Last week, I looked at three x-factors for the 2014 Detroit Tigers. Now, it’s time to examine the likely 25-man roster and determine three players that have the biggest potential to flop in 2014. As in the last article I’ll nominate one player from each position group (offense, starting pitching, and bullpen).
Caveat: by no means am I saying that these three players will all flop, or that any of them will. This is merely my assessment of who I think are most likely to perform below my expectations.
Offense – Austin Jackson
Despite his up and down ways, which would actually project for a nice season in 2014, Jackson remains too inconsistent and could freefall in ’14. Jackson’s strikeout rate is now an acceptable 21% of his at-bats. What scares me are that his walk rate tumbled in 2013 (from 10.9% in ’12 to 8.5% in ’13) and that his productivity is so reliant on his BABIP (batting average on balls in play).
In Jackson’s good offensive years he has posted .397 and .371 BABIPs, well above league norms. In his two down years of 2011 and ’13, his BABIPs were .340 and .333. These are still decent numbers but with his questionable contact rates he remains a volatile member of the lineup game in and game out. Throw in missing significant time due to injury each of the past two seasons and the Tigers have to have a backup plan for their 27-year old centerfielder.
For more evidence of his wild swings in production, consider his batting averages by month in 2013:
- April: .286
- May: .231
- June: .339
- July: .223
- August: .280
- September: .278
- Playoffs: .214
Last spring, Jackson worked heavily on reducing his leg kick and was met with mixed results. This year he claims he’s just going to be instinctual and play ball. He has one year of arbitration eligibility left after ’14 and then will hit the open market in 2016. He will be hoping for a big contract but will need to prove he’s more than a streaky player at best, and much less than that at his worst.
Jackson has often been the catalyst for the Tigers offense but will more than likely find himself batting around #7 in the lineup this time around, rather than his usual leadoff spot. Less pressure may mean greater results. It could also mean less attention to detail and even streakier performances.
History says Jackson should have a good year, but of the 13 guys suiting up to hit the ball for Brad Ausmus, he remains the greatest unknown to me, and yes, that includes incoming rookie Nick Castellanos.
Starting Pitching – Drew Smyly
This is no knock on Drew Smyly who has been remarkably solid since coming up in 2012 after a brief yet dominant run in the minors. But this is an easy pick for these reasons:
- Smyly has never started a full season in the big leagues. His durability is a concern until he proves otherwise. Smyly stands 6’3’’ but is very slightly built. Rumor has it that he added 20 pounds in the offseason to help his body stand up over a full season of starting. The Tigers plan to watch his innings load closely so figure on a lot of 5-6 inning starts, especially early on.
- Also, the other four components to this rotation are well established. This isn’t Smyly’s fault but it seems unlikely that any of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, or Rick Porcello will be falling on their face anytime soon.
- Smyly could come in and remain solid, posting a sub-4 ERA over 32 starts. He could also find the sledding tough over the long haul and, of any of the five starters, is the only one with the potential to post a +5 ERA.
- I’d like to see Smyly get a little more heat on his fastball and maintain his impressive strikeout rates. He should be able to do this but given his peer group he remains the most likely to flop.
Bullpen – Bruce Rondon
It’d be easy to say ‘anyone but Joe Nathan’ but that would be too simple. Remember, this is all based on my expectations of what the player should be in 2014. Rondon should be a dominant force with lofty strikeout numbers, paving the way for Nathan in the 9th all summer long.
I don’t have similar expectations for Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol, or Luke Putkonen. Their ceilings are much lower than Rondon’s and any member of this group struggling wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
This assessment on Rondon is based on big Bruce’s skill set and a filthy August on the mound in Detroit last season.
Rondon, however, remains the same young pitcher (23-years old) who hasn’t thrown more than 58.1 innings in any season of his career, had a major confidence crisis multiple times in 2013, had up and down performances mainly due to occasional command problems, and couldn’t stay healthy for the stretch run.
If he’s right, Rondon could put up a 2.50 ERA and 80 K’s in about 70 innings. If he’s wrong, he could balloon to an ERA in the 4’s, lose his setup gig, and possibly get some mental health time in the minors. His ceiling and floor couldn’t be further apart.
Related article: Three ‘x-factors’
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