Torii Hunter drops an easy fly ball in the opener last Monday against the Royals. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Some things in the first week of the Tigers’ season went according to expectations -- the rotation was phenomenal, the bullpen struggled, the team won a bunch of games at Comerica Park.
And then there were the oddities -- mistakes repeatedly made on the base paths, Joe Nathan blowing his first save in Detroit and the defense looking downright Raburnian at times.
The trick this early in the season is figuring out what’s a trend worth watching and what’s a fluke because anything can happen in a handful of games.
Take baserunning for example. That seems like a fluke. Brad Ausmus’ team running more aggressively comes as a surprise to no one. All spring he discussed the ever-present green light as players were given the opportunity to learn what they can or can’t do when the games count.
Players new to the club, such as Ian Kinsler, were actually shocked to be asked questions about the topic at all.
“I think it’s bizarre there’s so many questions about it, to be honest,” Kinsler said early in spring training. “I think that’s the way you’re supposed to play the game.”
Of course, he wasn’t around to see the lumbering station-to-station Tigers clubs that came before. So the rest of us expected outs in spring training -- and received a fair amount of them in Grapefruit League play.
What we may not have expected was that the team would continue running into outs when the season began. But that’s exactly what happened in the early games, with Austin Jackson, Nick Castellanos and Alex Gonzalez all falling victim to the quickly-growing TOOTBLAN “statistic” -- that’s “thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop” if you don’t live on Twitter.
The aggressiveness may be here to stay, but the TOOTBLANs have started to trail off already. The Tigers, with four, according to the aptly named TOOTBLAN tracker, trail the Dodgers, Cubs and Pirates, who each have six, as well as the A’s and Phillies with five.
It seems likely players will continue to make a few outs on the base paths, that goes hand-in-hand with aggressiveness, but so long as the “like a nincompoop” aspect fades it’s an acceptable trade.
Other questions are harder to answer.
Take for instance the issues in the field -- and they were certainly issues. A hiccup -- such as Torii Hunter dropping a fly ball in the opener -- could probably be forgiven. Maybe Nick Castellanos has to get used to his new third base digs at Comerica Park.
We saw more than few unexpected gaffes at a few unexpected spots. Weren’t the Tigers looking for a glove-first shortstop when they traded for Alex Gonzalez? Despite being the Opening Day hero at the plate, he still left many wondering if maybe a better answer isn’t out there -- somewhere.
So there are issues.
Look no further than some advanced metrics to see just how strange of a week the Tigers had defensively.
By John Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved, the Tigers were near-worst in MLB at seven runs worse than average. By Defensive Efficiency, which measures how many balls in play were turned into outs, the Tigers were near the top with 74.4 percent.
This, by the way, is why it’s dangerous to pay much heed to statistics early in the season, but it also emphasizes that it’s hard to get a feel for this club’s fielding this early.
It remains to be seen whether the Tigers’ defense will live up to expectations, though it seems more like a fluke to see even an aging Hunter making the mistakes he has. A tweak or two in the field and a little health may be all Detroit needs.
If only it were that easy in the bullpen.