Continuing our look at the Royals’ AL opposition for 1977, we come to the Detroit Tigers, who finished fifth in the AL East in 1976. The Tigers’ offense was decent enough, finishing fifth in the league in home runs and slugging, although just eighth in on-base percentage. But they really suffered in the pitching department, allowing 709 runs, which was second-worst in the AL.
That was despite the efforts of 1976’s Rookie of the Year, Mark Fidrych, who burst onto the baseball (and national) scene with a 19-9 record and league-leading 2.36 ERA. He also tossed a league-leading 24 complete games in his age 21 season, appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, and Rolling Stone, started the All-Star Game, and drew noticeably larger crowds to Tiger Stadium when he pitched. The Bird was definitely a bright spot on an otherwise lackluster Tigers pitching staff; the only starter to have a winning record or an ERA under 3.92.
The Tigers didn’t exactly appear to have a bright future on offense, either. First baseman Jason Thompson was the only regular under age 27 to have an OPS+ over 100; the others who did it were Ron LeFlore (age 28), Rusty Staub (32), and Willie Horton (33). Outfielder Ben Oglivie, at age 27, also did it in 325 plate appearances.
Detroit did have a few youngsters ready to step in, including outfielder Steve Kemp (the top overall pick in the 1976 draft), catcher John Wockenfuss, and pitcher Dave Rozema. A little further away were some prospects including pitcher Jack Morris, catcher Lance Parrish, second baseman Lou Whitaker, and shortstop Alan Trammell. So while Detroit’s long-term outlook was good, the 1977 bunch was expected to struggle. As the Tigers were planning a youth movement, they made few major moves in the offseason.
Today’s birthdays: Bob Stoddard (1957), Nick Capra (1958), Joel Johnston (1967), Ryan Freel (1976)