Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Many Runs Will The Tigers Allow in 2016?

The Tigers are counting on recently acquired Jordan Zimmermann to bolster their rotation in 2016.
(Photo credit: H. Darr Beiser, USA Today Sports) 

Now that I have projected the Tigers runs scored total for 2016, the next step is to estimate how many runs they will give up.  Run prevention is more difficult to predict because pitcher's arms are so fragile and their performance so volatile, but I'll do my best.

The Tigers allowed 803 runs in 2015 which was the highest total in the American League by far.  In fact, they allowed 50 more runs than the Red Sox, the next worst run prevention team in the league.   

Pretty much everything went wrong with the Tigers staff last year.  Former ace Justin Verlander missed the first half of the season with a triceps injury.  Anibal Sanchez, one of the best pitchers in the league in 2013-2014 allowed a league-leading 29 home runs due in part to a shoulder ailment. Off-season acquisition Shane Greene started strong but quickly faded and it was later learned that he he had ulnar neuritis and a pseudoaneurysm.  Another new pitcher Alfredo Simon stayed healthy but was wildly inconsistent posting a 5.05 ERA overall.  Moreover, the bullpen was an unmitigated disaster. The only thing that went right was the dependable David Price and he was traded at the end of July.  

New General Manager Al Avila had his work cut out for him this winter and he responded by overhauling the staff.  He signed free agent starters Jordan Zimmerman and Mike Pelfrey and reliever Mark Lowe and added closer Francisco Rodriguez and southpaw Justin Wilson in trades.  The Tigers are also hoping for better health for Verlander and Sanchez and contributions from young pitchers obtained in last year's deadline deals - most notably Daniel Norris and later Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer.  

For the projection, I first estimate the innings pitched in 2016 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 2013-2015 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 99 runs per 210 innings (his projected 2016 total) from 2013-2015.  He also had 95 Base Runs and 80 FIP Runs.  The average of the three numbers above (99, 95, 80) is 91.  Given his return to form at the end of last year, I expect Verlander to be a little better than his three-year average next year, I'm estimating 85 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) Right-hander Anibal Sanchez will be better than 2015, but will not be anywhere close to his 2013-2014 seasons due to his age (32) and injury history.  (2) Zimmerman will regress due to a switch to a league with a designated hitter.  I also expect reliever Alex Wilson will not repeat his 2015 season because he doesn't miss enough bats.  

My estimates of 755 runs scored and 663 allowed yields a differential of 92 runs or 9 wins above .500.  Thus, my early call for the season is a 90-72, which would be a whopping 16 wins better than last year  That may sound like a lot of wins to some, but that is the type of team they could have if they stay reasonably healthy.  

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty with this team and while I have built in missed time for fragile players such as Victor Martinez, Jose Iglesias and Anibal Sanchez, there is always a chance of catastrophic injuries which could tank the season.  I'll check back again after things get sorted out more in spring training.  

Table 1: Projected Runs Allowed By Tigers Pitchers in 2016


Averages for 2013-2015*


Player
Proj IP
RA
BSR
FIP Runs
Comb
Proj R
Proj ERA
Verlander
210
99
95
80
91
85
3.64
Zimmermann
200
77
76
73
75
85
3.83
Sanchez
160
69
64
57
63
70
3.94
Pelfrey
150
89
85
70
81
80
4.80
Norris
140
75
68
73
72
70
4.50
Rodriguez
65
21
28
29
26
26
3.60
Lowe
60
28
28
24
27
27
3.75
J. Wilson
55
19
21
21
20
20
3.27
A. Wilson
55
19
18
20
19
25
4.09
Hardy
50
19
20
17
18
20
3.60
Rondon
30
10
10
16
12
12
3.60
VerHagen
35
17
16
12
15
15
3.86
Others
230



128
128
5.01
Totals
1440



647
663
4.12
*Average adjusted for projected innings in 2016.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How Many Runs Will The Tigers Score In 2016?

How many runs will new left fielder Justin Upton contribute to the Tigers offense in 2016?
(Photo credit: Stephen Dunn, Getty Images)

With the recent acquisition of outfielder Justin Upton, the Tigers seem to be pretty much set with their position players going into the 2016 season.  So, I will now try to predict how many runs they will score.  I was pretty good (lucky?) at projecting the Tigers team run totals in 2013 and 2014:
  • In 2013I guessed that they would score 800 runs and they ended up scoring 796, so I was off by just four runs.  
  • In 2014, I surmised that they would score 760 runs and they actually scored 757, so I was off by three runs.
Last year I was not so lucky.  I predicted that they would score 770 and they instead scored 689, a difference of 81 runs.  What went wrong?  Much of it can be 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.  Poor baserunning and an inordinate number of double plays also contributed to the discrepancy.  Hopefully, the Tigers will have better fortunes this year and my projections will get back on track.  

The Weighted Runs Created (wRC) statistic at FanGraphs is useful for this kind of exercise because a team's wRC total usually falls fairly close to its run scored total.  The Tigers combined for 745 wRC in 2015 which was 56 (or 8%) more than their actual runs scored.  So, while most teams had Runs Created totals within 5% of their runs scored, the wRC statistic was not such a good approximation for the Tigers last year.  

The biggest reason for the mismatch was that runs created does not account for runs lost from double plays or base running.  According to Baseball-Reference, those elements cost the Tigers 30 runs last year.  Additional runs may have been lost due to unfortunate sequencing (e.g. Scattering base runners throughout games rather than bunching them together for runs).

Keeping the above caveats in mind, the wRC measure is generally helpful in projecting future offensive production.  Table 1 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 wRC adjusted for expected PA.  For example, Cabrera had 354 wRC in 1,848 plate appearances over 2013-2015 which comes out to .192 Runs Created Per PA.  Multiplying .192 times 625 PA (his projected PA for 2016) yields his three-year average of 120 wRC.

The final column of the table is my forecast for wRC in 2016.  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 24-year old third baseman Nick Castellanos to do better than his 2014-2015 rookie season.  I also expect shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Cameron Maybin to do a little better with improved health and continued progress.   Thus, I give these players a boost in their final projected totals.

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

Aggregating all the wRC yields 775 for the team. The last parts of the equation are base running and double plays.  I think the Tigers will do better in those areas next year, but they are still likely to lose runs.  So, I am giving therm a -20 for those elements.   

Based on the above, I am predicting 755 runs in 2016 assuming no major changes or injuries before opening day.  That would be 66 runs or an estimated 6-7 wins better than last year.  Improved offense alone won't be enough to get them back to the playoffs, but it's a good start.  They also made a lot of changes to their pitching staff which is a subject for another day.  
    
Table 1: Tigers Projected Runs in 2016
Player
PA
Runs Created
3-Yr Avg*
2016
Proj
McCann
425
42
45
Cabrera
625
120
115
Kinsler
675
83
75
Iglesias
475
56
60
Castellanos
600
64
70
Upton
625
89
90
Maybin
425
40
45
J. Martinez
625
92
95
V. Martinez
550
77
75
Gose
275
27
30
Salatamacchia
250
30
30
Romine
200
14
15
Aviles
200
16
15
Others
250
19
15
Base Running/DP

-20
Totals
6,200

755
Data source: FanGraphs.com

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