Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mark Fidrych Diary - May, 1976

The Mark Fidrych Diary will be a regular feature on Tiger Tales during the course of the spring and summer. This year is the 30th anniversay of Fidrych's magical rookie season in 1976 and, to honor the memory of that campaign, I will be writing a regular diary of his season from the perspective of a fan who doesn't know what lies ahead. I will update the diary once or twice a week during the season. I was 13 years old that summer so I have some vivid memories but I will also be using retrosheet.org and various newspaper archives to make sure I get the facts straight.

The April entries can be found here: April, 1976


May 31, 1976

Fidrych started his third game of the year today against Jim Slaton and the Brewers. Bruce Kimm was the catcher for the Tigers. Ernie Harwell said that Fidrych feels comfortable working with Kimm and Houk likes to use them together. The Fidrych/Slaton matchup turned out to be another pretty good duel.

The Tigers got a bunch of runners on base early but couldn’t score. In the 1st inning, they got a man on first when Gary Sutherland made an error. Sutherland is having a horrible year and I really think they need a new second baseman. Jerry Manuel is not the answer either. Anyway, Hank Aaron came up with one on and two outs and Fidrych struck him out. In a post-game interview, Fidrych admitted that he was excited about pitching to Aaron and he felt good when he got him the first time.

George Scott and Bill Sharp singled to start the 2nd but Fidrych worked his way out of it. Pedro Garcia got a leadoff double but then the Bird got them 1-2-3. Fidrych walked Scott in the 4th and gave up another hit to Garcia in the 5th but again no harm was done. Fidrych loaded the bases in the 6th on two walks and a hit batsmen but then retired Bob Hansen for the final out. Meanwhile, Slaton matched Fidrych pitch for pitch and the game was scoreless through 5 ½ innings.

Leflore led off the bottom of the 6th with a triple and then scored the first run of the game on Tom Veryzer’s sacrifice fly. They proceded to load the bases but had to settle for one run. The Tigers led 1-0 after 6 innings. In the top of the 7th, Pedro Garcia and Robin Yount singled with one out. Don Money then crushed a 3 run homer to put the Brewers in front 3-1.

Red hot Ron Leflore got his second triple of the game in the 7th but was left on third. He still leads the league with a .382 batting average. He also leads the league in on base percentage (.427) and slugging percentage (.556). Those are two statistics you don’t see too often but they are interesting. OBP is like batting average but it uses walks and HBP as well as hits. Slugging percentage is the total bases on singles, doubles, triples and home runs divided by at bats. Those are two stats I’d like to see more often.

The score was still 3-1 Brewers after 8 ½. Harwell said the Tigers needed some “instant runs” against new pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Here is how the bottom of the 9th went:

Meyer popped out to third.
Oglivie doubled to center.

Stanley singled to left (Oglivie scored).
Leflore walked.
Veryzer forced Leflore at second.
Staub singled to right (Stanley scored, Veryzer out at third).

Staub is awesome! The scored was tied 3-3 after 9 innings.


Fidrych stayed in for the 10th. Neither team scored in the 10th. Fidrych came out for the 11th. Sharp led off the inning with a single and Jimmy Rosario immediately followed with another single. Houk went out to the mound to talk to his pitcher and I thought he’d take him out but he didn’t. Sharp was then picked off second by new catcher John Wockenfuss. Fidrych walked Gorman Thomas to put two men on again. After Garcia flied to center for the second out, Yount followed with a single to put the Brewers in front. Fidrych retired the next batter to end the inning. The Brewers led 4-3 after 10 ½.


The Tigers had one last chance in the 11th and here’s how it went:


Scrivener singled to left.
Wockenfuss popped to first.
Manuel singled to right.
Leflore hit a sacrifice fly (Scrivener scored).
Manuel stole second.
Veryzer singled to left (Manuel scored).


Tigers Win 5-4 ! Fidrych pitched an 11 inning complete game. I’m really surprised Houk left him in there so long. He is now 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA. I’m thinking that he’ll be left in the rotation now. We’ll see. It’s now a quarter of the way through the season and the The Tigers are 17-23 and in last place 8 ½ games back.


May 28, 1976

Just a quick entry today. Leflores’s 30 game hitting streak finally came to an end. He went 0 for 4 against Ed Figueroa and Tippy Martinez in a 9-5 loss to the first place Yankees. It was among the 20 longest streaks in the history of baseball and was tied (with Goose Goslin) for third longest in Tiger history. The two longest streaks (40 games and 35 games) were by Ty Cobb. Leflore is still leading the league in batting with a .381 average. This guy is really fun to follow. I hope starts another streak tomorrow.

They still have two more games to play against the Yankees this weekend. After that, they play the Brewers. Fidrych is scheduled to pitch against Jim Slaton on the 31st. If the Bird pitches another good game, I think Houk will have to think about keeping him in the rotation permanently.


May 25, 1976

The Tigers played the Red Sox tonight so I was able to watch the game on TV. It’s always exciting when I get a chance the watch the Tigers on TV but I was especially looking forward to this one after hearing this morning that Fidrych was scheduled to pitch. I was expecting him to pitch in tomorrow’s doubleheader but Houk shuffled his rotation at the last minute. Fidrych faced Red Sox ace Luis Tiant. Tiant is my favorite Red Sox player and I imitate him when I pitch in Babe Ruth League games. I love his twisting and turning windup and the way he looks out at second base before delivering. It turned out to be a pretty good pitchers duel.

In the top of the first, Alex Johnson singled, stole second, went to third on an error but was left stranded. In the bottom of the inning, Fidrych allowed a single to Freddie Lynn and that was it.

The Tigers got two men on in the second but could not score. In the bottom of the inning, Jim Rice singled to right and Dwight Evans doubled to right to put runners on second and third. Rico Petrocelli then hit a bouncer back to Fidrych and he threw Rice out at the plate. Evans was then caught stealing home when catcher Bruce Kimm faked a throw to second base. I was laughing at that one.

After an uneventful third inning, the scored was tied 0-0. In the 4th inning, Jason Thompson and Aurelio Rodriguez both singled but no runs scored. Carlton Fisk walked to leadoff the bottom of the inning and Carl Yastrzemski homered to right to put his team in front 2-0. In a post-game interview, Fidrych said it was “weird” pitching to Yaz who he had often watched as a kid.

The other big story of the night besides Fidrych pitching came in the top of the fifth. Ron Leflore extended his amazing hitting streak to 27 games when he doubled to right. He is now tied with Dom Dimaggio for the longest American League hitting streak since 1951. Dimaggio hit in 34 straight in 1949. Leflore is now leading the league in batting with a .402 average!

The second half of the game flew by. Fidrych is one of the fastest working pitchers I have ever seen. Despite all his bouncing and fidgeting out there on the mound, he gets the ball back from Kimm and he throws it almost immediately. He looks goofy with all his constant movement but he actually seems like a very serious pitcher. It was fun to watch both the Bird and El Tiante. They definitely have style.

Fidrych allowed just one more hit after the Yastrzemski home run. For the night, he pitched 8 innings allowing 6 hits and just 2 walks. Tiant was better though. The Tigers threatened once more when they got two men on base in the seventh but again they could not score. The Red Sox won 2-0 and Tiant went the whole way for his 6th win of the year.

The Tigers have slumped badly since my last entry. They have lost 8 of their last 9 and are now 14-19 which puts them in last place 7 games out in the AL East. Leflore is still hitting and Rusty Staub is batting .327-3-22 for the year but Thompson and Willie Horton have slowed down.

Their pitching hasn’t been so great lately either. Joe Coleman hasn’t made it out of the third inning in any of his last three starts and now has a 4.82 ERA. He stunk last year too. I think they need to get him out of the rotation. I’d love to see Fidrych start in his place. They’ve got another doubleheader coming up next Monday so Fidrych should get another chance soon.

May 15, 1976

Fidrych got a surprise start today when Coleman was unable to pitch due to the flu. It was the backup game for the game of the week so I was really hoping that the Pittsburgh/Los Angeles game would get rained out. It didn’t happen but at least they gave regular updates of the Tiger game.

The Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the first inning when Leflore singled and scored on Horton’s sacrifice fly. They scored again in the fourth as Jason Thompson doubled and scored on another sacrifice fly, this one by Tom Veryzer. So, the Tigers were up 2-0 after 4 innings.

Meanwhile The Bird was mowing down the Indians with no trouble at all. He retired the first 14 batters and only one ball got out of the infield. With two outs in the 5th, Fidrych allowed his first base runner when he walked Alan Ashby. Fidrych retired the next batter and followed with a perfect sixth. He had a no hitter through six in his first major league start.

In the 7th, Buddy Bell singled to left to break up the no hit bid. Manning followed with a single to center and Bell took third. But then Fidrych settled down. Rico Carty grounded out to second to score Bell and Fidrych retired the next two batters to end the inning. The score after 6 ½ innings was 2-1 Tigers.

Fidrych retired the side in the 8th and 9th innings without a ball going out of the infield. He ended the game with a strikeout of Manning and the Tigers won 2-1. He finished with a complete game two hitter striking out 5 and walking only 2. It was a tremendous starting debut for the rookie. It sounds like he dominated and I wish I had seen it. Obviously, I’m not expecting him to pitch like this all the time but I’d like to see him get another start pretty soon.

The kid from Northboro, Massachusetts was featured on the local news in Boston tonight. They showed him talking to the ball and getting down on his knees and grooming the mound with his hands. They said he was constantly fidgeting and bouncing around. I knew he looked kind of goofy that time I saw him in the spring training game. He seems like quite a character. Rico Carty said: “My mind was concentrating more on what he was doing than concentrating on my hitting.”

Other than the Fidrych news, Leflore extended his hitting to 18 games and is now batting .387. What an exciting young hitter he is turning out to be. The Tigers are now 13-11 and are in 2nd place 3 games behind the Yankees. Half way through May and the once hapless Tigers who lost 19 in a row last year are in striking distance of the lead.


May 9, 1976

The Tigers lost to the White Sox today 4-2. Joe Coleman lost to Wilbur Wood. Red hot Ron Leflore got three more hits and now has a 13 game hitting streak. They are now 10-9 and are in third place 4 games behind the Yankees. This isn’t bad for a team that lost 102 games last year.


The Tigers actually have a few hitters among the batting leaders. Willie Horton leads the league in home runs with 6, is 2nd in RBI with 21 and is in the top 10 in batting average (.357). It looks like Horton is going to have another big year but this year he has some help. Leflore is second in batting at .386. He is also 4th in stolen bases with 9 and has scored 15 runs scored in 14 games. Rusty Staub is also among the top ten batters hitting at a .348 clip and has 14 RBI. Jason Thompson is off to a good start - .333 with 9 RBI in 11 games. The offense has been fun to watch so far this year.


Fidrych still has only pitched two games in relief but Ralph Houk said he might get a chance to start a game later in the month when they have two double headers. Their starting pitching has been surprisingly good so far:


Joe Coleman 2-1 3.63
Ray Bare 2-1 3.12
Vern Ruhle 2-0 3.24
Dave Roberts 3-1 2.94


May 5, 1976


The Tigers lost to the Twins for the second straight night. Unlike last night’s extra inning loss, they got pounded 8-2 in today’s game. Disco Danny Ford and Craig Kusick killed them getting 5 hits and 7 RBI between them. Dave Roberts (3-1) lost his first game of the year. One of the few bright spots for the Tigers was Ron Leflore who got 3 hits and scored both of their runs. More on him in a minute.


Fidrych finally got an opportunity to pitch his second game of the year. He mopped up in the 9th and here’s how it went:


Larry Hisle singled
Bill Freehan allowed a passed ball. Hisle to second.
Rod Carew got an infield hit. Hisle stayed at second.
Ford struck out
Butch Wynegar grounded out to second. Both runners moved up.
Danny Thompson flied out to right. Inning over
.


This outing was a little better than his two pitch outing two weeks ago. It still seems crazy to have him on the team if they aren’t going to use him. Hopefully, he is learning something.


Anyway, the Tigers are now 8-8 but I like what I’m seeing from some of their hitters. Ron Leflore has now started 10 games and has a 10 game hitting streak. He is batting .348 with 14 runs scored and 8 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot. Jason Thompson has played the last 8 games and is hitting .382 with a home run and 7 RBI. Those are two young players who are really exciting to follow. They look like two great building blocks for the future. Another player who is not young but is off to a good start is Rusty Staub. He is batting .345 with 2 home runs and 12 RBI. The line-up is looking a lot better than last year.


More on pitching and defense.

Last week, I looked at Tiger pitching/defense from a FIP/DER pespective. Joe Pawlikowski, who writes The Sporting Brews (a blog about the Yankees) did a slightly different analysis and came to similar conclusions:

The wisdom we’re seeing across the Internet these days is that strikeout pitchers are highly preferable to finesse pitchers, yet the Tigers finesse crew has seen a vast improvement this year while their strikeout guy has been relatively on par as far as output goes. The guys who rely on defense are winning, mainly because the team defense has improved, and the guy who relies on his own arm is ho-hum.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tigers Shutout Again

The much anticipated Yankee series got off to a bad start today as 40,000 Comerica Park fans watched the Tigers get shutout 4-0 on a very hot Memorial day. The Tigers who were blanked by Jason Johnson and the Indians yesterday had even less success against Randy Johnson and the Yankees today. They managed only two hits - a two out single by Ivan Rodriguez in the 6th and a lead off double by Carlos Guillen in the 7th.

Jeremy Bonderman actually pitched pretty well against a very tough and very patient Yankee offense. He gave up two runs in the 3rd thanks to a couple of seeing eye singles and some questionable fielding plays by his infielders. They had two chances for double plays in the inning but each opportunity turned into force outs. They weren't necessarily routine plays but they are the types of plays they've been making all year. As I showed in Friday's FIP analysis, defense has been a big part of the Tigers' success this year. Bonderman also gave up two more runs in the 5th after being one strike away from getting out of the inning. For the game, Bonderman pitched 7 1/3 innings allowing 4 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks and striking out 5.

The lack of offense was the big story today. They were hacking away all day and chased a lot of bad pitches. They are a team of hackers and that makes them prone to hitting slumps, something which has been somewhat hidden this year because of their great pitching. It is still the team's biggest weakness as they are 11th in the league in walks and BB/K ratio.

Another thing I noticed today was that they seemed to be pressing a little both offensively and defensively as if they were trying to prove to the Yankees they are for real. It's hard to know those things but that was my impression. Hopefully, this is just a mini-slump because, as everyone knows, they have a really tough schedule the next couple of weeks. Nobody expects them to keep up their torrid pace of the first 50 games but I'd like to see them play .500 against New York, Boston, Chicago and Toronto. Tomorrow, it will be Roman Colon (who replaces the injured Mike Maroth) versus Aaron Small.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Tigers Finally Lose

The Tigers 8 game winning streak came to an end today as they got blanked by the Indians 9-0. There is not much you can say about a 9-0 loss except that you can't win them all. Kenny Rogers had his second rough start in a row giving up 5 runs and 6 hits in 4 1/3 innings. Jason Johnson, the pitcher who Rogers replaced in the Tiger rotation, pitched 6 shutout innings to get the win. Johnson was backed by Travis Hafner (two run home run in the first) and Jason Michaels (grand slam in the 8th). Perhaps, the Tigers were looking ahead to the Yankee series beginning tomorrow afternoon. The first game of the series features Jeremy Bonderman versus Randy Johnson.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Verlander Tops Indians, Tigers Win 8th Straight

The Tigers beat the Indians 3-1 today behind another impressive performance from Justin Verlander. Verlander pitched 7 strong innings and left with a 2-1 lead. Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones each pitched a scoreless inning to finish it off. Magglio Ordonez provided all the offense they needed with a two run home run in the first inning. Curtis Granderson doubled and scored on a single by Placido Polanco to add an insurance run in the 8th. Defensively, they were fantastic again especially in the infield. They turned 4 double plays and made a number of other fine plays.

At the end of the game, Rod Allen said that Verlander looked like a 10 year veteran. That sounds like a cliche but I've been thinking the same thing about him lately. With his blister now healed, he seems to have command of all his pitches now. He doesn't pitch like a raw rookie at all. Unlike a lot of young pitchers, he seems to pace himself out there saving his high hard one for key spots. He never ever seems to get ruffled regarless of the situation. He just gets the ball and throws it immediately and seems to be in complete command at all times.

If you have not lucky enough to be able to watch him all the time, the results speak for themselves. In his last 3 games, he has pitched 24 innings, allowing just 1 run on 18 hits and 2 walks. For the year, 9 of his 10 starts have been quality starts (6 or more innings, 3 or fewer runs). He has a 2.55 ERA and has had fantastic control - 16 walks in 67 innings. He only has 39 strikeouts but I honestly think he could have a lot more if he wanted. I believe he is working on his command and control and saves his best for key spots. I'll use another cliche here. He's a pitcher.

The other young player who has been part of everything recently is Curtis Granderson. In his last 10 games, he has hit .372 with 7 extra base hits, 15 runs scored and 13 RBI. Defensively, he has been outstanding in center field with solid range and great instincts. He has been everything that I had been hoping for.

As the headline says, the Tigers have now won 8 in a row and 15 out of 16. The amazing run has put them at 35-14 for the season and 3 1/2 games ahead of the Chicago White Sox. Not even the biggest Tiger homer could have expected a start like this.

Detroit Tiger Prospect Report - 5/27/06

As the season goes along, I'll be doing periodic updates on many of the Tiger prospects throughout the minor leagues. I'm not going to list them in any particular order. I'm just going to list some of the most interesting prospects at each level. I won't mention every prospect on every report, just ones that seem noteworthy at the time I'm writing it. I may occasionally even talk about some marginal prospects who happen to be having good seasons. Here is this week’s report team by team:

Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
Record: 23-24

Wil Ledezma pitched just two innings in yesterday’s start because , according to Jason Beck’s blog, they had him on a 50 pitch limit. The reason is that the Tigers may need him to start on Tuesday in place of the disabled Mike Maroth (irritated muscle in elbow). In 49 innings this season, Ledezma has a 3.31 ERA and 49/15 K/BB ratio. Zach Miner has not pitched since injuring his knee in a game on May 15. It's not known how much longer he will be out. He has a 2.18 ERA in 45 1/3 innings pitched. One of the most impressive Mud Hen starters so far has been former major leaguer Chad Durbin who has a 2.83 ERA and 47/14 K/BB ratio in 63 2/3 innings.....With Jack Hannahan having been called up to Detroit, a other few other somewhat older hitters are trying to attract some attention this season: Ryan Ludwick is batting .298/.373/.545 but has struck out 62 times in 178 at bats. Josh Phelps is now batting .285/.359/.457. Hot hitting Ryan Raburn is up to .292/.378/.522 after a 3 week stretch where he batted .408 with 5 homers.

Erie Seawolves (AA)
Record: 23-24


Humberto Sanchez pitched 8 2/3 innings of shutout ball, allowed just 4 hits and struckout 9 in his last start. He now has a very impressive 1.87 ERA and is second in the league with 68 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings. Nate Bumstead has a 3.11 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 55 innings. He has struggled a bit with his control (28 walks). Brian Rogers is having a good season as a workhorse reliever - 1.45 ERA and 35/3 K/BB ratio over 31 innings. Eulogio De La Cruz got off to an awful start but he seems to be coming around. He has allowed just one run in his last 9 appearances…..Erie is getting no offense at all. Brent Clevlen (.217/.313/.326) and Tony Giarratano (.239/.284/.345), both regarded by many as top prospects, are having disappointing seasons to this point. Kody Kirkland is hitting for power (12 home runs) but is batting .219 with a 7/69 BB/K ratio. The leading hitter is catcher Mike Rabelo - .302/.357/.509 in 29 games – but he is not that highly regarded as a prospect.


Lakeland Tigers (A+)
Record: 27-21

Jair Jurrjens pitched 7 innings allowing 1 run on 6 hits and struck out 10 in his last start. He now has a 2.04 ERA and a 47/6 k/BB ratio in 53 IP. Kevin Whelan is having major control problems (17 walks in 15 2/3 innings) and his ERA is now up to 5.74. Andrew Kown who joined Lakeland after 16 scoreless innings in Western Michigan has a 2.42 ERA in 5 starts for Lakeland. Kevin Ardoin has a 2.85 ERA and 37/4 K/BB ratio over 66 1/3 innings…..Jeff Larish is batting .277/.387/.492, is 3rd in the league in walks (28) and 2nd in extra base hits (24). Other Lakeland hitting prospects are not doing so well. Clete Thomas is hitting .263/.332/.414 and has struck out 64 times in 186 at bats. Jeff Frazier is hitting .267/.305/.415. Wilken Ramirez hit 3 homers this week but is batting 241/.273/.416. Chris Robinson is hitting .265/.340/.333.


Western Michigan Whitecaps (A)
Record: 27-18


Ramon Garcia pitched a 1 hit shutout and retired the last 23 batters in his last start. He now is 2nd in the league with a 1.05 ERA and has a 47/8 K/BB ratio in 60 innings. The 21 year old Garcia is left-handed and is 6-2 165 pounds. He was signed by the Tigers as a non-drafted free agent in May, 2004. Sendy Vazquez now has a 2.93 ERA and 43/17 K/BB ratio in 46 innings. Reliever Orlando Perdomo has a 1.35 ERA and 25/4 K/BB ratio in 20 innings as the Whitecap closer. Another reliever Anthony Claggett has a 0.42 Era in 21 1/3 innings…..Cameron Maybin has not played since May 6 because his right index finger keeps locking up on him. Tests revealed no ligament or structural damage and it apparently will not require surgery. However, he is wearing a splint and will probably be out at least a couple more weeks. He is hitting .330/.409/.510. After a strong week last week, Matt Joyce went 1 for 16 this week to drop his season numbers to .261/.352/.449. Catcher Dusty Ryan is batting .276/.377/.408 in 29 games.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Pitching and Defense

Over the winter, I wrote a lot about measurement of run prevention. In short, run prevention is measured by runs allowed per game and can be divided into two parts: pitching (FIP) and fielding (DER).

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures pitcher performance essentially independent from fielding. The formula is HR*13+(BB+HBP)*3-K*2)/IP plus a league specific factor to make it equivalent to ERA. The idea is that the contribution of pitching to overall team defense can be derived, for the most part, from walks allowed, strikeouts, homeruns allowed and hits batsmen issued. Note that HR=home runs allowed, BB=walks allowed, HBP=hits batsmen, K=strikeouts and IP=innings pitched.

Defensive Efficiency Ratio (DER) is the percentage of times batted balls are turned into outs by the team's fielders, not including homeruns. There are different versions of the formula but the one now most commonly used is DER=(BFP-H-K-BB-HBP-0.6*E)/(BFP-HR-K-BB-HBP) where BFP = batters faced pitcher, H=hits allowed, K=strikeouts, BB=walks allowed, HBP=hits batsmen and E=errors.

The table below compares the ERAs and FIPs of Tiger starting pitchers in 2006 so far. The DER column is the DER of the team when that pitcher is pitching. FIP-ERA is the difference between the FIP and ERA. A positive number for FIP-ERA indicates that a pitcher may be pitching better than his ERA and might not be getting a lot of defensive support. A negative number indicates that a pitcher may be pitching worse than his ERA and might be benefiting from a lot of defensive support. LOB% is the percentage of base runners allowed that are left stranded. LOB% does not really explain anything about defensive support. I added it to the table because I found it to be interesting and it helped to fill a gap in the analysis.

Table: FIP Analysis for Tiger Starters

IP

ERA

FIP

DER

FIP-ERA

LOB%

League

5738

4.77

4.77

.694

0.00

70.0

Tigers

417.3

3.22

4.35

.728

1.13

78.0

Bonderman

63

4.57

3.37

.704

-1.20

64.3

Verlander

60

2.70

4.23

.753

1.53

80.9

Robertson

53.7

3.02

4.38

.735

1.36

77.3

Rogers

56

3.32

4.61

.739

1.29

78.5

Maroth

48

3.56

5.35

.706

1.79

85.5

As most people know by now, the Tigers have been better at preventing runs than any team in the league so far. They have allowed 3.51 runs per game compared to a league average of 5.03 and they are nearly a run per game better than any other team. The Chicago White Sox are second at 4.33. Their dominance also shows up in ERA where they are 3.22 compared to the league average of 4.77. They also have the best DER in the league (.728 compared to a league average of .694).

Their pitching, as measured by FIP, is also strong but less dominant than the ERA would indicate. Their 4.35 FIP is less than half a run better than the league average (4.77) and second to the Indians (4.31). It’s surprising that the Indians would be number one in FIP given that they are 9th in fewest runs allowed but they are suffering from poor defense (11th in league) and perhaps some bad luck.

But let’s get back to the Tigers. Their FIP is 1.13 higher than their ERA which tells me that their low ERA is somewhat deceptive. It says that their pitching seems to be benefiting substantially from the fielding behind them. Looking at the individual pitchers, Jeremy Bonderman, who has the highest ERA(4.57) among the 5 starters, has the lowest FIP (3.37). All of the other starters have a FIP more than a run higher than their ERA so it seems that most of the staff is getting very strong support from their fielders.

Why is Bonderman different from the rest of them? He is not getting nearly as much fielding support (.704 DER) as Justin Verlander (.753), Kenny Rogers (.739) or Nate Robertson (.735). However, he is getting similar support to Mike Maroth (.706) and he is getting better support than league average (.694). So, it must be more than lack of fielding support in his case. I’m not sure it’s just bad luck either since his ERA has significantly exceeded his FIP every year of his career so far.

Part of the difference between Bonderman and Maroth this year is their LOB% ( 64.3 and 85.5 respectively). Bonderman is allowing more of his base runners to score which could mean that he is allowing bunches of base runners and runs in single innings. The big inning idea is just a theory though and not something which I have researched carefully. I’ll also note that an 85.5 LOB% is an aberration for Maroth as he has not been nearly so high in past years. The other starters also have excellent LOB%s which could be partly a function of a strong bullpen coming in to strand runners in late innings.

In conclusion, the great Tiger run prevention this year goes beyond their pitching staff. They have had outstanding pitching but it seems that their fielding has been a very large part of their ability to prevent runs. Bonderman has been somewhat of a mystery and he’s someone I might want to examine further as the year goes along. It does seem logical that his ERA might decrease somewhat in coming games though As for the others, the fact that they do not seem to be pitching as well as their ERAs might be somewhat of a concern because it could indicate that their ERAs will rise in the future. However, if they keep playing outstanding defense, their ERAs might not go up as much as one might think.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Another Sweep for Tigers

The Tigers found yet another way to win today. Mike Maroth added more than a run to his ERA (2.54 to 3.56) when he allowed 6 runs in the first inning including back to back to back home runs by Tony Graffanino, Angel Berroa and Doug Mientkiewicz. One had to wonder whether Maroth was bothered by the tender elbow which has bothered him off and on since spring training. He did mention to Tiger broadcaster Rod Allen earlier in the series that he experienced some recent discomfort but I have not seen anything else about that today. Hopefully, it was just a bad outing. At any rate, it did not look good for the Tigers at that point especially with Jim Leyland resting Chris Shelton and Magglio Ordonez today.

On the other hand, the way the Tigers have been going and the way the Royals have been going, you got the feeling that it was not over yet. And it indeed was not. The Tigers scored 3 in the 2nd, 2 in the 4th, 3 in the 8th and 5 in the 9th to turn a 6 run deficit into a 13-8 victory. Craig Monroe hit a home run in the 9th which finally put the Tigers in front but, in a game where they bludgeoned the Royals from the second inning on, it's really hard to say that one particular hit was the big blow. The leading hitters were Curtis Granderson (4 hits), Ivan Rodriguez (2 run triple and 3 run homer), Craig Monroe (4 hits including his 10th home run) and Marcus Thames (2 home runs).

The relief pitching bailed them out as much as the bats. Roman Colon, Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay and Joel Zumaya combined to allow only 2 runs in 8 1/3 innings. Meanwhile the Royal bullpen allowed 8 runs in 5 1/3 innings.

The Tigers have now won 6 in a row, 13 of 14, and 26 of 33. Some of that has come against weak competition like the Royals (who are probably as bad as the 2003 Tigers) and the Twins (whose pitching has been awful) but they need to beat up on struggling teams and they have been doing just that. The schedule does get a bit more interesting over the next two weeks though - a 10 game homestand against the Indians, Yankees and Red Sox followed by a 3 game series versus the White Sox at Chicago. This is the kind of thing for which Tiger fans have been waiting for over a dozen years. That is, meaningful games against good teams in the warmth of late spring and early summer.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ho Hum Victory for Tigers

Tonight, there was no shutout, no late inning heroics, no Todd Jones roller coaster ride. It was just a very routine 6-3 victory over the hapless Royals. Not getting excited about a victory is a new feeling for Tiger fans but this one was almost dull. Imagine that. They have now won 5 in a row, 12 out of 13 and 25 out of 32. The AL Central Standings are listed below.

AL Central

W

L

PCT

GB

Detroit

32

14

.696

---

Chicago

31

15

.674

1

Cleveland

23

23

.500

9

Minnesota

20

26

.435

12

Kansas City

10

34

.227

21


Almost as amazing as the fact that the Tigers have the best record in baseball is the idea that they are 9 games ahead of the Indians and 11 games ahead of the Twins, two teams which many people felt the Tigers would be chasing this year. There is plenty of time left for those two teams to close the gap but right now it's an impressive separation.

As for tonight's game, Jeremy Bonderman scattered 10 hits over 7 innings with the only runs scoring on a three run homer by Matt Stairs. Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones closed it out fairly easily. The hitting heroes were Omar Infante (two home runs) Brandon Inge (his 11th home run of the season) and Ivan Rodriguez (3 hits). It was not a boring night for those guys, especially not Infante.

Analysis

Omar Infante is looking a lot more like the 2004 version than the 2005 version this year and that's a good thing. Including his two home runs today, he is now batting .333/.367/.544 in 57 at bats over 14 games. He also has 6 multiple hit games. Those are pretty solid numbers for utility man who can play just about anywhere on the field. In 2004, he batted .264/.317/.449 after taking over second base when Fernando Vina got hurt. He went into 2005 as the starting second baseman but slumped badly finishing at .222/.254/.367 and lost his job to mid-season acquisition Placido Polanco. Barring an injury to one of the three infielders, he is not going to win back a regular position anytime soon but he's doing great in a reserve role for now. Don't forget that this guy is just 24 and still very much a prospect despite being in Detroit since 2002.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tigers Come Back to Beat Royals 8-5

Kenny Rogers didn't have a great night tonight giving up 4 homers and 5 runs in 6 1/3 innings but the Tiger bats brought them back. Trailing 4-0 after 5 innings, the Tigers began to chip away. Carlos Guillen hit a two run home run in the 6th and Curtis Granderson added an RBI double in the 7th to make it 4-3. The Royals then answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning on Mark Grudzielanek's second home run of the game making it 5-3. The Tigers then broke loose for 4 runs in the 8th. The highlight was Granderson's two run double which put them ahead to stay.

The Tigers have now won 4 in a row and 11 out 12 as the improbable turn around season just keeps getting better. This past week has been especially exciting as they have come up with 4 late inning victories. The White Sox also won tonight so the Tigers remain a game in front and still have the best record in baseball 31-14. Is this really the Tigers?

Young Placed on DL Again

The Tigers placed Dmitri Young on the 15 day disabled list for the second time this season today. He is still bothered by the quad injury which has plagued him all year. Young was replaced on the roster by Jack Hannahan who was batting .282/.391/.412 for Toledo. Hannahan was added to the 40 man roster but no additional moves were needed as there was an open spot.

Although he is getting on base at a good clip this year, Hannahan's strength is his defense. He is a very good defensive third baseman and can also play first and second. Another potential plus is that he gives them a left-handed bat off the bench. Obviously, that won't be useful unless he hits which is questionable. He is 26 years old and is no longer considered a top prospect but his versatility might give him a career as a utility player.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Verlander Cruises

After a week of dramatic down to the wire victories, the Tigers had an easy one today. They blanked the Royals 8-0 behind a Justin Verlander 5 hitter. Verlander, who had no strikeouts nor walks in his last start, struck out 7 and walked 1 tonight. He has now pitched 18 consecutive shutout innings and his ERA is now 2.70, 5th in the league. This was the first complete game shutout by an individual Tiger pitcher this year but the Tigers now have an amazing 9 shutouts as a team to lead the league. The second highest total in the league is only 4 by the Oakland Athletics. Four Tiger pitchers are now among the top 8 in the league in ERA:

Mike Maroth 2.45 (3rd)
Justin Verlander 2.70 (5th)
Kenny Rogers 2.91 (6th)
Nate Robertson 3.02 (8th)

It's not all about pitching though. The Tiger defense has been excellent and has helped the Tiger staff substantially. I'll show you just how much later in the week when I do a FIP analysis. For tonight though, I'll just congratulate Verlander on another excellent outing. It was only the Royals but, in this day and age, a nine inning shutout is a rarity regardless of the opponent.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Tonight's Hero: Curtis Granderson

Tonight was another game which brought me and many other Tiger fans back to the glory days of the 1980's. It started like so many other Tiger victories this year - a well pitched game with just enough offense to give them a comfortable lead. With the Tigers up 5-1 going into the 7th, Adam Dunn belted a 2 run home run off of starter Mike Maroth. Maroth also gave up a single to the next hitter Javier Valentin and was relieved by Joel Zumaya. Zumaya proceded to load the bases and then slumping Ken Griffey crushed one to right field for a dlam which put the Reds in front 6-5. Yesterday, Jeremy Bonderman got shelled in the Tigers 9-4 loss to the Reds. Today, Zoom blows a 3 run lead. The series was not going well.

The score was still 6-5 in the bottom of the 9th and the first two Tigers went down. It was up to Curtis Granderson who earlier saw his boyhood hero hit the grand slam which put his team behind. Granderson hit a David Weathers pitch deep to the opposite field. It was hit hard but there was definitely some question as to whether it would go far enough. Left fielder Austin Kearns kept drifting back and back. Finally, he leapt up reaching over the fence but it was out of his reach. It was a tie game and Comerica Park erupted like it hadn't erupted in a long time. Maybe never before

There was still work to be done but the 10th inning was almost anti-climatic. You had the feeling the Tigers could not lose now and they didn't. Fernando Rodney retired the side in the top of the 10th. David Weathers struck out Magglio Ordonez to start the 10th. He then hit Carlos Guillen and walked Chris Shelton. Dmitri Young hit into a force out which sent Guillen to third. Craig Monroe hit a grounder to Felipe Lopez at shortstop. Lopez double clutched and threw wild to first and Guillen scored. Tigers win 7-6. What a game!

Detroit Tiger Prospect Report - 5/20/2006

As the season goes along, I'll be doing periodic updates on many of the Tiger prospects throughout the minor leagues. I'm not going to list them in any particular order. I'm just going to list some of the most interesting prospects at each level. I won't mention every prospect on every report, just ones that seem noteworthy at the time I'm writing it. I may occasionally even talk about some marginal prospects who happen to be having good seasons. Here is this week’s report team by team:

Toledo Mudhens (AAA)
Record: 20-21

Wil Ledezma is back pitching again after spending time on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his right side. In two starts this week, he pitched 13 innings and allowed 6 runs on 13 hits and 7 walks. He now has an ERA of 3.06 with a 47/15 K/BB ratio in 47 innings. Zach Miner left his last start after spraining his ankle but is not expected to miss too much time. He has a 2.18 ERA in 45 1/3 innings pitched. Chris Spurling has pitched well since his demotion to Toledo – a 1.17 ERA and 10/2 K/BB ratio in 15 1/3 innings…..A few somewhat older hitters are trying to attract some attention this season: Ryan Ludwick is batting .303/.384/.535 but has struck out 51 times in 155 at bats. Josh Phelps is now batting .296/.377/.489. Jack Hannahan was not even invited to spring training by the Tigers but it’s hard to ignore his .401 OBP. He’s also a good defensive 3B and has been playing 1B/2B as well. Ryan Raburn has also lost his prospect status but has been red hot the last two weeks batting .440 with 4 home runs in 50 at bats. For the season, he is hitting .286/.373/.521

Erie Seawolves (AA)
Record: 17-22


Humberto Sanchez bounced back from his worst outing of the season to pitch 6 shutout innings in his only start of the week. He now has a very impressive 2.20 ERA and leads the league with 59 strikeouts in 49 innings. Nate Bumstead has a 3.33 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 46 innings. Brian Rogers is having a good season as a workhorse reliever- 1.63 ERA and 33/3 K/BB ratio over 27 2/3 innings. Eulogio De La Cruz got off to an awful start but he now seems to be coming around. He has allowed no runs and only 7 base runners in his last 11 innings spanning 7 appearances. Former Major Leaguer Bobby Jones has a 1.56 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings…..Erie is getting no offense at all. Brent Clevlen (.233/.326/.333) and Tony Giarratano (.235/.287/.352), both regarded by many as top prospects, are having disappointing seasons to this point. Kody Kirkland is hitting for power (10 home runs) but is batting .225 with a 6/60 BB/K ratio.

Lakeland Tigers (A+)
Record: 23-18

Jair Jurrjens was removed from a start last week with a shoulder problem but he now seems to be OK. He has 2.15 ERA and a 37/6 k/BB ratio in 46 IP. Kevin Whelan is having some trouble with his control and has a 17/10 K/BB ratio in 13 2/3 innings. Andrew Kown who joined Lakeland after 16 scoreless innings in Western Michigan has a 1.80 ERA in 3 starts for Lakeland. Kevin Ardoin has allowed just 3 earned runs in his last 4 starts lowering his season ERA to 2.33. He has a 28/3 K/BB ratio over 54 innings…..Jeff Larish had a good week going 7 for 20 and raising his season numbers to .270/.394/.486. He is 3rd in the league in walks (26) and extra base hits (20). Chris Robinson is batting .390 over his last 12 games and is hitting .277/.362/.357 for the season. Clete Thomas is now hitting .274/.343/.433. He has struck out 55 times in 164 at bats. Jeff Frazier has been slumping (.196 in his last 12 games) and has dropped to .255/.298/.430. Wilken Ramirez continues to struggle and is hitting .237/.267/.360.

Western Michigan Whitecaps (A)
Record: 24-15

Sizzling Ramon Garcia is 3rd in the league with a 1.24 ERA and has a 45/7 K/BB ratio in 51 innings. Sendy Vazquez cooled off this week allowing 6 earned runs on 12 hits in 10 innings. He now has a 2.57 ERA and 40/15 K/BB ratio in 42 innings. Reliever Orlando Perdomo has a 1.42 ERA and 23/4 K/BB ratio in 19 innings. Another reliever Anthony Claggett has a 0.47 Era in 19 innings…..Cameron Maybin has not played since May 6 because his right index finger keeps locking up on him. Tests revealed no ligament or structural damage and it apparently will not require surgery. However, he is wearing a splint and will miss at least three more weeks. He is hitting .330/.409/.510 and is 4th in the Midwest league in OPS (.919). Matt Joyce went 13 for 30 with 3 home runs this week to raise his season numbers to .292/.381/.508. Catcher Dusty Ryan is batting .300/.404/.388 in 24 games.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Overachieving Tigers

Before the season started, I took forecasts from three popular projection systems listed below:

I entered projections from these three systems into a spreadsheet and calculated the averages for Tiger hitters and pitchers. With the season a quarter of the way done and the Tigers roaring along with a 27-13 record, I thought it would be a good time to compare the current performances of Tiger players to the pre-season projections. To keep it simple, I used OPS for hitters and ERA for pitchers. The results are tabulated in the tables below. Here are the highlights:


  • Magglio Ordonez (+.067), Carlos Guillen (+.150), Chris Shelton (+.121) , Brandon Inge (+.119) and Marcus Thames (+.157) are all performing well above their projected OPS.
  • Placido Polanco (-.165), Craig Monroe (-.057) and Dmitri Young (-.327) are significantly below the projected OPS.
  • Curtis Granderson and Ivan Rodriguez are both pretty close to their projections.
  • Kenny Rogers (-1.62), Nate Robertson (-1.00), Mike Maroth (-2.50), Justin Verlander (-0.80), Fernando Rodney (-2.10), Joel Zumaya (-2.33) and Jamie Walker (-3.09) are all performing substantially better than their projected ERA.
  • Jeremy Bonderman (-0.34) and Todd Jones (-0.07) are both close to their projected ERAs.

There are more players (especially pitchers) overachieving than underachieving which explains why they are 27-13. This, of course, is a great result in retrospect. Looking ahead, it can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing. The positive difference between projected and actual stats could mean that players are actually better than their statistical expectations and will continue to perform at the same level. Conversely, it could mean that they are off to flukey starts and will regress back towards their projection as the season moves along.


My guess is that the statistical expectations of Guillen and Ordonez were tempered by their injury history and that they will continue to perform at a high level if they stay healthy. On the other hand, I expect Shelton and Inge to drop back a bit but maybe not all the way back to their projections. Polanco and Monroe will likely improve.



Pitchers are always more difficult to figure out than hitters but so many pitchers are so wildly overachieving that I have to believe that a few of them will regress towards their projections. I believe the Tiger success this year will depend upon just how far the pitchers slip back.


Table 1: Projected OPS Versus 40 Game OPS


Player

Proj. OPS

40 Game OPS

Actual-Proj

Granderson

0.808

0.802

-0.006

Polanco

0.798

0.633

-0.165

Rodriguez

0.784

0.759

-0.025

Ordonez

0.841

0.908

+0.067

Guillen

0.812

0.962

+0.150

Shelton

0.873

0.994

+0.121

Monroe

0.792

0.735

-0.057

Inge

0.731

0.85

+0.119

Thames

0.795

0.952

+0.157

Young

0.813

0.486

-0.327


Table 2: Projected ERA Versus 40 Game ERA


Player

Proj. ERA

40 Game ERA

Actual-Proj

Rogers

4.53

2.91

-1.62

Bonderman

4.08

3.74

-0.34

Robertson

4.50

3.50

-1.00

Maroth

4.68

2.18

-2.50

Verlander

3.98

3.18

-0.80

Jones

4.12

4.05

-0.07

Rodney

3.60

1.50

-2.10

Zumaya

4.78

2.45

-2.33

Walker

4.13

1.04

-3.09

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