Fantasy Baseball: Auditing the Detroit Tigers

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Apr 26, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (57) throws a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Eduardo Rodriguez has his fantasy fans, they're just not at this particular game (Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports)

The Tigers viewed 2022 as a contention-possible year. They won 77 games last season, a spunky, competitive group, then moved to improve into the fresh season. They signed two high-profile free agents (Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez), made a late-spring trade for Austin Meadows, and hoped its young, pedigreed starting pitching staff would start to mature.

About three weeks into the season, the plan has yet to take shape. Two starting pitchers, including jewel Casey Mize, are already on the inured list. The offense has been sluggish — dead last in runs, 28th in slugging, dead last in stolen bases. The overall pitching has been solid — 10th in ERA — but it hasn’t been enough to bail things out.

I’ve been a Michigander for two decades now. My rooting interests will always side with the New England teams I grew up with (the Bruins playoff game was on my main television Monday night), but I consider the Detroit clubs a mistress of mine. Perhaps I don’t become depressed when Michigan teams don’t win, but I’m happier — heck, the entire city seems happier — when the local clubs have some hope. We all need to wake up with the idea that today can be better than yesterday.

So let’s take stock of the Tigers today, do an audit of my local team. Who are we buying, selling, holding? Where is the promise of a better day? I’ll try to find something. (Good news: Wednesday’s weather looks clear. The doubleheader against Pittsburgh is not in danger.)

Sell (after a good turn or two): Eduardo Rodriguez, SP

Rodriguez has never lacked for supporters, despite a Boston career that was consistently acceptable but seldom great. His Boston career ERA was 4.16 — that won’t help you in today’s roto context — and his WHIP was 1.31 (also a drag). You’d get wins and strikeouts to make up for that, but I’ve always felt he was overdrafted in most fantasy leagues.

And perhaps E-Rod’s reputation got a boost in the offseason, when the Tigers handed him a five-year, $77 million contract. Pretty good cake for someone who’s career ERA+ is nine percent over league average.

Rodriguez supporters will generally talk about the unlucky card, and it’s at play again this year. His front-door ERA is 5.33, while FIP suggests 3.75 and Statcast spits out 4.32. There’s a very low strand rate at play here, though Rodriguez hasn’t helped his own cause much — his strikeout rate has dropped significantly. He’s also throwing a fastball that modestly averages 91.9; in his Boston salad days, he was a tick higher.

My problem with Rodriguez as a fantasy play is that even if he pitches to his expected metrics, they’re not that good. A starting pitcher with an ERA in the high 3s or 4s, on a team not steamrolling to the playoffs, what’s the value in that? Inevitably E-Rod will string together a good start or two, and that’s when you tell your rivals that you want to “move an arm” and hope they’re a Rodriguez believer.

Buy: Robbie Grossman, OF

I was surprised to see Grossman on some sell lists earlier this spring. Although his power hasn’t shown up yet (zero homers, a puny .322 slugging), a .288 average and .411 OBP will play in any format. He’s coming off a 20-steal season, and while that is best viewed an outlier, he can easily get to 8-12, which is helpful in today’s fantasy environment. And last year’s 88 runs is reasonable, too.

Hold (in deeper leagues): Michael Fulmer, RP

The Tigers are fine with Gregory Soto closing, and so far he’s allowed just one earned run over seven innings. Soto is a wild card with his control, however — four walks against five strikeouts this year, and last year he walked 5.7 men per nine innings. What manager wants to live with that kind of stress?

Fulmer is the bridge to Soto, but someday it might be the other way around. If nothing else, Fulmer is far more watchable: 9.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K. He’s around the plate, and has the raw stuff to handle a high-leverage role. Even without the closer tag attached, Fulmer does have a win and a save on the young season. My ratios welcome his quality work.

Drop: Akil Baddoo, OF

I’ve already made this cut in one league, and it stung — Baddoo was a proactive pick in March. Alas, sometimes you have to accept a sunk cost.

The Tigers traded for Austin Meadows shortly before the season, cutting into Baddoo’s playing time, and Baddoo is off to a horrendous start — .128/.190/.231, with 12 strikeouts in 39 at-bats. You can’t steal first base. I won’t be surprised if he’s in Triple-A before the month is out.

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