We already know the identity of two Detroit Tigers who’ll be in the dugout for the 2022 MLB All-Star Game: American League manager Dusty Baker has selected longtime Tigers great Willie Horton as an honorary coach for the festivities on July 19 in Los Angeles, while MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has picked designated hitter Miguel Cabrera as his “legend” pick, as allowed in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Cabrera is a tough pick to sell on his merits: His .308 average is solid; if he keeps it up, it would be the third-highest average this century by a qualified hitter 39 or older. (Nos. 1-2? 39-year-old Barry Bonds at .362 in 2004 and 40-year-old David Ortiz at .315 in 2016.) But he just has been very productive, at least compared to his fellow DHs. There are seven AL players qualified for the batting title who have DHed at least 50% of the time; Cabrera’s OPS+ (a metric using OPS adjusted for ballpark and league average, with 100 being average) ranks seventh, behind Baltimore’s Trey Mancini (123), Houston’s Michael Brantley (123), NY’s Giancarlo Stanton (137), LA’s Shohei Ohtani (137), Boston’s J.D. Martinez (140) and Houston’s Yordan Alvarez (202).
But it appears the Tigers will have a “regular” All-Star reserve, as selected by Baker, as well. So what other Tiger will join Cabrera and Horton in Dodger Stadium?
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Two Tigers haven’t made the same All-Star squad since 2017, when right-handed starter Michael Fulmer and outfielder Justin Upton both headed to Marlins Park in Miami. That was the tail end of a 12-year stretch in which the Tigers had at least two — and as many as six — All-Stars 10 times. Since that season, which also corresponds to the official start of the Tigers’ rebuild — go figure — the franchise has sent a lone reliever each season as their representative among baseball’s best and brightest, with Joe Jimenez making it in 2018, Shane Greene going in 2019 and Gregory Soto going in 2021.
We thought we had this nailed down back in early June, after left-hander Tarik Skubal had three straight starts of at least seven innings and a 2.33 ERA on June 7. But that has ballooned to 3.99, and considering Skubal has made it to the sixth inning just once since then — in Friday’s start in Chicago — it’s not looking good for the 2018 ninth-round pick.
So who’ll also be wearing the Old English “D” in Tinseltown, in whatever kooky uniform Nike has sewn together? (Spoiler: Black and gold, in tribute to Hollywood, seems to be the motif, based on the already-released All-Star Game caps.) Will the team with the majors’ third-best bullpen (by ERA, at least) send yet another reliever? Or will there be a surprise position player despite the Tigers’ gruesome average of 3.23 runs per game, which ranks 29th out of 30 teams. We’ll find out on Sunday when the rosters are announced at 5:30 p.m.
We broke down the contenders like so (all stats entering Saturday’s games):
Honorable mention: OF Riley Greene
The 21-year-old hit the ground running, or at least walking, after his June 18 promotion, with a .345 OBP through his first 19 games. That includes reaching base safely in 17 of those games (and reaching on an error in the one of the others) — generally a preferred trait for a leadoff hitter. But Greene has two things working against him: An early lack of power — even with four extra-base hits (including a walk-off home run) during the Tigers’ most recent homestand — and, well, a lack of experience. Saturday was Game No. 20, and while he already appears to be the Tigers’ most productive hitter, that’s a low bar to clear considering this year’s (lack of) production. That leaves us with, yes, relievers once again, such as …
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RHP Joe Jimenez
After four seasons of occasionally maddening flips between “closer of the future” and “release him now” (dating back, yes, all the way to his All-Star campaign of 2018), the 27 year-old appears to have found his control, with just seven walks and 42 strikeouts in 32 ⅓ innings (34 appearances). That’s good for an 11.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings (K/9) rate that’s No. 2 among Tigers.
In 24 outings since he allowed three runs to the Pirates on May 4, inflating his ERA to 4.82, Jimenez has been mostly solid, allowing runs in five appearances. (And three of those were blowouts before he came in.) Jimenez is one of 13 relievers this season with at least 30 appearances who has yet to allow an inherited runner to score. Though, if we’re nitpicking — as we should with All-Star honors — he has only inherited three runners, and there are three other Tigers in that list of 10, such as …
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LHP Gregory Soto
Soto, too, has entered with just three runners on base and kept them all from scoring. Finally anointed the Tigers’ closer this season, he’s 17-for-19 in save situations — that’s fourth among AL relievers, which used to be enough to grab an All-Star slot from a bad team. But Soto is also fourth in wild pitches (11), which suggests his major weakness: Control.
In just 30 innings, the 27-year-old has 15 walks and five hit-by-pitches. At 31 strikeouts, that could be considered “effectively wild,” but with 21 hits allowed, Soto has put a runner on in 23 of his 30 appearances. His 2.70 ERA (and that lack of inherited runners scored) show he has the stuff to work out of those jams, but shouldn’t we be going with an All-Star who doesn’t create them to begin with? Such as …
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RHP Alex Lange
Thursday’s scoreless outing against the White Sox dropped Lange’s ERA to 1.97, best on the Tigers by a smidge, and brought his strikeout total to 42 and his K/9 to 11.8, also best on the Tigers. Add in Lange’s eminently GIF-worth pitches — this one made the rounds for about a week, but our favorite, in terms of “What the hell do I do with that?”-ness is this one — and he seems like a fun choice for the Midsummer Classic. But as electric (and effective) as Lange can be, 13 of his 36 outings featured at least two strikeouts, he too has the tendency to get himself into jams, with 22 appearances in which he has allowed a baserunner. Only five of those games have featured one of his runners coming around to score, but those jams bring up another big demerit: Of the 13 baserunners Lange has inherited, five have scored, or 38%. That’s 78th among relievers with at least 30 appearances, and well behind …
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RHP Michael Fulmer
Fulmer is the fourth Tiger with at least 30 appearances and no inherited runners scored, though manager A.J. Hinch has brought him in with 10 on base. He worked a scoreless inning Friday against the White Sox, bringing his ERA down to 1.97 and his strikeouts to 32 across 32 innings.
Fulmer, too, has been wild at times, with 16 walks (though he has just one wild pitch and one hit-by-pitch). But he has allowed just 18 hits, and runners in 19 of his 32 appearances. By nearly every measure, Fulmer has been the Tigers’ most effective reliever, both overall and by situation, making him the best choice as the Tigers’ performance-based All-Star.
How long will he be a Tiger after the All-Star break? That’s a question only Al Avila, and the Aug. 2 trade deadline, can answer.