2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers & Busts: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers to target and avoid this draft season.

If you’re looking to stump a friend, ask them: ‘Who finished second in the AL Central last year?’  Chances are, their answer won’t be the Detroit Tigers.  After winning just 66 games in 2022 and finishing near the bottom in most offensive and defensive categories, 2023’s Tigers were better, but perhaps only slightly.  They still were in the lower third in batting average (27th), home runs (23rd), and OBP (28th) – to name a few.  But an ascendant young core at the top of the order, anchored by first-round talents in Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, should improve their offense.  And, despite losing Eduardo Rodriguez and his 3.30 ERA over 152 IP, the pitching staff should remain in the top ten in WHIP and K/BB, among other categories.

Were the 2023 Tigers as good as their nearly .500 record?  Probably not.  They finished nine games behind the Twins despite a gap in run differential of almost 200, and their record was better than the tanking Guardians despite a -44 run differential.  So last year’s team punched above their weight while mostly staying under the radar.  Without any major additions (so far) aside from Kenta Maeda, they’ll probably do the same in 2024.

But staying under the radar is exactly what we fantasy owners are looking for, right?




Kerry Carpenter


2023 stats (459 PA): .278 AVG | 57 R | 20 HR | 64 RBI | 6 SB

As a 19th-round draft pick in 2019, Kerry Carpenter does not qualify as a highly-touted prospect.  And yet, in 2024 he will find himself as the everyday cleanup hitter behind 2020’s overall #1, Spencer Torkelson.  Torkelson is by most accounts a top-100 fantasy player going into next season and a top-12 first baseman, but his battery mate is going much later in drafts, usually out of the top 250 (meaning in most salary leagues you can get him for a dollar).

Carpenter got his first taste of the majors in 2022, promoted after mashing 30 homers in only 98 games between AA Erie and AAA Toledo.  He appeared in 31 games for the Tigers and acquitted himself well, if not spectacularly, with 11 extra-base hits including six home runs and a .252 BA.

His first full season in 2023 could have started better, as he was batting only .217 before crashing into the outfield wall on April 29th and going on the IL with a shoulder sprain.  His injury stint would last until June 9th but he came back with a bang, hitting .323 over the next 3 weeks with an .874 OPS.  Those numbers sagged a bit in July, but then came August:

Kerry Carpenter’s August to remember


Carpenter did not attempt to steal a base until August 26th, and he would go on to swipe six bags without getting caught.  His sprint speed ranks in the 70th percentile in all of MLB, so, curiously, he went so far into the season without an attempt.  It’s certainly possible that in 2024 he will take more chances.

Carpenter is becoming a rarity in Major League Baseball as a lefty who does not get platooned.  His .235 BA against southpaws isn’t earth-shattering but he does carry a nearly 10% walk rate, which indicates a more patient approach even if that means less damage inflicted.

In 2024, Carpenter could build off his impressive first full season where he led the Tigers in OPS over Riley Greene and, yes, Torkelson.  If he can stay healthy and play 150 games he could conceivably reach 30 home runs and hit in the .260-270 range with a handful of steals, which would be a bargain where he’s going.


Tarik Skubal


2023 stats (80.1 IP): 2.80 ERA | 0.90 WHIP | 102 K | 7 W

If you had Skubal on your team in late 2023, chances are high that you won your league.  There was perhaps no better arm down the stretch, as indicated by his last six starts:

Skubal’s late run

This translates to a .72 WHIP, 13 K/9, and a 1.25 ERA.  Insane.

His season began, however, with more downs than ups.  Shelved for almost a full year after flexor tendon surgery in August 2022, Skubal didn’t make his first appearance until July 4th.  His pitch count hovered in the 60-range over his first three starts, the last of which was a forgettable appearance against the Royals, where he gave up seven runs.  His ERA sat at 5.25 at the time and many were wondering if he’d find his groove after so much time away.

After getting stretched out, though, the lights went out on opposing hitters.  Even with the early struggles, he finished first overall in xERA, FIP, and xFIP.


Other peripherals were just as impressive: he induced a 55% ground ball rate on top of a 96th-percentile K-rate AND a 96th-percentile walk rate.  That is ace stuff.

He won’t be cheap, but his ratios should be as good as anyone out there.  And if you’re in a Roto league with WHIP as a category, he would be a major contributor – think a Max Fried with fewer wins but more strikeouts.  Many rankings have Skubal outside the top 20, but he should be in the 12-to-15 SP range.  Just know that since he only pitched half a season last year, you’re unlikely to get beyond 150 innings in ’24 (his career high was 149 in ’21).


Parker Meadows


2023 stats (145 PA): .232 AVG | 19 R | 3 HR | 13 RBI | 8 SB


Something interesting happened during my evaluation of Meadows, who was originally going into the Bust column.  But as I got deeper into the numbers I liked what I saw.  A late-season call-up at the end of August, he played in 37 games with 145 plate appearances that had mostly mediocre results (.232 BA, .699 OBPS).  That might leave him off most draft boards even in deeper leagues with five outfielders.

However, promising signs began to emerge as he became more accustomed to big-league pitching.

source: Baseball Savant

A second-round pick out of high school, Meadows quickly became a top-10 prospect in the Tigers organization and showed solid power with top-tier speed.

Relegated to the bottom-third of the order in all but one of his first 31 games (where he batted 6th), the rangy center fielder moved to the leadoff spot in five of the final six.  Small sample size, but he had eight hits and scored five runs from the top of the order, the slot he’s expected to be in starting the year.

Meadows can be a huge sleeper if he can cement that leadoff role and take advantage of his impressive walk rate and 90th-percentile sprint speed.  This could lead to a 30-steal season and a lot of runs, especially if Greene and Torkelson stay solid (and healthy) following him in the order.




The Tigers, as mentioned, will be under the radar this season.  Only Skubal and Torkelson will likely crack the Top-1oo.  So there aren’t any players that would necessarily damage your roster if they don’t pan out, along with the few high-upside candidates detailed above.  That said, if either of these players has a sparkling spring training, take it with a grain of salt.


Javier Baez


2023 stats (547 PA): .222 AVG | 58 R | 9 HR | 59 RBI | 12 SB


This should not come as a surprise.  The electric-fielding second baseman has unfortunately had a precipitous fall in production since his All-Star seasons with the Cubs (and was the runner-up for the NL MVP in 2018).  The Tigers had high hopes for Baez (despite many glaring warning signs) and signed him to a 6-year, $140 million deal that has Detroit’s front office likely kicking themselves.

The 31-year-old started last season batting second and found himself dropping in the order throughout the year, ending in the 8-hole.  The reasons for this are many:

  1. Finished dead-last in OBP in the AL with .262
  2. Was also league-worst in chase rate, resulting in many a viral video where he swung at pitches comically far from the zone
  3. When he did connect, his barrel rate was only 5.2%, down from >12% when in his prime, and his SLG was .325
  4. Batting average against fastballs, once a respectable .291 in 2017 and 2018, dropped to .177 last year

But sometimes a picture is worth a thousand stats:

In short, that’s a lotta blue, and this only hints at Javy’s league-worst chase rate.

Baez is still an incredible fielder which should keep him in the Tigers lineup most days, at least early on, his struggles at the plate will likely continue.  There’s a chance Detroit would look to offload his hefty salary, possibly including a DFA or outright release.  And Colt Keith (.306/.380/.552 in AAA) and Jace Jung (.284/.373/.563 in AA) will be knocking on the door if they continue to acquit themselves in the minors.


Jack Flaherty


2023 stats (144.1 IP): 4.99 ERA | 1.58 WHIP | 148 K | 8 W


Like Javy Baez, Flaherty has had some impressive seasons.  Also like Baez, he’s probably better than some of his more recent numbers indicate.  But – again like Baez – the fall has been precipitous, with little indication that past glories can be re-attained.

Flaherty went 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA as recently as 2021, with a 1.06 WHIP to back it up.  Shoulder issues plagued him after that, however, and he threw only 36 innings in ’22.  His fastball lost a couple of ticks but worse was the lack of control: a 1.61 WHIP and a >10% walk rate.

Though healthier last season, the numbers were no better: career lows in ERA (4.99), BABIP (.357), and hits per nine (10.1).  The struggling Cardinals dealt him for prospects to the O’s at the trade deadline.  The good news: in his first game with the Orioles, against the Blue Jays on August 3rd, he earned both a win and a quality start.  The bad news: in eight subsequent appearances, he wouldn’t get another of either.  The O’s eventually delegated him to the ‘pen the last two weeks of the season.

Once his best pitch, Flaherty’s slider – with a 37.4% CSW and .176 BAA in 2020 – has lost its effectiveness, dropping to 27.8% and .339 respectively.  He’s since gone more to his curveball, with a slower, more top-to-bottom trajectory, which is showing better results.

Flaherty’s Slider, 2023


Flaherty’s curveball, 2023


The Tigers signed Flaherty to a one-year deal on December 14th, and at $14 million it looks like they expect to start and have a heavy workload.  He’d probably slide in as the SP3 behind Skubal and Maeda. If the Tigers have him lean more on the curve and help him regain some of the command and velocity he showed from 2018-2021, maybe he’s worth a flier.  But an investment as a top-100 starter would be risky, and I’d stay away until the last couple of rounds of any draft.

Scott McDermott

Scott lives in Virginia Beach with his wife, two daughters, and a couple of furballs. When he’s not dissecting box scores and pondering over the optimal starting lineup for the Cincinnati Reds, he covers fantasy baseball for Pitcher List. He’s also the author of the award-winning book series 'Election 2064', available on Amazon.

2 responses to “2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers & Busts: Detroit Tigers”

  1. Scott Van Bourgondien says:

    Any chance we see Colt Keith at the start of the year?

  2. John Sheets says:

    As a Detroit Tiger Full Season Ticket Holder since 2008, and a partial since 1995, had you NOT listed Javier Baez as the bust, I’d have skipped to something else. Here is a post from me in my FB Tiger Group.

    The case to CUT Javier Baez.
    I get it – he’s owed a lot of money. Over the next 4 seasons the Tigers owe him $98 million. And unless another GM has a stroke, we aren’t finding a team to take on anything more than the MLB minimum. So the Tigers must face the facts: that money is gone. Wasted. It’s unrecoverable. So the question remains, what actions CAN Detroit take? Because Javier Baez isn’t worth a spot on the 40 man roster. Unless the Tigers believe he is fixable. And that pre-supposes he WANTS to be fixed. As bad a player as he is, he’s not an idiot. Baez knows he’s likely never recovering from his downward spiral. That was clear when he didn’t exercise his opt out after last season. He knows he hit the lottery with this contract. If I were him, I’d have stayed too. But HOW LONG can the Tigers afford to keep him? He’s like a fly in a bowl of soup. The other ingredients may look appealing, but the fly ruins the bowl.
    Baez hit 31 HR’s in 2021, had a .265 average, and a slightly above average OPS of .813. He was always a strikeout machine (a red flag Avila ignored). But the power production made the Moneyball fans say it didn’t matter.
    In the two full seasons since he’s joined the Tigers, he’s hit 26 HR, and only 9, that’s right, NINE, last season. His OPS in 2023? An abysmal .593. He looks to be batting at the bottom of the lineup. And his defense? Some still insist he’s got a good glove. But in my view, any positives he brings with the glove are undone by his horribly inaccurate arm. He’s either going to be a main reason Torkleson wins a Gold Glove, or depending on Official Scorers, the reason he won’t.
    Can Baez provide power? Sure. But his extremely poor 2023 ISO of .104 indicates it’s more of a ‘busted clock’ event than any kind of consistent skill.
    I’ve listened to some national podcasts discussing shortstops. When Baez was brought up, laughter ensued. One ‘expert’ said that it looks at times as if Baez doesn’t have the first clue as to how to swing a bat or hit a baseball. That he may be one of the worst hitters in MLB today. I agree.
    Now, all that being said, WHY should the Tigers keep him? Yes, I know he’s paid a lot of money. But if everyone comes to the conclusion he’s unlikely to improve, and his presence is a net-negative, and Detroit’s going to eat the money anyway, then that is the time to just let him go. Losing the money is bad enough. Losing more games along WITH losing the money? That’s just doubling down on a bad mistake. One that Harris can blame on his predecessor.
    Look – a tiger can’t change it’s stripes. And Baez is not suddenly at age 31 going to figure out what’s wrong and return to 2021 form. If he can even hold STEADY at this currently unacceptable level, it would be a surprise.
    Hey – I hope I’m wrong. I hope Javier can hit .265 and pop 30 HR’s and be a force in a young and upcoming Tiger lineup. I also hope I can hit the lottery. Much like Baez already has.

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