There are many ways to build a good ball club, but World Series teams have some very distinct similarities. I looked at the last 3 years of WS participating teams to see what trends I could spot on how these teams were constructed. A couple addendums - first off, if I were really dedicated to this (and didn't have a full-time job), I would've probably gone back more than 3 years. 10 years at least. Secondly, the Giants won 2 of the last 3 titles, so they probably skew the numbers a bit. Keep all of that in mind when looking at these numbers.
A few notes about methods before we get into it: I looked at WAR (wins above replacement) for every position (including DH, or in the NL whichever bench player had the most ABs), the defensive rating for the 8 position players and 1 bench/platoon player, and the OPS (on base % + slugging %) for each spot in the batting order. I wanted to list the batting order with OWAR (offensive wins above replacement), but I couldn't find a website that put OWAR with the batting order & was too lazy to cobble that together. OPS, while imperfect, will have to do. Some variance is due to manager philosophy (do you hit your best hitter 3rd or 4th, do you want a weak-hitting, bat-control guy as your 2nd hitter, etc.), and some is due to the fact that half of these teams are NL teams who bat the pitcher 9th at least 3 times a game. Onward:
1. C, SP1 and CF are easily the top 3 players on World Series teams. LF is 4th and then SP2 is 5th. Nobody's really bad, but then it's a WS team. You don't generally find bad starters on a WS team.
2. Middle defense is IMPORTANT. The top 2 defensive players on World Series teams are the catcher and shortstop. Centerfield is right behind, and then 2nd base. Every other position averages average or sub-average defense, with 1B being typically the worst defender. Interesting.
3. The pitching staff on these teams follows an obvious trajectory. A really good ace, pretty good at #2 & #3, and then just above average at #4 & #5. The closer isn't always the top pitcher in the bullpen but he's at least 2nd-best. Often the setup guy is actually the better pitcher but doesn't handle the closer role.
4. The batting order has a gentle curve until the #9 guy. The first 4 hitters are almost always the best, peaking at #3 or #4 depending on the manager's philosophy. After #4 it slopes downward, and then plummets at #9. Some of this is due to the NL batting the pitcher 9th, but less than you would think (2014 Royal's #9 guy - .584 OPS, 2012 Tigers' #9 guy - .603. 2013 Red Sox were an offensive juggernaut, so their #9 hitter's .703 OPS was terrible for them)
How does that structure compare to the 2014 Tigers? Well, their best players fit in at SP2, 1B, 2B and DH. They had good middle defense at C and 2B, average middle defense at SS, and bad middle D at CF (don't blame the Austin Jackson trade, A-Jax was nearly as bad as Rajai Davis in CF). Also, WS winners don't have TERRIBLE defenders (the losers might, and in the case of the 2012 Tigers, they had several). They might have a couple sub-average defenders, but no one with a defensive rating lower than -8 or so. The 2014 Tigers had TERRIBLE defenders at 3 positions (RF, 3B & CF), poor defense LF (despite Cabrera's low def. rating at 1B he's above average for that position), and at SS, a position where they needed A+ defense, they got a B-. If you averaged out the WAR for Detroit's starters, they'd be about a full point higher than the average starter on a WS team. If you did the same for the bullpen, Detroit's average RP would be half a point lower than the average RP on a WS team.
Lastly, the batting order. The 1 & 2 hitters were ok, not ideal. The 3, 4 & 5 hitters were spectacular. The #9 hitter was about what you would expect from an AL team, but the problem was that the 6, 7 & 8 hitters were about that good as well. Instead of a gentle slope, the Tigers' offense flatlined on the back half.
What is their outlook for 2015? They brought in Anthony Gose to either platoon with Rajai Davis at CF (Gose facing righties, Davis the lefties) or to take over the position entirely. That should improve the CF defense significantly, if Gose's weak bat doesn't keep him off the field. Torii Hunter (Detroit's worst defensive player last year) is gone and presumably whoever they pick up will be better. If they pick up a LF and slide JD Martinez over to RF, that would improve the defense at 2 positions. Jose Iglesias should be back at SS, moving the defensive grade there back into the A to A+ range. My hope for Castellanos at 3B is to be merely bad. If Castellano plays regular, bad defense at 3B, I'll be satisfied with that. He can't be the worst at the position again, but maybe he's growing into the position. Maybe.
The lineup situation is interesting. Most likely, Ian Kinsler will lead off, but he may bat 2nd depending on who the Tigers replace Torii Hunter with. If it's a guy like Nori Aoki, he'll slide into the 2 hole. If it's a guy like Yasmani Tomas, Melky Cabrera or Nick Markakis, he'll lead off. If we assume JD Martinez wasn't a 1-year wonder, the Tigers are well-fixed in the 3-4-5 spots as they were in 2014. The 6th spot? The 6th spot.
I'm stepping into my internal monologue for a moment to work this out. Nick Castellanos batted 6th most of 2014, and barring any drastic moves on Dombrowski's part, I expect that to continue. He wasn't a particularly good #6 hitter, just good for a rookie. He should improve in year 2, hopefully becoming more patient. If the Tigers get a guy like Tomas or Markakis to play RF and Castellanos develops as a hitter, he'd be a good #2 guy and Tomas or Markakis could bat 5th or 6th. Just a thought.At the bottom of the lineup we have Iglesias, Avila and Gose/Davis. If Davis gets the start, he should bat 7th (I don't care that he's fast and the 9th spot is like the leadoff spot, bat the better hitters higher in the order. It's not rocket science... it's not even algebra). Otherwise, it's probably Iglesias-Avila-Gose. The Tigers will likely have James McCann up to spell Avila at C and to provide a right-handed option at that position. The question is Iglesias - is he the .300 hitter he looked like with Boston in the first half of 2013, or is he the .260 hitter he looked like the reset of the season with Detroit? If he hits even .280 next year, he's a great 7th hitter and Detroit's lineup is decent shape. If he's more like .240-.250, he's basically what we had in 2014 with better defense and the Tiger's lineup looks a lot worse.
Ok, now the pitching situation - Detroit is WAY too heavy on talent at starting pitching. They don't need 3 former Cy Young winners, and they really should spend Cy Young money on 3 guys when they can spend half as much on a guy who is 75% as good. If Detroit keeps Verlander, Price, Sanchez and Porcello as their rotation, they should be in fine shape picking up a guy like Edinson Volquez or even a Colby Lewis type. I'd really like them to spend some of the money saved by not signing Scherzer on their bullpen, which was possibly the weakest part of the 2014 team (after their defense). Get Andrew Miller, Gregerson, Neshek, or even Sergio Romo to either close or setup for Soria, and let Joe Nathan go. With a bit of a bounce-back year in play for Verlander, Price, and Soria, Detroit's pitching might even be better in 2015 despite losing their best guy in Scherzer.
Dombrowski has historically over-valued starting pitching and under-valued defense. His signings (and unsignings) this offseason have shown a slight shift in philosophy about defense, but he still needs to sign a big-time OF. Will he trade Castellanos for a LF and sign Hanley Ramirez to play 3B? Will he re-sign Scherzer and trade Price for an OF and prospects? Will he make a move to improve the bullpen? This is Detroit's most interesting offseason in YEARS.