An unfortunate look at what the Detroit Tigers got from their offseason signees this year

Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez among those to disappoint in first season with Tigers

Javier Baez #28 of the Detroit Tigers strikes out against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning to end the game at Comerica Park on August 31, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan. (Duane Burleson, 2022 Getty Images)

DETROIT – Well, at least that’s over.

It takes a lot for me to long for the end of a baseball season. It’s the greatest sport in the universe, and every summer night on the diamond is precious. Spring training always feels so far away when the final out of the World Series is recorded.

But 2022 turned out to be just another lap in the miserable marathon that the Detroit Tigers rebuild has become. In fact, this season was by far the worst, because it actually started with expectations. At least we were fully prepared for every Tigers team from 2017-2021 to be awful.

This offseason was different. After A.J. Hinch’s team played winning baseball for the final four months of 2021, the front office finally made an effort to improve the roster through trades and free agency. It was the most exciting build-up to Opening Day in Detroit since the early 2010s.

But the season completely fell flat. The team started off 6-13 in April, and things only got worse from there. Nine losses in 10 games -- including four out of five to the worst team in the American League -- dropped the Tigers to 9-23. A 1-8 stretch put them 18 games below .500 at the All-Star break, and then they went 6-19 immediately afterward.

We’ve got months to break down all the reasons the Tigers underachieved, but first let’s take a look at their offseason signees, who shoulder plenty of the blame.

Javier Baez

Season stats: .238/.278/.393 (.671 OPS), 17 home runs, 27 doubles, 26 walks, 147 strikeouts

Let’s start at the top, with the $140 million shortstop Al Avila and Chris Ilitch chose over a few much safer options.

All of the warnings signs that came with Baez’s profile when the Tigers made him the new face of the franchise reared their ugly heads in 2022.

For starters, he posted the worst full-season batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage of his career. After averaging 31.3 homers over the last three full seasons, Baez managed only 17 in his first year with the Tigers. Though he certainly would have hit more elsewhere, his 10 home runs on the road don’t suggest Comerica Park is fully to blame.

It seemed like if Baez wasn’t lighting up Twitter by swinging at a slider in the left-handed batter’s box, he was making one of his league-leading 26 errors.

He ranked among the bottom 10% of MLB hitters in walk rate, whiff rate, and chase rate. He’s in the bottom 40% in hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, strikeout percentage, and every significant expected stat.

Even his sprint speed -- which had been above the 80th percentile in every non-COVID-shortened season of his career -- plummeted from 86th to 66th.

He posted a decent .730 OPS post-All-Star break, but overall, Baez’s first season in Detroit was a disappointment in every possible sense.

Fangraphs rates Baez as a 2.0 WAR player, and he turns 30 in December. The Tigers owe him $22 million next year and a combined $98 million over the following four seasons if he opts into the rest of his contract.

New general manager Scott Harris can’t do much more than cross his fingers and hope Baez bounces back in a big way next year.

Eduardo Rodriguez

Season stats: 4.05 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 1.330 WHIP, 72 strikeouts, 34 walks in 91 innings.

A mix of poor performance and unavailability defined the first season in Detroit for Eduardo Rodriguez. Signed to be a stabilizing presence for an otherwise young starting rotation, Rodriguez wasn’t present at all for half the season while on the injured and restricted lists.

When he was on the mound, Rodriguez had the least dominant season of his major league career, posting his highest FIP and xFIP since 2016 and his highest xERA since 2015. His strikeout rate cratered, from 10.6 per nine innings last year to an alarming 7.1 in the Old English D.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers to the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The underlying stats offer little solace. Rodriguez was in the 21st percentile in swinging strike rate, the fourth percentile in whiff rate, and the 38th percentile in walk rate.

While he finished slightly above average in terms of limiting hard contact, the expected offensive numbers against him were far better (for hitters) than in years past.

Looking forward to next year, there’s plenty of reason to expect a rebound for Rodriguez. Despite his frightening underlying metrics, the 29-year-old lefty still found a way to be somewhat effective at limiting runs. And chances are he won’t spend half of next season entirely out of touch with the team.

I’m less concerned about Rodriguez than I am about Baez, mostly because there are obvious off-the-field factors that could explain his uncharacteristic season. But getting just 91 innings and 0.1 WAR from a pitcher right after giving him $77 million is still a major disappointment.

Tucker Barnhart

Season stats: .221/.287/.267 (.554 OPS), 1 home run, 10 doubles, 25 walks, 74 strikeouts

When the Tigers traded for Barnhart in November, it felt like the type of minor move that could pay major dividends for an ascending team. That’s, well, not exactly how it played out.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2016, Barnhart had never posted an OPS below .679, but his first year in Detroit saw him dip a full 125 points below that. He only hit one home run in 281 at-bats and shaved 30 points off last year’s OBP.

The real problem is Barnhart also didn’t stand out defensively, at least in Statcast’s estimation. He finished in the 34rd percentile in pop time and the 42nd percentile in framing. He threw out 28% of runners who attempted to steal.

Luckily for the Tigers, Eric Haase enjoyed another strong season, hitting 14 home runs and posting a .748 OPS. From June 11 through the end of the season, he hit 12 home runs and 15 doubles while posting a .331 OBP and .839 OPS.

Whether they hit the free agent market or stick with Haase, the Tigers probably won’t re-sign Barnhart for another season.

Austin Meadows

Season stats: .250/.347/.328, six doubles, 16 walks, 17 strikeouts

It’s hard to call Meadows’ first season in Detroit a disappointment. He was off to a strong start before injuries and mental health struggles kept him off the field.

He only had 147 plate appearances, so we really can’t even evaluate Meadows, especially since he was so good for the Tigers in very unexpected ways: a high OBP, nearly as many walks as strikeouts, and excellent defense.

But when Meadows is ready to return to the team, the Tigers hope he’ll get back to hitting the ball over the fence. In his previous two full seasons, Meadows hit 60 home runs and 58 doubles for Tampa Bay.

He’ll only be 27 years old by Opening Day 2023, so if Meadows is back in the lineup, he could very well end up being one of the team’s most valuable players.

Michael Pineda

Season stats: 5.79 ERA, 6.13 FIP, 1.414 WHIP, eight walks, 26 strikeouts in 46.2 innings.

The Tigers signed Pineda late in the offseason because he has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the league. Pineda can always be relied upon to post a FIP between the mid-3s and the mid-4s with decent strikeout numbers and a passable WHIP.

Except for this year, that is.

A late start to the season and a few injuries threw Pineda off course, and his numbers took a nose dive. He only struck out 26 batters in 46.2 innings while allowing 58 hits. His 1.414 WHIP and 5.79 ERA were by far the worst marks of his career.

If he had stayed healthy this might have worked out. But the Tigers ended up with a pitcher far below replacement level.

Andrew Chafin

Season stats: 2.83 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 1.169 WHIP, 19 walks, 67 strikeouts in 57.1 innings

The team’s most under-the-radar signing of the offseason turned out to be their best, as Chafin dominated out of the bullpen in the late innings.

“The Sheriff” averaged well over a strikeout per inning and shut down both lefties and righties. He finished second on the team in appearances and WHIP, third in K/9, and led all Tigers pitchers in ERA.

Chafin has a $6.5 million player option for 2023, and the Tigers are surely hoping he’ll decided to stick around.

Andrew Chafin #37 of the Detroit Tigers in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 4, 2022 in New York City. (2022 Getty Images)

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.