Monday, February 05, 2018

How Many Runs Will The Tigers Allow in 2018?

The Tigers are hoping for a strong season from left-handed starter Daniel Norris
(Photo credit: MLive.com) 

Now that I have projected the Tigers runs scored total for 2018, 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 undershot the Tigers eventual run total in each of the last four seasons:

2014 65
2015 129
2016 30
2017 194

That 194 is not a typo.  Before the 2017 season got under way, I wrote that the Tigers would allow 700 runs.  They went on to allow 894 runs.  Yes, 894 runs!  Did you forget how bad they were last year?  I underestimated their total runs allowed by a whopping 22%.     

As is often the case with pitching, a lot of things went wrong.  Jordan Zimmermann continued to struggle with a neck injury and his ERA soared to 6.08.  Last year's Rookie Of The Year Michael Fulmer was eventually shut down with in an irritated nerve in his elbow and promising young pitchers Daniel Norris (5.31 ERA) and Matt Boyd both disappointed.  Moreover, long-time ace Justin Verlander and top reliever Justin Wilson were traded during the season.  Finally, they got little help from the minors with most of the call-ups posting ERAs north of six.    

General Manager Al Avila did not make many big moves during the off-season.  The most notable acquisition was right hander Mike Fiers who posted a 5.22 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 153 innings with Houston last year. One hope for 2018 is that Fulmer will come back healthy and that Norris and Boyd will make some progress. The other hope is that their minor league depth will not be as disasterous as last year.   
  
For the projection, I first estimated the innings pitched in 2018 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 2015-2017 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, Zimmermann allowed an average of 91 runs per 165 innings (his projected 2018 total) from 2015-2017.  He also allowed 89 Base Runs and 80 FIP Runs.  The average of the three numbers above (91, 89, 80) was 87.  I think Zimmermann's 2015 season with Washington pulled his three-year average to a level beyond his true current talent.  So, I am bumping up his projected run total to 95 runs in 2018.   

I projected 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 reliever Shane Greene will do better than his three-year average.  Norris and Boyd may do a little better, but I don't want to give them a big boost unless they look especially good in spring training.  Other than Zimmermann, I don't expect anyone to be much worse than their three-year averages.   

Summing it all up, I am projecting 790 runs allowed which is approximately half-way between last year's projection and last year's reality.  That combined 685 runs scored yields a differential of 105 runs or eleven wins below .500.  Thus, my early call for the season is a 70-92 record which doesn't sound so bad versus 98 losses in 2017.  I will take a look at this again before the season making adjustments for any injuries or other surprises that may occur.

Table 1: Projected Runs Allowed By Tigers Pitchers in 2018


Proj IP
RA
BSR
FIPRuns
Comb
Proj Runs
Proj ERA
MichaelFulmer
185
78
68
75
74
75
3.65
DanielNorris
165
90
95
78
88
85
4.64
JordanZimmermann
165
91
89
80
87
95
5.18
MattBoyd
135
96
94
82
82
80
5.33
MikeFiers
135
80
81
78
80
80
5.33
AlexWilson
70
27
29
29
28
30
3.86
ShaneGreene
70
42
35
32
36
30
3.86
Other
515
--
--
--
314
315
5.50

1440



789
790
4.88
*Average adjusted for projected innings in 2018.
Data Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Sunday, January 28, 2018

How Many Runs Will The Tigers Score In 2018?

Third baseman Jeimer Candelario will be a key part of the Tigers offense in 2018.
Photo source: MLive.com

It is time for my annual runs scored prediction for the Tigers.  In a rebuilding year, it is typically difficult to make playing time projections, but the Tigers list of opening day starting position players seems pretty well set for a team in transition.  So, I will start with that..  

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

Table 1: Tigers Projected and Actual Runs Scored, 2013-2017

Year
Proj Runs
Runs
Diff
%
2013
800
796
4
+0.1
2014
760
757
3
+0.3
2015
689
770
-81
-10.5
2016
755
750
5
+0.7
2017
750
735
15
+2.0

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. Thus, my forecasts came within 1% of the actual runs scored those three years.

It gets more difficult when your legendary slugging first baseman has his season derailed by injuries and two of your best hitters are shipped elsewhere during an in-season fire sale.  Given that, it is surprising, that I was off by only 15 (a two percent difference) in 2017. 

My 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 749 Runs Created in 2017 which was 14 (or 2%) 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 base running or double plays.  The Tigers lost 12 runs due to base running (According to Baseball Prospectus.com) and 1 runs due to double plays (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 2018 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 284 Runs Created in 1,719 plate appearances over 2015-2017 which comes out to .165 Runs Created Per PA.  Multiplying .165 times 600 PA (his projected PA for 2018) yields his three-year average of  99 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. I don't have a formula for doing that.  It is just a judgement call based on what I know about things that a projection system might not take into account such as a change in a player's health.

On the positive side, I expect Cabrera to improve over his average of 2015-2017 because his poor health in 2017 really pulled down his average.  I also am expecting improved production for third baseman Jeimer Candelario and left fielder Mike Mahtook.  So, I am giving them a boost in their projected output for 2018.  On the other hand, I expect that designated hitter Victor Martinez will continue to decline due to age and health, so his projected total gets marked down slightly.

Aggregating all the Runs Created yields 695 for the team. The last parts of the equation are base running and double plays.  I am guessing they will be a little better on the bases this year with Alex Avila and JD Martinez out of the picture and center fielder Leonys Martin in the line-up.  However,  any line-up with Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos will still be slow.  So, I am going to subtract 10 runs.     

Based on the above, I am predicting 685 runs in 2018 assuming no major changes or injuries before opening day.  That would be 50 runs fewer than last year.  Losing JD, Justin Upton, Ian Kinser and Avila will do that.   

The harder part of projections is pitching.  That comes next.   
    
Table 2: Tigers Projected Runs in 2018

Player
PA
Runs Created
3-Yr Avg*
2017
Proj
McCann
450
45
45
Cabrera
600
99
105
Machado
500
42
45
Iglesias
500
49
50
Candelario
550
71
75
Castellanos
650
85
85
Mahtook
550
65
70
Martin
400
32
35
V. Martinez
475
55
50
Hicks
250
25
25
Jones
175
8
15
Reyes
175
--
15
Lugo
175
--
15
Gerber
175
--
20
Others
525
--
45
Base Running/DP

-13
-10
Totals
6,150
656
685
*Adjusted for expected plate appearances in 2018
Data source: FanGraphs.com


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