TDG’s Triple Play: Detroit Tigers!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Paul Monte and a rotating panel of writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Spencer Turnbull, Age: 28, Position: SP
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Spencer Turnbull has spent his career thus far on the precipice. His deep repertoire has led to occasionally good, but never great results. Starting with converting from a sinker to a 4-seam fastball as his primary offering shortly after reaching the majors, his pitch mix tweaks have been effective, despite evolving more slowly than one would hope. It’s a pretty simple and obvious correction: more breaking balls from Turnbull will lead to fewer breaking hearts from his fans.
Turning A Corner
In 2020, Turnbull’s two worst starts came in September, on the 2nd and the 13th. He gave up 5 earned runs in each of those outings. Those were also the two starts in which he threw the highest percentage of sinkers, and lowest percentage of curveballs all season. It would seem to be a pretty obvious conclusion from there for how to approach hitters moving forward.
Through four starts in 2021, he has increased his curveball and slider usage, which has benefited him greatly. However, that has come at the expense of his 4-seamer, not his sinker, which has been hit hard and is getting fewer swings and misses than in years past. The underlying stats show improvement based on increased breaking balls, but the surface stats have suffered from continued use of the sinker. It’s been several years of making marginal improvements, but still not maximizing his offerings with the right approach.
Turnbull’s 4-seam fastball grades out at 60 according to Fangraphs. His slider is a 55. His changeup plays well. To top it all off, his control is above average. He has never had a FIP above 3.99 in the majors. All of the tools are there, he just needs to put it together.
Spencer will only be entering arbitration next season for the first time, and won’t be a free agent until before the 2025 season. Detroit is still in the midst of their rebuild, so he should have plenty of time to make these changes and secure his rotation spot on the next winning Tigers team. If he can deploy a more advantageous pitch mix, hopefully he will be on your next winning team, too.
Jeimer Candelario, Age: 27, Position: 3B
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Truthfully, “Detroit Tigers hitter” is probably not the most eagerly anticipated section of TDG’s Triple Play series. The Tigers are scoring an MLB-worst 3.26 runs per game, more than a full run below the league average. Their bats are not helping many fantasy teams now.
Jeimer Candelario’s .753 OPS is the best on the team, but his .289/.355/.398 slash line is slightly disappointing. He appeared to be breaking out in the shortened 2020 season, posting a .297/.369/.503 line backed by a career-best 90.2 MPH average exit velocity. So far this year, his power numbers have regressed.
Blowing out the Candel
Candelario does not have the most fantasy-friendly game. His batting average and OBP are nice, but he hasn’t been a huge producer in any counting categories.
He’s more of a line-drive hitter than a home run threat, and on top of that, his long ball totals are suppressed by Comerica Park. All three of his HRs this season have come on the road, as did four of the seven he hit in 2020. Baseball Savant gave him an expected home run total of 8.1 last season, but just 5 if he played all his games in Detroit.
His sprint speed usually ranks slightly above league average, and he’s stolen just seven bases in his 367 career games. And of course, being on the league’s worst offense doesn’t help with runs or RBIs.
Re-igniting the Flame
What could Candelario do to become more fantasy relevant? For one, he could improve his strikeout rate, which has consistently sat around 25 percent for his career. It’s hard to hit near .300 while striking out a quarter of the time, and he’s relied on a high BABIP to keep his average afloat. He never struck out more than 20% at any level of the minor leagues, so it seems like he should be able to do better here.
He could also adapt his approach to hit more home runs. He hit a ball with a 114.2 maximum exit velocity in 2019, which suggests he has the raw power to go deep more often.
His team situation can only get better. He can leave as a free agent in 2024, but if he’s still with the Tigers, by that point they will have reinforced their lineup with Spencer Torkelson and other top prospects.
I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Candelario yet. He’s only 27 and has a lot of hitting ability, but hasn’t put it all together for various reasons, some beyond his control. He can be a decent corner infield option now, with potential to push his HR totals up into the 20s while maintaining a solid batting average.
Matt Manning, Age: 23, Position: SP, Level: Triple-A
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Manning was drafted out of high school as an athletic but unrefined hurler. The son of an NBA player, he played multiple sports, and his professional debut was the first time he would be making baseball his sole focus. He had a hitch in his stride, a low/inconsistent arm slot, and a violent follow-through. His natural ability allowed him to generate velocity and stay around the plate, but for him to truly be in control, he would have to get under control. Tigers pitching coaches smoothed and lengthened his leg extension and raised his arm slot. This practice enforced a consistent landing spot and keyhole release point with every pitch type. He is now able to get behind his occasionally triple-digit fastball, and stay on top of his devastating curveball.
It’s Vex Manning Day!
This recently learned and continually honed control is evidenced in the numbers. In each year since his draft year, Manning has decreased his BB%, going from 11.4% in 2017 to 10.4% in 2018 and then to 7.2% in 2019, all while maintaining a K% above 28% each year.
Despite giving up 3 home runs in his 2021 Triple-A debut, the long ball has never been a problem for Manning. He has limited hard contact in the air with magical efficiency. If he can continue this trend along with his budding mastery of the strike zone, I posit that we should nickname him Vex Manning, and celebrate Vex Manning Day every fifth day.
Manning The Ship
“We want to see Matt Manning make his major-league debut at some point this year,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in late March.
Should Manning get the call this year, he is fully equipped to rack up strikeouts against big-league hitting. In addition to a high-90’s fastball that can reach 100, he has developed an advanced feel for manipulating his huge breaking ball. He has also implemented a more-than-viable changeup and is working on a slider. If he can maintain that control, feel and pitchability, he could be the Tigers’ number 1 or 2 starter by season’s end.
Manning enters his age-23 season in 2021 as a potential ace. He has a squeaky clean arm health history and has been adding innings and durability, in addition to those skills improvements. He profiles out similarly to what Charlie Morton has been the past few years, except with a bit more velocity. If his trajectory stays on track, he will quickly become the leader of a championship-quality rotation, in both real life and fantasy.
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