Last year’s American League runner-up took some bold steps attempting to get back to the Fall Classic. Prince Fielder, Doug Fister, Joaquin Benoit, and Jhonny Peralta are all out of Detroit. The upheaval gives fantasy owners plenty to investigate as the new season dawns.
1) Is Miguel Cabrera human? Well, the way he hobbled around in September kills the theory that he is a robot. I’m thinking he is some human/Asgardian hybrid swinging the bat equivalent of Mjolnir (they might be showing Thor a bit too much on tv). The difference between Cabrera’s wOBA and the league average was greater than Albert Pujols ever accomplished. His age 30 wOBA was also higher than the $240 million man’s. Since he keeps third base eligibility this year I am ranking him first overall.
2) Is Justin Verlander still an ace? He finished only 40th among starters last year, but the decline in his surface stats was steeper than in his peripherals. Rather than outperforming his indicators he nearly matched them. Notably, his walk rate increased and his contact percentage nosed up. His swinging strike rate was lower, but still 18th. He posted his highest first strike rate ever, suggesting that his control did not deteriorate like his walk rate indicated.
His 2.83 xFIP and 4.80 K/BB in September/October shows that whether he coasted or struggled with injury through the mid-season he turned it on down the stretch. It would be nice to see him hit 97-98 a few times in the spring to show he is throwing well, but he can still be a top ten starter.
3) What will Ian Kinsler do? He is an excellent contact hitter, which keeps his average manageable even with his fly ball tendencies. There are some nasty three-year trends emerging though. His ISO has dropped from .223 to .166 to .136. His batted ball distance is also among the weakest in the league. On the bases his SB/CS ratio has collapsed from 30/4 to 21/9 to 15/11. Despite the flaws most will draft him within the first five second basemen. That would be a mistake.
4) How will Drew Smyly take to starting? Most of his 2012 innings came as a starter and he posted sub-4.00 indicators. They improved as he came out of the bullpen in 2013. He also attacked with a very heavy dose of fastballs. He needs to diversify in order to last deep into games. His career FIP against righties is 3.95 although he does strike them out 22.0% of the time. Facing AL Central teams will give him a boost and optimistically he falls as a borderline 3-4 SP in standard mixed.
5) Joe Nathan is old. Can anyone else in that bullpen close? Nathan had an outstanding year in 2013, holding a 2.26 FIP even though he lost some steam off his fastball. He also had some extremely fortunate LOB%, BABIP, and HR/FB marks.
Backing him up are Bruce Rondon, Joba Chamberlain, and Al Alburquerque. They are all flamethrowing righties with control issues and platoon split concerns. There is potential if one improves, but no necessary handcuff. Build in some regression and Nathan is still good enough to hold down the ninth inning.