Predicting the Detroit Tigers' starting lineup (yikes) for Opening Day 2020
Tigers finish 2019 with worst record in baseball by 6.5 games
The MLB playoffs begin Tuesday night, and the Detroit Tigers will be watching from home after finishing 48.5 games out of the second wild card spot.
It was an ugly summer for the Tigers. They finished without 50 wins for the second time in franchise history and got outscored by 333 runs in 161 games.
This might have been the worst season in Tigers history, though the 2003 team's record was worse. Next year doesn't figure to be much better.
Detroit scored by far the fewest runs in baseball, finishing 33 runs behind the Miami Marlins for 29th and 96 runs behind the next-closest team. Every other American League team scored more than 100 runs more than the Tigers.
The offense was dreadful and there doesn't appear to be an immediate fix. When Opening Day 2020 rolls around, the Tigers will likely field largely the same starting nine.
Here's an early prediction for next year's Opening Day lineup.
NOTES: This is a prediction of what the lineup will be, not what it should be. It also doesn't take into account any offseason free agent signings or trades.
1. Victor Reyes, RF
2019 stats: .304/.336/.431 -- .767 OPS, 3 HR, 16 doubles, 14 walks, 64 strikeouts, 9 SB
When JaCoby Jones lost the final two months of his season to injury, the belief was he would return as the leadoff hitter to start 2020. But that didn't account for an unexpected hot finish from Victor Reyes.
In 44 games after Jones' injury, Reyes hit .332 with a .352 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage. He only hit three home runs, but added 12 doubles and three triples over that stretch.
Reyes doesn't walk nearly enough, especially for a leadoff hitter, but he doesn't strike out much, either, in this environment. In 262 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, Reyes posted a .340 OBP and .783 OPS this season.
In the slim pickings of this MLB roster, that's probably as good as the Tigers will get.
Reyes finished the season with a .384 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is a career outlier. He's only 24 years old, though, and saw a significant increase in his hard contact rate and an even bigger decrease in his soft contact rate.
The expected stats suggest Reyes should have been closer to a .280 hitter than .300, but there were definite signs of progress.
Based on what he did the final two months of the season, Reyes seems likely to get a chance as the everyday leadoff hitter to begin next year.
2. Harold Castro, 2B
2019 stats: .291/.305/.384 -- .689 OPS, 5 HR, 10 doubles, 9 walks, 86 strikeouts, 4 SB
Harold Castro averaged more than a hit per game, finished with a high batting average and played every single position except pitcher and catcher this season. He was a decent contributor, but he has no business hitting in the No. 2 hole.
That doesn't seem to bother manager Ron Gardenhire, though.
To be fair, there aren't a lot of good offensive options for Gardenhire, even when trying to fill the most important spot in the lineup.
Castro played 30 games as the team's No. 2 hitter, more than he played at any other spot in the lineup.
The 25-year-old showed some good signs, racking up 103 hits in 97 games and usually putting the ball in play.
But Castro has absolutely no extra-base power, and an even worse walk rate. He finished with an OBP only 14 points higher than his batting average and managed just 19 extra-base hits in 97 games.
The result was an OPS of .689, which makes the .291 average look very hollow.
Castro is a useful player because he can play every defensive position and will hit for a high average because he puts the ball in play. But on a contending team he's not an everyday player, and certainly not in the No. 2 hole.
3. Miguel Cabrera, DH
2019 stats: .282/.346/.398 -- .744 OPS, 12 HR, 21 doubles, 48 walks, 108 strikeouts
This will finally be an offseason without expectations that Miguel Cabrera will return to his previous form. He was healthy for most of the season and had 549 plate appearances, but the numbers simply aren't very good.
Cabrera provides some rare excitement for Tigers fans because he continues to climb all-time stat lists. He'll go down as one of the best hitters in franchise history, but his place in the heart of the order is more an indictment on the rest of the roster than proof of his longevity.
Cabrera finished the year with just 12 home runs, giving him in the three seasons since he hit 38 homers in 2016.
He finished with a .744 OPS, which is below average but among the best marks for the Tigers. Barring injury, he'll be back in this spot for 2020.
4. Jeimer Candelario, 1B
2019 stats: .203/.306/.337 -- .643 OPS, 8 HR, 17 doubles, 43 walks, 99 strikeouts, 3 SB
This is where the predictions get very murky, because the Tigers basically have six or seven hitters with little power and low walk rates to fill out the rest of the lineup.
Candelario had perhaps the most disappointing season of any player in the Tigers. He showed some very promising signs in his first year and a half with the team before a nosedive in 2019.
Candelario had just 68 hits in 94 games. The only positive was his walk rate, which once again gave him an OBP north of .300.
Few players on the Tigers' roster can draw a walk, so in that sense, Candelario still has value. He can't bat near the Mendoza line and provide so little extra-base power, though.
Candelario hit cleanup in his final four appearances and played exclusively at first base. The Tigers appear committed to trying him at that position to open up third base for other prospects.
5. Niko Goodrum, SS
2019 stats: .248/.322/.421 -- .743 OPS, 12 HR, 27 doubles, 46 walks, 138 strikeouts, 12 SB
Two years ago, Niko Goodrum proved he has some power with 48 extra-base hits. This season, he improved his walk rate to nearly 10%.
If next year's improvement is to cut down on the strikeout rate, Goodrum could actually be a solid hitter. He whiffed 138 times in 112 games this season, which is far too often to ever be a high batting average or OBP guy with his profile.
Goodrum was the only player in the lineup who could consistently hit for power and draw walks, so he should probably be hitting in the No. 2 spot. But at the very least he can do some damage in the heart of the order.
He was also a weapon on the base paths, leading the team with 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts.
Goodrum is an all-around solid player. The problem for the Tigers is he might be their best player.
6. Christin Stewart, LF
2019 stats: .233/.305/.388 -- .693 OPS, 10 HR, 25 doubles, 34 walks, 103 strikeouts
The first full taste of MLB action was a rough go for Christin Stewart. The Tigers' best minor league power hitter over the last several years hit just 10 home runs in 104 games and finished with a .233 batting average.
Stewart showed decent plate discipline and hit 25 doubles, so if the home run rate increases, he could be an above-average hitter. That's why the Tigers are willing to put up with his defensive woes.
Stewart has a long track record of power in the minor leagues, and balls are flying out of MLB parks at a record rate every year. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Stewart finish closer to 25 home runs if he gets everyday at-bats in 2020.
7. JaCoby Jones, CF
2019 stats: .235/.310/.430 -- .740 OPS, 11 HR, 19 doubles, 27 walks, 94 strikeouts, 7 SB
It was a really weird season for Jones, who went from an elite defensive outfielder to well below average and enjoyed his first extended hot streak at the plate.
Jones finished on nearly a 20-homer, 40-double pace while increasing his walks rate and cutting down slightly on the strikeouts. The Tigers tinkered with his swing early in the year, and it seemed to give him better plate coverage.
Jones is a candidate to win the leadoff spot back, but he could also bat at the bottom of the order if some of his previous tendencies return. He's been with the team for four seasons, but the Tigers still don't know exactly what they've got in Jones.
8. Jake Rogers, C
2019 stats: .125/.222/.259 -- .481 OPS, 4 HR, 3 doubles, 13 walks, 51 strikeouts
There are way too many holes in Jake Rogers' swing, but the Tigers don't have many other options at catcher heading into 2020.
Rogers is reliable behind the plate and has a good throwing arm, but his first 35 games were a disaster on offense.
The 24-year-old managed just 14 hits while striking out 51 times and finished with an OPS lower than more than a dozen National League pitchers. It's not uncommon for a young player, especially a catcher, to struggle at the dish in his MLB debut, but the numbers for Rogers were somewhat alarming considering he was a major piece in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade.
9. Dawel Lugo, 3B
2019 stats: .245/.271/.381 -- .652 OPS, 6 HR, 11 doubles, 8 walks, 59 strikeouts
Can Dawel Lugo be an above-average hitter with such a low walk rate? It helps that he doesn't strike out often, but with modest power to go with those on-base skills, it seems like the Tigers are hoping more than believing they got something useful in the J.D. Martinez trade.
Lugo was having an excellent season in Triple-A Toledo, batting .333 with an .859 OPS thanks to 94 hits in 68 games. He had good doubles power in Toledo, but the home runs have always been low.
It's hard to blame the Tigers for calling up a player batting .333 with such good offensive numbers, but Lugo has some shortcomings that catch up to him every time he reaches the MLB level.
There's no reason not to give him a chance in 2020, but like many of these other Tigers hitters, there are some concerning longstanding tendencies.
Travis Demeritte: When Demeritte first got to Detroit, he was drawing walks at a high rate and demonstrating some extra-base pop. That didn't last, though, and he ultimately struck out 63 times in 48 games and finished with a .630 OPS. He might end up with a starting outfield job, but when Jones is healthy, he seems like the fourth option heading into the offseason.
Brandon Dixon: Dixon led the Tigers with 15 home runs this season and added 20 doubles in 117 games. He could be the everyday first baseman if Candelario doesn't improve, but his terrible strikeout-to-walk ratio limits his ceiling.
Grayson Greiner: There's a chance Rogers' struggles continue throughout spring training and Greiner breaks camp as the No. 1 catcher. He didn't exactly light it up at the plate, either, though, finishing with a .559 OPS in 58 games.
Willi Castro: Could the Tigers go with Willi Castro as the everyday shortstop and keep Goodrum in a super utility role? He certainly earned his promotion to the MLB level, but once he got there, he slashed just .230/.284/.340 with six walks and 34 strikeouts in 30 games.
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