't be as bad as he looked in the first two starts.

Pitching staff WHIP

One of the most positive signs for the Tigers has been the pitching staff stinginess in allowing base runners. For a team that averages fewer than seven strikeouts per nine innings, the Tigers have to limit traffic on the base paths, and so far, they've done so.

The Tigers have the third-best WHIP in baseball at 1.10. Only the Indians and Diamondbacks are ranked higher, and both were expected to have much stronger pitching than the Tigers.

While the Tigers are unlikely to keep this up, it's clear that Gardenhire and pitching coach Chris Bosio are working their magic. From veterans such as Francisco Liriano to young players like Boyd, the entire staff has shown early improvement in WHIP.


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