Monday, October 30, 2006

Off-season Plans

Tiger Tales recently became a year old which is probably about 11 months longer than I expected it to last. I'm still enjoy writing it and plan keep it up for at least another year. I originally intended it to be a sabermetrics blog but once the season got going, I found myself doing more commentary and less analysis. Now that the season is over, I will be getting more into sabermetrics again although I'll continue to report on current events as they unfold. I will not be blogging every day as I did much of the season but will probably post about 3-4 times per week. Here is some of what you can expect in the next couple of months:
  • Statistical review of Tiger season.
  • Sabermetrics in general - review and discussion of basic sabermetric terms and principles and how they apply to the 2006 season.
  • Reports on fielding measures from around the internet and elsewhere.
  • A more complex sabermetric study or two. It might get hairy but I promise to summarize the key points for those who are less mathematically inclined.
  • Hopefully another historic piece although nothing as in depth as the Fidrych Diary.
  • Preview of off-season needs and possible moves.
  • Comments on transactions and rumored transactions.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Magical Season Comes to an End

The World Series loss to the Cardinals was certainly a rough ending to the Tigers' 2006 season. It's not so much that they lost but the way they played. They batted just .198 and put on one of the worst fielding displays in post-season history. The pitchers alone made 5 errors and most of them were embarrassing. What I wanted to see most from the series was for the country to see the Tigers at their best. Instead the Tigers played their worst. However, too many good things happened this season for me to dwell on the final series.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it was a magical season which Tiger fans will never forget. Their 95-67 record was a 24 game improvement over 2005 and an astounding 52 game turn around from their historically bad 119 loss season in 2003. It was their first winning season in 13 years, their first playoff appearance in 19 years and their first World Series in 22 years. After years of focusing on player development, Tiger history and just trying to enjoy baseball in general, the actual Tiger games became an important and exciting part of our lives again.

Even the most optimistic of Tiger fans were surprised by what the team accomplished this season. Most of us were hoping for a .500 season and some progress from the young players. This would have been regarded as a stepping stone towards future contention. But as the season unfolded it became more and more evident that this was a special team. After going 16-9 in April, they kept winning and found themselves in first place with a 25-13 record on May 16. It was a lead they would keep for most of the season. They were almost unbeatable through most of the summer and spent much of the season with baseball's best record. On August 8th, they were an amazing 76-36 and 10 games out in front of the best division in baseball. It was a surreal experience for Tiger fans.

They stumbled down the wire going 19-31 and lost the division title but they weren't done yet. The American League Wild Card team lost the first game to the Yankees but then stunned the baseball world by shutting down the "best line-up ever assembled" and taking three straight. They then swept the Athletics rather easily and went into the World Series as heavy favorites for the first time all year. Then, for some reason, the magic ended and they settled for an American League Championship.

It was a team built around pitching and they led the majors in ERA for the first time in team history. Kenny Rogers, the 41 year old free agent acquisition, held off father time and had one of his best seasons culminating in a historic post-season scoreless streak. 23 year old Justin Verlander was the best Tiger rookie since Mark Fidrych and the likely Rookie of the Year. Another 23 year old, Jeremy Bonderman, lowered his ERA for the third straight year, pitched 200 innings for the first time and finished second in the league in strikeouts. Left-hander Nate Robertson developed into one of the most consistent pitchers in the league.

The bullpen was just as strong. Another rookie, 21 year old Joel Zumaya, wowed the league with a 103 MPH fastball and became one of the leagues most feared relievers. Free agent acquistion Todd Jones was adventurous as always but was one of the most reliable closers in baseball. Fernando Rodney proved to be a valuable setup man and was a capable closer when Jones was injured in April. Jamie Walker turned in his best season as a lefty specialist.

Their pitching staff was supported by one of the league's strongest defenses. Pudge Rodriguez, as usual, completely shut down the opposition running game and was one of the best defenders at any position in the game. Brandon Inge was arguably the best defensive third baseman in the league displaying outstanding range and a rifle arm. Virtual rookie Curtis Granderson proved himself to be one of the best center fielders in the league. Placido Polanco was also a near flawless defender at second.

Offensively, they were led by a now healthy Carlos Guillen who quietly put up numbers comparable to Derek Jeter. Magglio Ordonez was also healthy again and he approached the numbers of his prime years with the White Sox. He then hit the 3 run walk off homer which propelled them into the World Series. Craig Monroe hit cluch home run upon clutch home run and added 5 more in the post-season. Brandon Inge and Marcus Thames became two of the teams best power hitters and Monroe/Thames/Inge formed one of the best 7-8-9 combinations in the majors. Chris Shelton started off the season with an awesome power surge which attracted media attention from around the country. He later crashed to earth but the season may never have happened without his great start.

This combination of youth and veterans was put together mastefully by general manager Dave Dombrowski. Manager Jim Leyland also did an excellent job keeping everything together and getting the most out of all the talent. I don't think even Dombrowski and Leyland expected so much success so soon but just about everything went right all year long and all the pieces fell into place almost perfectly. It all ended with an American League pennant and a season of memories that will last a lifetime.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cardinals are World Champions

The St. Louis Cardinals have defeated the Tigers 4 games to 1 in the 2006 World Series. Former Tiger Jeff Weaver pitched 4 hit ball for 8 innings as the Cardinals topped the Tigers 4-2 in game 5 tonight. The Tigers played very sloppy ball once again tonight but I'll get into that at another time. Tonight, I'll just congratulate the Cardinals on a great series and strong post-season.

The Cardinals limped into the post-season as big underdogs in the National League after a very poor finish to the regular season. They defeated the Padres 3 games to 1 and then surprised the heavily favored Mets in an exciting 7 game series.

They then went into the World Series as big underdogs against the Tigers but they dominated the Tigers in every phase of the game. They got strong pitching in every game, played great defense and did just enough hitting to win games. In other words, they played the way the Tigers played most of the season and the Tigers didn't.

One of the more impressive things about the series was that the Cardinals did it with very little productuion from Albert Pujols. Pujols went 3 for 15 and knocked in just 2 runs but they didn't need him. They were led by David Eckstein (8 for 22 with all of the hits coming in the last 3 games), Scott Rolen (8 for 19) and Yadier Molina(7 for 17).

The story of the series for the Cardinals though was great pitching. Rookie Anthony Reyes allowed just 2 runs on 4 hits in 8 innings in game 1. Chris Carpenter pitched a 3 hit shutout for 8 innings in game 3. Weaver was excellent tonight as noted above. It didn't stop there though. They really had no poor pitching performances by anybody the entire series as they compiled a 2.05 ERA and held the Tigers to a .198 batting average.

It was the first Cardinal World Series victory since they beat the Brewers in 1982. We all know that the Tiger fans have suffered though a lot of losing over the years but The Cardinal fans have suffered a different kind of fate. The Cardinals had appeared in the post-season 8 times in the past 24 years without a World Series victory. This included World Series losses in 1985, 1987 and 2004.

So, there are a lot of happy Cardinal fans right now. One of the biggest is my father who remembers them winning the 1934 series versus the Tigers but also remembers them losing to the Tigers in 1968, my first year as a Tiger fan. 38 years later, he finally got his revenge.

Game 4 slips away from Tigers

The Tigers continued to play sloppy ball today in an excruciating 5-4 loss to the Cardinals in game 4. They took a 3 run lead in the top of the 3rd but it slowly got away from them. I'm sure you all saw the game so I'll just comment on some of the key players and plays.

Curtis Granderson slipped and fell on the wet grass which allowed a lead off double by David Eckstein in the 7th. You really can't fault Granderson on that one. Blame the wet grass. He actually made a nice recovery to keep it a double rather than a triple. Fernando Rodney then bare handed a bunt by So Taguchi and threw it into right field. It should have been an easy out but he rushed it unnecessarily. It was the 4th fielding error by a Tiger pitcher in the World Series so far. With two out, Preston Wilson then knocked in the go ahead run. A lot was made of Brandon Inge cutting off the throw instead of letting it go through but I didn't think there was a realistic chance of getting the runner at the plate at that point. The throw looked like it was a bit offline.

In the 8th inning, Joel Zumaya struck out Juan Encarnacion on a ball in the dirt and it got by Ivan Rodriguez for a passed ball. This allowed Aaron Miles to get to second. He scored on a double by David Eckstein. Tim McCarver made a big to do about how Craig Monroe misplayed the ball but it really wasn't a bad play in my opinion. The reason he didn't get to it was because he was playing shallow with a runner on second. Otherwise, it would have been a routine fly ball. If you have to blame anybody, blame Pudge for allowing the passed ball.

The Tiger pitching was not bad but they were wild again and walked 6 batters. That's 19 walks in 4 games. Bonderman was electric at times, not so good at other times but kept them in the game. Leyland took him out at the right time. Despite the two runs, Rodney did not pitch poorly (although he fielded poorly). He got them out of a jam in the 6th by striking out two batters with runners on first and third. He struck out two more in the 7th but was hurt by the lucky double and his own misplay.

Offensively, the mighty Casey had a big day going 3 for 4 with a homer. Rodriguez also snapped out of his slumpby going 3 for 4 with a double. Inge added a single and a double.

The only hope now is a repeat of the comeback in the 1968 World Series. Such a comeback is very unlikely especially given how poorly they are playing. Justin Verlander, who seems to be out of gas, goes against Jeff Weaver tomorrow. Weaver was not too sharp in game 2 so there is some hope there. A lot of people think they should go with Kenny Rogers tomorrow but I don't think it matters. If they are going to come back, they need 3 wins and Verlander is going to have to pitch one of those games. It doesn't really matter if it's game 5, 6 or 7.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Game 4 Postponed

Game 4 of the series has been canceled after a two hour rain delay. This is good because I didn't want to stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning watching this thing. Games 4 and 5 have been re-scheduled for Thursday and Friday but the weather forecast is not very optimistic for those days either.

It will be interesting to see if this new schedule will change any of the pitching plans. Justin Verlander is scheduled to pitch game 5 but Jim Leyland might want to use Kenny Rogers instead since he would be pitching on the usual 4 days rest.

Speaking of changes, There was a new line-up set up for tonight's game and I would imagine the same line-up will be in place tomorrow night:

Granderson CF
Monroe LF
Guillen SS
Ordonez RF
Casey 1B
Rodriguez C
Polanco 2B
Inge 3B
Bonderman P

I thought Guillen should have been batting third all year long so obviously I am happy with that part of it. Monroe and Casey have been hitting well in post-season so it makes some sense to have them batting 2 and 5. I'm surprised Polanco was moved down to the 7 spot since he was on a tear before the series started. Polanco did not have a great year offensively though so I don't mind seeing him down there.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

WS Game 3: Cardinals 5 Tigers 0

It's late and I'm tired and disgusted so I'll keep this short. Tonight, the Tigers played their worst game of the post-season so far. Here are the lowlights:

Nate Robertson did not have great control after a 13 day layoff. He walked 3 and fell behind a lot of batters. As usual, he made big pitches with runners on base and held them to 2 runs in 5 innings.

Joel Zumaya had control problems and made the bonehead play of the series in the 7th. With 2 on and nobody out, the much awaited confrontation between Pujols and Zumaya was won by Zumaya....and then lost. Pujols hit a 2-0 pitch back to Zumaya for what probably would have been an easy double play if he had thrown to second. Instead, Zumaya threw to third before Brandon Inge was ready and the ball got by the third baseman for two runs. This made it 4-0 Cardinals and put the game pretty much out of reach.

Chris Carpenter was as brilliant tonight as Rogers was Monday night allowing just 3 singles and no walks in 8 innings. Of course, the Tigers helped him out by displaying very little patience at all. Carpenter threw just 82 pitches.

Curtis Granderson (0-13) , Placido Polanco (0-10) and Ivan Rodriguez (0-11) went hitless again and are now 0 for 34 for the series. Rodriguez has not had a hit in his last 6 games.

The Tigers are up against another hot pitcher tomorrow night as they face Jeff Suppan. They'll need a really good game from Jeremy Bonderman.

Kenny Rogers

The topic of the day seems to be Kenny Rogers and his hand. I'm tired of hearing about it and I really don't want to say much about it because it's taking away from the World Series. However, it's all over the news so I figured I should give my views on the issue. As soon as the umpires allowed Rogers to stay in the game, this should have become a non-issue. The only reason it's being talked about is because FOX and the rest of the media needs a contoversy. Unfortunately, a lot of fans are eating it up.

From what I gather, it is common practice for pitchers to use pine tar on cold days to help them get a better grip on the balls. This is against the written rules but so is the "phantom double play". As long as pitchers don't cross a certain line, they are allowed to do it. I believe the umpires and the Cardinals knew that Rogers had pine tar on his hand. Since other pitchers probably do the same thing, nobody would have said anything about it. However, once Tim McCarver started to talk about it on National TV, they had to pretend to care in order to preseve the integrity of the game. Thus, Rogers washed his hand and shut out the Cardinals on one hit over the next 7 innings. The story should have ended there but of course it won't.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Tiger Fan in Massachusetts

As a 5 year old boy living in Lowell, Massachusetts, I was learning about baseball for the first time during the 1967 World Series between the “impossible dream” Red Sox and the Cardinals. All the older kids in the neighborhood were talking about Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonberg and they were singing a song about Lee Stange “The Stinger”. My father, on the other hand, was singing the praises of Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ray Washburn. I didn’t understand a lot about what was going on but it became clear to me that baseball was a wonderful and important thing.


I liked both teams and I did not care who won. I became fascinated with Lou Brock when I saw him on TV taking a lead off first base flicking his tongue in and out and swinging his arms back and forth. I knew that this Yaz guy was some kind of god but Brock was my first baseball hero. I don’t remember much else about the series except that the Cardinals won and that I was slowly falling in love with baseball.



The next spring, I started collecting baseball cards for the first time and I, of course, wanted a Brock card. Brian, the nine year old boy next door knew that I liked Brock so one day he offered me a Brock card for three Red Sox cards. Not realizing or caring that I was being taken, I accepted the deal and felt really proud that I had exchanged cards with an older boy. My father was happy that I had acquired Lou Brock but he also told me that I had paid too much. I continued to trade Red Sox cards for Brock cards in the coming months but now I was making one for one deals instead.



Meanwhile, the Red Sox were not off to a good start in 1968 and the neighborhood kids were getting restless. One day, a bunch of them were talking about the Cardinals. This piqued my curiosity but I didn’t like what I was hearing. One of them laughed at Ray Washburn’s name. Another said the Cardinals were not as good as the Red Sox. I told them that the Cardinals beat the Red Sox last year. They said the Cardinals were just lucky and the Red Sox were a better team. I didn’t like this kind of talk at all. I probably would have let it go until one of them said that Lou Brock was not so great. This I could not accept. I said nothing but I knew right then I could never be a fan of the Red Sox. I now traded more and more Red Sox cards for Cardinal cards and not just Lou Brock.



Although I liked the Cardinals, I somehow realized that they were my father’s team and I needed a team of my own. That August, the family took a week long trip to Cape Cod. The Red Sox were playing a series against the Tigers which I heard on the radio. I knew the Tigers were good and was intrigued by some of the names – Al Kaline, Mickey Stanley and especially Willie Horton. On August 11, 1968, the two teams played a double header. The Tigers won both games – the first one 5-4 in 14 innings and the second game 6-5 when the Tigers scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 9th. I heard the end of the second game and ran to tell my father the news. It felt good to give him some baseball news he did not know about. I was quickly becoming a Tiger fan. The next time Brian offered me another Lou Brock card, I shocked him by saying I now wanted Tiger cards.



I followed my new team right into the World Series. The Cardinals won the first game of the series 4-0 when Gibson struck out 17 Tigers. My father delivered the news when I came home from school. He ridiculed Kaline, Horton, Norm Cash and Denny McLain and boasted that the Cardinals would crush the Tigers in the series. This made me angry, angrier than the day the kids talked down Lou Brock. I knew I was on my own now and I wanted the Tigers to beat the Cardinals badly.



The Cardinals went up three games to one before the Tigers came back to even it up. I pleaded with my mother and father to let me stay home from school to watch game 7 on television. Not yet realizing the grip the game was starting to have on me, they initially refused. But I was not a kid that would beg for something that wasn’t important and my parents began to see what was happening. Finally they agreed to let me watch the game. I still didn’t understand everything about the game but I knew Mickey Lolich was doing something special (winning his third game of the series) and I knew they were beating Gibson. The Tigers defeated the Cardinals 4-1 to complete the improbable series comeback. I was now a full fledged Tiger fan and I never turned back.


Many times, over the years, my father and I have talked about the possibility of the Tigers and Cardinals meeting in the World Series again. We got to see them meet in interleague play a few times but that is not the same thing. Now, after 38 years, it has finally happened. My father still remembers the three wins by Lolich and the great Tiger comeback and he wants his revenge. One way or the other, this will be a memorable week for the Panas family.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another Rogers Masterpiece

The Tigers tied the series 1-1 tonight by defeating the Cardinals 3-1 behind another brilliant performance by Kenny Rogers. On a cold (40 degrees), windy and rainy night at Comerica Park, Rogers held the Cardinals to two hits and no runs through 8 innings. Rogers has now pitched 23 consecutive shutout innings which is the third highest streak in post-season history behind Christy Mathewson (27 innings in 1905) and Lew Burdette (24 innings in 1957). Rogers continued to pitch like a man possessed showing emotion not seen during the regular season. He was yelling at himself the whole game and pumping his fist or otherwise emoting on almost every out.

Todd Jones came in to pitch the ninth and, not surprisingly, made the game very interesting. After retiring the first two batters (including Albert Pujols on an adventurous grounder to Inge), Jones allowed a single to Scott Rolen. He then booted a grounder by Encarnacion which would have been the last out of the game. Fans watched in horror as Jim Edmonds followed with a double to make it 3-1 and to put runners on second and third. Jones then loaded the bases when he hit Preston Wilson with the pitch.

National League championship hero Yadier Molina came to the plate with a chance to do some serious damage but grounded to Santiago who flipped to second for the game ending out. That was way too close for comfort and I don't think fans would ever have forgiven Jones had he ruined Rogers' historic performance. And many would not have forgiven Jim Leyland for removing Rogers with a two hitter.

Game notes:

Craig Monroe got the Tigers on the board in the first inning with his second homer in two days and fifth of the post-season. Monroe, who has produced heroics all season long, continues to get big hits in the post-season after being almost non-existent in September.

Others get more attention but Carlos Guillen continued his amazing post-season with a triple, double, single and a walk. He is now batting .432/.463/.703 in 10 games. What a great hitter he has been this year.

Ivan Rodriguez continues to struggle miserably at the plate in the post-season. He is 0 for 19 in his last 5 games and 5 for 37 overall.

After batting .471 in 8 games versus the Yankees and Athletics, Placido Polanco has been cooled off by the Cardinals who have been pounding him inside the whole series.

Tigers Routed by Cardinals in Game 1

For the first time in the history of the Word Series, two rookie pitchers faced each other in game 1. Many Tiger fans were hoping the Cardinals would win the National League Championship in 7 games and that LaRussa might be forced to use Anthony Reyes in game 1 of the World series. They got their wish but it didn't turn out as planned. Reyes was masterful tonight going 8 innings and allowing just 2 runs on 4 hits and a walk as the Cardinals pounded the Tigers 7-2. He retired 17 batters in a row at one point, the most in a World Series game since Jose Rijo did it for the Reds in 1990.

The Tigers were likely rusty after the long layoff but Reyes took advantage of it with excellent control of all his pitches. Reyes spent the season bouncing between AAA and the majors but he is an excellent prospect who can be dominant at times. Tonight was one of those times. The only Tigers with hits were Craig Monroe (double and a home run) and Carlos Guillen (2 singles).

The other rookie was likely Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander. Verlander has not been as sharp lately as he was earlier in the season and tonight was another example of that. He was not as bad as his final line (7 runs in 5 innings) but he wasn't good either. He did match his season high with 8 strike outs but he made too many mistakes. Jim Leyland also made a mistake not intentionally walking Albert Pujols with first base open in the third. Pujols belted a two run homer to put the Cardinals in front 4-1. Leyland already admitted his mistake during an in game interview.

This series is not going to be the easy series many of us thought. The Cardinals have just won a game everybody thought would belong to the Tigers. Scott Rolen (homer and a double) may be breaking out of his slump. Things are looking up for the Cardinals. Unlike the Oakland series, the Tigers will have to work for this one. Tomorrow night it will be Kenny Rogers versus Jeff Weaver. This is another matchup that would appear to favor the Tigers but we were reminded tonight that this doesn't matter too much.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Other World Series Previews

Here are some other World Series previews around the internet:
  • Greg Enos does a position by position comparison.
  • Kurt over at Mack Avenue Tigers gives a complete rundown of the Cardinals in all phases of the game.
  • Brian predicts the outcome game by game on his Tiger Blog

I'll add more as I find them.

For more Cardinal insight check out:

Friday, October 20, 2006

World Series Preview: Tigers versus Cardinals

The Detroit Tigers are coming off an easy 4 game sweep of the Oakland Athletics and have won 7 consecutive post-season games. Conversely, the St. Louis Cardinals just finished a grueling 7 game series which went down to the last out versus the New York Mets. The Tigers won all 3 games versus the Cardinals during the season and Billfer takes a detailed look at that in his Detroit Tiger Weblog. Much like my first and second round preview, my World Series preview will focus on regular season team statistics along with a few other items. Since the American League is stronger than the National League this year, the team comparison are less relevant this time. However, they should reveal something about the Cardinals’ strengths and weaknesses.


Hot Players in Post-season

Tigers

  • Placido Polanco – .471/.514/.529
  • Carlos Guillen - .367/.424/.633
  • Curtis Granderson – .313/.378/.719
  • Craig Monroe - .300/.353/.700
  • Kenny Rogers – 15 IP, 0.00 ERA
  • Jeremy Bonderman 15, 3.00
  • Todd Jones – 5, 0.00

Cardinals

  • Yadier Molina .333/.385/.556
  • Albert Pujols .324/.444/.543
  • So Taguchi 4 for 4 with 2 home runs
  • Jeff Suppan 19.1, 1.86
  • Jeff Weaver 16.2, 2.16
  • Adam Wainwright 6.2, 0.00 and 10 K
  • Tyler Johnson 6.1, 1.42 and 11 K
  • Josh Kinney 5.1, 0.00


Injuries:

Tigers

  • Sean Casey – has a partially torn calf muscle but is expected to be the designated hitter in game 1. It is not known whether he’ll be healthy enough to play in the field when they go to St. Louis on Tuesday. There, of course, will be no designated hitter in games played at St. Louis.
  • Joel Zumaya – The Tigers say his wrist is 100% and that he is ready to go.

Cardinals

  • Albert Pujols – hamstring problem is hurting his power but is still getting on base at a good clip.
  • Scott Rolen – his shoulder is still bothering him and he’s struggling at the plate.
  • Jim Edmonds – will have shoulder surgery immediately after the season but is still playing regularly.


Regular Season Overview



Tigers

Cardinals

Record

95-67

83-78

Head to Head

3

0

Runs per game

5.1

4.8

Runs allowed per game

4.2

4.5


The Cardinals were not extraordinary in either run production (6th in league) or run prevention (5th). The Tigers finished 1st in run prevention and 5th in run production. Given the strength of the American League this year, the Tigers probably have a significant edge in run production as well as run prevention.


Offense



Tigers

Cardinals


Rate

Rank

Rate

Rank

BA

.274

5

.269

4

BB/G

2.65

13

3.3

9

Isolated power

.174

4

.163

6

OBP

.329

12

.337

5

SLG

.449

5

.431

8

OPS

.777

7

.769

6


The Cardinals hit for pretty good average (4th in NL) but were middle of the pack in drawing walks and hitting for power. The Cardinals revolve around Albert Pujols (.331/.431/.671). Scott Rolen (.296/.369/.518) also had a good season but has been struggling down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Cardinals may benefit from the designated hitter rule as they will be able to get Chris Duncan (.293/.363/.589) into the line-up without worrying about his awful defense. The Tigers do not draw many walks (13th in AL) but they do hit for pretty good power (4th in AL). The Tigers are led by Carlos Guillen (.320/.400/.519) and Magglio Ordonez (.298/.350/.477). The Tigers usually have excellent line-up depth but are currently being forced to use Ramon Santiago/Neifi Perez at shortstop while Guillen plays first base for the injured Casey.



Pitching



Tigers

Cardinals


Rate

Rank

Rate

Rank

FIP

4.36

3

4.77

14

ERA

3.84

1

4.54

9


This is where the Tigers had a huge edge statistically during the regular. The good news for the Cardinals is that their pitching has been excellent in post-season so far (2.97 ERA). The Tigers have been just as good though against the tougher American League (2.92).


The Tigers go into the series with a rotation of Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman versus the Cardinals quartet of Anthony Reyes, Jeff Weaver Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan. Carpenter may be the best pitcher on both teams but the rain outs and 7 game series versus the Mets force Tony LaRussa to start Reyes in game 1. The Tigers have the edge here.


The Tigers had a much stronger bullpen during the regular season but the Cardinals have been equally strong in the playoffs. It will be Todd Jones, Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney and Jamie Walker for the Tigers versus Adam Wainwright, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney and Randy Flores for the Cardinals. It’s hard to know whether the Cardinal bullpen is for real or not and this should be a big key to the series. I’m still giving the edge to the Tigers here.


Defense



Tigers

Cardinals


Rate

Rank

Rate

Rank

DER

.704

1

.699

6

HBT Fielding

+56

1

54

3

HBT Ground

+74

1

44

5

HBT Air

-18

13

10

6


Fielding is harder to measure but the Tigers appear to have the edge over the Cardinals defensively as the two teams are #1 and #6 respectively in defensive efficiency. The Hardball Times looks at types of balls hit (ground ball, fly ball, pop up, line drive) in an attempt to break down DER further. These stats are explained further in an article by Dave Studeman. They indicate that the Tigers superior defense seems to be primarily due to fielding grounders while their ability to catch balls in their air is not very good.


Predictions

The Tigers have the edge in every area and, on paper, it looks like they should dominate. However, the Cardinals are playing very well in post-season and should give them a better fight than the Athletics. I’ll pick the Tigers in 6. The stars will be Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander.

Tigers Versus Cardinals in World Series

Yadier Molina hit a dramatic home run in the top of the 9th inning last night to lead the Cardinals over the Mets 3-1 in game 7 of the National League Championship. This will be the third time the Tigers have met the Cardinals in the World Series. The Cardinals beat the Tigers 4 games to 3 in 1934 and the Tigers beat the Cardinals 4-3 in 1968. This will be a special series for the Panas family as my father is a Cardinal fan who remembers the 1934 World Series. He also remembers 1968 (my first year as a Tiger fan) and has been waiting 38 years to get his revenge. More on that later. I'll also do my series preview tomorrow night.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fan Fielding Survey Results

Tom Tango, who has one of the more interesting and informative sabermetric sites on the net, annually conducts a very interesting survey on defensive skills. The results of the 2006 survey are now ready. Many of you completed the survey this year and he very much appreciates your participation. For those of you who are not familiar with the survey, he asked fans to rate the fielding skills of players on their favorite teams just based on observation. He instructed them not to use any stats at all. He also urged them not to vote based on what somebody else told them. He wanted them to just use their own eyes. They were the scouts. As you can see on the ballot, fans were asked to scout players on reaction/instincts, acceleration/first few steps, speed, hands, release/footwork, throwing accuracy and throwing strength.

He then tabulated the results which can be seen in detail on his site. I’ll summarize the results for the Tigers below. Note that the sample size for the Tigers was about 60 which is a pretty good size. Not every fan rated every player so some players ratings are based on fewer than 60 ballots. However, most of the regulars were rated by at least 50 fans and every player was rated by enough fans so that all the results should be relevant. . Tango explains that the league average rating for each of the 7 categories is 50 and that a player with a rating of 70 or better is in top 16% in the league.


There is also an essay written on each of the top 9 rated fielders in the game. This year, one of the top 9 was Ivan Rodriguez and this sabermetrician managed to write the essay without using any numbers at all.

Best Overall defense
1. Ivan Rodriguez 81
2. Brandon Inge 79
3. Curtis Granderson 70
4. Placido Polanco 69
5. Ramon Santiago 63

Reaction/Instincts
1. Brandon Inge 88
2. Ivan Rodriguez 83
3. Curtis Granderson 75
4. Placido Polanco 75

Acceleration/first few steps
1. Brandon Inge 82
2. Curtis Granderson 80
3. Ivan Rodriguez 77

Speed
1. Curtis Granderson 76
2. Brandon Inge 70
3. Omar Infante 66

Hands
1. Placido Polanco 81
2. Ivan Rodriguez 79
3. Curtis Granderson 78

Release/Footwork
1. Ivan Rodriguez 97
2. Brandon Inge 76
3. Placido Polanco 76

Throwing Strength
1. Ivan Rodriguez 92
2. Brandon Inge 91
3. Vance Wilson 60

Throwing Accuracy
1. Ivan Rodriguez 93
2. Placido Polanco 78
3. Brandon Inge 63
3. Vance Wilson 63

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Random Links

After all the excitement of the last couple of weeks, I'm trying to relax a little this week and catch up on some non-blogging activities. I plan to get back to some original content tomorrow but today I'll just give you a few random links:

Geoff Young, author of the very popular Ducksnorts blog about the San Diego Padres, has started a new blog called Knucklecurve - a general baseball blog. Geoff is one of the most experienced and talented baseball bloggers around so you might want to check out both of his blogs. Today, he discusses the three players he would select to start a franchise and encourages readers to do the same.

If you are looking for a good New York Mets blog as you await the World Series, you might want to try Metsradamus. And if you are rooting for the Cardinals, as I am, I'll point you towards Viva El Birdos.

For those of you you who like baseball history, Greg Enos writes about the sensitive side of Ted Williams on Where Have You Gone Johnny Grubb?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ordonez Powers Tigers to World Series

On the 22nd anniversary of their 1984 World Championship, the Tigers needed one more victory to get into the 2006 World Series. Due to a previously scheduled engagement, I spent much of this game on the road hoping to get back in time to see the last couple of innings. As I drove across Massachusetts, I heard Jon Miller's voice fade in and out between static on radio 890 out of Boston. Having spent much of my youth listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey speak through static, I am pretty skilled at this sort of thing. My girl friend Simona could not hear a word that Miller was saying and was amazed that I was able to figure out what was happening. Sometimes, I actually heard his words and sometimes I just knew from his tone and the crowd noise.

I heard Jeremy Bonderman struggle a little bit early and Jay Payton's home run came through loud and clear. The Athletics were up 3-0 after 4 innings. Miller's voice completely disappeared in the 5th. I heard crowd noise briefly and knew that something good was happening. It was not until later that I learned that Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe had doubled in runs to make it 3-2. In the 6th inning, right about the time we were passing through Mark Fidrych's home town of Northborough, I heard the game tying home run but didn't know it was Magglio Ordonez.

Thankfully, I got home in time see Tiger history take place. Walker relieved Bonderman and got the last out of the 7th. Jason Grilli loaded the bases on 12 consecutive balls in the 8th. Finally Jim Leyland took him out and Wil Ledezma got Marco Scutaro to pop to the catcher to end the inning. Ledezma also pitched a scoreless 9th as Joel Zumaya was resting his ailing wrist and Leyland seemed to be saving Fernando Rodney until he was absolutely needed.

It was still tied 3-3 in the 9th as Oakland closer Huston Street entered his 3rd inning of work. He was able to get pinch hitter Marcus Thames and Granderson on fly balls. Craig Monroe then singled to center and Placido Polanco (16 for 33 in post-season) singled to left center. Ordonez came up with a chance to be a hero for the second time in the game. He crushed it to left and there was never any doubt. It was a majestic 3 run walk off homer and the Tigers were the American League Champions.

This is the same team that had not had a winning season in 13 years; the team that had lost 119 games 3 years ago; the team that had lost over 400 games over the past 4 years. Even their most optimistic fans doubted they would be anywhere near post-season this year. A .500 season would have been good for most. Then, after an amazing 76-36 start, they stumbled down the stretch and the whole nation doubted them again. Nobody gave them a chance to make the World Series especially after losing game 1 to the Yankees. But now 7 consecutive victories later, they are American League Champions for the first time since 1984.

Friday, October 13, 2006

ALCS Game 3: Tigers 3 Athletics 0

Kenny Rogers and the Tigers defeated the Athletics 3-0 in a very cold and windy Comerica Park today. They have now won 6 consecutive post-season games and are just one win away from the World Series. This is actually their first 6 game winning streak since they finished June with 8 wins against National League opponents. It's the first time since May that they have won 6 straight against American League teams. They certianly picked the right time to get hot.

Kenny Rogers was not supposed to be able to handle the pressure of post-season. He continued to prove his critics wrong by allowing just 2 hits over 7 1/3 shutout innings today. It was a classic Rogers performance. He had great control, got ahead of most batters and induced lots of grounders. He has now allowed 0 runs and 7 hits in 15 innings over 2 post-season starts.

The ailing Joel Zumaya was not needed today. Fernando Rodney replaced Rogers and ended the 8th on just 4 pitches when he got Bobby Kielty to hit into an inning ending double play. Todd Jones then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. I suspect they won't use Zumay tomorrow either. Ideally, he won't have to pitch anymore this series and will be well rested going into the World Series.

Placido Polanco continued to excel getting 2 more hits and knocking in their first run today. He is now 13 for 29 in the post-season and has hit in all 7 games. I was a bit critical of Polanco during the regular season as he did not have a good year offensively and I felt he was overrated by many in the mainstream media and on the internet. Now, however, he is hitting like he did in 2005 and I think we can all agree thatthis is a good thing. Not to mention his excellent defense (which was never a problem this year).

Another hitting hero today was Craig Monroe who batted second and went 2 for 3 including his 3rd post-season home run. I am also pleased to see Granderson walk 3 times. he is doing a little bit of everything in the post-season.

Jim Leyland used another new line-up today. Omar Infante batted 7th and went 1 for 2 as the designated hitter. The shortstop of the day was Ramon Santiago who matched his season total with a walk his first time up. I think Santiago is a better defender than Neifi Perez and I was also happy that he batted 9th rather than 2nd.

The Tigers hope to finish off the Athletics tomorrow as Jeremy Bonderman faces Danny Haren at 4:30 at Comerica Park.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What's Going on with Joel Zumaya?

(Updated:October 12 at 10:30 PM)

Since everyone is googling Joel Zumaya's injury today, I've put together a collection of stories commenting on his condition:

Jim Leyland did not sound overly concerned last night:
"Joel Zumaya's forearm was a little tight and I chose not to use him tonight, and that's why you didn't see him," Leyland said.
However, Zumaya says that he is worried:

"I'm just taking it day-to-day, but it's sore," Zumaya said. "It's the second time I've had this. It's a little worrisome.

"I'm a big factor on this team, but I couldn't pitch with it. That's all I have to say."

Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez is not sure of his availability for Fiday:
When asked if he expected Zumaya would be available Friday, Hernandez said, "We'll see. We'll see how things go tomorrow."
Trainer Kevin Rand also does not know when he'll return:
"We'll re-evaluate it (today)," Rand said, "and see if it's improved."
His current problem is probably the same one that caused him to miss time near the end of the regular season. Here is an old link discussing the tendonitis he experienced in September.
Rand believes the problem arose from the repetitive act of pitching. Zumaya, whose fastball travels more than 100 mph, said he thinks it comes from the aggressive way he holds the baseball. He said the pain "comes and goes."
The latest from MLB.COM is fairly good news although it still looks like he'll miss time:
Results of an MRI exam and an ultrasound conducted on Thursday morning confirmed inflammation in his right wrist and forearm, which head athletic trainer Kevin Rand called "very similar" to the injury he suffered in September.

"We're going to treat him with ice and put him on some medication," Rand said. "We're going to work to get the inflammation out and re-evaluate his pitching status daily."

"I'm not sure he'll be ready to pitch [Friday]," Leyland said, "but we got a good report. We got the best news you could get."
Any arm ailment for a pitcher is a potential concern. This one doesn't sound too serious but there is no time table for his return and they really need him for the playoffs. The good news is that they are two games up and can afford to take their time bringing him back. The second bit of good news is that Fernando Rodney is looking very sharp again which makes Zumaya's absence a little more managable. Still, if this soreness lingers on too long, it would obviously be a big loss in their quest for the championship. He would be especially important if they face the powerful offense of the mets in the World Series.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

ALCS Game 2: Tigers 8 Athletics 5

The big news coming into the game was the injury report on Sean Casey. Casey has a partially torn muscle in his calf and will likely miss the rest of the championship series. There is also a good chance he won't be able to play in the World Series if they make it. The new first baseman is Carlos Guillen who played there 9 times during the regular season. Tonight, Neifi Perez was the starting shortstop and inexplicably batted second. Most Tiger fans around the net agree that Infante should be the shortstop. According to Danny Knobler, Jim Leyland wants Perez at shortstop because Infante did not play there much during the season.

Justin Verlander had trouble locating his curve again tonight and the Athletics did a good job working the count. He went over 100 pitches in the 6th inning and left after giving up 4 runs and 7 hits in 5 1/3. The bullpen was excellent as Wil Ledezma, Jason Grilli, Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones allowed 1 run in 3 2/3 and struck out 6 in a row at one point. Jones made us all uncomfortable in the 9th by loading the bases on 3 singles after 2 were out but he got Frank Thomas on a shallow fly to center field. Fernando Rodney was especially impressive easily striking out the side in the 8th. He looks to be back on track again after struggling a little at the end of the regular season.

Milton Bradley kept the Athletics in the game almost single handed going 4 for 5 with 2 homers and 4 RBI. Bradley can get hot at any time and he is really hitting the ball hard in this series. Thankfully, the Tigers contained Frank Thomas who went o for 5 with 3 strike outs. The Big Hurt and Nick Swisher are now 0 for 14 with 8 strike outs in the series. The Athletics won't get too far unless those two get going.

Because Athletics starter Esteban Loaiza has trouble with left-handers, Leyland started Chris Gomez in place of Marcus Thames at designated hitter. The move paid off with Gomez getting a home run and a single and 4 RBI. Every night, it's somebody different. The one constant has been Placido Polanco who got 3 more hits tonight and seems to be back in 2005 form. He is now 11-24 in the post-season. Curtis Granderson went 2 for 5 including his 3rd post-season home run. The whole team seems to be consistently having good at bats. They are looking as good as they have at any point this season.

The Tigers, now up 2-0, go back to Detroit for 3 games (or maybe just 2 the way things are going!). Friday night, it will be Kenny Rogers against Rich Harden.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ALCS Game 1: Tigers 5 Athletics 1

The Tigers defeated the Athletics 5 to 1 in the first game of the American League Championship tonight. From the start, this game had a different feel from any game in the Yankee series. In contrast to the tension and excitement of the first round, this one felt almost like a regular season game. It's now like June or July again where I expect good things to happen in each game. Here are my additional thoughts on the game:

Oakland had 13 base runners tonight but could not take advantage of the opportunities. They hit into a league leading 170 double plays during the regular season and that trend continued tonight as they were doubled up 4 times. Craig Monroe also frustrated the Athletics with a highlight reel diving catch to rob Milton Bradley ending the 5th.

Nate Robertson had another shaky start allowing 6 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings. He was helped out by the double play balls but he also took care of business himself in the 4th. With runners at second and third and nobody out, he proceeded to strike out Eric Chavez, Nick Swisher and Marco Scutaro in succession.

Fernando Rodney pitched for the first time since the regular season and was not rusty at all. He looked pretty sharp in 2 innings of work.

The Tigers continued to get good at bats tonight. They are still being aggressive but they seem to be in much better control in the post-season than they were at the end of the regular season. They had 11 hits and also managed to draw 5 walks (a pretty hight total for them).

Every day of the post-season, there is a new hitting hero. Tonight it was Brandon Inge. Inge, who had a rough series versus the Yankees, started the scoring with a 3rd inning home run and later singled, double and walked. Ivan Rodriguez, who also struggled a bit in the first round, hit a solo home run and a single.

Sean Casey suffered a muscle spasm in his calf trying to break out of the batter's box on a grounder to first in the 6th inning. He had to leave the game but, according to Fox broadcasters, felt a little better later and might not miss much additional time, if any. There is official word on how long he'll be out though. I imagine they won't know until tomorrow.

When Casey left the game, Carlos Guillen moved over at first base and Ramon Santiago took over at shortstop. Guillen then made an error on a grounder to first in the 7th inning. The error turned out to be harmless but it made me wonder again why Jim Leyland is carrying 3 utility infielders and no real back-up first baseman on the post-season roster. Chris Shelton seems like a better option than having both Santiago and Neifi Perez on the roster.

Tomorrow, it will be Justin Verlander versus Esteban Loaiza at 8:00. Verlander could benefit from the shadows again as it will be 5:00 in Oakland.

Monday, October 09, 2006

More Previews

Here are some more previews of the AL Championship:

Blez over at Athletics Nation understandably favors the Athletics slightly and his reasoning is sound. The one thing that he thinks might benefit the Athletics quite a bit is superior plate discipline and I can't disagree with him on that point:
To many, there be no question which team has the better offense. I would argue that it's closer than people think. Yes, the Tigers scored 51 more runs than the A's in the regular season. The A's hold a slight edge in OBP at .340 vs. .329 even though the Tigers had the better batting average.

Kurt over at Mack Avenue Tigers is rooting for the Tigers but he also likes the Athletics and is working on a 3 part preview. In part 2, he says it will be a close series but thinks the Tigers have the edge:
I see Detroit as having a slightly better defense, a better lineup, and about equal pitching. This truly is a close series.

Brian at TigerBlog discusses the Athletics and expects a close series:
So, you should some great pitching in this series. This should equate to some low scoring games and a lot of excitement, but these things never seem to work out exactly as planned, so we’ll see. I’ll stand by my earlier prediction and say Tigers in seven...
I'll add more as I find them.

Playoff Preview: Tigers Versus Athletics

Both the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics are coming off surprisingly easy first round wins. The Tigers topped the heavily favored Yankees 3 games to 1 and the Athletics swept the Twins. Both teams played well in all phases of the game in the first round. The Tigers won the season series 5-4 and Billfer takes a detailed look at that in his Detroit Tiger Weblog. Much like my first round preview, my second round preview will focus on regular season team statistics along with a few other items:

Hot players in First Round:

Tigers

  • Carlos Guillen - 8 for 14, 3 doubles and a home run
  • Curtis Granderson – 5 for 17, 2 home runs and 5 RBI
  • Placido Polanco – 7 for 17
  • Sean Casey – 6 for 17
  • Kenny Rogers – 7 2/3 IP, 0 runs
  • Jeremy Bonderman – 8 1/3 IP 2 runs

Athletics

  • Frank Thomas - 5 for 10, 2 home runs
  • Marco Scutaro – 4 for 12, 4 doubles and 6 RBI
  • Nick Swisher – 3 for 10, 2 doubles and 2 walks
  • Barry Zito – 8 Ip , 1 run


Injuries:

Tigers - None

Athletics

  • Bobby CrosbyStill out with back injury. Marco Scutaro is playing shortstop. Crosby might be back at some point but the Athletics are not counting on it.

  • Mark Ellis – Out for season with broken finger. D’Angelo Jimenez is playing second base.

  • Rich Harden – His elbow is healthy and he’s well rested. He will likely start game 4.


Regular Season Overview



Tigers

Athletics

Record

95-67

93-69

Head to Head

5

4

Runs per game

5.1

4.8

Runs allowed per game

4.2

4.5


Both teams rely a lot more on run prevention than run production. The Tigers have the edge in both areas finishing 1st in run prevention and 5th in run production. The Athletics finished 4th in run prevention and 9th in run production. It should be noted that the A’s likely would have allowed fewer runs than they did if they had a healthy Rich Harden all season.


Offense



Tigers

Athletics


Rate

Rank

Rate

Rank

BA

.274

9

.260

13

BB/G

2.65

13

4.01

2

Isolated power

.174

4

.152

9

OBP

.329

12

.340

7

SLG

.449

5

.412

13

OPS

.777

7

.752

11


Like most Billy Beane teams, the Athletics draw a lot of walks – 2nd in the league. Unfortunately for them, that is the only thing they do well offensively as the don’t hit for average (13th) or power (9th). The Athletics’ offense revolves around Frank Thomas (.270/.381/.545) and Nick Swisher (.254/.372/.493).


The Tigers, on the other hand, do not draw many walks (13th in the league) but they do hit for good power (4th). The Tigers are led by Carlos Guillen (.320/.400/.519) and Magglio Ordonez (.298/.350/.477). Where the Tigers have the edge is line-up depth. While the Athletics have 5 hitters in the regular line-up (Jay Payton, Jason Kendall, Mark Kotsay, Marco Scutaro and D’Angelo Jimenez) with sub-.750 OPS, the Tigers have just 2: Placido Polanco and Sean Casey.


Pitching


Tigers

Athletics


Rate

Rank

Rate

Rank

FIP

4.36

3

4.44

5

ERA

3.84

1

4.21

4


The FIP ERA indicates that the two teams might not be as far apart in pitching as they are in overall run prevention. If you go by ERA, the Tigers look to have a significantly better staff but the closeness in FIP indicates that fielding may have something to do with it.


The Tigers go into the series with a starting staff of Nate Robertson, Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman versus the Athletics quartet of Barry Zito, Esteban Loaiza, Dan Haren and Rich Harden. Since Loaiza had a 4.89 ERA and Harden’s durability is still somewhat questionable, the Tigers have the edge here.


Both teams have pretty strong bullpens. It will be Todd Jones, Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney and Jamie Walker for the Tigers versus Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero for the Athletics. They look pretty evenly matched there.


Defense


Tigers

Athletics


Rate

Rank

Rate

Rank

DER

.704

1

.690

7

HBT Fielding

+56

1

-22

8

HBT Ground

+74

1

-6

6

HBT Air

-18

13

-15

12


Fielding is harder to measure but the Tigers appear to have the edge over the Athletics defensively as the two teams are #1 and #7 respectively in defensive efficiency. The Hardball Times looks at types of balls hit (ground ball, fly ball, pop up, line drive) in an attempt to break down DER further. These stats are explained further in an article by Dave Studeman. They indicate that the Tigers superior defense seems to be primarily due to fielding grounders while their ability to catch balls in their air is not very good. I find this breakdown very interesting and I want to research this further in the off-season.

Predictions

The Athletics have the homefield advantage in the series but the Tigers have the edge (although not a huge one) in all phases of the game. It should be a pitching oriented series but the Tigers offensive depth will help them win the series in 6 games. I’ll pick Carlos Guillen to be the big hitter (that’s getting easier to do all the time) and Jeremy Bonderman as the best pitcher. I pick Bonderman because he tends to pitch his dominant games in bunches and he’s coming off a gem.

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