Thursday, May 31, 2007

Indians Pound Tigers, Sheffield Erupts

The Tigers lost to the Indians for the 4th time in a week tonight and this one was an ugly 11-5 defeat. Justin Verlander gave up a 2 run homer to Travis Hafner in the first. He gave up 4 more runs in the 5th and in all he gave up 7 runs on 7 hits, 3 walks and 3 hit batsmen in 5 innings. Tim Byrdak relieved him in the 6th and pitched two shaky but scoreless innings. The Tigers trailed 7-5 going into the 8th but then Jose Mesa came in and the rout was on. He gave up 4 runs on 4 hits and raised his ERA to 12.34. I have to believe his days in Detroit are numbered. Perhaps he will be gone when Fernando Rodney returns next week.

The Tigers had 10 hits including a homer by Craig Monroe and a pair of RBI singles by Marcus Thames. Thames was playing first base in place of Sean Casey for the third straight game. The Tigers line-up also included Omar Infante at third and Neifi Perez at shortstop. The injuries to Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen left them with a two man bench - Mike Rabelo and Sean Casey - and it became even more limited earlier than they planned.

Gary Sheffield questioned a couple of calls by the home plate ump during his at at bat in the 5th inning. He then hit a broken bat grounder, slammed down his bat and glared at the umpire. This led to a quick ejection. I think the reason for the ejection may have been that he slammed his bat somewhat behind him (rather than directly downward) in the general direction of the umpire. He wasn't throwing at the umpire but a batter needs to be careful where he's aiming when he tosses his bat. He then went berserk and would not allow Jim Leyland to restrain him. Pudge Rodriguez and a few others had to come off the bench to hold him back.

I think Sheffield's behavior (especially brushing off Leyland's restraint) may have shocked his teammates as this was the first such incident of the Leyland era. They were leading 4-2 at the time but then imploded after that. We've seen the good Sheffield and now we've seen the bad Sheffield. He's quite a character. At any rate, they are really going to need his bat until they get back to full strength so he needs to keep himself in games.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tigers Lose, Inge and Guillen Injured

The Tigers lost 5-3 tonight and dropped the three game series at Tampa Bay 2 games to 1. Nate Robertson continued to struggle tonight failing to make it through 6 innings for his 5th straight start. In those starts he has posted a 7.01 ERA and allowed 46 hits and 6 home runs in 25 2/3 innings. Some of his problems tonight could have been related to his back which he tweaked in the second inning. It looked for a minute like he would come out of the game but he stayed in there. That, of course, would not explain the previous 4 sub-par performances.

After scoring 14 runs on 22 hits last night, the Tigers got off to a quick start with 3 runs of 5 hits in the first inning tonight. However, James Shields who is quietly putting together an excellent season for the Devil Rays settled down and allowed no runs and just 3 base runners the rest of the way.

Adding to the pain of the loss is the news of two more injuries. Brandon Inge broke his left big toe when he was hit by a pitch last night and did not play in tonight's game. Carlos Guillen had to leave today's game in the 6th inning after suffering a mild groin strain running to first on a grounder. They have been replaced in the line-up by Omar Infante and Neifi Perez. Both Inge and Guillen are day to day. If they are expected to miss a good portion of the upcoming Cleveland series, one wonders if they might make a move to get an extra infielder for that series. Ramon Santiago would be the most likely choice if that happens.

RBI Men

One of the most popular mainstream statistics has traditionally been Runs Batted In. Most of us know that know that RBI is a flawed statistic because it is dependent on the opportunities presented a player. It is a lot easier to accumulate RBI when there are a lot of men getting on base in front of you. It is more difficult to get RBI when you play on a weak hitting team which gives you few opportunities. With this in mind, David Pinto at Baseball Musings used his day by day database to develop a new statistic which considers opportunities as well as total RBI.

Pinto determined the number of runners that were on base when each batter came to the plate. He then calculated RBI Percentage, the proportion of runners on base that the batter drove home in his plate apperances. For example, Magglio Ordonez has had 162 runners on base in all his plate appearances this year. He has scored 36 of them (48 RBI - 12 homers). That gives him an RBI % of 22.22. That may not sound very high but it is 6th highest in the majors for players with 75 or more runners on base.

RBI % is not a perfect statistic. It could be improved if we considered base/out states. For example, it is easier to knock in a run with a runner on third base and nobody out than it is with a runner on first and two outs. It also penalizes players who are pitched around and receive a lot of walks but then so does RBI in its raw form. Despite these shortcomings, I do think it's a useful stat and I like its simplity.

Table 1 below shows the Major League leaders in RBI % for 260 players with 75 or more runners on base. You will see that Magglio Ordonez (6th), Placido Polanco (8th) and Carlos Guillen (18th) rank in the top 20. You may be surprised to see that old friend Carlos Pena (11th) is also in the top 20.


Table 1: Major League Leaders in RBI Percentage

Player

Team

Runners

RBI

HR

RBI%

Martin

LAD

135

34

3

22.96

Ibanez

SEA

119

28

1

22.69

Hardy

MIL

128

44

15

22.66

Molina

SF

115

31

5

22.61

Hernandez

BAL

89

22

2

22.47

Ordonez

DET

162

48

12

22.22

Hunter

MIN

140

42

11

22.14

Polanco

DET

118

27

1

22.03

Lee

CHI

121

30

4

21.49

Johnson

ATL

98

27

6

21.43

Pena

TB

84

28

10

21.43

Martinez

CLE

154

41

8

21.43

Sosa

TEX

136

39

10

21.32

Garciaparra

LAD

139

30

1

20.86

Lugo

BOS

132

30

3

20.45

Guerrero

LAA

152

41

10

20.39

Lowell

BOS

148

39

9

20.27

Guillen

DET

148

36

6

20.27

Dobbs

PHI

84

22

5

20.24

Lee

HOU

173

45

10

20.23


Table 2 shows how the Tigers rank in RBI Percentage. Ranking in the top quarter of the league along with Ordonez, Polanco and Guillen are Pudge Rodriguez (34th), Curtis Granderson (48th) and Craig Monroe (69th). Lagging behind are Gary Sheffield, Sean Casey and Brandon Inge. It should be noted that Sheffield is probably one of the players who is penalized somewhat because he is pitched around with runners on base.


Table 2: RBI Percentages for Tigers Regulars

Player

Rank

Runners

RBI

HR

RBI%

Ordonez

6

162

48

12

22.02

Polanco

8

118

27

1

22.03

Guillen

18

148

36

6

20.27

Rodriguez

34

113

26

5

18.58

Granderson

48

109

27

8

17.43

Monroe

59

131

29

7

16.78

Sheffield

181

144

29

12

11.81

Casey

228

102

11

0

10.78

Inge

251

126

19

8

8.73

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Bullpen

Everybody is talking about the quote by Jim Leyland about the starters and the bullpen:
"Everybody's focusing on the bullpen," Leyland said, "and the fact of the matter is, we need more innings from our starters. Everybody's zeroed in on the bullpen and picking on the bullpen. I'm not picking on anybody, nor am I mad at any starters or mad at any bullpen guys. These are peaks and valleys in baseball, and you go through these. And the worst thing you can do is panic. I think it's wrong for everybody to focus on the bullpen."
Other bloggers have already done a good job discussing the quote so I'll point you to them. Eric analyzes the quote on D-Town Tigers. He illustrates that Tigers relievers have pitched 33.4% of the team's innings which is the second lowest percent in the division. They are just slightly behind the Indians bullpen which has pitched 32.6% of their teams innings. He also points out that the 2007 Tigers bullpen is very close to the 2006 Tigers bullpen which was at 32.6%.

Kurt at Mack Avenue says that Leyland is wrong and that the focus should be on the bullpen. He says that the Tigers 5.33 bullpen ERA is the worst in baseball. At the same time the Tigers starters have a very respectable 4.00 ERA.

Ian at Bless You Boys thinks it is time to make a trade for some relief help.

I, of course, agree with all of them. I think Leyland agrees too and is just trying to take the pressure off the bullpen. It would be nice if the starters could pitch more innings but, as Eric says, the bullpen is not pitching an unusual number of innings. The starters can't go 8 innings every night so the bullpen is going to remain a problem. I suspect Ian will get his wish for bullpen help within the next few weeks.

What is Samara saying about the Tigers bullpen? Well, she is so disgusted she would rather talk about beetles. She has an unusual but interesting scholarly article on beetles, baseball and information theory on MVN. I'm not going to try to explain it. Just read it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tigers Lose it in Ninth

Elijah Dukes chopped a single into left field off Todd Jones scoring two runs in the ninth inning tonight as the Devil Rays Edged the Tigers 6-5. Chad Durbin had another solid if unspectacular start allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in 6 innings. He has now allowed 3 earned runs or fewer in 7 consecutive starts. He left with a 5-2 lead but, once again, the bullpen did not get the job done.

Zach Miner allowed a run in the 7th to make it 5-3. That was not all his fault as Curtis Granderson made a questionable decision diving for a shallow fly and turning a single into a triple. Jim Leyland made like Tony LaRussa using 4 different pitchers for 4 different batters in the 8th. One run scored to make it 5-4. Again the defense was partly at fault as Mike Rabelo threw wild to second on a stolen base attempt. The big culprit tonight though was the usually reliable Todd Jones. He allowed two singles, a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk before giving up the winning hit to Dukes.

Offensively, the Tigers had 11 hits and 4 walks but hit into 2 doubleplays and left 7 men on base. Gary Sheffield had a good night with a home run, 2 walks and 2 stolen bases. I actually have been more impressed with Sheffield's base running than anything else he has done this year. I did not realize he was such a good base runner. Magglio Ordonez, Mike Rabelo and Omar Infante each had 2 hits for the Tigers.

Tomorrow night, it will be Jeremy Bonderman versus Casey Fossum. Hopefully, they will get a lot of innings out of Bonderman to minimize the use of the bullpen.

Tigers Swept by Indians

The Indians completed a three game sweep at Comerica Park by dropping the Tigers 5-3 last night. The Tigers outhit the Indians 9-6 but the Indians made better use of their hits. Cleveland got 4 of their hits in a 4 run first inning against Mike Maroth. Maroth settled down after that and made it through 8 innings allowing 5 runs on 6 hits. Jim Leyland said during the game that the Tigers needed to get more innings out of their starters so at least they got that.

The Tigers had many chances to score against Fausto Carmona but they left 9 men on base. Leading the Tigers attack were Craig Monroe, Gary Sheffield and Omar Infante with 2 hits apiece. One thing we learned from this series is that the Tigers are not going to score 7 runs every night and that they will need to get more out of their depleted pitching staff.

The sweep left the Tigers in second place two and a half games behind the Indians. They start a three game series at Tampa Bay tonight at 7:10. It will be Chad Durbin, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson against Edwin Jackson, Casey Fossum and James Shields.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tigers Lose Again, Injuries Mount.

The Tigers lost their second straight game to the Indians 6-3 this afternoon. Justin Verlander left after 6 innings with a 3-2 lead but the bullpen could not hold it. The Indians tied it 3-3 in the 7th when Bobby Seay gave up a triple to Grady Sizemore and a double to Casey Blake. Jason Grilli then got torched for 3 runs in the 8th to make it 6-3. He allowed a 2 run homer to David Dellucci and then left the game after Ryan Garko lined a double off his knee. Garko eventually scored when Tim Byrdak allowed a single and a sacrifice fly.

Seay? Grilli ? Byrdak? Why are these guys pitching key roles for a contender in the biggest series of the year so far? Injuries continue to mount and the bullpen is getting to be a big problem. They lost another reliever when Fernando Rodney was placed on the 15 day disabled list with biceps tendonitis. It's not supposed to be serious but any kind of arm injury to a pitcher is always concern. He was replaced on the roster by Zach Miner.

They now have the following pitchers to pitch between the starters and closer Todd Jones: Tim Byrdak, Bobby Seay, Wil Ledezma, Jason Grilli (who I suspect will miss some time after being hit in the knee today), Zach Miner and Jose Mesa. That is not the bullpen you would expect from a championship team. Many fans have pointed out that the Tigers have done well despite the injuries and the loss of Jamie Walker and they are right. However, they have won despite the bullpen rather than because of it.

The bullpen becomes less important when you are pounding the ball as they have been doing this month. While their offense is improved this year, they can't be expected to keep up at the same pace of recent weeks all year long. Once they start getting locked up in some lower scoring games against strong teams, the bullpen weakness will likely become more obvious. I said before that I believe that Dave Dombrowski will look for bullpen help outside the organization at some point and I still believe that will be the case.

And if the pitching injuries were not enough, Placido Polanco left the game with a strained oblique muscle today. He is listed as day to day and there is no indication that it is serious but oblique strains can linger so stay tuned. Losing Polanco for an extended period would likely mean a lot of at bats for Neifi Perez which is not a good thing.

Game 3 of the series will be tomorrow night on ESPN and will feature Fausto Carmona versus Mike Maroth.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Indians Top Tigers in Game One

The Tigers lost the first game of their much awaited series with the Indians 7-4. Nate Robertson failed to make it through 6 innings for the 4th straight start. He allowed 5 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in 5 2/3 innings. Three of the hits were homers by Casey Blake, Victor Martinez and Josh Barfield. The Tigers were down 5-1 when he left the game.

The Tigers closed the gap to 5-3 with two runs in the bottom of the 6th on doubles by Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen and a single by Ivan Rodriguez. Craig Monroe then lined a homer to left leading off the 7th to make it 5-4. Monroe had earlier been robbed of a three run homer in the second when Jason Michaels reached over the fence and pulled in a long fly. A comeback was looking very possible but they stopped at 4 runs. The Indians added two runs in the 9th for the 7-4 final.

Wil Ledezma was sharp tonight. He ended the 6th with a strikeout and pitched two scoreless innings before leaving with two outs in the 8th. Tim Byrdak ended that inning with a strikeout. However, Byrdak started the 9th by walking Blake and allowing a triple to Travis Hafner who eventually scored on a sarifice fly.

One of the best parts of the night was listening to Ernie Harwell who subbed for Rod Allen for the second straight game. Ernie will always be the voice of summer and I'm always a kid again when I hear him. Unfortunately, he did not do any play by play but he was a great story teller as always.

The lost put the Indians in first place a half game ahead of the Tigers. The Tigers will try to regain the lead in game 2 of the series which will be on Fox at 3:55 tomorrow afternoon. Unfortunately, many won't be able to see it as 92% of the country including much of the midwest will be shown another game. Thankfully, it is supposed to be aired in Boston so I'll be able to see it. It should be a great matchup between Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sabermetrics Versus Fantasy Baseball

Robert Sanchez, who writes for the Denver Post and has a blog about fantasy baseball on the Denver Post web site, asked me to write a piece for his blog. In the article, I talk about the difference between sabermetrics and fantasy baseball, a distinction which is often misunderstood by those who are not so statistically inclined.

The Big Rivalry

The Tigers and Indians are natural geographical rivals as much as the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. They should have a history of great races and bitter battles. Their fans should hate each other with a passion. An Indians versus Tigers series should be anticipated the same way as a Cubs versus Cardinals series or even a Yankees versus Red Sox series. The problem is Detroit and Cleveland have not been good in the same season for a long long time.

The rivalry got off to a pretty good start in 1908 when the Tigers won the pennant on the final game of the season finishing a half game ahead of the Indians. The reason for the half game was a Tiger rain out that was never made up. It was after that season that the rules about postponed games changed so that games would be made up if they had a bearing on the title.

In 1910, there was no pennant race but there was a historic batting race. Ty Cobb battled with Nap Lajoie up to the final game of the season. The champion was going to win a new Chalmers automobile. Strangely, there was no agreement on the exact batting averages. It was only known that Cobb had the lead and he sat out the last two games thinking he had already won it.

While Cobb rested, Nap Lajoie had a doubleheader versus the St. Louis Browns on the last day of the season. Lajoie was liked and respected by most people in the game while Cobb was disliked by most. Brown's manager Jack O'Conner, who hated Cobb as much as anybody, ordered his third baseman to play deep and it resulted in six bunt singles and an apparent batting title for Lajoie.

League statisticians then determined that Cobb actually won the title by .0007. Chalmers ended up giving cars to both of them but the controversy would not die for more than 70 years. In 1981, The Sporting News researchers Paul McFarlane and Pete Palmer came across a duplicate two hit game for Cobb and determined that Lajoie was the actual batting titlist .384 to .383. However, this notion was rejected by commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Cobb remained the official batting title winner even though Lajoie had a higher batting average.

There has not been much to crow about in terms of a rivalry between the teams though. The Indians were strong in the early 20s and won the World Series in 1920. The Tigers finished 37 games behind that year. When the Tigers were winning pennants in 1934 and 1935, the Indians finished 16 and 12 games behind.

1940 was a good year for both teams. Hank Greenberg had a monster year and The Tigers won the pennant by one game over the Indians and two over the Yankees. It didn't last long though as both the Tigers and Indians fell below .500 the following year. When the Tigers won another pennant in 1945, the Indians finished 11 games back.

In 1950, both teams won over 90 games and finished within 6 games of the pennant winning Yankees. Again, it was just a one year thing as the teams went in different directions after that. The Indians won 90+ games from 1951-1955 including a 111 win season in 1954 when they won the pennant. Meanwhile, the Tigers finished well below .500 during those years.

Since 1950, there's been no rivalry to speak of at all. When the Tigers won 101 games and finished in second place in 1961, the Indians were below .500. From 1964-1973, the Tigers won 85+ games all but one year and had a championship and a division title to show for it. At the same time, the Indians lagged behind and usually finished under .500. The Tigers had winning records every year from 1978 to 1988 but again the Indians almost always had losing records.

Cleveland would finally have their day in the 90s. They won 6 division titles between 1994 and 2001. As luck would have it though, this was one of the bleakest periods in Tigers history. After a few years of building, the Indians were back to 93 wins in 2005 but the Tigers won only 71. After years of futilty, the Tigers finally rose to the top again in 2006 winning 95 games and a pennant. However, Cleveland fell back to 78 wins.

Finally, in 2007, it looks like we might finally have something. The Tigers (29-17) and the Indians (28-17) are one two in the AL Central. Both teams are hot and figure to stay in the race all year. The midwest rivalry which had been dormant for generations is finally getting ready to erupt. Comerica Park will be rocking all weekend.

Tigers Rout Angels

Jeremy Bonderman came off the disabled list and pitched 8 shutout innings as the Tigers blanked the Angels 12-0 this afternoon. Bonderman struggled with his control early in the game allowing 5 walks and hitting a batter. He loaded the bases twice in the first 4 innings but worked out of it both times. He cruised through the last 4 innings allowing just 4 hits in all and actually kept his pitch count under 100 despite all the walks.

Bonderman got plenty of hitting support for a change. The amazing Magglio Ordonez continued his torrid hitting going 4 for 4 with 3 more doubles, 3 runs and 3 RBI. He now leads the league in doubles (23), extra base hits (35), slugging (.710), RBI (45) and runs (42). Carlos Guillen also had a big day smashing 2 home runs and driving in 5 runs. Gary Sheffield added a homer and single and Curtis Granderson contributed a double and a single.

Having taken 2 out 3 from the west division leading Angels. the Tigers now face Cleveland in a big three game series between the top two teams in the Central. Tomorrow night, it will be Nate Robertson versus Paul Byrd.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tigers Outslug Angels.

Last night, the Tigers had 14 base runners and hit a lot of other balls hard but they were held to 3 runs by spectacular Angels Fielding. Tonight, they hit the ball solidly again but this time they found some gaps and cleared some fences and beat the Angels 8-7. Magglio Ordonez led the way with his 11th and 12th homers of the year and Carlos Guillen and Curtis Granderson had one apiece. Tigers with multiple hits were Pudge Rodriguez with 3 and Granderson, Ordonez, Placido Polanco and Sean Casey with 2 apiece.

Chad Durbin did not pitch great tonight but left with a 6-3 lead in the 6th. The struggling Jason Grilli came in with a man on second and nobody out in the 6th and got the Angels down 1-2-3 and also pitched a perfect 7th. Jose Mesa entered in the 8th and continued to pitch poorly giving up a 3 run homer to Mike Napoli to make it 7-6. He then gave up a triple to Howie Kendrick but Tim Byrdak put out the fire by striking out Chone Figgins. Todd Jones gave up his usual 2 singles in the 9th but once again held on to get the save.

After his first three starts (See Table 1 below), most fans assumed that Durbin and his 10.54 ERA would get removed from the rotation and everyone was guessing who would replace him. Would it be Andrew Miller? Virgil Vasquez? Zach Miner ? Would Will Ledezma become a starter again?

A month later, Durbin is still in the rotation and his job appears safe. He has not dazzled anybody but has allowed 3 runs or fewer in each of his last 6 starts (see Table 2 below). His 21/16 K/BB ratio in those games is not impressive and he has been quite wild at times. One difference between the first three games and the last six games is GB/FB ratio. It was 20/23 in the first 3 and 57/30 in the last 6. It has translated into fewer hits and a 2.52 ERA in his last 35 2/3 innings.

Table 1: Durbin's First Three Games

Date

Opp

IP

H

ER

BB

SO

GB/FB

ERA

4/9

@Chi

4.2

9

6

1

5

7/7

11.59

4/14

Bal

4

8

6

1

2

6/8

13.50

4/20

@KC

5

3

4

4

2

7/8

7.20

Total


13.2

20

16

6

9

20/23

10.54



Table 2: Durbin's Last Six Games

Date

Opp

IP

H

ER

BB

SO

GB/FB

ERA

4/25

@Chi

8

3

0

0

9

8/5

0.00

5/1

Bal

3.2

3

2

6

1

9/2

4.92

5/6

@KC

7.2

6

2

0

3

11/7

2.35

5/12

@Min

6

7

2

3

1

12/5

3.00

5/17

@Bos

5.1

3

1

5

4

10/6

1.69

5/23

Ana

5

8

3

1

3

7/5

5.40

Total


35.2

30

10

16

21

57/30

2.52


Tomorrow afternoon, Jeremy Bonderman comes off the disabled list after missing two starts with a blister problem. He will be opposed by Ervin Santana who is notoriously bad on the road.

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