Fantasy Breakdown: Detroit Tigers for 2021

A preview of Detroit's lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

The Tigers started out a very respectable 9-5 in 2020 before succumbing to a 9-game losing streak. Though in a year in which the playoffs were in reach for everyone, credit the Tigers who not only went 8-2 over their next 10 games, but did so while calling up top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. The debuts were a welcome relief from the service-time gaming we’ve grown accustomed to even if the Tigers then limped to finish 12 games below .500, and the debuts of the Tigers’ young arms were less than stellar.

This year, Mize and Skubal will likely be the most intriguing Tigers from a fantasy perspective and also for Detroit fans. The bats were fairly anemic last season, finishing overall with just an 89 wRC+ and there aren’t many indications of impending offensive breakouts. Other than that it’s business as usual for… my GOD! That’s AJ Hinch’s music!

I suppose a season in which your team isn’t expected to challenge for much of anything and attendance is likely to be limited in some capacity for much of the season is as good of a time as any to bring back AJ Hinch into baseball. There’s not a lot to immediately suggest Hinch will drastically change the modus operandi of the club that would have extreme impacts for fantasy. He doesn’t have any fun ringtones that we know of.

It’ll be a season of rooting for the young arms to develop into an intriguing duo, a mix-and-match bullpen, and mostly hoping the offense finds its way into a breakout hitter. Even if a Tiger hitter comes around (looking at you, Jeimer Candelario), the upside is likely somewhat limited from a fantasy perspective due to limited R/RBI opportunities. At least there’s the Lions Pistons Detroit-style pizza!

 

Hitters

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Willi Castro (3B/SS/2B)

2020: 21, 6, 24, 0, .349/.381/.550| SS # 77

2021 ADP: 239.92 (SS# 24)

 

Willi Castro‘s 2020 slash line significantly upped his projections going into 2021, with most systems liking him for a .270-ish batting average, and double digit home runs and steals. His exit velocity and barrels are also up from his 30-game debut in 2019, and if you want to give extra credit to hitters who showed improvement in a year in which pitchers were more ahead of hitters than any time in the recent past, you can live with Castro’s projected 2021, especially with multi-positional eligibility. On the downside, Castro was shut down at the very end of the 2020 season for a shoulder injury, and it was revealed in December he had just begun throwing again. Additionally, though he’s swiped bags throughout his minor league career, Castro has only attempted two in 250 major league plate appearances. Overall, the 23-year old Castro adds up to a decent flier in the late rounds, while monitoring the shoulder and whether he runs on the base paths, as the Tigers won’t provide a lot of help to his RBI or run totals.

 

Miguel Cabrera (UT)

2020: 28, 10, 35, 1, .250/.329/.417| 1B # 10

2021 ADP: 491.08 (UT# 6)

 

Bro, at this point Miguel Cabrera is who he is. Even through his decline phase, he’s largely maintained strong batting averages and on-base skills, but those same assets come at the expense of increasing his power output. He’ll once again hover around a top-10 DH for those teams looking for a little help in average. 

 

Jeimer Candelario (1B, 3B)

2020: 30, 7, 29, 1, .297/.369/.503| 3B # 11

2021 ADP: 240.79 (3B #28)

 

Candelario enjoyed a strong season, built largely on 5 of his 7 homers coming in a two week period between late August and mid-September. (He didn’t ruin my fantasy season in that time, why do you ask?) His output in his five (mostly partial) seasons in MLB has been reflective of wild swings in his BABIP:

In the two seasons in which Candelario has had above-league average BABIP, he’s slashed .290/.364/.464. In the two seasons in which he hasn’t (excluding his five games with the Cubs in 2016), he’s produced at a .213/.312/.365 level. There’s reason to believe his BABIP can remain above league average, given that Candelario doubled his barrel rate from the previous year and added two miles per hour onto his average batted ball exit velocity. Small sample caveats apply, as they do with any 2020 analysis, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see that Candelario has figured some things out at the plate and can be at minimum an average corner infielder with upside moving forward.

 

Niko Goodrum (SS, 2B)

2020: 15, 5, 20, 7, .184/.263/.335| 2B # 103

2021 ADP: 422.77 (SS# 13)

 

It’s difficult to succeed with a 30% strikeout rate, which Goodrum has for his career. He’ll run a little bit and get to double digits in both steals and homers, but his average will be a huge hit to fantasy owners.

Grayson Greiner (C)

2020: 8, 3, 8, 0, .118/.182/.333| C # 46

2021 ADP: N/A (C # 71)

 

Greiner is likely to be in mostly a time share with Eric Haase, limiting either of their values in fantasy.

Isaac Paredes (3B)

2020: 7, 1, 6, 0, .220/.278/.290 | SS # 45

2021 ADP: N/A (3B # 49)

 

Paredes had a rough debut in 33 games in 2020, but the 21-year old has shown an aptitude for getting on base and avoiding strikeouts in the minors. He could turn into an intriguing option for average or on-base help at some point, but his relative inexperience, lack of pop or stolen bases, and hitting in the Tigers lineup aren’t doing him favors fantasy-wise. Definitely a name for your watchlist in case he puts it together.

 

 

Outfielders

Victor Reyes (OF)

2020: 30,4, 14, 8, .277/.315/.390| OF # 50

2021 ADP: 192.52 (OF# 52)

 

Reyes could be a speculative breakout candidate for fantasy drafts. The 26-year old’s average exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit rate, and xSLG have all increased each year he’s been in the majors. If that trend continues, a 20/20 season is maybe a 20th-percentile outcome. At an absolute minimum, you’re getting a decent average and double-digit steals as a fourth-outfielder type.

 

Robbie Grossman (OF)

2020: 23, 8, 23, 8, .241/.344/.482| OF # 46

2021 ADP: 444.89 (OF# 107)

 

Grossman was signed by the Tigers in the first week of January off the heels of the best season of his career by WAR, and his second-best season in homers and steals…in 51 games. His batting average and on-base percentages were both right around his career averages, but his power took a massive jump mainly from a nearly 20% increase in his pulled ball rate.

Your mileage on Grossman largely depends on if you think he can keep that up for a full season. If so, he’s a potential 20/20 guy with great on-base skills (but still on a lineup that will limit run opportunities). I’m penciling him in as a late-round flier in my OBP league.

JaCoby Jones (OF)

2020: 19, 5, 14, 1, .234/.303/.398 | OF # 90

2021 ADP: 392.79 (OF # 94)

 

Jones has never played more than 129 games in a season in the majors, but he added some intriguing pop last year with 5 homers in just 108 plate appearances. For his career, he’s struck out 31.8% of his times to the plate, which severely hampers his batting average or ability to contribute in fantasy. 

 

Christin Stewart (OF)

2020: 6, 3, 9, 0, .167/.224/.300 | OF # 178

2021 ADP: N/A (OF# 172)

 

Christin Stewart may not be in the Twilight of his career… look, what do you want from me, we’re at the bottom of the order of the Tiger lineup. With the Robbie Grossman signing, left field innings will be difficult to come by, making Stewart more of a 4th-outfielder type on the Tigers. Please enjoy this gif of him making an incredible catch.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

It seems unlikely that the Tigers would call up MLB.com’s 4th-ranked prospect Spencer Torkelson (1B/3B) before he’s taken a professional at-bat, but the bat is special for the Arizona State graduate that set the school home run record for a freshman (previously set by some guy named Barry Bonds). Given his college pedigree, he’s worth monitoring for 2021 in case the Tigers get aggressive, even for redraft leagues.

Outside of Torkelson, uhhhh… maybe Zack Short, the catching prospect? Catcher seems thin every year, nobody really has the starting job locked down, and Short has never walked in less than 12% of his plate appearances at any stop in the minors, and likewise was above average in all those seasons, save for 2019’s 160 PA at AAA.

 

Starting Pitchers

Matthew Boyd (Likely Starter)

2020: 3-7, 60.1, 60, 6.71, 1.48| SP # 233

2021 ADP: 316.26 (P# 122)

Repertoire: 53% fastball, 23% slider, 8% curve, 17% changeup

 

Outside of Skubal and Mize, the Tiger rotation is made up of pitchers that are likely starters, in that they’re current slotted to start, but wouldn’t really be bankable to keep their slot on a contending team given last season’s struggles, even in a year in which pitchers were largely ahead of hitters. So it is for Matthew Boyd, last year’s 233rd ranked starting pitcher. He’ll try to bounce back, and the Tigers will either keep him out every fifth day to fill the rotation, or could demote him to bring up a young arm for MLB development time, largely depending on how the Tigers front office feels about last year’s call-ups in terms of both those pitchers’ development and service time considerations.

 

Spencer Turnbull (Likely Starter)

2020: 4-4, 56.2, 51, 3.97, 1.34| SP # 82

2021 ADP: 333.35 (P #128)

Repertoire: 45% fastball , 25% sinker, 9% changeup, 20% slider

 

Turnbull produced a decent ERA last year, but was in the bottom 8% among all pitchers in average exit velocity. His home run to fly ball ratio was significantly down from his career average, and both walks and strikeouts trended in the wrong direction last year. Another year of sub-four ERA seems unlikely, and as with all Tiger pitchers, wins will be hard to come by.

 

Michael Fulmer (Likely Starter)

2020: 0-2, 27.2, 20, 8.78, 2.06| RP # 399

2021 ADP: N/A (P# 282)

Repertoire: Sinker 34.3%, Slider 15%, Fastball 28%, Changeup 10%

Coming off Tommy John surgery in 2019, Fulmer struggled last season to an ERA over 8. Mostly, it was dingers that did him in, with a whopping 22% of his fly balls leaving the yard. He’ll try to get back on track in 2021, and the Tigers will be able to afford him that chance. If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic, Fulmer has never had an ERA nor FIP above 4 in a healthy season.

 

 

Tarik Skubal (Locked In Starter)

2020: 1-4, 32, 37, 5.63, 1.22| SP #145

2021 ADP: 290.88 (P# 110)

Repertoire: 60% fastball, 16% changeup, 16% slider, 8% curveball

 

Everything is built on the fastball for Tarik Skubal. It’s his best pitch, but hitters are also sitting on it, with two-thirds of his home runs allowed coming off of it. If Skubal can keep hitters off of it, he’s a SP2/3. He tried out a curve 46 times last season, which hitters swung and missed on 44.4% of the time and is an enticing look at what may be yet to come for the 24 year old:

 

Casey Mize (Locked In Starter)

2020: 1-4, 32, 37, 5.63, 1.22| SP # 267

2021 ADP: 348 (P# 135)

Repertoire: 27% sinker, 25% fastball, 20% cutter, 18% splitter, 10% curveball 

 

One of Detroit’s top prospects coming into 2020, Mize struggled mightily in his first go-round in the majors. Of course, he had never pitched above double-A (and had less than 80 innings to his name there in 2019), so the struggles aren’t entirely unexpected. Mize throws five pitches 10% of the time or more. His sinker and splitter generate a ton of movement but last year didn’t get a lot of whiffs. In the minors, Mize has been a pitcher without gaudy strikeout numbers or ground ball rates, but has done just a lot of things well that add up to strong ERAs/WHIP. He’ll likely have a long leash to continue his development this year, but may end up being a stronger option for 2022 given his lack of experience.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Matt Manning is the name to know here. It’s easy to envision the Tigers bringing up the 6’6″ 21-year old if one of Fulmer, Turnbull, or Boyd struggle. The Tigers’ 3rd-ranked prospect has never struck out less than a batter per inning at any of his minor league stops, and likewise has never a topped a 3.47 FIP (over 33.1 innings in short-season A ball as 19 year old). However, as Mize and Skubal demonstrated, young arms don’t necessarily click right away, even the highly rated ones, and Manning in effect didn’t pitch in 2020. 

 

Relief Pitchers

Bullpen Roles

 

Bryan Garcia (Closer)

2020: 4, 3, 21.2, 12, 1.66, 1.29 | RP # 53

2021 ADP: 450.41 (P# 173)

Bryan Garcia finished second on the Tigers with 4 saves last season and an outstanding 1.66 ERA. However, those numbers belie a 5.74 xFIP and more concerning, a minuscule 4.98 K/9. While Garcia will likely start the season as the Tigers’ closer, he probably won’t help a ton with ratios or get many save chances.

 

 

Gregory Soto (Setup/Closer)

2020: 2, 4, 23, 29, 4.30, 1.26 | RP # 138

2021 ADP: N/A (P# 209)

 

Gregory Soto is likely the reliever to own in the Tigers’ bullpen. Last season, he got a handful of save opportunities and converted on 2 out of 3. New manager AJ Hinch should be willing to mix and match bullpen roles with this year’s team, and Soto could take firm control of the closer role if Garcia struggles, despite being a lefty. He’ll also strike out more batters than Garcia, but his 5-plus walks per nine (which he’s struggled with quite a bit in the minors) could come back to bite him. A 61% whiff rate on the slider will play, and was fourth in the majors among pitchers who threw it as much as he did last year.

 

ADP data taken from NFBC composite ADPs through 12/28.

2019 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Sean Roberts

Sean Roberts is a contributor to PitcherList and writes mostly about the Brewers at Sausage Racing Form. His work has been featured on Baseball Prospectus, the Hardball Times, and October. He's still getting used to the DH in the national league.

  • Avatar BB says:

    Not sure how “locked in” Mize and Skubal are based on Al Avila’s comments on Jan. 7: “We’ll see how it goes. Right now I can’t tell you if both of them will make the club or if one of them. But they’ll have a chance.” Quite possible that one of them will claim the final rotation spot (along with Boyd, Turnbull, Fulmer and Jose Urena, who isn’t mentioned here) and the other will start in the minors.

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