Monday, December 03, 2018

Top Ten Tigers Shortstops

Alan Trammell is the Tigers only Hall of Fame shortstop
(Photo credit: Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

I recently wrote about the top Tigers third basemen of all time.  Today, I'll look at the shortstops.  Number one is our new Hall of Famer Alan Trammell and nobody else in his vicinity.  The rest of the list is more difficult.  

First, let's review the ground rules.  We are only including players who played at least half their games at shortstop.  Dick McAuliffe comes close with 42% and someone could reasonably put him on a list of Tigers shortstops if they were only looking at shortstops.  If we did include him among shortstops, he would most likely be in the top five, but we are not going to do that.  He was primarily a second baseman and we'll be constructing that list later.  

Another rule is that we will only consider games played with the Tigers.  Jhonny Peralta would do better if he we included his games with the Indians and Cardinals, but we are going to ignore those.  
We are also only going to include players with at least two full seasons at shortstop for the Tigers.  

Measuring offense is fairly easy.  Measuring defense, especially for players that played many decades ago, is more difficult.  We do not have enough information to rank player defense precisely.  However, I believe we have enough to identify who was a great defender and who was a bad defender and that will be taken into consideration.  Some sources which attempt to measure historic defense are:

Wizardry by Michael Humpreys
Win Shares by Bill James
The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia by Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer

For more recent players such as Jose Iglesias and Jhonny Peralta, we can also look at measures such as Defensive Runs Saved found at FanGraphs.com.

One way to start the analysis is to look at Wins Above Average (WAR) at Baseball-Reference:

WAR Leaders
Alan Trammell 70.7
Donie Bush 38.5
Billy Rogell 24.9
Harvey Kuenn 21.0
Carlos Guillen 18.6
Topper Rigney 10.9
Jhonny Peralta 9.1
Kid Elberfeld 8.1
Ramon Santiago 7.3
Jose Iglesias 7.1

WAR is a good place to start but not a good place to end.  The biggest problem with WAR in a ranking like this is we don't have a very accurate measure of defense, especially for the old timers.

WAR also does not tell necessarily tell us enough about quality or peak value.  For example, Ramon Santiago makes the top ten according to WAR, but he accumulated that WAR over many years as a utility player.  He was a fine utility man but never a regular other than the 119-loss 2003 team. 

We can remove fielding performance by looking at Offensive WAR or OWAR.

OWAR Leaders
Alan Trammell 63.0
Donie Bush 43.1
Harvey Kuenn 25.6
Carlos Guillen 22.9
Billy Rogell 19.4
Topper Rigney 13.0
Jhonny Peralta 9.2
Kid Elberfeld 8.0
Jose Iglesias 6.5
Eddie Lake 6.0

Santiago falls off the list, but there are no dramatic changes here.

Trammell and Bush lead in WAR and OWAR, but neither was the top peak performer offensively.  We can get an idea of offense by looking at OPS+

OPS+ Leaders
Carlos Guillen 121
Harvey Kuenn 112
Alan Trammell 110
Kid Elberfeld 109
Jhonny Peralta 106
Topper Rigney 105
Donie Bush 92
Billy Rogell 89
Eddie Lake 85
Jose Iglesias 83
Johnny Lipon 83

Guillen is the OPS+ leader, but he does not approach the longevity of Trammell and Bush.  Both peak and career will carry some weight in this ranking.  Now for the Top ten Tigers third basemen:

1. Alan Trammell (1977-1996  70.7 WAR 63.0 OWAR 110 OPS+)
I posted to this blog regularly for about 10 year and during that time I often discussed Alan Trammell's Hall of Fame credentials.   So, it feels good to now be able to refer to him as "Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell".  Arguments which say that player X is in the Hall of Fame and player Y is better than player X are flawed because there is a chance that player Y is only better than one guy who doesn't really belong.  In Trammell's case, my argument was always that he was better than half the shortstops in the Hall of Fame.  He is 8th among 21 inducted shortstops in WAR, 9th in Wins Above Average (preferred by some for Hall of Fame discussions because it puts more weight on excellence and a little less on longevity than WAR), 9th in OWAR and 11th in OPS+.  So, now he's in and he's the only Tigers shortstop so honored.

2. Donie Bush (1908-1921  38.5 WAR 43.1 OWAR 92 OPS+)
According to the Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball, Bush spent 65 years in organized ball as a player, manager, scout and owner.  That's a lot of baseball - from the first decade of the American League's existence to the early 1970's or from Ty Cobb to Marvin Lane.  This ranking is strictly based on his time as a player with the Tigers though.  He played more games at shortstop (1,867) than any Tiger other than Trammell and had some excellent individual seasons exceeding 5+ WAR five times.  His best year was his 2009 rookie campaign when he had 6.5 WAR, an OPS+ of 115 and a league leading 88 walks (one of five times he led the league in walks).

3. Billy Rogell (1930-1939  24.9 WAR 19.4 OWAR 89 OPS+)
Bill Rogell was one of the top defensive shortstops in the league in a Tigers career which spanned the the 1930s.  A long-time Detroit City Council member after his career, Billy Rogell teamed with Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer as the keystone combo of the 1934-35 pennant winning teams.  He could hit pretty well for a middle infielder too averaging 5.1 WAR and a 101 OPS+ from 1933-1935.

4. Carlos Guillen (2004-2011  18.6 WAR 22.9 OWAR 121 OPS+)
Carlos Guillen was acquired from the Mariners before the 2004 season in what turned out to be one of the team's best trades ever.  He was an integral member  of a team that became a perennial contender after two decades of futility.  Guillen was neither durable nor a plus defender, but nobody questioned his offense.  His combined good on-base skills and solid middle infield power produced an OPS+ of 100+ six times.  His 136 OPS+ and 6.0 WAR in 2006 made him probably the best player on a team that made the playoffs for the first time since the 1980's.

5. Harvey Kuenn (1952-1959  21.0 WAR 25.6 OWAR 112 OPS+)
I went back and forth on Harvey Kuenn and Guillen for the 4th spot.  Kuenn played more games and accumulated more WAR, but Guillen was a little better offensively.  Additionally, Kuenn's reputation and numbers at shortstop were very poor which is why he became an outfielder at age 27.  He could hit though.  His best season was 1959 when he hit .353 to win the American League batting title.  Interestingly, he was traded to the Indians after the season for outfielder Rocky Colavito who led the league in home runs in 1959.  This trade also turned out great for the Tigers.

6. Topper Rigney (1922-1925  10.9 WAR 13.0 OWAR 105 OPS+
Topper Rigney played only three full seasons, but was one of the Tigers best offensive shortstops.  He posted an OPS+ of 108 from 1922-1924.

7. Jhonny Peralta (2010-2013  9.1 WAR 9.2 OWAR 106 OPS+)
Peralta always looked awkward and out of place at shortstop, but he consistently posted average numbers on defensive metrics and continued to do so when he joined the Cardinals in the National League.  He was certainly a solid hitter for a shortstop two times posting an OPS+ above 120.  He and Rigney are interchangeable on this list.  I chose Topper because I liked his name, but the odd spelling  of Jhonny's first name made this a a tough choice. 

8. Kid Elberfeld (1901-1903  8.1 WAR 8.0 OWAR 109 OPS+)
The  5'-7" 158 pound Elberfield was the the epitome of grit.  According to the Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball, The Tobasco Kid was spiked often and when cut he would go back to the bench, cauterize his wound with whiskey and then continue playing.  He only played two full seasons for the Tigers, but was fourth among Tigers shortstops in OPS+.

9. Jose Iglesias (2013-2018  7.1 WAR 6.5 OWAR 83 OPS+)
Iglesias makes this list because we have run out of guys that could hit and he was a highlight reel at shortstop during his Tigers career.  Including good field no hit Eddie Brinkman of the 1970s Tigers would have allowed me to talk about another great Tigers trade, but his numbers didn't match up. 

10. Johnny Lipon (1942-1952  5.2 WAR 5.8 OWAR 83 OPS+) 
To give you an idea of what kind of player Johnny Lipon was, the final choice came down to Lipon and Deivi Cruz.  It was pretty close, but Lipon missed three years due to military service from 1943-1945.   It does not appear to have affected his career much since he didn't play regularly until 1948, but it might have.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Top Ten Tigers Third Basemen

Travis Fryman leads Tigers third basemen in WAR
(Photo credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

OK, I am going to make my first post in months.  I have been thinking a lot lately about the the top third basemen in Tigers history.  It's an interesting topic because it is their weakest position historically with no elite players at the position for any length of time.  There is no long-term superstar such as Ty Cobb or Charlie Gehringer or Alan Trammell or anybody like that.  So, who was the best Tigers third baseman ever?

We could make it easy if we included current slugger Miguel Cabrera.  He has by far the two best seasons at third base in franchise history posting OPS+ of 190 in 2013 and 164 in 2012.  OPS+ is OPS adjusted for league average and home ballpark.  An OPS+ of 100 is average. more than 100 is above average and less than 100 is below average.  There is a misconception that a 190 OPS means 90% better than league average.  It doesn't quite work that way but 190 is really really good as is 164.  We aren't going to count Cabrera though because he has primarily been a first baseman for the Tigers and I only want to include players who played at least half their games at third base.

Another rule is that we will only consider games played with the Tigers.  So, Eddie Mathews only gets credit for the 9 homeruns he hit in 160 at bats in 1968-1969 and his 503 homeruns with the Braves and Astros will be ignored.  Otherwise, he would be an easy choice for the top of the list.  Similarly, Travis Fryman's games with the Indians and George Kell's games with the Red Sox never happened as far as this ranking is concerned.

We are also only going to include players with at least two full seasons at third base.  So, again no Mathews

Another item is what to do about multi-position players like Fryman who was primarily a third baseman but also played a lot of shortstop.  We will take all of his offense at both positions into account, but remove his defense at shortstop to the best of our ability.

The positional question reminds us that measuring defense, especially for players that played many decades ago, is difficult.  We do not have enough information to rank player defense precisely.  However, I believe we have enough to identify who was a great defender and who was a bad defender and that will be taken into consideration.  Some sources which attempt to measure historic defense are:

Wizardry by Michael Humpreys
Win Shares by Bill James
The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia by Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer

For more recent players such as Fryman and Brandon Inge, we can also look at measures such as Defensive Runs Saved found at FanGraphs.com.

One way to start the analysis is to look at Wins Above Average (WAR) at Baseball-Reference:

Travis Fryman 28
George Kell 23
Brandon Inge 19
Ray Boone 16
Marty McManus 13
George Moriarity 13
Ossie Vitt 13
Tom Brookens 12
Pinky Higgins 11
Don Wert 10

WAR is a good place to start but not a good place to end.  The biggest problem with WAR in a ranking like this is we don't have a very accurate measure of defense, especially for the old timers.

WAR also does not tell necessarily tell us enough about quality or peak value.  For example, Brookens makes the top ten according to WAR, but he never had an OPS+ above  98.  He also was not an above average fielder.  He was basically a utility level player who somehow started a lot of games for some good Tigers teams.

We can remove fielding performance by looking at Offensive WAR or OWAR.

Travis Fryman 25
George Kell 21
Ray Boone 18
Nick Castellanos 14
Pinky Higgins 13
Marty McManus 12
Ossie Vitt 11
Brandon Inge 10
George Moriarty 10
Don Wert 10
Ed Yost 9

Note that, while OWAR does not include fielding performance, it does adjust WAR for the position that a player plays  Thus, Fryman gets about three extra wins for his time at shortstop just by being a shortstop which isn't really fair for this exercise.  If we remove that, he drops to about 22 WAR which puts him on a level with Kell.

Also notice that Nick Castellanos is now #4 once we remove his atrocious fielding.  In his case, we actually do have enough information to know that his defense is legitimately poor enough to substantially pull down his WAR (4 WAR versus 14 OWAR)).  In fact, it is bad enough that he is no longer a third baseman.  Conversely, Inge drops from 19 WAR to 10 OWAR, but we can be confident that he was a strong defender and that will taken into account.

Fryman and Kell are on top of the WAR and OWAR lists but neither was the franchise's best offensive third baseman.  OPS+ gives us a clue about peak offense:

Ray Boone 130
Ed Yost 127
George Kell 119
Nick Castellanos 111
Travis Fryman 106
Dean Palmer 103
Marty McManus 103
Pinky Higgins 102
Fred Haney 94
Don Wert 88

Boone (683 games) and Yost (291 games)are now on top, but keep in mind that they accumulated less playing time than Fryman (1,096 games) and Kell (826 games).  Longevity and quality both count.

Now for our All-time Top Ten Tigers third basemen:

1. George Kell (1946-1952 22.8 WAR 21.2 OWAR) is typically automatically written down as the Tigers top third baseman when people put together a Tigers all-time all-star team (unless they allow Cabrera to be included), but there really is no clear cut winner.  Kell and Fryman are very close in terms of offensive career value and the above sources suggest that Fryman may have been a slightly better fielder (although not definitively so).  You can make a case for Fryman at #1.   You could also make a case for Boone given his superior offense over four years.

It is tempting to be a contrarian and not go with Kell, but I think Kell beats Fryman by enough on peak offensive value and Boone in career value to win by a hair.

Kell's most memorable season was 1949 when he batted .343/.424/.467 with a 136 OPS+ and 4.8 WAR.  He won the batting title that year by .0001 over the legendary Ted Williams.  He was trailing going into the final game, but then went 2 for 3 while Williams went 0 for 2 in the finale.  He finished in the to ten in the American League in on-base percentage three times and amassed over 4 WAR four times as a Tiger.

2. Travis Fryman (1990-1997 27.5 WAR 24.8 WAR)  was an unassuming but steadily above average performer for the Tigers for eight years.  His best season was in 1993 when he batted .300/.379/.486 with 133 OPS+ and 5.2 WAR.  He also contributed 4.9 WAR in 1992 and 3.9 in 1995.

3. Ray Boone (1953-1958 16.4 WAR 18.2 OWAR) batted .312/.395/.556 in 101 games for the Tigers after being traded from Cleveland in 1953.  His 156 OPS+ that year was the best for a Tiger third baseman other than Cabrera.  He had three other seasons where he posted an OPS+ of 120 or higher.

4. Brandon Inge (2001-2012 18.6 WAR 10.2 OWAR) had only two seasons with an OPS+ above 100, but was an outstanding defender (70 Defensive Runs Saved at third) and played more games (1,408 including 999 as a third baseman) than any other qualifier.

5. Aurelio Rodriguez (1971-1979 13.2 WAR 4.5 OWAR) was the Brandon Inge of the 1970s, a good field no hit third baseman.  He was an even weaker hitter than Inge but also a more elite defender (134 Fielding Runs according to the ESPN Encyclopedia).  He was arguably the top defensive third baseman in the league during his prime with one of the best arms the game has ever seen at the hot corner.  He played more games at third (1,235) than any other Tiger.

6. Pinky Higgins  (1939-1946 11.3 WAR 13.3 OWAR)  played 857 games for the Tigers posting a 102 OPS+.  Unfortunately, he was a below average fielder (-49 Fielding Runs).

7. Marty McManus (1927-1931 13.2 WAR 12.1 OWAR) posted a 103 OPS+ in 640 games with the Tigers.

8. Ed Yost ( 1959-1960 7.1 WAR 9.2 OWAR) played only two season and was not much of a fielder, but he is second behind Boone with a 127 OPS+ .  He led the league in on-base percentage both years.

9. Nick Castellanos (2013-2018 4.2 WAR 13.5 OWAR) has a 111 OPS+ in six years including four full years as a third baseman.  He gets penalized for his poor defense (-64 Defensive Runs Saved).

10. Don Wert (1963-1970 10.3 WAR 9.5 OWAR) played eight rather undistinguished seasons with some good teams in the 1960s.  He did play over 1,000 games at third base and had a couple of seasons with OPS+ slightly over 100.

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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