Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Day I Bumped Into Jack Morris and Alan Trammell

I have not posted anything on this site for a long time, but regardless of how busy my life has become the last few years, I have to say something about Alan Trammell and Jack Morris going into the Hall of Fame via the Modern Era committee.  The 1980s Tigers were my all-time favorite baseball team, so I am so proud to see that squad finally get represented in the Hall of Fame.  The historic 1984 team which started the season 35-5 and went on to win 104 games and the World Series had previously been one of the few championship teams with no Hall of Famers.  So, it has been a long time coming.

 Trammell and 19-year teammate (and double play partner most of those years) Lou Whitaker were the heart and soul of the 80s era Tigers and have never gotten the attention they deserved, not when they played and not when they were up for the regular Hall of Fame vote.  I could write a long analytical piece about why Whitaker should be inducted along with Trammell and why Morris doesn't really belong, but I won't do that today.

For now, I will just enjoy the fact that the 1984 team has finally gotten its' due recognition and will re-tell a tale I wrote several years ago about the time I ran into Morris and Trammell in spring training. The meeting couldn't have captured their personalities (at least the ones I had imagined them to have) more perfectly.  It is something I will never forget.

In the Spring of 1988, my father and I made one of our frequent spring training trips to Florida.  We stayed at the Tigers team hotel in Lakeland that particular year, so I figured I might catch a glimpse of some players.  When we got there, I found out that most of the major leaguers had their own places and didn't stay at the hotel.  So, I didn't see any players the first day, except of course at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The next night, we were in the hotel lobby when I heard a familiar voice.  I knew it was Frank Beckman, who I had heard many times doing news and talk about the Tigers on WJR radio in Detroit.  So, we took the opportunity to talk to Beckman for a few minutes.  It was nothing deep, just some general light talk about the Tigers.

Beckman then had to leave to do some interviews down the hall.  I asked if we could watch the interviews and he said it was OK.  The first interview would be with Sparky Anderson.  There were no seats left in the small interview room, so my father and I stayed in the hall and watched through the open door.

As I was standing there watching Anderson, I saw minor league catcher Chris Hoiles walk by.  I only knew it was him because he had a tee shirt with "Hoiles" hand written on the back of it. While I didn't follow minor leaguers that closely back then, it was still pretty cool to see Hoiles in public.  I was more interested in watching Sparky though.

Then I looked up and noticed somebody much more intriguing than Hoiles.  The Jack Morris (who was next in line to be interviewed) was right next to me watching the interview too.  Apparently, he was also more interested in watching Sparky than talking to Hoiles.  I'm not sure what Hoiles was doing there since he was never interviewed. 

Soon a couple of other fans saw what was going on and timidly asked Morris for an autograph.  Morris did not look thrilled, but he signed without complaint.  As the fans left, Morris backed away and accidentally bumped into me.  Yes, future Hall of Famer Jack Morris and I really did collide.  He turned around, glared at me and mumbled "Scuse me" (He probably wasn't really glaring but he always looks like he's glaring so I'll pretend he was).  I mumbled "hi" and smiled nervously at the Tigers ace.

A few moments later, my father then asked Morris if he was ready for the interview.  Morris turned around and glared at my father (This time I think he really was glaring) and said "Scuse me?".  My father asked him again.  Morris responded with "Are you kidding? I own Beckman.  I'm going to chew him up.

Then none other than Alan Trammell walked in and Morris, probably relieved to get away from the Panases, started talking to him.  Finally, it's time for Morris to go in for the interview.  A few fans came over to get autographs from Trammell.  You could sense that they were more comfortable with Trammell than Morris.  One of them had me to take a picture of her and Trammell.

There was going to be a special event at the hotel the next day and the organizer asked Trammell if he could make it.  He said he couldn't but almost sounded guilty and wanted to know if any other players were going to be there.  He seemed genuinely concerned which is what you would expect from the humble shortstop.

Trammell eventually went to chat with Sparky who had now left the interview room. Trammell said something about how tough it was for young players just starting out.  Then Anderson gave a long rambling tale about something unrelated.  What else would you expect from Anderson?

After a while, Morris came out of the interview room and Trammell asked him how it went.  Morris said: "I gave Beckman some shit.  Then I gave him a little more shit.  Then I gave him all the shit."  Morris knew there were fans around, but he was going to be his own brash self.  It would have been disappointing if he wasn't.

In fact, the great thing about this little interview drama was that there was not a huge crowd around and I could watch players be themselves. There's plenty more to talk about from that interview session - like a glimpse into the secret lives of Willie Hernandez and Gary Pettis - but I'll save that for another time.  Or maybe I won't since I am not sure they would appreciate it.

Today, I want to focus on the two soon to be inducted Hall of Famers.  Yes, the 1984 Tigers finally have some representatives.  Congratulations to Trammell and Morris.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

How many Runs Will The Tigers Allow In 2017?


The Tigers are hoping for a come back season in 2016 from right-handed starter Jordan Zimmermann.
(Photo credit: Detroit Free Press) 

Now that I have projected the Tigers runs scored total for 2017, the next step is to estimate how many runs they will give up.  While I have been quite accurate in my runs scored projections the last few years, I have not been so successful in forecasting runs allowed.  Run prevention is more difficult to predict because pitcher's arms are so fragile and their performance so volatile.  I have undershot the Tigers eventual run total the last three years - 65 runs short in 2014, 129 run in 2015 and 30 runs last year.  

Just before the 2016 season got under way, I wrote just that the Tigers would allow 691 runs.  They went on to score 721 runs, so I was within 4%.  

As is often the case with pitching, a lot of things went wrong,  Newly acquired starter Jordan Zimmermann was injured most of the season and ended up with a 4.87 ERA which is almost a run and half higher than his career ERA.  Hold over Anibal Sanchez was even worse posting an ERA (5.87) about two runs above his career average.  Bullpen acquisition Mark Lowe also disappointed spectacularly finishing with a 7.11 ERA allowing 12 home runs in 49 innings.  

Fortunately, some things went right as well.  Ace Justin Verlander had his best season since 2012 posting a 3.04 ERA and a league-leading 254 strikeouts.  Additionally, twenty-three-year old Michael Fulmer surprised with a 3.06 ERA and was named the American a Rookie Of The Year.  

General Manager Al Avila stood pat during the off-season which means the 2017 staff will look very similar to 2016.  The hope is that Verlander and Fulmer will repeat their success and that Zimmermann will be healthier and better this year.  Many fans are also expecting continued progress from young starters Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd and hard-throwing reliever Bruce Rondon. 
  
For the projection, I first estimate the innings pitched in 2017 for their five expected starters and key bullpen pieces at the beginning of the season (Table 1).  In order to forecast runs allowed, I used three-year averages on three measures from 2014-2016 all adjusted for projected innings this year:
  • Runs Allowed.
  • Base Runs - estimate of what runs allowed should have been based on base runners, total bases and home runs.
For example, Justin Verlander allowed an average of 98 runs per 220 innings (his projected 2016 total) from 2014-2016.  He also allowed 92 Base Runs and 86 FIP Runs.  The average of the three numbers above (98, 92, 86) is 92.  I expect Verlander to be similar to his three-year average next year with maybe a slight age-related decline.  I'm estimating 95 runs allowed.

I project the rest of the pitchers similarly moving them up or down from their three-year averages if I think they are going to get better or worse this year.  In particular, I'm guessing that a couple of starters will do worse than their three-year averages: (1) Despite his poor season in 2016, Zimmermann's three-year average is still boosted two much by his two years in Washington in the league with no designated hitter. It is also likely that he will never regain his former velocity.  (2) Fulmer performed a bit better than expected last year and struggled down the stretch.  He should still be good this year, but may suffer some growing pains.  

While I do not expect any dramatic improvements from any of their young starters, I do expect Norris and Boyd to pitch more innings this year which means fewer innings for Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey and replacement level youngsters.  

My estimates of 750 runs scored and 700 allowed yields a differential of 50 runs or five wins above .500.  Thus, my early call for the season is a 86-76 which would be equal last year's win total. I will check in again after spring training and make adjustments should there be injuries or surpises over the next several weeks.

Table 1: Projected Runs Allowed By Tigers Pitchers in 2017


Average for 2014-2016*


Pitcher
Proj IP
RA
BSR
FIPRuns
Comb
Proj R
Proj ERA
Justin Verlander
220
98
92
86
92
95
3.61
Jordan Zimmermann
175
68
67
63
66
85
4.07
Michael Fulmer
175
63
65
72
67
75
3.59
Daniel Norris
150
72
78
71
74
70
3.91
Matt Boyd
125
82
78
74
78
70
4.69
Alex Wilson
70
22
25
28
25
30
3.59
Francisco Rodriguez
60
18
21
24
21
25
3.49
Justin Wilson
60
27
23
21
24
25
3.49
Shane Greene
60
39
32
27
33
30
4.19
Bruce Rondon
50
25
21
21
23
20
3.35
Kyle Ryan
50
22
22
23
22
25
4.19
Other
245



147
150
5.12
Totals
1,440



672
700
4.07
*Average adjusted for projected innings in 2016.

Data Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Saturday, February 04, 2017

How Many Runs Will The Tigers Score in 2017?




Tigers are hoping that a healthy Nick Castellanos will boost the team's run production in 2017
(Photo credit: Zimbio.com)  

The Tigers seem to be pretty well set with their position players going into 2017, so I am going to make my annual runs scored projection. The one spot which is still up in the air is center field, but they are not likely to do anything prior to the season which is going to significantly alter the outlook. 

Table 1 below shows that I have been really good (lucky?) at projecting the Tigers team run totals the last few years.  

Table 1: Tigers Projected and Actual Runs Scored, 2013-2016
Year
Proj. Runs
Runs
Diff
2013
800
796
+4
2014
760
757
+3
2015
689
770
-81
2016
755
750
+5

In 2013, I projected that they would score 800 runs and they actually scored 796, so I was off by just four runs.  Moreover, I missed by just three and five runs respectively in 2014 and 2016. 

My magic formula did not work so well in 2015 when I predicted they would score 770 and they instead scored 689, a difference of 81 runs.  Much of the discrepancy was accounted for by injuries to first baseman Miguel Cabrera and designated hitter Victor Martinez and the mid-season fire sale which sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets.  

The Weighted Runs Created (wRC) statistic at FanGraphs is useful for this kind of exercise because a team's Runs Created total usually falls fairly close to its run scored total.  Most teams have Runs Created within 5% of their runs scored.  The Tigers combined for 782 Runs Created in 2016 which was 32 (or 4%) more than their actual runs scored.  

The main reason why the Tigers scored fewer runs than they created last year is that Runs Created does not account for runs lost from double plays or base running.  The Tigers lost 19 runs due to base running (According to FanGraphs.com) and 5 runs due to doubleplays (Baseball-Reference.com).

Keeping the above caveats in mind, the Runs Created measure is generally helpful in projecting future offensive production.  Table 2 below lists the Tigers most likely players in 2016 and their estimated plate appearances (PA).  In the next column  is the three-year average of Runs Created adjusted for expected PA.  For example, Cabrera had 335 Runs Created in 1,875 plate appearances over 2014-2016 which comes out to .179 Runs Created Per PA.  Multiplying .179 times 650 PA (his projected PA for 2017) yields his three-year average of 116 Runs Created.

The final column of the table is my forecast for Runs Created in 2017.  In all cases, it is fairly close to the three-year average, but I make adjustments if I think a player will improve or regress this year. 

On the positive side, I expect third baseman Nick Castellanos to  improve over his average of 2014-2016.  I also expect left fielder Justin Upton to do a little better this year compared to his Petco Park season in 2015 and his slump ravaged 2016 campaign.  Thus, I give these players a boost in their final projected totals.

On the other hand, I'm guessing that Cabrera, designated hitter Victor Martinez and second baseman Ian Kinsler will regress a bit due to age.  So, their projected totals get marked down slightly.

Aggregating all the Runs Created yields 765 for the team. The last parts of the equation are base running and double plays.  I am optimistic they will be a little smarter on the bases this year, but I still expect them to lose about 15 runs.   

Based on the above, I am predicting 750 runs in 2017 assuming no major changes or injuries before opening day.  That would be exactly the same as last year which makes sense given that they have almost the same team.  
    
Table 1: Tigers Projected Runs in 2017
Player
PA
Runs Created
3-Yr Avg*
2017
Proj
McCann
375
34
35
Cabrera
650
116
110
Kinsler
675
88
80
Iglesias
500
51
55
Castellanos
575
68
75
Upton
625
85
90
J. Martinez
625
104
100
V. Martinez
550
80
70
Mahtook
300
30
30
Collins
175
19
20
Jones
150
5
15
Avila
300
33
30
Romine
250
19
20
Machado
150
13
15
Others
300
23
20
Base Running/DP

-15
Totals
6,200

750

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