Saturday, March 31, 2007

Predicting the Final Standings

My long winded Tigers preview took up way too much time so I won't spend a lot of time on a Major League prevew. However, I wanted to predict the final standings and awards before the season starts. Here are my predicted final standings:

Boston*
New York*
Toronto
Tampa Bay
Baltimore

Detroit*
Minnesota
Cleveland
Chicago
Kansas City

Los Angeles*
Oakland
Texas
Seattle

New York*
Philadelphia*
Atlanta
Florida
Washington

St.Louis*
Milwaukee
Chicago
Houston
Cincinnati
Pittsburgh

Arizona*
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco
Colorado

The playoffs are a crapshoot but you can't do a standings prediction without adding playoffs so here it is:

Angels over Red Sox
Tigers over Yankees
Cardinals over Mets
Phillies over Diamondbacks

Tigers over Angels
Cardinals over Phillies

Tigers over Cardinals

MVP - Guerrero, Pujols

Cy Young - Santana, Peavy

Rookie - Gordon, Tulowitzki

Who is Chad Durbin?

The mysterious Chad Durbin has been called upon to replace the disabled Kenny Rogers in the startuing rotation for the Tigers. Based upon what I've been reading on the internet the past couple of days, this is a surprise to just about everyone other than Lynn Henning of the Detroit News who has been promoting Durbin since last summer. Others are wondering why they did not turn to Zach Miner or Wil Ledezma who both did a pretty good job filling in for the injured Mike Maroth last year. Some want to know why young Andrew Miller was not thrown into the fire. According to Jim Leyland, they actually did consider Miller but they decided to go with Durbin.

Who is this Durbin guy? He is a 6-2 208 pound 29 year old right-hander who started 28 games for Toledo last year. In 185 innings for the Mudhens, he showed good control with a 149/46 strikeout/walk ratio and posted a 3.11 ERA. He then appeared briefly for the Tigers in September allowing 1 run in 6 innings. This spring, he continued to pitch well compiling a 2.08 ERA in 21 2/3 innings. His good spring earned him a spot on the team but many figured he would serve mostly as a mop up man in blow outs.

It's been a long journey on the way to Detroit for Durbin. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the third round of the 1996 amateur draft and was considered one of the best Royal prospects in the late 1990s. He had a low 90s fastball and a hard curve but his best pitch was his change-up which was considered one of the best in the game. He reached the majors at age 21 but was hit hard as his fastball was too straight and his curve too inconsistent for major league batters. His best year was in 2002 when he had a 4.93 ERA in 179 innings pitched.

After the 2002 season, he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery and quickly fell off the prospect map. between 2003 and 2005, he bounced around to three different organizations - Cleveland, Arizona and Washington - and showed little progress. Finally, the Tigers signed him to a minor league contract before the 2006 season and good things began to happen. Pitching coach Jeff Jones worked with him on developing a two seam fastball and a cutter. He mastered them fairly quickly and they worked better for him than his very hittable four seam fastball.

He pitched like a new pitcher in AAA last year but will he be a new major league pitcher or will he be the pitcher who has a 6.13 lifetime ERA for four organizations? Many are still skeptical and he has to be considered a long shot for success. However, Tigers management selected him over some pretty decent candidates and they have shown that they know something about pitching. One way or the other, we'll all find out more about Durbin very soon.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Rogers Out for Three Months

Kenny Rogers had surgery on his pitching shoulder today to remove a blood clot and to repair arteries and will be out at least three months. According to John Lowe of the Free Press, Rogers actually had a similar surgery with the same doctor in 2001 so at least he has a history of recovery. He won't be pitching until at least July and there is no telling how effective he will be once he does return. Chad Durbin will take Kenny Rogers' spot in the rotation and will pitch on Saturday versus the Royals. If Durbin does not work out, Andrew Miller will probably be next in line:
"We really only talked about two options, basically," Leyland said. "Those were [Andrew] Miller or Durbin. We decided to stay on our course with that. We checked with the Minor League people. Miller's throwing good. He's also working on some things, so we think that we want him to get some starts there under his belt.

Guillen Signed through 2011

According to Danny Knobler, the Tigers have signed Carlos Guillen to a 4 year $48 millon dollar deal which will keep him a Tiger through 2011. The deal is somewhat of a risk given his history of injuries but his bat would have been really difficult to replace after the season. He has arguably been the MVP of the team over the last three years in aggregate and, in 2006, he actually had a season which was worthy of league MVP consideration. Since he probably could have gotten more money on the open market, we can consider this to be a bit of a home town discount. This deal is great news and helps to alleviate the disappointment of the news about Kenny Rogers.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rogers Placed on Disabled List

Today, was supposed to be a quiet day for Tigers fans as we all wait for the season opener next Monday. It turned out to be anything but quiet. First, I woke up this morning to the news that Carlos Guillen and the Tigers might be getting closer to a contract agreement. That was a good way to start the day but it was far from the bog story of the day.

Later, I heard that Kenny Rogers was being placed on the disabled list due to a fatigued arm. He would miss his first start and nobody was saying much about his ailment but Dave Dombrowski did not sound too alarmed:
``We don't think (it's going to be long-term),'' Dave Dombrowski said.
My first reaction was that Rogers is 42 years old and can't be expected to go 200+ innings again this year. He's bound to have little ailments from time to time. I would have been really worried if it was a young pitcher like Jeremy Bonderman or Justin Verlander but I wasn't too concerned about Rogers.

Now, I'm reading that Rogers may be suffering from a blood clot. No details are being given and nothing has been said publicly but John Lowe has a source who says it is a clot:

Dombrowski didn’t provide any other details on Rogers’ ailment. However, a person familiar with the situation said that a club official informed him that Rogers has a blood clot.

It is not known if the blood clot is in Rogers’ arm or how serious it might be.

Rogers left the team today to undergo tests by a specialist at an undisclosed location.
This obviously sounds much more ominous than "arm fatigue". There's no way to say how serious it is at this time. A clot could clear up by itself or it require surgery and turn into a career threatening situation. I'm sure we'll know more in the next few days.

What we do know now is that Chad Durbin will take his place in the rotation and Bobby Seay has been added to the 25 man roster. I'm a bit surprised that Will Ledezma or Zach Miner is not going to join the rotation but Durbin is the man for now. If Rogers' problem turns into a long term situation, it is possible that we might be seeing Andrew Miller sooner than expected. In fact, Jim Leyland said that Miller was the other option they considered before deciding on Durbin:
"We really only talked about two options, basically," Leyland said. "Those were [Andrew] Miller or Durbin. We decided to stay on our course with that. We checked with the Minor League people. Miller's throwing good. He's also working on some things, so we think that we want him to get some starts there under his belt. Durbin had a great year in Triple-A last year."
So what was supposed to be a slow news day has turned into something else. Only time will tell how big of a deal this will be.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tigers 2007 Preview - Part 4 (Pitching)

Over the past week, I presented the first three parts of my 2007 Tigers preview:

Part 1 - Overview
Part 2 - Offense
Part 3 - Fielding

Today, in Part 4, I'll forecast the pitching and give my prediction for the team win total.

The Tigers led the Majors with a stunning 3.84 ERA in 2006. While I think they'll be among the Major League leaders again in 2007, I don't expect their ERA to be quite as good. There are three reasons for that and if you've read my blog over the winter you may be tired of hearing the first two. First, their ERA was better than their fielding independent stats (strikeouts, walks, home runs) would indicate. I believe part of that was good fielding and part of it was good luck. I don't think they will be quite as fortunate this year.

The second reason is that their young staff pitched a lot of stressful innings last year and there were some tired arms by post-season. Verlander, in particular, seemed to run out gas after pitching about 70 innings more in 2006 than 2005. I expect this to take somewhat of a toll in 2007.

The advancing ages of Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones are the third factor. Both pitched better than expected last year and they will be 42 and 39 respectively in 2007. They are bound to decline in performance this year simply because they can't last forever. And we all know that the roller coaster does not give himself much margin for error with his low strikeout and high hit totals.

This is not to say that I expect a collapse in 2007. I do think Bonderman will improve and that will offset some of the expected decline from other pitchers. Last year, they allowed 675 runs. This year, I'll guess that they will give up about 720. So that's 820 runs scored and 720 allowed which translates nto about 91 wins. They play in a tough division with three other legitimate contenders. However, I don't see any one team posting a big win total this year and I'm going to say that 91 wins gets them the Central Division title by a hair.

Now for the individual pitcher forecast:

Jeremy Bonderman

Like every year, Bonderman's fielding independent stats were better than his ERA. His strikeout and ground ball rates were excellent and his walk rate was better than league average. Another thing Bonderman does every year is improve his ERA and 2007 should be no exception. I think it will be well comfortably under 4.00 for the first time.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

214

202

64

18

4.08

2007 Projected

210

200

61

20

3.66



Kenny Rogers

Rogers pitched about as well as anyone could have expected last year and capped it off with an amazing post-season. I think age will catch up to him a little bit this year but I certainly don't expect a collapse. He's a smart pitcher but it's difficult for a pitcher to consistently keep his ERA under 4.00 with such a low strikeout rate.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

204

99

62

23

3.84

2007 Projected

192

92

56

22

4.32



Justin Verlander

Verlander probably pitched more innings than he would have if they were not a contender. This makes him a fairly high injury risk for this year and I would imagine that they'll be careful with him. He also did not pitch as well as his ERA last year. He had a surprisingly low strikeout rate and gave up a lot of fly balls but received a lot of support from his fielders. He might pitch as well as last year and still see his ERA go up a half of a run. One thing I think we'll see from him in 2007 is an increased strikeout rate.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

186

124

60

21

3.63

2007 Projected

176

149

69

24

4.10



Nate Robertson

Robertson improved over his 2005 season but not as much as it appeared on the surface. His rate stats did not change much from 2005 but, like Rogers and Verlander, he received a lot of support from his defense. There is no reason he can't come close to his 2006 season in 2007.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

209

137

67

29

3.84

2007 Projected

206

142

64

28

4.14



Mike Maroth

It seems that Maroth has recovered from last season's elbow injury but I'll remain skeptical until he can pitch without problems in the regular season. I expect a career average ERA from Maroth this year but he may no longer be the innings eater he was before the injury.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

54

24

16

11

4.19

2007 Projected

152

68

42

27

4.73



Todd Jones

Jones keeps the ball in the park and walks almost nobody. He has used this formula to save 77 out of 88 games over the last two years. The closer role is a good role for him because he usually comes in with the bases empty and can afford to give up a couple of singles which he does frequently. He would not be good in a setup role where he had to come in with men on base or pitch more than one inning. The rollercoaster might not crash but I think he might blow more games this year and make a lot of fans impatient.


Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

64

28

11

4

3.94

2007 Projected

62

27

15

5

4.39



Joel Zumaya

There is much talk around the country about his 103 MPH fastball and his wrist inury which may have been caused by playing Guitar Hero. There has been less talk outside of Detroit about how dominating he was last year and not just the strikeouts. He'll be a closer some day but I actually like him in the setup role where he can pitch more innings and come in with men on base.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

83

97

42

6

2.66

2007 Projected

84

100

39

5

2.51



Fernando Rodney

Rodney will continue to be one of the setup men for Jones. He gets less attention than Zumaya but he's very effective and almost as valuable. I expect more of the same this year.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

72

65

34

6

3.52

2007 Projected

75

70

29

6

3.39



Wil Ledezma

Ledezma will be the only lefty out of the pen but I don't think he'll be used quite like a lefty specialist. I think he'll pitch more innings and will probably get a few spot starts somewhere over the course of the season. I think he has the ability to be a very effective reliever.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

60

39

23

5

3.58

2007 Projected

87

55

30

8

4.05



Jose Mesa

Mesa was a surprise pickup and will be used when Leyland does not want to overwork Zumaya and Rodney. Mesa is no longer an effective closer but is not as a bad of a pitcher as his reputation. I'm not expecting much but he should be Ok if he is not put into too many key spots.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

72

39

36

9

3.86

2007 Projected

66

35

33

7

4.42



Steve Grilli

Grilli surprised a lot of people when he made the team out of spring training last year and stuck with them the whole season. Grilli was OK last year but his unimpressive k/BB ratio does not bode well for the future. I think his ERA will go up in 2007.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006

62

31

25

6

4.21

2007 Projected

53

27

21

5

4.67



Chad Durbin

Durbin has made a complete recovery from his 2002 elbow surgery and had a strong season for Toledo in 2006. He was rewarded with a roster spot for opening day 2007. He has a career ERA of 6.14 so I'm not expecting big things from him.

Year

IP

SO

BB

HR

ERA

2006 (Toledo)

185

149

46

17

3.11

2007 Projected

43

23

15

6

5.19

Monday, March 26, 2007

Exposure for Tiger Blogs

According to Mack Avenue Kurt, a few of the Tiger blogs including Tiger Tales were mentioned in the week's print version of Sports Illustrated. I have not seen it yet but I'll be sure to pick up a copy tomorrow. In addition, if you scroll to the bottom of the Tigers page at SI.COM, you'll see a list of several independent Tiger sites such as Detroit Tigers Webog and Motown Sports. You can vote for your favorite Tigers blog in an SI Poll. I believe I have one vote so far and that is probably about as many as I deserve. I voted for myself just so I could get rid of the 0% next to my blog.

I also want to congratulate Bill Ferris, whose Detroit Tigers Weblog received an honrable mention on the Top Ten baseball blogs compiled by Gaslamp Ball. It was a well deserved mention as Bill is The God Father of all Tigers bloggers and DTW is one of the first places I go to get the latest Tigers news each day.

Tigers Roster is Set

The Tigers made their final cuts this morning and their 25 man roster is set for opening day. Pitcher Chad Durbin and infielder Neifi Perez beat out first baseman Chris Shelton, infielder Ramon Santiago and pitcher Zach Miner among others fot the final two spots on the roster. Miner, Shelton and Santiago were optioned to Toledo.

In addition, pitchers Bobby Seay, Preston Larrison and Tim Byrdak, catchers Steve Torrealba and Dane Sardinha, infielder/outfielder Ryan Raburn and outfielder Timo Perez were assigned to the same club. Felix Heredia was given his unconditional release.

Edward Campusano, Tony Giarratano and Roman Colon have not been cut yet but are likely headed to the disabled list. In fact, Campusano will be on the diabled list for a long time as he will be undergoing Tommy John surgery tomorrow. He won't be pitching anywhere this year but can stay with the Tigers as a Rule 5 player next year. This means they would have to keep him on their active roster for 90 days in 2008. Of course, they might not want to go through all that and could just return him to the Cubs.

I'm a little disappointed with a couple of today's moves but not at all surprised. I'd like to see Shelton on the roster but I knew he didn't have much of a chance with Sean Casey and Marcus Thames ahead of him. Even though, he was batting close to .400 this spring he'll be starting the season in Toledo. Hopefully, he continues hitting and can work his way back onto the roster.

Neifi Perez, who seemed to be all but gone after Jim Leyland openly criticized his play and admitted he was a poor acquisition this winter, played well this spring and will be a backup infielder. I would assume he'll have to show more than last year if he is going to stay around for long. This move was not a surprise only because it had been rumored for the past week that he had the inside track to a job.

The opening day roster is listed below:

Pitchers


Jeremy Bonderman
Kenny Rogers
Justin Verlander
Nate Robertson
Mike Maroth
Todd Jones
Joel Zumaya
Fernando Rodney
Wil Ledezma
Jose Mesa
Jason Grilli
Chad Durbin
Jose Mesa

Catchers

Ivan Rodriguez
Vance Wilson

Infielders

Sean Casey
Placido Polanco
Carlos Guillen
Brandon Inge
Omar Infante
Neifi Perez

Outfielders

Magglio Ordonez
Curtis Granderson
Craig Monroe
Gary Sheffield
Marcus Thames

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tigers 2007 Preview - Part 3 (Fielding)

In the past week, I posted the first two parts of my 2007 Tigers preview:

Part 1 - Overview
Part 2 - Offense

Today, in Part 3, I'll look at the fielding. In Part 4, I'll forecast the pitching and give my prediction for total Tiger victories in 2007.

In my analysis of team run prevention, I found that the Tigers ranked first in the American League in ERA but only third in FIP ERA. This is an indication that their pitching may not have been as good as their ERA. Their league leading DER (percent of balls in play converted into outs) suggested that their pitching might have been significantly aided by strong fielding.
Other measures such as Probabilistic Model for Range (PMR) developed by David Pinto and the Fielding Bible Plus/Minus System developed by John Dewan and others at Baseball Info Solutions used sophisticated play by play data to come to the same conclusion. Both PMR and the +/- system had the Tigers finishing in the top three in the league at converting fieldable balls into outs. More discussion of these methods can be found in my fielding folder.


PMR and Fielding Bible +/- along with zone rating (percent of balls in a player's fielding zone converted into outs) can also be used to evaluate individual fielding. The Fielding Bible also had a panel of experts including sabermetricians, media people, fans (If you participated the Fan Fielding Survey, then you were part of this) and video scouts rank the fielders at each position.


I used all of these measures along with my own observations and discussions with knowledgable fans to rate the Tigers fielders. They were very strong defensively at catcher, second base, third base and center field. Their weakest spots were the corner outfield spots and shortstop. With pretty much the same team coming back next year, we can probably expect similar strengths and weaknesses next year. Overall, they should be above average defensively again and this should help a staff which throws a lot of ground balls and does not strike out a large number of batters.


There is a fielding grade and capsule for each Tigers fielder below (C is an average grade):


Catcher


Ivan Rodriguez (A) - Rodriguez has always gotten mixed reviews on his game calling but there is little question about his arm, footwork and instincts around the plate. He was voted the top defensive catcher in baseball by the fans and by the Fielding Bible panel.


Vance Wilson (C+)
- is considered a capable backup catcher and the Tigers like him so much that they signed him to a two year contract extension last summer. That's not something that backup catchers usually receive.

First Baseman

Sean Casey (C) - Casey catches what is hit or thrown to him and makes very few errors. However, he has very little range so I'll give him an average grade.

Chris Shelton (B-) - Shelton will likely start the season in Toledo to work on getting more consistent offensively. He has worked hard at his defense and ranked very well statistically on most fielding measures. Based on statistics, I could have ranked him a little higher but many observers are still skeptical.

Second baseman

Placido Polanco (B+) - Polanco has above average range and one of the best gloves in the Majors. He is also an excellent third baseman but is rarely needed there for the Tigers.

Omar Infante (B-) - The versatile Infante will be a backup infielder and outfielder this year. He has had bouts of tendonitis in his shoulder which have affected his throwing at times. He also reportedly has occasional lapses in concentration. When healthy, he is athletic and has good range.

Shortstop

Carlos Guillen (C) - Guillen has average range but up until last year he was a very steady fielder. For now, I'm going assume that his numerous throwing errors in 2006 were a fluke and that it won't be a problem again next year (thus, the average grade). However, if he continues to have problems, he'll be a below average defender again.

Ramon Santiago (B) - If he makes the team, it will be because of his fielding. He has good range and a good glove.

Neifi Perez (C) - Perez looked very bad last year. If he makes the team, I will assume it's because he is playing well this spring (that is, at least an average fielder).

Third base

Brandon Inge (A-) - A lot of fans grumble about Inge's throwing errors but he has outstanding range and one of the strongest infield arms in the Majors. He is one of the most exciting fielders in the game and a gold glove should be in his future.

Left field

Craig Monroe (C) - Monroe would be a better fielder if he played in another park but his range is less than ideal for Comerica. He does have the ability to play all three out field positions (even center field in an emergency) which is a plus. He also has a strong arm.

Center field

Curtis Granderson (B+) - Granderson does not have blazing speed but has good instincts and this gives him above average range. He did a fine job covering comerica Park's huge centerfield in 2006. His one shortcoming is that he has a below average arm.

Right field

Magglio Ordonez (C-) - Ordonez catches what is hit to him but has below average range. he seemed to get to more balls in the second half of the season than the first half. He makes up for some his other shortcomings with a very strong arm.

Back-up outfielders

Marcus Thames (D) - Thames is learning to be a first basemen but will still probably see some time in the outfield. He is an awkward fielder with below average range. He is on the team for his bat.

Gary Sheffield (C-) - Sheffield has lost some range and is not a strong defensive outfielder anymore. He will mostly be a designated hitter.

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