Tigers still closer to last than Yankees

The Tigers are getting more for their free-agent money than the Yankees, but are they really in the same class?

Originally Published: May 4, 2004
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

Thanks to the Yankees' six-game winning streak, nobody's really worried about them any more. Still, this was the team that was supposed to win every game, right? Yet somehow the Yankees, who added four great players last winter, have lost 11 games already. Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers added just one great player during the offseason and are sitting at 13-13, just 1½ games worse than the Yankees.

The Tigers did add a number of other new players, though, and those players have played a huge role in the club's surprising performance. But could the Tigers' offseason acquisitions, most of whom hardly caused a raised eyebrow on Baseball Tonight, have outperformed the Yankees' new players?

First, let's quickly dispense with the pitchers. The Tigers added, notably, closer Ugueth Urbina and starter Jason Johnson. Urbina has pitched well but in only seven innings, and Johnson's 1-4 with a 5.70 ERA. Meanwhile, new Yankees Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez have combined for seven wins and a 2.63 ERA.

The hitters, though, have been a different story. In 2003, the Tigers scored 591 runs, fewer than every other team in the majors except the Dodgers (who scored 574). In 2004, the Tigers have scored 152 runs, more than every other team in the majors except the Astros.

That's right. The Tigers are No. 1 in the American League, slightly ahead of the Rangers, and significantly ahead of the Red Sox (113 runs) and Yankees (120). This, though the Tigers are spending roughly $26 million on their current lineup and the Yankees more than $90 million on theirs.

White
White

Rodriguez
I. Rodriguez

The Yankees' four significant new hitters were Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton and Travis Lee. The Tigers' were Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Fernando Vina and Rondell White. Here's how those two quartets have fared in 2004:

             AB   R  RBI   OBP Slug
New Yanks   229  34   23  .347 .371
New Tigers  373  73   64  .386 .458

Sheffield
Sheffield

Rodriguez
A. Rodriguez

Those numbers include four everyday players for the Tigers, but only two for the Yankees (Rodriguez and Sheffield). For a more interesting comparison, we might look at the two Tigers who have been particularly impressive, (Ivan) Rodriguez and White (though in fairness, Guillen has been excellent, too). Here are the two Yankees stars compared with Pudge and White:

              AB   R  RBI   OBP Slug
A-Rod/Sheff  186  31   21  .370 .409
I-Rod/White  187  35   42  .408 .545

The difference is obvious: Detroit's pair is doing more heavy hitting. Ivan Rodriguez is batting .368, and Rondell White's five home runs equal the total from Alex Rodriguez (four) and Sheffield (one).

I recently heard somebody on TV say something like, "Gary Sheffield is the sort of hitter who can go out and hit 40 home runs for you."

There's no doubt that Sheffield can hit 40 home runs for you, but it's not at all likely that he will. This is Sheffield's 17th season in the major leagues, and he has hit 40 (actually, a few more than 40) home runs exactly twice. He's 35 years old, and over the last three seasons he has averaged 33 homers per season. Don't get me wrong. Sheffield's a great hitter, and he's going to get his dingers (not to mention his singles and his walks).

To this point, though, the new Tiger hitters have outperformed the new Yankees. White has played better than Sheffield, and I. Rodriguez has played better than A. Rodriguez (and for that matter, Guillen is winning the battle of the ex-Mariner shortstops). Lofton, expected to play at least semi-regularly in center field, has been hurt for much of the season and ineffective when he has played.

The Yankees will be fine, of course. But what about the Tigers? They're 13-13, and they've scored almost exactly as many runs (152) as they've given up (150). But going down one more level, we find that the Tigers have been outplayed by a fairly significant margin. They've been out-doubled (58-43), out-tripled (7-5), out-homered (31-23) and out-walked (103-96). The Tigers have a .352 team on-base percentage, their opponents .364. Even more strikingly, the Tigers have a .417 slugging percentage, their opponents .472.

Among the Tigers' five starting pitchers, only one currently sports an ERA lower than 5.19, and that one is Mike Maroth (4.26), the guy who lost 21 games last year.

These numbers do not augur well for the future. A month ago, the Tigers looked like a last-place team despite their offseason additions. Those additions generally have paid off. Kudos to Dave Dombrowski. But if you dig deep enough, the Tigers still look like a last-place team.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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