Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 21, 2005
BASEBALL: Aging Tiger, Hidden Ace
David Pinto points to this interesting (as always) Studes analysis over at Hardball Times attempting to quantify the Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz trade, and reaching the conclusion that the deal was a good one for the Tigers (nobody disputes that it was a great deal for the Braves). Like David, I've always thought this was a deal you had to make if you're the Tigers, even not knowing Alexander would post a 1.53 ERA and the team would win all 11 of his starts, and even knowing that Alexander was a crummy postseason pitcher.
The 1987 Tigers were the classic win-now team. Darrell Evans, the team leader in homers for the third straight season (103 home runs between 1985-87), was 40. Lance Parrish had left before the season as a free agent, Jack Morris was held on the roster only through collusion, and Kirk Gibson would leave as a free agent after the season. Numerous contributors to the team were 32 or older: centerfielder Chet Lemon was 32 and would have just one more good season, Frank Tanana was 33, DH Bill Madlock was 36 and having his last hurrah, nearly the whole bench was 32 or older. And Alan Trammell was in the middle of a career year. The Tigers were seeing the window of the 80s close, and they knew it; two years later they would lose 103 games. 1987, when they had the best record in baseball, was the time to go for it.
I ran a composite age for that Tigers team, weighted by Win Shares (i.e., so the age of the biggest contributors figured most prominently); the Tigers averaged 30.81 years, or 30.59 if you leave off Alexander. That's not an old team, actually - Trammell was still 29, and a few key guys were still young, 23-year-old Matt Nokes, 25-year-old Mike Henneman. But Nokes would never again match his rookie year, as the Tigers may have suspected. It was clearly a team that needed to make the big move, and you can't blame them for it.
(An aside to two long-running Hall of Fame debates: the Tigers lost in the ALCS that year in large part because Bert Blyleven beat Morris in Game 2 and Alexander in Game 5. Make of that what you will).