Francisco Rodriguez: How off is Detroit Tigers closer?

Francisco Rodriguez is throwing his pitches slower, in worse locations, and with worse results. Below is some data on Rodriguez’s performance, courtesy of Brooks Baseball. Keep in mind that sample sizes for 2016 are small.

Velocity

Velocity (Year)
This chart shows velocity year-to-year since the beginning of 2007.
Velocity (Month)
This chart shows velocity year-to-year since the beginning of 2007.

The above charts show an overall decline in velocity for all four pitches. Most significantly, Rodriguez’s fastball has lost about two miles per hour since he consistently sat around 90 mph last year.

Grooved pitches

Grooved (Year)
This chart shows velocity year-to-year since the beginning of 2007.
Grooved (Month)
This chart shows velocity year-to-year since the beginning of 2007.

Grooved pitches are those thrown in the middle-middle of the plate, regardless of movement or velocity. According to PITCHf/x data from Baseball Savant, pitches thrown in this center part of the strike zone (Zone 5) result in a home run, triple, double, or lineout 8.33 percent of the time. Pitches in all other zones derived similar results 3.34 percent of the time. (Numbers are based on results of American League pitchers in 2015 regular season).

Whiff rate

Whiffs (Year)
This chart shows velocity year-to-year since the beginning of 2007.
Whiffs (Month)
This chart shows velocity year-to-year since the beginning of 2007.

It’s worth noting that Rodriguez’s numbers for 2016 look less significant when you split the statistics into smaller samples. One can see then that he has experienced some similar lows in his career. But still, the data are worrying. Everything seems to be trending in the wrong direction.

Detroit Tigers pitchers could force tough roster decisions

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Shane Greene, shown during a in June 2015 game, might lose his spot in the Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation when Daniel Norris rejoins the team but could move to the bullpen. That could spell the end of Logan Kensing’s time in Detroit. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)

Detroit Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey pitched six innings of one-run ball Friday against the Houston Astros. Shane Greene had seven strikeouts in a solid victory Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But one of them might lose their rotation spot soon, as Daniel Norris, who went 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in his eight starts with Detroit last season, will make his next start for the Toledo Mud Hens—his third appearance rehabilitating from a back injury.

Based on performance and potential, one could easily argue Greene and Norris deserve rotation spots over Pelfrey, who has a 4.80 ERA since the start of 2011. But the Tigers likely will have him on a longer leash due to his two-year contract worth $16 million.

The easiest solution would be to move Greene to the bullpen, but that is quickly becoming less of a cinch. Detroit’s best reliever last season, Alex Wilson, finished his injury rehab and rejoined the team before Saturday’s game—pushing Buck Farmer out of the bullpen. Francisco RodriguezMark LoweJustin Wilson, and Drew VerHagen aren’t likely going anywhere. That leaves Kyle Ryan and Logan Kensing as potentially expendable relief pitchers. Both have had positive outings. Blaine Hardy, another bullpen force for the Tigers last year, is not far from finishing his rehab assignment, and he will likely dispel Ryan, who still has two minor league options.

That means Detroit, if it chooses to move one of its starters to the bullpen, would no longer have room for Kensing. He would need to pass through waivers to be assigned to a minor league affiliate.

It’s a good sign when your team has too many good players, and making these two difficult decisions—moving Greene in lieu of Pelfrey, then cutting Kensing—should give the Tigers the best relief corp they have had in recent memory.

Detroit Tigers set opening day roster

515699982.jpg
Logan Kensing, shown during a spring training game, made the Detroit Tigers opening day roster, beating out Lendy Castillo for a spot in an overhauled bullpen suffering from a slew of injuries. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

After a couple unexciting roster battles and a few health-related setbacks, the Detroit Tigers have 25 men ready to open the regular season Tuesday night against the Miami Marlins. Read on for the rundown.

Lineup:

Ian Kinsler RH 2B
Justin Upton RH LF
Miguel Cabrera RH 1B
Victor Martinez SH DH
J.D. Martinez RH RF
Nick Castellanos RH 3B
James McCann RH C
Jose Iglesias RH SS
Anthony Gose LH CF

This won’t be the lineup Tuesday, with the Tigers traveling to a National League park. Cameron Maybin in center field should also see plenty of starts upon recovery from a fractured left wrist. But this is likely close to an everyday configuration, barring more injuries.

Last year’s opening day lineup included Rajai Davis leading off (though platoon partner Gose ended up starting more games), Yoenis Cespedes at No. 6, and Alex Avila batting eighth (though McCann soon took over primary catching duties). Cespedes has been replaced by Upton, and in Davis’ absence, Maybin will share time with Gose.

Bench:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia SH C
Andrew Romine SH IF
Tyler Collins LH OF
Mike Aviles RH UT

Maybin will likely push Collins off the roster in a few weeks.

Last year’s group predominantly consisted of some combination of Davis, Romine, Avila, Collins, Jefry Marte, Dixon Machado, Bryan Holaday, Hernan Perez, and Josh Wilson. Detroit looks to have improved its bench significantly.

Rotation:

Justin Verlander RHP
Jordan Zimmermann RHP
Anibal Sanchez RHP
Mike Pelfrey RHP
Shane Greene RHP

The race to be fifth starter was saturated with competitors after frontrunner Daniel Norris’ spine fracture but ended up being pretty anticlimactic. Matt Boyd and Buck Farmer were in the running late in spring training, but the Tigers determined the former needed more seasoning and the latter was needed in the bullpen. Greene could move to a relief role once Norris completes his injury rehabilitation process.

Last year’s rotation included David Price and Alfredo Simon, who general manager Al Avila has replaced with Zimmermann and Pelfrey. Verlander and Sanchez are back and hoping to produce healthier and more consistent seasons. Greene, Boyd, Norris, and Farmer each started games last season, while Kyle Lobstein, Randy Wolf, and Kyle Ryan completed the fifth starter contingent. Lobstein and Wolf are out now, but midseason trade acquisition and consensus top prospect Michael Fulmer adds some depth.

Bullpen:

Francisco Rodriguez RHP
Mark Lowe RHP
Justin Wilson LHP
Drew VerHagen RHP
Kyle Ryan LHP
Buck Farmer RHP
Logan Kensing RHP

No one from last year’s opening day bullpen remains, and only Rodriguez, Lowe, and Wilson were considered locks at the start of spring training. Shoulder issues for Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, the best relievers in Detroit last year, guaranteed a spot for VerHagen, another 2015 success story. Lendy Castillo, Bruce Rondon, and Bobby Parnell were in the mix, but initial longshots Ryan, Farmer, and Kensing (a non-roster invitee) earned the final three spots. It might not seem like an exciting group, but when Alex Wilson and Hardy are ready and Norris displaces Greene, this group could look a lot different. And say what you will about Rondon, but he and Parnell have high upside and await opportunities to prove themselves.

Prospect Kevin Ziomek talks pitching, Detroit Tigers spring training

Photo: Kevin Ziomek pitches for the Detroit Tigers during an exhibition game against Florida Southern College on Feb. 29 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.
Kevin Ziomek pitches for the Detroit Tigers during an exhibition game against Florida Southern College on Feb. 29 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Detroit Tigers left-handed pitching prospect Kevin Ziomek is in Lakeland, Florida, this spring for his first major league training camp. He talked about his experience at spring training, what he hopes to prove, and his development as a pitcher.

“I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” Ziomek, 23, said of major league camp. “It’s been good to kind of look to some of the other guys and see how they go about their business.”

He said being around experienced Tiger pitchers has helped him further understand the importance of a routine and how different players prepare.

Photo: Kevin Ziomek pitches for the Detroit Tigers.
Kevin Ziomek pitches for the Detroit Tigers during an exhibition game against Florida Southern College on Feb. 29 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

“Talking to some of the other starters—just to see how they go about their routine, whether it’s doing their extra running on the side or doing their weight-lifting and doing their extra bullpen sessions … you can tell they’ve been doing it for so long. They know exactly, to a T, what they’re going to do,” said Ziomek, who pitched for three years at Vanderbilt University before Detroit picked him in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2013 and lured him with a $956,600 signing bonus.

He added, “Just being able to learn from some of the older guys and guys who’ve been through it—it’s been a pretty good experience for me, and I hope to continue to do that and just keep on moving up the ranks.”

After a 2015 season that saw him struggle early (4.74 ERA in 12 starts through June 10) and surge late (2.4 ERA in his last 15 starts), Ziomek hopes to prove he belongs.

“You go out there and you go about your business the way everybody else does, and you’ve just got to prove that it’s no different than any other baseball game you’ve played in your life,” he said. “There may be different guys around you, but you’ve just got to prove that you’re comfortable and you can compete at (the major league) level.”

Ziomek began spring competition in impressive fashion, starting and pitching two shutout innings Feb. 29 against Florida Southern College. He allowed a single, struck out two Mocassin batters, and threw 18 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Here’s video from MLive of Ziomek striking out FSC’s leadoff hitter:

“He’s funky, he’s sneaky because of his delivery,” manager Brad Ausmus said after the Tigers’ annual exhibition opener, according to The Detroit News. “He’s got a big curve, and the changeup looked good (Feb. 29). But, not knocking the Florida Southern kids, but there is a big difference between them and major league hitters.”

Five days later, Ziomek walked one and gave up a home run to Matt Skole in an inning of relief against the Washington Nationals. According to Chelsea Janes, Nationals reporter for the Washington Post, the homer was an “absolute bomb.”

Where he’s been

Ziomek in 2014 spent his first full season of professional baseball with the West Michigan Whitecaps, who finished 82-58 in the Class A Midwest League.

“My first year in West Michigan was pretty fun, and we had a really good group there,” he said. “We won the regular season, so that was pretty cool to be on a winning team like that.”

He finished 10-6 with a 2.27 ERA in 123 innings (23 starts). Among the 40 pitchers in the league with enough innings to qualify, Ziomek ranked:

No. 1 in ERA (2.27)
No. 1 in AVG (.197)
No. 2 in FIP (2.98)
No. 2 in K/9 (11.12)
No. 2 in K% (29.8%)

He was promoted and spent the entirety of 2015 with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, who went 55-79 in the Class A Advanced Florida State League.

Photo: Kevin Ziomek poses during Detroit Tigers photo day Feb. 27 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.
Kevin Ziomek poses during Detroit Tigers photo day Feb. 27 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ziomek finished 9-11 with a 3.43 ERA in 154.2 innings (27 starts). Among the 24 pitchers in the league with enough innings to qualify, he ranked:

No. 1 in FIP (2.38)
No. 1 in IP (154.2)
No. 2 in K/9 (8.32)
No. 2 in K% (22.6%)
No. 3 in HR/9 (0.17)

Over his two seasons in West Michigan and Lakeland, he had consistently outstanding results in all of K/9, HR/9, K%, AVG, WHIP, and FIP.

MLB.com notes that “there are often expectations for a college lefty, especially from a program like Vanderbilt, to move quickly through a minor league system. In that regard, Ziomek hasn’t measured up.” But, considering his results, that seems like less of an indictment.

“The biggest thing for me is just to focus on what you can control, and that’s getting guys out on a regular basis and consistency,” Ziomek said. “I think the numbers show that it’s really going to take care of itself. Guys should move up when they’re ready to move up, and it’s not something I can really control, so I’m just going to go out there and try and make pitches every game and win some ball games.”

Where he’s going

Ziomek looks like a lock to break camp in a few weeks with the Erie SeaWolves of the Class AA Eastern League, where many expected him to land at some point last year. There’s a chance he could throw a few pitches in the big leagues this year, but any such opportunity would come in the bullpen, since he’s at least 10th in line to get a start.

Before we delve more into who he is as a pitcher, his ceiling, and when he might reach it, here’s where Ziomek stands on recent lists of Detroit’s top prospects:

FanGraphs Minor League Ball The Detroit News Baseball America MLB.com
4 5 5 6 6
ESPN** MLive Motor City Bengals Baseball Prospectus* TigsTown**
7 8 9 9+ 17

*Baseball Prospectus ranks eight current Tigers and lists Ziomek among “five who are just interesting.”
**Analysis from ESPN and TigsTown is not discussed at length here out of respect for paywalls on their rankings.

Dan Farnsworth of FanGraphs wrote Ziomek has potential that “maxes out in the middle of a big league rotation, though … he’s a safer bet as a number-four starter.” John Sickels of Minor League Ball said he has a “fourth starter projection but should be ready within a year.” Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote “he projects as a starter, probably in the back of the rotation.” MLB.com said “while he doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the world … it may not take him (much longer) to contribute to a big league rotation.” Tom Zahari of Motor City Bengals wrote that he “looks to have mid-rotation stuff.” Baseball Prospectus said “it’s difficult to imagine Ziomek making his living in a starting rotation.” James Chipman wrote for The Detroit News last April that “you can squint and see a back-end of the rotation guy that eats innings.”

“You know, I try not to pay too much attention to that kind of stuff,” Ziomek said of analysts’ projections and opinions about his ceiling as a pitcher. “Whether I’m a starter or a reliever, it doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to get out there and prove that I can pitch and get guys out.”

He has proven that he can pitch and get guys out in Class A. It remains to be seen if he can do it at higher levels, and there are well-stated cases for and against him.

What he throws

Ziomek, listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, has an arsenal of four pitches: fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. Here’s video from James Chipman of him pitching for the Flying Tigers last April:

Reports indicate his fastball runs in the 89-93 mph range. Sickels called the pitch average, while MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus both graded it 55 on a 20-80 scale (translating to slightly above average). Farnsworth wrote “he spots his fastball well to both sides of the plate, and his velocity and deception allow him to throw it by hitters with good location.” MLB.com said Ziomek will add and subtract speed, “commanding (his fastball) well with sink to generate ground-ball outs.” TigsTown dissented, calling the pitch below average and noting “command was off all season.” According to Baseball Prospectus, more than one scout described Ziomek as “wild in the strike zone.”

Indeed, command—specifically of the fastball—was an issue last season. Ziomek would argue, though, that he improved in that area after his struggles in Lakeland through May.

“I just didn’t feel great at the beginning of the year for one reason or another,” he told Mike Moran of The Recorder. “I stuck with it and worked on a lot stuff and just tried to use it as an opportunity to grow. I worked on my command a lot. That was a big thing for me—command my fastball.”

He said his increased command was not a product of a change in mechanics.

“It’s something you’ve just got to work on and focus on muscle memory and being able to locate that pitch down in the zone every day,” Ziomek said, noting the importance of preparation in the bullpen between starts.

He sees his slider, with speeds in the mid- to upper-70s, as his best secondary pitch. Analysts seem to disagree. Baseball Prospectus rated it below average (and feels the same about his curveball). MLB.com gave it a 45 (slightly below average), and FanGraphs graded it at 40 with an upside of 45, adding that the pitch features “horizontal break without a ton of bite, though (Ziomek) can spot it well and will back-door righties with it successfully.”

GIF: Kevin Ziomek's slider.
H/T Bless You Boys

The curveball, his other breaking pitch, gets mixed reviews. According to Farnsworth, who rated it a 45 with upside of 55, it’s “a slower offering that some scouts don’t seem to like, but it has average-to-above movement and is notable for (Ziomek’s) ability to drop it in the zone or bury it for a whiff on command.” MLB.com, labeling it a 50 (average) now, said he “has the chance to throw a true curve in the future, but he’ll get on the side of it, and it takes on a different shape as a result. He throws a slider as well, especially against lefties, though the Tigers think the curve will be his better breaking ball eventually.”

With breaking balls that don’t jump off the scouting chart, Ziomek’s changeup is critical. FanGraphs said it “could be a plus pitch with more refinement,” while MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus both rated it slightly above average.

“I think my change has made some pretty good strides here in the last year, so I’m feeling really confident in it,” he said. “It was pretty good (against Florida Southern)—just kind of keep moving forward with that and just consistency—being able to locate pitches every time out there.”

GIF: Kevin Ziomek's changeup.
H/T Bless You Boys

Ziomek relies more on pitchability, deception, and command than the pitches themselves.

“I think I do a pretty good job of mixing,” he said, “and I feel pretty good at my off-speed pitches. At the same time, I think I’m a guy that—I kind of have a sneaky fastball and I can get it by guys, especially inside. I like to pitch inside; that’s one of my strengths, and it’s something I’ve always done well.”

“Sneaky” is a word Ausmus used to describe Ziomek’s delivery, notable for a three-quarter release point from which the ball travels across his body. This has helped him rack up strikeouts, especially against lefties. Motor City Bengals’ Zahari wrote that, “since joining the Tigers, Ziomek has come much more over the top with his delivery but still will drop to the side a bit on certain breaking balls.” Here’s what his fastball looked like when he pitched for Vanderbilt:

GIF: Kevin Ziomek's fastball.
H/T Bless You Boys

Zahari also noted that inconsistency in the delivery has resulted in control issues, but a positive change in BB/9 from 3.88 in 2014 to 1.98 in 2015 suggests Ziomek’s command has improved.

What to watch

A key question for Ziomek going forward is whether he can deceive hitters less junior than the ones he has faced so far as a pro; with the Whitecaps and Flying Tigers, he was a relative man among boys. Since his raw stuff is solid at best, he will need to locate within the strike zone and continue to pitch intelligently (strategically sequencing pitches, reading hitters, and changing speeds) to succeed in the major leagues. It will be interesting to see this year if he can strike guys out at the Double-A level and whether he will have success against right-handed hitters.

If he turns out anything like Drew Smyly—an apt comparison drawn repeatedly since June 2013—then Ziomek will probably make the Tigers a very happy baseball team.

For further reading

Detroit Tigers 2016 aggregated prospect rankings

Detroit Tigers Workout
Joe Jimenez pitches during Detroit Tigers spring training Sunday at the TigerTown Facility in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

There are plenty of opinions out there when it comes to ranking Detroit Tigers prospects. Each list has its own flavor, as different analysts have distinctive resources, preferences, and qualifiers. Some leave players out inexplicably or include players who have since left the club. Some go 10-deep and some 50. Following, you will find my attempt to reconcile those variations by aggregating all the 2016 rankings I could find.

There’s no perfect way to do this. I prioritized simplicity. I compiled rankings from Minor League Ball, MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, FanGraphs, TigsTown, Motor City Bengals, MLive, Prospect 361, The Detroit NewsTopProspectAlert, and ESPN Insider. Then, I averaged each player’s ranking and added a point for each list that did not include them. The result:

  1. Michael Fulmer (RHP)

    Detroit Tigers Workout
    Michael Fulmer, left, and Justin Verlander field during Detroit Tigers spring training Saturday at the TigerTown Facility in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
  2. Beau Burrows (RHP)
  3. Christin Stewart (OF)
  4. Derek Hill (CF)
  5. Joe Jimenez (RHP)
  6. Kevin Ziomek (LHP)
  7. JaCoby Jones (SS)
  8. Spencer Turnbull (RHP)
  9. Steven Moya (RF)
  10. Dixon Machado (SS)
  11. Mike Gerber (RF)
  12. Jairo Labourt (LHP)
  13. Tyler Alexander (LHP)
  14. Zach Shepherd (3B)

    Knoxville, Tn - Tennessee Volunteers Vs The University Of South Carolina Gamecocks
    Christin Stewart swings during a 2013 game with the Tennessee Volunteers. (Getty Images)
  15. Drew Smith (RHP)
  16. A.J. Simcox (SS)
  17. Jeff Ferrell (RHP)
  18. Buck Farmer (RHP)
  19. Drew VerHagen (RHP)
  20. Anthony Pereira (SS)
  21. Adam Ravenelle (RHP)
  22. Wynton Bernard (CF)
  23. Josh Turley (LHP)
  24. Paul Voelker (RHP)
  25. Edgar De La Rosa (RHP)
  26. Montreal Robertson (RHP)

    Oklahoma v LSU - Super Regional
    JaCoby Jones, right, tags out a runner during a 2013 game with the LSU Tigers. (Getty Images)
  27. Anthony Castro (RHP)
  28. Austin Kubitza (RHP)
  29. Kade Scivicque (C)
  30. Arvicent Perez (C)
  31. Dominic Moreno (RHP)
  32. Grayson Greiner (C)
  33. Cam Gibson (OF)
  34. Gerson Moreno (RHP)
  35. Julio Martinez (OF)
  36. Jose Valdez (RHP)
  37. Endrys Briceno (RHP)
  38. Angel Nesbitt (RHP)

    Detroit Tigers Workout
    Jeff Ferrell, left, and Drew VerHagen field during Detroit Tigers spring training Saturday at the TigerTown Facility in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
  39. Artie Lewicki (RHP)
  40. Dominic Ficociello (1B)
  41. Melvin Mercedes (RHP)
  42. Randel Alcantara (3B)
  43. Gregory Soto (LHP)
  44. Sandy Baez (RHP)
  45. Jose Azocar (CF)
  46. Hector Martinez (2B)
  47. Trey Teakell (RHP)
  48. Matt Hall (LHP)
  49. Jose Salas (SS)
  50. Kody Eaves (2B)
  51. Eduardo Jimenez (RHP)

    College World Series - Vanderbilt v Virginia - Game Three
    Adam Ravenelle celebrates a strikeout to win the 2014 College World Series Championship with the Vanderbilt Commodores. (Getty Images)
  52. Dean Green (DH)
  53. Confesor Lara (RHP)
  54. Will Allen (C)
  55. Francisco German (RHP)
  56. Shane Zeile (C)
  57. Ross Kivett (CF)
  58. Joey Pankake (2B)
  59. Adrian Alfaro (SS)
  60. Steven Fuentes (SS)
  61. Eudis Idrogo (LHP)
  62. Johan Belisario (RHP)
  63. Gabe Hemmer (RHP)

A few notes:

  • Michael Fulmer was the consensus No. 1.
  • MLive did not include Derek Hill, who six other sources placed at Nos. 2 or 3. The resulting penalty gave Christin Stewart the No. 3 spot here.
  • Baseball America and FanGraphs both ranked Mike Gerber at No. 3, while MLive put him at No. 4 and Motor City Bengals at No. 6. However, rankings between Nos. 12-16 from MLB Pipeline, TigsTown, and The Detroit News knocked him down to No. 11 here.
  • Wynton Bernard got rankings between Nos. 10-13 from Minor League Ball, FanGraphs, and Motor City Bengals. TigsTown and MLB Pipeline put him at Nos. 46 and 24, respectively, lowering him to No. 22 here.
  • FanGraphs was the only source to rank Jeff Ferrell and did so at No. 12.
  • MLB Pipeline was especially high on Steven Moya (No. 2) and Austin Kubitza (No. 7), who got aggregated rankings of Nos. 10 and 28, respectively. TigsTown had Kubitza at No. 47.
  • The Detroit News and Minor League Ball are far apart on Matt Hall, giving him respective rankings of Nos. 48 and 19.
  • Dominic Ficociello got love from FanGraphs, who put him at No. 13, while three other sources ranked him between Nos. 26-45.
  • Baseball Prospectus released its top 10 back in November, so it featured Javier Betancourt and Luis Cessa, who have since departed the Tigers. I moved Dixon Machado from No. 9 on that list to No. 8 as a result.
  • Detroit acquired Kody Eaves in January, so he is only listed in Lynn Henning’s ranking for The Detroit News. He might otherwise have been included in TigsTown’s list, the only other to go 50-deep.

As spring nears, here’s a comprehensive Detroit Tigers organizational roster

Detroit Tigers pitchers and catchers are set to report for spring training Thursday, with position players due four days later. In all, 57 players have been invited to major-league camp, including 17 non-roster invitees. Of course, hundreds more players are vying for spots in the Tigers system.

In the coming months, the organization’s construction will change significantly as management finds homes for players or, in a number of cases, sends players home. Twenty-five will be on the major league roster on opening day, and 100 more will fill up four full-season minor league affiliates in Toledo, Erie, Lakeland, and West Michigan. Still dozens more players will stay in extended spring training and be joined in June by a slew of 2016 amateur draft picks. At that point, the remaining players will compete with one of four rookie or short-season teams, which have room for 140 active players total.

Untitled
Click here to download.

So, not including reserves, the Tigers should have about 265 players throughout their organization once they and all eight of their affiliated clubs finally are in action. As far as I can tell, they currently control 275 players. Click here to download the full player list, with the most up-to-date information found on team websites, transaction lists, and official player biography pages.

Note: GCL Tigers West replaces VSL Tigers, as the Venezuelan Summer League has shut down. If you notice anything amiss, please let me know so I can rectify it.

J.D. Martinez deal might be Detroit Tigers’ best on the books

Division Series - Baltimore Orioles v Detroit Tigers - Game Three
J.D. Martinez bats during the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park on Oct. 5, 2014. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Detroit Tigers have agreed with outfielder J.D. Martinez on a two-year deal worth $18.5 million, avoiding arbitration with the slugger until he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2017 season.

The deal, first reported by Robert Murray of Baseball Essential and later confirmed by Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish, might be the best the Tigers have on the books with their 17 players beyond the pre-arbitration phase. The length, crucially, will allow the team to wait to see whether Justin Upton exercises his opt-out clause before deciding whether to pursue a long-term contract with Martinez.

Jennifer Hammond of Fox 2 Detroit reported Martinez, whose deal is pending a passed physical, will earn $6.75 million this year and $11.75 the next. Averaged over the two seasons at $9.25 million (and even at face value), the price is higher than the $8 million Martinez sought when 2016 salary numbers were exchanged before the Jan. 15 deadline. The price tag also is more than 50 percent higher than the $6 million Detroit offered him at that time, three days before it signed Upton.

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers
J.D. Martinez celebrates after hitting a two-run home run against the Chicago White Sox on June 25, 2015. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Still, the new J.D. Martinez contract might be the Tigers’ most valuable. By giving Martinez a little more money up front and signing him for an extra year, general manager Al Avila secured one of the greatest potential bargains of 2017.

MLB Trade Rumors projected Martinez’s arbitration salary at $7.8 million after he made $3 million last season. The arbitration panel likely would have awarded him the $8 million he requested, meaning Detroit, by locking him up, essentially got him for $10.5 million next year. Considering his career trajectory and skyrocketing worth, Martinez likely would have received an even bigger arbitration payday next offseason had he stuck to a one-year deal.

Matt Swartz of MLBTR compared the Martinez case to those of Chris Davis and Jacoby Ellsbury, who got huge raises after their breakout seasons. Notably, Davis and Ellsbury both had comparatively dismal seasons immediately after and still got raises of $1.65 million and $950,000 in their final years of arbitration eligibility.

Martinez, though, has shown no signs he will falter as they did. Last season, his triple-slash line was down across the board, from .315/.358/.553 in 2014 to .282/.344/.535. But advanced statistics suggest he became a more disciplined, productive, and sustainable hitter in 2015:

Statistic 2013 2014 2015
K% 26.5 26.3 27.1
Walk% 3.2 6.3 8.1
O-Swing% 35.8 37.7 36.4
Z-Contact% 83.6 81.8 80.6
P/PA 3.78 3.9 3.96
BABIP 0.319 0.389 0.339
LD% 21.7 22.7 22.3
GB% 44.2 40.5 34.2
FB% 34.1 36.8 43.5
GB/FB 1.3 1.1 0.79
HR/FB 9.5 19.5 20.8

You’ll notice his strikeout rate was higher last season, up to 27.1 percent. But besides the increase being incremental, it’s also understandable given that Martinez is a power hitter who blasted 38 home runs. He also walked in 8.1 percent of his plate appearances, almost a third more often than he did in 2014 after barely taking bases on balls during his 2013 half-season with the Houston Astros. He made contact a little less often when he swung at pitches inside the zone, but he also swung less often at pitches outside the zone.

More often, he waited for his pitch. And he squared them up. His batting average was down, along with his BABIP, but his line drive rate stayed relatively flat. What changed most drastically from 2014 to 2015 was his ground ball to fly ball ratio, which decreased by a massive 28.2 percent. In doing so, he sacrificed his batting average somewhat (as a rule, ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls that don’t leave the ballpark).

But that sacrifice was clearly for the best. Martinez has discovered the type of hitter he is: the type that can absolutely and consistently mash baseballs with a bat. While hitting more fly balls last season, an even higher percentage of them (20.8) went for home runs. His hard-hit rate of 42.3 percent was also the best mark in the major leagues.

The improvement is no fluke. This article from June by Eno Sarris of FanGraphs demonstrates that Martinez is a thoughtful player who has made calculated changes to his swing to become more effective. Barring injury, he will be one of the league’s premier hitters for a long time—including in 2017, when the Tigers will have him in their lineup for a relative song.