Providing optimism in Tigerland right now is the stellar play of three rookie position players. You may remember some fool on this very blog suggesting center fielder Austin Jackson was fool’s gold earlier in the season. It seems that many have been equally skeptical considering the 23-year-old runaway Rookie of the Month is still only owned in 65 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, but right now he leads the Majors in hits (45), is second in batting average (.376) and tied for fifth in runs scored (23). I don’t usually put too much stock in the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) statistic when it comes to assessing an offensive players ability (if you’re hitting weak pop-ups and grounders all the time, you’re going to have a bad BABIP. How does that mean you’ve been ‘unlucky’?). Yet the fact that Jackson’s BABIP is sitting at a comically high .524 right now has to mean he’s due for a significant drop off, right? Jackson’s also on pace for 201 strikeouts, which has to eventually catch up to him too, right? I would say yes, but he’s done enough over his first 28 games to make any potential hater wary of heading down that road once again.
Brennan Boesch is large. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, you don’t have to look at statistics to know this 24-year-old has extra-base power. But when you do check the facts, you’ll find that the lefty batsmen averaged 112 RBIs per 162 games in his four-plus Minor League seasons. He managed to drive in runs at a superb rate mainly due to an impressive ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Surprisingly, Boesch’s home-run swing didn’t come around until ’09 when he crushed 28 long balls. After putting up a .379-3-17 line through 15 games at Triple-A this season, he was called up to replace an injured Carlos Guillen in left field. All Boesch has done in 10 games since the call-up is hit .324 with, two homers, 10 RBIs and five doubles. It’ll be tough to replace this kid in the lineup when 34-year-old Guillen returns from his hamstring pull, and considering Carlos missed 130 games to injury over the previous two seasons, something tells me Boesch will find a way to continue raking with the big club.
On April 28 Alex Avila was hitting .097, and all the sleeper hype he’d been gotten in the preseason was, well, sleeping. Yet a recent 5-for-8 stretch has raised his average 103 points, highlighted by a two-homer gamer on Wednesday, and Avila is now once again looking like a potential fantasy contributor. The 23-year-old backup rocketed through the Minors in just one-and-a-half seasons, racking up a .280 average with 13 homers and 77 RBIs in 151 games. In 61 impressive at-bats in a part-time role with the big club last season, Avila socked five homers and drove in 14. His only competition for at-bats right now is Gerald Laird and his .141 average, and with Mr. Laird likely on a short leash already because of some compelling shenanigans, Avila should have a clear road ahead.
However amidst the giddiness generated by fresh young offensive talent, there lies the 800-pound Gorilla in the room. Putting a damper everything is the fact that the Tigers’ two most promising young pitchers have a combined 6.97 ERA through 12 starts, and have shown some disturbing trends.
Their 21-year-old phenom Rick Porcello was roughed up for the fifth straight outing Wednesday against the Twins, and looked anything but phenomenal. The right-hander, who consistently lived in the mid-90s during his impressive 14-win rookie campaign, was sitting around 89 mph for most of Wednesday, reaching as low as 87. When you’re throwing in the high 80’s and your change-up comes in at 81, it’s not fooling anyone. It’s possible that the 170 2/3 innings Porcello threw as a 20-year-old are beginning to catch up with him, and a lack of life in his arm has contributed to a scary 7.50 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, and .354 opponents’ batting average. He’s just not himself right now, so don’t be surprised if he misses some starts in the near future.
Equally ineffective has been Max Scherzer, who got shelled by the Twins on May 3 for 10 earned runs. That made it 16 earned runs over the last two starts for the 25-year-old right-hander, bringing his ERA up to 6.47. In 2009 with Arizona, Scherzer displayed nasty stuff, striking out 174 batters in 170 1/3 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .253 average. So far this season the nastiness has been lacking, as he’s K’ed a surprisingly low 21 batters through 32 innings, and opponents have hit .315 off him. Another guy used to throwing heat in the mid-90s, Scherzer’s fastball seems to have dropped a notch, averaging around 91-92. Usually when an electric young strikeout pitcher struggles, the Ks are still there regardless of how many runs he surrenders, so something seems to be wrong.
Hmm….did I mention Austin Jackson was Rookie of the Month?