Sunday, April 24, 2016

This Happens To Justin Upton Every Year

When the Tigers inked outfielder Justin Upton in January, there was not much to dislike about the signing.  First of all, few were expecting another big move by the Tigers who had already reached the luxury tax threshold for payrolls.  He was just 28 years old and was coming off a three-year stretch with a 126 OPS+, along with a career 120 OPS+.

He did sign for a lot of money - $22 million per year for six years - but it was not an overpay and when your team's owner is willing to budget for a $200 million payroll, fans need not worry too much about salaries.  Moreover, there was a two-year opt out which he most likely would exercise after the 2017 season.  Sure, he was not the left-handed lead-off hitter some perfectionists envisioned, but he was a substantial upgrade over the expected Cameron Maybin/ Anthony Gose/ Tyler Collins mish mash in left field.

I personally had little doubt he would a productive and worthwhile signing, but I had a suspicion he would not be one of the more popular Tigers.  He had a history of strikeouts (a 26% K rate from 2013-2015) and reputation of being an over-hyped underachiever during his career.  He was probably over-hyped and may or may not have underachieved, but the results including a .271/,350/.471 slash line made a fine addition to any line-up.

The other reason I suspected fans might get frustrated with Upton was his propensity for streakiness.  Having owned him in a couple of fantasy leagues in recent years, I was familiar with his ups and downs.

He has certainly started on a negative note with the Tigers batting .217 with a .569 OPS and 30 strikeouts in 72 plate appearances with just one week left in April.  However, a look at his splits on Baseball-Reference.com shows that it is not uncommon for him to have awful months.  In the past three years, he has had has six months with an OPS below .660:

May, 2013 .654
June, 2013 .616

June, 2014 .617
Sept, 2014 .559

June, 2015 .608
July, 2015 .552

The good news is that he has also had seven months in that three-year period where he hit for an OPS above .900.  Without checking any other hitters, I would guess that Upton is not unique in his roller coaster ways.  All hitters - especially hard swingers with high k rates - have highs and lows. Upton just has the misfortune of an early slump on a new team.  I'm expecting a couple of months with an .900 OPS and a final OPS above .800 for the Tigers new slugger.

 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

So, Now How Many Games Will The Tigers Win in 2016?

During the winter, I crunched the numbers and arrived at 90 wins for the Tigers.  When I saw that other sites such as FanGraphs (81 wins) and Baseball Prospectus (79) were must less optimistic about the Tigers, I was thinking maybe I was being biased.  So, I looked at my projections again, but came to the conclusion that the Tigers were a better team than the more sophisticated systems were saying.

The biggest discrepancy between Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection and my rudimentary formula was for outfielder JD Martinez.  PECOTA is pegging him for a .781 OPS in 2016 after hitting .912 in 2014 and .879 in 2016.  I am guessing without reservation that he'll be closer to .900 than .781.  Other individual differences are smaller, but Baseball Prospectus has the Tigers scoring 692 runs in aggregate whereas as I have them scoring 755.

On the pitching side. PECOTA projects Justin Verlander to have a 3.92 ERA whereas I am guessing he will be closer to last year's 3.38 ERA.  Overall, Baseball Prospectus guesses the Tigers will allow 713 runs.  By my calculations (before spring training), they would allow 663.

Now, a week before the season starts, I am not budging on my 755 runs scored prediction.  Their offense is sound and I will be surprised if they do not hit.  The wildcard of course is designated hitter Victor Martinez.  If he is awful again this year, then that changes the outlook a bit, but my projections  already assume some fragility.  I don't think he will be anywhere close to what he was in 2014 when he slugged his way to a .974 OPS.  A better guess is 2013 (when he OPSed .785), but with fewer plate appearances.

The pitching, on the other hand, looks different than it did in February.  Injuries to Daniel Norris (fractured vertabrae), Alex Wilson (sore shoulder) and Blaine Hardy (shoulder impingement) have dampened my enthusiasm soewhat.  On the positive side, it looks as if Anibal Sanchez has recovered from his early spring ailment.  History tells us he will not get through a full season , but I only have him programmed for a 160 innings anyway.

I am guessing we will see about 100 additional innings (compared to my earlier prediction) that will be pitched by pitchers not named Daniel Norris, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy.  This will hurt because although they have better depth than last year, it is still not good. So, my pitching projection needs to be adjusted.

For the projection, I first estimate the innings pitched in 2016 for their projected starters and key bullpen pieces (Table 1 below).  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. 

My new runs allowed estimate is 691 which combined with 755 runs scored yields a differential of 64.  Since ten runs is worth roughly one win, the Tigers should win six more games than a.500 team. So, I now have them winning 87 games.   Hopefully, I will not have to make any more adjustments before opening day unless it involves the acquisition of a healthy pitcher!

Table 1: Projected Runs Allowed By Tigers Pitchers in 2016


Average for 2013-2015*


Pitcher
Proj IP
RA
BSR
FIPRuns
Comb
Proj R
Proj ERA
Justin Verlander
210
99
95
80
91
85
3.35
Jordan Zimmermann
200
77
76
73
75
85
3.52
Anibal Sanchez
160
69
64
57
63
75
3.88
Mike Pelfrey
150
89
85
70
81
80
4.42
Daniel Norris
90
48
44
47
46
45
4.14
Shane Greene
80
52
47
39
46
45
4.66
Francisco Rodriguez
65
20
24
26
25
25
3.18
Mark Lowe
60
28
28
24
27
27
3.73
Justin Wilson
55
19
18
20
19
19
2.86
Alex Wilson
35
12
14
13
13
15
3.55
Blaine Hardy
35
12
14
12
13
13
3.08
Drew VerHagen
35
10
10
16
12
15
3.55
Bruce Rondon
30
17
16
12
15
15
4.14
Other
240



147
147
5.07
Totals
1,445
673
691
3.95

*Average adjusted for projected innings in 2016.

Data Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jose Valdez Among Nine "Cut" By Tigers

According to several Twitter sources, the Tigers optioned right-hander Jose Valdez to Triple-A Toledo this morning.  Additionally, pitchers Drake Britton and Presto Guilmet, catcher Miguel Gonzalez, first baseman Dominic Ficocielo, infielders Tommy Field and Jacoby Jones and outfielders Mike Gerber and Jason Krizan were re-assigned to minor league camp.  That leaves the Tigers with 43 players left in major league camp meaning there are still 18 players that need to be dropped by opening day.

There are no real surprises in that group.  Valdez had a chance at making the opening day 25-man roster, but he was a long-shot.  He will go down to Toledo where he will work on throwing strikes, but may pitch in Detroit at some point this year.

The best prospect of the bunch was infielder Jacoby Jones, but he will be serving a 50-day suspension  after a second positive test for a "drug of abuse".  The 23-year-old Jones has good power for an infielder, but needs to work on his plate discipline.  He has played mostly shortstop, but will likely end up as a multiple position player.  He also might see Detroit before the end of the year.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Joe Jimenez Among Tigers Reassigned To Minor League Camp

The Tigers announced via their official twitter account this morning that pitchers Joe Jimenez and Kevin Ziomek and catchers Austin Green and Kade Scrivique have been re-assigned to minor league camp.  This leaves 55 Tigers in Major League camp meaning there are still 30 "cuts" to make by opening day.

The most significant name on the list is Jimenez who had been throwing well in early spring action..  The 21-year-old right hander posted a 1.47 ERA with a fantastic 61/11 K/BB ratio in 43 innings at A-level West Michigan in 2015.  He had pitched two perfect innings this spring striking out four.  Jimenez was not expected to make the 25-man roster, but it's a bit surprising that he was re-assigned so early.

According to Detroit Free Press writer George Sipple, Tigers General Manager Al Avila said that Jimenez is expected to start at either high-A Lakeland or  Double-A Erie in April.  He should move quickly through the system though and could reach Detroit later this year.  He has a bright future as a potential back-end reliever.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How Good Was Tony Phillips?

(Photo Credit: Detoit News)

Detroit Tigers fans all over the internet were saddened today when the heard of the death of Tony Phillips at the age of 56.  The news brought back images of his deep crouching stance, his flashing eyes and never ending spray of sun flower seeds.  The versatile utility man was a bundle of energy and a joy to watch.

What some fans and media failed to recognize at the time was how good Phillips really was during his five years as a Tiger.  According to Baseball-Reference, the switch hitting fireball batted .281/.395/.405 from 1990-1994.  Yes, that's a .395 on base percentage!  The only player in a Tigers uniform in the last 60 years with a better career OBP is Miguel Cabrera at .405. 

In a time before analysts paid a lot of attention to OBP, many observers did not fully appreciate Tony's on base skills.  He was in the top ten in Major League Baseball during that period and his .443 OBP in 1993 was second to John Olerud of the Blue Jays, yet he never played in an all-star game.

Phillips was more than just an on-base machine though. He was invaluable defensively playing every position on the field but catcher and first base.  He didn't just make token appearances at second, third, short and all three outfield positions.  He played them all frequently and played each position with average to above average skill.

When you add up everything Phillips did in all facets of the game, you can see why manager Sparky Anderson loved him so much.  He consistently put up all-star level Wins Above Replacement (WAR) numbers during his Tigers tenure:

1990 4.7
1991 5.2
1992 5.0
1993 5.6
1994 4.7
  
The most memorable Tiger of the period was mammoth first baseman Cecil Fielder, but Phillips was better. Tony The Tiger finished among the top three Tigers in WAR each year and topped Fielder every year except 1990 (the year Big Cecil hit 51 home runs).  In fact, Phillips led the Tigers in WAR each year from 1992-1994. 

Historically, Phillips ranks among the top five Tigers in cumulative WAR since 1990:

Miguel Cabrera 47
Justin Verlander 45
Travis Fryman 27
Tony Phillips 25
Lou Whitaker 23

He may not have gotten the national recognition he deserved at the time, but Tony was a fan favorite locally and won't be forgotten.  Rest In Peace Mr Phillips.

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