Raw numbers tell the story of Tigers' slide

BY foxsports • July 12, 2012

DETROIT -- There were great expectations for the Detroit Tigers coming into the 2012 season after they signed Prince Fielder, one of the top free agents on the market.

Virtually every baseball expert picked the Tigers to repeat as Central Division champions.

But, as the saying goes, the games are not played on paper.

It became clear from the second game of the season that there would be no smooth sailing for the Tigers. Doug Fister lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his first start, suffering a left side strain that forced him to go on the disabled list.

April was also the month in which the Tigers released their longest-tenured member, Brandon Inge, who was being soundly booed by Tigers fans for lack of performance. Inge was hitting just .100.

Then came the incident in New York in which when Delmon Young was arrested for a misdemeanor aggravated harassment charge that involved targeting someone for his or her religious beliefs. Major League Baseball suspended Young for seven games.

May and June saw the Tigers place Fister, Alex Avila, Austin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Drew Smyly on the disabled list. There seemed to be a never-ending parade from Detroit to Toledo and back.

In addition, several of the players who performed at a very high level in 2011 were not at that same level this season.

At the All-Star break last season, the Tigers were 49-43 and a half-game up in the Central Division.

At the All-Star break this season, the Tigers were 44-42 and 3 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox and a half-game behind the Cleveland Indians in the division.

The Tigers needed a five-game winning streak going into the break to pass the .500 mark for the first time since the middle of May.

It's worth a review of how the Tigers were doing at the break versus this year at the break to explain why the team has not performed as well so far.

We'll start with the All-Stars:

In 2011, Justin Verlander was 12-4 with a 2.15 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. In 2012, he is 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA and 0.95 WHIP.

In 2011, Jose Valverde was 2-3 with a 2.70 ERA and 24 saves. In 2012, he is 3-2 with a 4.11 ERA and 16 saves.

In 2011, Miguel Cabrera was batting .311 with 18 home runs and 59 RBIs. In 2012, he is batting .324 with 18 home runs and 71 RBIs.

In 2011, Alex Avila was batting .286 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs. In 2012, he is batting .242 with five home runs and 23 RBIs.

In 2011, Jhonny Peralta was batting .312 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs. In 2012, he is batting .260 with five home runs and 27 RBIs.

Of the All-Stars, only Cabrera is performing better than he did last season at the break. Verlander, who had a season for the ages last year, is certainly close enough to where he was.

But it becomes very clear that the other three All-Stars haven't done as well so far in 2012 as they did last year.

Valverde, who like Verlander had a season for the ages, going 49-for-49 in save situations, has a much worse ERA and is off by eight saves.

Avila, in part due to a stint on the DL with a right hamstring strain, has exactly half the numbers he did last season.

Peralta is one of the players who has dropped off the most. Manager Jim Leyland offered some clues as to what's been wrong with his shortstop.

"He hasn't really pulled the ball this year and he's a pull hitter," Leyland said. "I think he was so conscious of swinging at some breaking balls going the other way that he was missing balls that he should pull.

"What he needs to do is pull the ball on a more consistent basis and with two strikes, take the ball the other way."

As for the rest of the team, there are some others who have not contributed as much in 2012 as they did last year, starting with the rotation:

In 2011, Max Scherzer was 10-4 with a 4.69 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. In 2012, he is 8-5 with a 4.72 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.

In 2011, Rick Porcello was 8-6 with a 4.78 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. In 2012, he is 6-5 with a 4.47 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

Really, there's not a huge difference for either Scherzer or Porcello, other than both had a couple more wins a season ago at the break.

The fifth starter role last season was filled by Brad Penny, who was 6-6 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.41 WHIP at the break. This year the fifth starter is rookie Drew Smyly, who is 4-3 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.

Again, there isn't a big difference other than a couple of wins. Statistically, Smyly has been better than Penny was.

So, on to the rest of the hitters in the lineup.

Fielder is pretty much where you would expect he would be for someone who changed leagues for the first time. He's batting .299 with 15 home runs and 63 RBIs. With the Brewers in the first half last year, he was batting .297 with 22 home runs and 72 RBIs.

The one player besides Cabrera who is playing at a higher level than he did in 2011 is leadoff man Austin Jackson.

In 2011, Jackson was batting .245 with seven triples, four home runs and 23 RBIs. His on-base percentage was .318. In 2012, Jackson is batting .332 with five triples, nine home runs and 38 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .408.

"Sometimes he gets lost in the shuffle of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder," Leyland said. "Certainly, they’re the big guys, but I think sometimes, Jackson gets lost and doesn’t really get enough credit.  Really, he’s had an All-Star-type first half. And he continues to improve. We’re real pleased with that."

The Tigers have been less pleased with the falloff in production from some of the other players they were counting on.

In 2011, Brennan Boesch was batting .306 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs. In 2012, he is batting .243 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs.

Now for the unfair part. Victor Martinez batted fifth behind Cabrera last year. At the All-Star break, Martinez was batting .316 with six home runs and 50 RBIs.

Delmon Young is not Martinez. But he has gotten the coveted fifth spot in the lineup most of the time. He is batting .271 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. Those numbers would be a lot worse without his late surge -- he hit a home run in the last four games before the break.

Although role players aren't counted on to carry the team like the stars are, they do have to contribute.

Ryan Raburn, who is a notoriously slow starter, started even more slowly than normal. In 2011, he was batting .213 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. That doesn't sound like much, until you see that this season he is hitting .171 with one home run and 10 RBIs.

In 2011, Don Kelly was batting .245 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. In 2012, he is batting .185 with one home run and seven RBIs.

In 2011, Ramon Santiago was batting .225 with one home run and eight RBIs. In 2012, he's batting .230 with two home runs and 17 RBIs.

It's not a coincidence that the Tigers' record improved when Young and Peralta got hot in the week before the break.

They're going to need to continue that for the Tigers to succeed. In addition, Fister will have to stay healthy and get back to near where he was when he came to the Tigers last season.

For his part, Verlander remains confident that the Tigers are headed in the right direction and have another strong second half ahead of them.

"There's been opportunities where we could have made a move and didn't, and there's been opportunities where we could have gone backwards and didn't," Verlander said. "I know it's been frustrating for us, it's been frustrating for the fans and the city. But I think they should hang with us.

"I think this second half holds good promise."

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