TDG’S Triple Play: Detroit Tigers!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. 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!
This week I (@barrington_phil) am joined by Drew Klein (@aok_fan) and Ben Sanders (@HPBenSanders) follow us on Twitter and send us any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.
Kerry Carpenter, Age: 25, Position: OF
Analysis by:Ben Sanders
Detroit hitter remains one of the least-exciting sections of our Triple Play series, perhaps only ahead of Colorado pitchers. The Tigers are 28th in MLB in runs per game, up two spots from a dead-last finish a year ago. The two teams below, Oakland and Kansas City, are at least in the top-five in stolen bases. Detroit doesn’t have a speedster like Esteury Ruiz or Bobby Witt, ranking third-to-last in swipes. Jeimer Candelario has been our featured player here the last two years, and he’s having his best season now that he’s no longer a Tiger.
There’s reason for hope, however. The fences have been moved in at Comerica Park, and it seems to be having an effect. Baseball Reference has given the revamped stadium a hitter-friendly park factor of 106 this season. Now the Tigers just need the bats to take advantage, and Kerry Carpenter could be one of them.
Kerry A Big Stick
Carpenter was a 19th round-draft pick in 2019, and was well below the dynasty radar until 2022. Last year he hit 36 home runs in just 513 PA across three levels, including six in a late-season MLB cameo. So far this year, he’s slashing .258/.322/.464 with 11 HR in 230 PA. That’s similar to last season’s .252/.310/.485 mark, but look deeper and you’ll see some encouraging signs.
Carpenter wasn’t very good last year in terms of plate discipline, with a 5.3% BB-rate and 28.3% K-rate, or exit velocities, with a 107.3 max and 87.2 average. All that added up to a .211 xBA and .397 xSLG. It’s never fair to judge a rookie by a small sample, but there wasn’t much to like there. He’s improved on all those numbers in 2023. The walks are up to 7.4%, the strikeouts down to 23.9%, and he has a 90.4 average exit velocity and 109.3 max. The raw power isn’t quite what you’d hope for from a guy whose best category has been homers, but he’s been able to make the most of it with a double-digit barrel rate both seasons. The improvements make the current performance level look a lot more believable, and he’s won over the Tigers, who have batted him cleanup regularly of late.
Looking to Build? Get a Carpenter
Carpenter is off to a nice start to his MLB career but doesn’t seem to be generating much buzz. He’s only 42% rostered in Fantrax, and I’ve seen midseason top-500 dynasty rankings on the web that don’t include him. Maybe it’s the lack of prospect pedigree and/or playing in Detroit, but even if he doesn’t have star upside, what Carpenter has done so far shouldn’t be ignored.
He’s on pace for about 30 homers over a full MLB season. The Tigers’ young offense will only get better and create more RBI opportunities. And though he has yet to steal an MLB base, his sprint speed is in the 70th percentile per Statcast, so it’s possible he could start chipping in a few bags at some point. He has the potential to be a solid fantasy starter in the outfield for the next several years, and can be acquired cheap or even free in a lot of dynasty leagues. That’s worth checking out.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Age: 30, Position: SP
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Originally signed way back in 2010 by the Orioles for $175K from Venezuela, the 6’2” 231lb lefty was traded to the Red Sox at the 2014 trade deadline for Andrew Miller (who became an ace reliever after he left Baltimore). ERod made his debut the next season at age 22, starting 21 games to the tune of a 3.85 ERA. He bounced back and forth between the bigs and the minor leagues for the next few seasons, though he started at least 20 games for the big-league team every season he was in Boston (2015-2021, though ERod opted out of the 2020 season). In his past ERod has seen time on the IL multiple times with right knee issues, but nothing since 2018, when he had right knee patellofemoral ligament reconstruction surgery (that’s a mouthful…of pizza), so hopefully that fixed it.
30 Minutes or Less
ERod had his greatest success in Beantown, winning a ring with the 2018 team, and compiling a 4.03 ERA, 1.30 WHIP with a 9.1 K/9 and 2.86 K/BB over 122 games started and five relief appearances. Those numbers earned him a five-year, $77 million deal with the Tigers (with an ominous post 2023 opt out clause). Not a bad deal for the team, actually, and I was pretty excited to grab a fellow Aries in 2022 drafts, even taking him in a couple Dynasty start-ups. 2022 didn’t go well, though, as he missed three months of last season (from May 19th – August 27th) due to personal reasons related to his family, who live in Miami (more on that later). He also didn’t pitch well, to the tune of a 4.05 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 17 starts.
The Noid is Back!
This season ERod is crushing it to the tune of a 2.95 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 15 games started with 91 Ks. In 10 of those 15 starts he gave up two or less earned runs. Those numbers made him very popular at the trade deadline just a couple days ago. Soon to be a trivia answer for the ages, who would rather stay in Detroit than head to LA? One Eduardo Rodriguez, that’s who. Just wow. I’ve lived in LA, been to Detroit a few times, and I’m not surprised he’s the first person in the history of the world to chooser Detroit over LA. So nicely done, ERod.
To be fair, he has his reasons: a desire to remain near east coast family…and not increase his value when he opts out of his current deal at season’s end, in two months. Because c’mon, he would have pitched better in LA for two months, have a chance at a World Series, and the opportunity to make even more money…but he’d rather stay in Detroit (which is super close to Miami, btw). But that’s his choice, and he has a contract that back its up.
Who let the Noid run the Detroit front office?
What the Tigers were doing, knowing that the Dodgers were on his trade veto list (when there were only ten teams he could veto a trade to), and not have a backup, nobody knows, but this is also the team that has Javier Baze signed through 2027 at $24.5 million average salary per year, shrug emoji. Miami or Tampa didn’t offer something for him? C’mon now.
If you’re not a Tigers fan, you may not know this, but the team was purchased by Tom Monaghan (founder of Domino’s Pizza) in 1983, and later was sold to Mike Ilitich in 1992, who founded Little Caesars. The Detroit Pepperonis is a much better than the Tigers, as what is the relationship to Detroit and big cats? Detroiters, feel free to let me know if you know in the comments.
Crazy Bread! (is my favorite)
For Dynasty, ERod has value for certain. Expect 150 innings, a K/9 above nine, but I wouldn’t expect the walk rate of 2023 (2.14/9) to stay, over his career he’s been over three. That’s a solid #3 fantasy starter, and this season he’s performed to #2 levels. A good chunk of his future value depends on where he signs in the off-season, but it wouldn’t shock me to see ERod go for five more seasons of #3 production. I wouldn’t go overboard if I didn’t roster him, but if I did, and a sell high opportunity arose, I’d be so inclined to make a move.
Jace Jung, Age: 22, Position: 2B, Level: AA
Analysis by: Drew Klein
As anyone familiar with the Tigers, or with current prospect rankings knows, Colt Keith is the top prospect in the system, and will likely be called up late enough to keep his Rookie of the Year eligibility in 2024. After that, what do we have to look forward to in the way of hitters? Well, the answer may begin and end with Jace Jung, second baseman of the future? Right now there are not many players blocking his path, but he does have some work to do to get there.
P.J.T. (Pretty Jung Things)
Like his older brother Josh, Jace was a college star for Texas Tech where Jace put up a .328/.468/.647 slash line over the course of his college career. Both were named Big 12 Conference players of the year, and both were selected in the first round of the draft, Josh to Texas in 2019 of course, and three years later, Jace to Detroit with the 12th pick. In what feels like a wave of younger (Jung-er?) brothers emerging as prospects, Jace is putting together statistics to back up the pedigree.
The Jung and the Restless
The Tigers were aggressive with his original assignment, assigning him directly to High-A, where he struggled in his 30 games in 2022. The silver lining is that he continued to show good plate discipline, with an 18.7% walk rate and a 20.0% K rate. This year did not start well for Jace as he began the year in High-A again. Through May 31, he posted a slash line of .229/.352/.405 with 6 home runs, but as the weather heated up, so did he. From June 1 through July 23, he hit .280/.402/.527 with 8 home runs, earning a promotion to Double-A. This time, he hasn’t needed much time to adjust to the level, hitting 3 home runs with a .292 batting average in his first 6 games. That’s the definition of a small sample size, but it’s encouraging to see he wasn’t overwhelmed.
There’s no question that he’s going to hit his way to the majors by 2025, maybe a late debut in 2024. The question is where he will play. His natural position is second base and so far he hasn’t shown the athleticism to play third or short. Scouting reports indicate he’s an average second baseman but needs to work on quickness and footwork to increase range and make the turn on a double play. As we often say, however, bats will find a way into the lineup and it’s not like there are any all-stars playing second base in Detroit now. (Naturally the day after I wrote this, the Tigers traded for a “bat-first” second base prospect, but I don’t see Hao-Yu Lee getting to the majors before Jung.)
Last note, having nothing to do with fantasy value, the official MLB scouting report says Jung tilts the bat back in a way that resembles Chuck Knoblauch, but when I watch the film, I see shades of Mickey Tettleton getting ready to swing. My advice is to stash him in your deeper leagues and put him on the watch list in your shallow leagues. If the Tigers move quickly, you should too.