Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No Deadline Deals for Tigers

It was a pretty busy 24 hours leading up to the trade deadline with players such as Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne, Octavio Dotel, Rob Mackowiak, Wilson Betemit, Luis Castillo, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Matt Morris changing uniforms. Even Will Ledezma was traded for the second time this summer. The Tigers were not involved in any of the action however. They looked hard for a reliever inquiring about names such as Gagne, Dotel, Chad Cordero, Jon Rauch, Salamone Torres and others. In the end, Dave Dombrowski decided that teams were asking for too much and was not able to complete a deal.

As it turned out, the hottest Tigers trade rumors of the day involved a shortstop rather than a pitcher. There were some rumblings about the Tigers acquiring Jack Wilson from the Pirates. Some of the Wilson rumors also involved Pirates relievers such as Torres and Damaso Marte. I am happy that the Tigers did not get Wilson because he is a terrible hitter and only a decent (not great) fielder and has two years left on his contract. This year he would have just been a backup infielder but, considering his pretty hefty contract, I was concerned that they would try to turn him into a starter in the future and that was not a pleasant thought.

There is still the possibility of a waiver deal but that's hard to do as quality players don't usually pass through waivers. So, for now, they will wait for the returns of Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya to solidy their bullpen. There is no guarantee they will come back at full strength but, if they do, it will be a big boost. Probably a bigger boost than they realistically could have gotten from a deadline deal.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tigers Crushed by Angels

Tonight was probably the least enjoyable game of the year to watch and I don't feel like writing much. Here are some quick notes on their 13-4 loss:
  • Bonderman had absolutely nothing tonight and gave up 11 runs in 2 1/3 innings. His ERA rose from 3.69 to 4.33. That about explains it all.
  • Ryan Raburn played in place of Craig Monroe today and went 2 for 4 to raise his batting average to .387 in 31 at bats. I hope he continues to get regular at bats.
  • Curtis Granderson got his 17th triple and moved closer to 20-20-20-20. He also has 29 doubles, 16 homers and 13 steals. Only 2 other players in the history of baseball have reached the quadruple 20: Willie Mays in 1957 and Frank "Wildfire" Schulte in 1911.
  • The Indians lost 4-1 to the Twins today so the Tigers are still in first despite their horrible 3-8 stretch.

Rogers to DL, Tata Recalled

According to Jon Paul Morosi of the Free Press, Kenny Rogers was placed on the disabled list today with left elbow inflammation. Rogers originally came back strong from surgery for a blood clot that caused him to miss most of the first half of the season. In his first three starts, he allowed just 2 earned runs in in 17 1/3 innings. However, he allowed 17 runs over 15 innings in his last 3 starts and did not have his usual good control. Also, Billfer used enhanced game day charts to show that Rogers did not have as much movement on his pitches in his last start as he did in one of his earlier good starts. I mentioned after his last start that he did not seem to be a full strength and apparently that was the case. Overall, he had a 5.32 ERA in his 6 starts.

Jordan Tata was recalled from Toledo to take his place on the roster and will get his first Major League start on Monday night at Oakland. After missing several weeks at the beginning of the season with a sore shoulder, the 25 year old right-hander posted a 3.29 ERA in 11 starts and had a 30/19 K/BB ratio in 63 innings pitched. Tata had a 6.14 ERA in 14 2/3 innings for the Tigers last year after jumping from A ball to the opening day Major League roster.

Tata was ranked by Baseball America as the 5th best Tigers prospect at the beginning of the year. He has a low 90s fastball, a good knuckle curve and a change-up. He does not have dominating stuff as evidenced by his low K/IP ratio this year so he needs to have good control.

As for Rogers, it sounds as if he will return this year but I'm not counting on him being a major contributor down the stretch. With their bullpen already paper thin, the injury to Rogers and the struggles of Nate Robertson are now creating concerns about the starting staff for the rest of the season. At 42 years old and his contract up after the season, the left-hander's future is also in doubt.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Another Bullpen Collapse for Tigers

Andrew Miller was his usual difficult to hit but wild self today allowing 5 singles and walking 4 and leaving with a 3-1 lead and one man on in the 6th. Miller did not over throw as he had in his last start. In fact, in an interview during the game, Jim Leyland suggested that Miller might not have been letting it out enough avoiding his 4 seam fastball which he had trouble controlling in his last start. After all was said and done though, I though it was another decent start for a developing 22 year old pitcher.

Jason Grilli came into the game when Miller left and predictably allowed the inherited runner and one other runner to score and the game was tied 3-3 after 6. Then Grilli, Tim Byrdak and Jose Capellan combined to give up 7 runs in the 8th and all of the a sudden it was a blow out. They lost 10-3 to the Angels.

The Tigers starters have not pitched well lately with only one quality start during their 3-7 road trip but it's their bullpen that has been the big problem all year. After compiling a 3.50 ERA in 2006, Tiger relievers have a 4.81 ERA this year which ranks third worst in the league. They have lost Jamie Walker, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney from last year's team and have not been able to find any replacements with any significant track record of success.

Tim Byrdak, Zach Miner, Bobby Seay, Macay McBride, Chad Durbin, Bobby Seay, Jose Capellan and even Jason Grilli have all pitched well at times. Any of these pitchers could play a role at he back end of a bullpen. Most successful bullpens have one or two "spring training invite" types who capture lightning in a bottle for one year but you can't have a whole bullpen of guys like that. As a group, they have really pitched about as well as you could expect.

So where do they go from here? Todd Jones is their closer for better or for worse. He is far from dominant and you can't bring him in with men on base or have him pitch more than one inning but he is adequate for the closer role even if he scares the hell out of you in most of his appearances.

Fernando Rodney was ineffective early this season but his poor performance is believed (hoped?) to be injury related. He is now rehabbing in Toledo where he pitched a scoreless inning last night. He is expected back in Detroit some time next week. If he can get back to where he was last year when he compiled a 3.52 ERA in 71 2/3 innings, that would be a big boost.

Joel Zumaya is also on the comeback trail. The Tigers let him cut loose for the first time yesterday and he said he threw in the upper 90s and felt good. He is still probably about a month away. They have obviously missed him a lot and he would solve a lot of problems if he could get back to his dominant self down the stretch. Would the successful return of Rodney and Zumaya be enough to get them back to the playoffs. I think it would be.

The question is whether they can return to their old selves this year. I'm not all that confident that they can, only because it's never easy for a pitcher to return from a significant injury. Can they make the playoffs without them being 100%? I don't have a sense of impending doom but I'm less confident this year than I was last year at this time. They are still in first place and have a 5 game lead in the wild card race as I type but their bullpen makes me really nervous.

Should they make a trade to upgrade their bullpen? That's difficult to answer because it would be costly. Cameron Maybin is out of the question. It would also be tough to part with a Jair Jurrjens or a Dallas Trahern for a set up man but I think that's what it will take. The organization appears to have a bright future so it's probably not a make a break year. Things can change quickly in this game though and they may not get the post-season opportunity again in the next couple of years. I think they need to consider trading a minor league pitcher or two for a dependable reliever.

By most accounts they are looking for help even if Leyland and Dave Dombrowski claim they don't need really need to do anything. They are rumored to be talking to Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Washington, Houston and others. However, there has been no indication that anything is imminent. I don't expect a panic deal but I'm still predicting something will happen involving a good pitching prospect. We'll see.

Bonds Hits 754, Sheffield Speaks

Barry Bonds hit career homer number 754 in the Giants' 12-10 victory over the Marlins yesterday. After his home run, he was then walked 4 straight times. The home run left him one short of Hank Aaron's career record.

As usual Gary Sheffield had something to say about the situation:

``Bud Selig is making himself the face of the steroid era,'' Sheffield told USA Today. ``Why doesn't Bud Selig tell the truth? Why does he keep lying and saying he doesn't know nothing about nothing? It's a bunch of hogwash. It's a cop-out. He knew everything (about steroids) we knew.


``Bud Selig wants to talk about the integrity of the game? To him, the integrity of the game is how much money they make.''

From my view as an outsider, it's hard to disagree with what Sheffield is saying. As a fan, I'm not happy to see one of the greatest players in the history of the game be made the scapegoat for an industry-wide problem. I'd rather see them try to put steroid problems in the past and move forward. Baseball should be celebrating this chase rather than fighting it.

It's also very difficult for me to believe that Selig and MLB did not know what was going on in regards to steroids. And I'm certain that the sport has profited nicely from the home run explosion in the game. The steroid issue does not begin or end with Barry Bonds. There is plenty of blame to be shared.

Sheffield said later that he does not want to talk about it anymore and wants to concentrate on winning a championship:
"There's going to be a lot of things talked about and said, and when it comes to this type of stuff, I'm not going to even talk about it anymore", Sheffield said before the Tigers' game against Anaheim.

"I want to take this ballclub to a championship,'' Sheffield said. ``I'm not going to focus on outside distractions. Whatever I can do to take distractions out, I'm going to do, even if I have to sacrifice speaking out on certain things. This is more important. This team is more important than anything for me.''
As Danny Knobler said, we will see how long that lasts.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Runs Created Update

One of my favorite summary stats for hitters is Runs Created (RC). RC is an estimate of a team's runs which were produced by an individual player. Runs created is calculated from the number of walks, singles, doubles, triples, homeruns and other things that a player does to score runs. Bill James showed in his Baseball Abstracts many years ago that runs created is highly correlated with runs scored. This tells us that runs scored are essentially the sum of other team statistics and are not, in general, accounted for by unmeasured factors. There are many runs created formulas but they all have the same basic structure:

RC= (A*B)/C

where A= number of runners on base, B=advancement of runners and C=opportunities to do A and B.

One of the first runs created formulas was developed by Bill James in 1979. It was simply:

RC= ((hits+walks)*total bases)/(ab+walks).


This version is still useful for some purposes but the formula has evolved over the years and more recent versions are more accurate in estimating runs scored. Sabermetrician DanFox gave a brief history of runs created on his blog. The RC figures presented here were abstracted from the ESPN database. I believe the formula they use is:


RC = (((2.4*C+A)*(3*C+B))/(9*C))-(.9*C)


where

A = H+BB+HBP-CS-GIDP
B = TB+.24*(BB-IBB+HBP)+.62*SB+.5*(SH+SF)-.03*SO
C = AB+BB+HBP+SH+SF


Table 1 below lists the RC for Detroit Tigers batters and where they rank among American League regulars as of July 26.

Table 1: RC for Detroit Tigers as of July 26

League Rank

Player

RC

2

Ordonez

86.3

3

Granderson

80.5

5

Sheffield

79.9

21

Guillen

63.0

25

Polanco

61.3

65

Inge

45.4

70

Casey

43.5

81

Rodriguez

39.7

109

Monroe

29.3

125

Thames

21.6


As you can see, the Tigers have 3 players in the top 5 and 5 in the top 25 so it's no surprise that they lead the league in runs scored.

RC favors players who play in a lot of games. This is not a bad thing but sometimes we want to know the rate in which a player creastes runs in games that he does play. For this, we have Runs Created per 27 outs (RC27). For example, Magglio Ordonez has 9.06 RC27. Theoretically, this means that a team of 9 Magglio Ordonez's would score 9.06 runs per game. Table 2 lists the RC27 figures for Tigers and how they rank among 90 American League regulars with 3.1 or more plate appearances per game.

Table 2: RC27 for Detroit Tigers as of July 26

League

Rank

Player

RC27

2

Ordonez

9.06

7

Sheffield

8.02

9

Granderson

7.73

20

Guillen

6.83

27

Polanco

6.42

49

Casey

5.25

57

Inge

4.86

77

Rodriguez

4.27

88

Monroe

3.16

--

Thames

4.70

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ryan Raburn on Fire

Photo Credit: Roger Dewitt

After spending many years in the minors trying to stay healthy and trying even harder to find a position, Ryan Raburn is getting a chance to play in the majors right in the middle of a pennant race. The former infielder turned outfielder has been making the most of his opportunity and today he had a game that he'll never forget. In a game where everybody was hitting for both teams, Ryan burned brightest in the Tigers 13-9 victory. He smashed two homers, a double and a single and drove home 7 runs in 5 at bats.

Many internet fans insisted that Raburn and not Timo Perez should have gotten the starts when Marcus Thames went down and Craig Monroe was not ready to return from his back problem. It's starting to look like we just may have been right. He has 10 hits in 20 at bats including 3 homers and 2 doubles and has 10 RBI in his limited action. He will likely start tomorrow against the lefty John Danks. After that, I'm not sure. Jim Leyland is very loyal to his veterans and I don't know if he would bump craig Monroe from his regular role to give Raburn more of an opportunity. We'll see.

It was another bad start for a Tigers pitcher tonight. Kenny Rogers got shelled for 7 runs on 7 hits including 4 homers in 4 innings. It was the third rough game in a row for Rogers which suggests to me he might not be quite at full strength yet despite his initial success upon returning from surgery. It was also the 6th straight game in which a Tigers starter did not get a quality start. Jason Grill was his usual shaky self giving up 2 runs in 3 innings. The one bright spot for the pitching staff was Tim Byrdak's successful return from the disabled list. He pitched 2 perfect innings to close it out.

Another big contributor to the Tigers 19 hit attack was Mike Rabelo who had 3 hits for the second straight night. Brandon Inge added 3 hits of his own and Curtis Granderson had 2 hits and 3 runs scored. However, there was no doubt that this night belonged to 26 year old rookie Ryan Raburn without a Y.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tigers Swept by White Sox

For some reason, I never even considered that the Tigers might lose two to the White Sox today but they got swept 5-3 and 8-7. In game one, Javier Vazquez held them to 3 runs on 4 hits in 8 innings and out pitched Bonderman for the victory. Bonderman managed to get through 7 innings but was not too sharp today. He allowed 5 run on 8 hits including an uncharacteristic 2 home runs to Paul Konerko and Josh Fields. Curtis Granderson led the Tigers lackluster attack with a double and a homer in 4 trips. Ivan Rodriguez added his 9th homer.

In game 2, the Tigers built up a 7-1 lead by the 6th inning thanks to the play of 4 rookies. Virgil Vazquez pitched 5 solid innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits including a couple of solo homers. The second one knocked him out in the 6th inning. he was supported by Mike Hessman, Mike Rabelo and Ryan Raburn who combined for 6 hits on the night - 3 for Rabelo, 2 for Raburn and a booming home run by Hessman. Vazquez was not helped by relievers Macay McBride, Chad Durbin and Zach Miner who allowed 6 runs in 3 innings. The biggest blows were a 3 run homer by Jim Thome in the 6th and an RBI single by Podsednik in the 8th. The winning run scored on an error by Carlos Guillen in the 8th.

The good news is that the Indians lost to the Red Sox 1-0 today and are still 1 1/2 behind the Tigers. The Tigers will attempt to even up the series tomorrow night when Kenny Rogers faces Jose Contreras.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tigers Take Opener from White Sox

The Tigers won the opener of their five game series versus the White Sox 9-6 behind the big bat of Curtis Granderson tonight. It's late so I'll just post some quick notes:

Curtis Granderson went 3 for 3 with a single, double, home run, walk and 4 RBI versus left-hander Mark Buerhlre. His double likely would have been a 3 run triple but it bounced over the fence for a ground rule double. Granderson slumped badly last summer but this year does not look like a repeat as he is batting .367 this month.

Andrew Miller was very wild allowing 5 runs on 10 hits and 5 walks in just 4 1/3 innings. He also threw 111 pitches and was over throwing badly in the 5th inning. His last 2 pitches sailed all the way to the backstop. I think Jim Leyland may have left him in a couple of batters too long but he was probably hoping to get him through 5 with the double header coming up tomorrow.

Mike Hessman got his first start right away and had 2 singles including a 2 run blooper to right in the 7th which put them ahead 7-6.

Other than some wildness by Jason Grilli, the bullpen was pretty solid allowing 1 run on one hit and 3 walks over 4 1/3 innings. Macay McBride, Bobby Seay, Zach Miner and Todd Jones all contributed.

Tomorrow, it will be Jeremy Bonderman and Virgil Vazquez (who will be called up from Toledo tomorrow) versus Javier Vazquez and Gavin Floyd.

Hessman Up, Perez Down

The Tigers purchased the contract of infielder Mike Hessman from Toledo and optioned out Timo Perez today. Hessman is a 29 year old right-handed batter who plays first base and third base. With Craig Monroe now healthy, the Tigers had more need for a backup infielder than outfielder. Hessman will serve as Sean Casey's backup and, if he stays around long enough, may spell Brandon Inge at third on occasion.

Hessman is a long time minor leaguer who had brief opportunities with the Braves in 2003-2004. In 90 Major League at bats, he is batting .167 with 4 home runs. He did hit for a lot of power for Toledo this year clubbing 27 home runs and putting up a .256/.352/.551 line in 97 games. The move means that Billfer will not have to write an article explaining why Perez should not be taking at bats away from Ryan Raburn.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Detroit Tigers Prospect Report - July 22, 2007

During the course of the year, I will be giving statistical updates and other information on the Tigers organization. I will cover all the consensus top prospects as well as other noteworthy perfomers. For daily recaps and other news on Tigers prospects, check out Matt Wallace's Take 75 North and Mike Cassidy's Tigers Minor League Blog. In a recent article, Matt discussed some the top infield prospects in the Tigers system.

My team by team updates are listed below:


Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) 57-44

Still trying to regain his stroke, Chris Shelton is hitting .274/.391/.429.

Infielder Jack Hannahan has always been a good defender and has improved offensively this year. He is batting .310/.428/.513 with a 59/70 BB/K ratio in 277 at bats. He is a 27 year old left-handed batter who can play second base and third base.

Virgil Vasquez now has a 1.12 ERA in his last 4 starts including a complete game shutout on Tuesday. He has a 3.82 ERA 99/26 K/BB ratio in 115 1/3 innings.

Long time minor leaguer Mike Hessman has 27 homers and .551 slugging percentage in 97 games. Hessman is 29 years old and can play third base or first base.

Brent Clevlen had a horrible start but has done better since returning from his finger injury. He has hit .288 with 5 homers in his last 13 games. He is batting .230/.304/.390 for the season.

After missing the first part of the season with a sore shoulder, Jordan Tata has a 3.60 ERA in 10 starts.

Erie Sea Wolves (AA) 54-44

Jeff Larish is batting .291 with a .996 OPS this month. For the season , he is hitting .244/.365/.483 with a 56/84 BB/K ratio.

Second baseman Michael Hollimon is hitting for a better average after a slow start and continues to draw walks. He is batting .272/.373/.452 with a 46/79 K/BB ratio.

Outfielder Clete Thomas is batting .328 with a .403 OBP in 174 bats since June 1. He is batting .283/.370/.402 for the season.

21 year old Jair Jurrjens has a 3.81 ERA and 70/30 K/BB ratio in 89 2/3 innings.

Dallas Trahern has slowed down after a sizzling start but is still having a solid season. He has a 3.64 ERA in 118 2/3 innings including one start for Toledo. He has only 66 strikeouts but a very high 2.62 GO/AO.

21 year old outfielder Wilken Ramirez has gone 0 for 8 in 2 games since being moved up to replace Andres Torres who went to Toledo when the Tigers recalled Timo Perez. Ramirez was batting just .271/.314/.413 for Lakeland and will likely be moved back there at some point.

Lakeland (A+) 1st half: 29-41 2nd half: 12-15

Cameron Maybin is out for a couple of weeks with a partially dislocated shoulder but the Tigers don't expect it to be a long term problem. Those who were expecting him to fly through the system may be a little disappointed but he is having a good season for a 20 year old. He is batting .302/.395/.464 with 23 stolen bases. One negative is his high strikeout rate - 77 K in 265 at bats. Also, his OPS has dropped as the season has moved along -1.033 in April, .820 in May and .764 in June/July.

25 year old infielder/outfielder Ovandy Suero leads the league with 63 stolen bases in 78 games.

23 year old outfielder Michael Hernandez is batting .271/.333/.513 with 17 homers in 90 games.

23 year old first baseman Ryan Roberson is batting .299/.347/.553 with 14 homers in 264 at bats but is currently on the disabled list.

Second round draft pitch Danny Worth was surprisingly placed on the Lakeland roster right out of college. The shortstop is batting .213 in 13 games.

Burke Badenhop has a 3.17 ERA along with just 30 walks and a 1.91 GO/AO ratio in 110 2/3 innings pitched. He pitched 7 shutout innings in his last start on Thursday.

21 year old Lucas French has a 3.48 ERA and a 68/26 K/BB ratio in 106 innings.

24 year old Angel Castro has a 3.24 ERA with 30 walks and a 1.58 GO/AO ratio in 102 2/3 innings for West Michigan and Lakeland combined.

West Michigan (A) 1st half: 38-32 2nd half: 20-9

20 year old Gorkys Hernandez has slowed a bit after a strong start but is batting .291/.343/.373 with 36 stolen bases. He also is reportedly a strong defensive center fielder.

Speedy 23 year old outfielder Deik Scram is batting an impressive .327/.416/.447 with 14 stolen bases.

21 year old left-handed batting catcher James Skelton is hitting .324/.396/.461 in 241 at bats.

Scott Sizemore was off to a slow start but is batting .385/.452/.625 in his last 27 games. For the season, he is hitting .271/.387/.411 with an impressive 55/44 BB/K ratio. A promotion to AA could happen before the end of the season.

21 year old lefty Duane Below has a 3.82 ERA with 110 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings.

Closer Brett Jensen has a 1.94 ERA and 41/6 K/BB ratio in 41 2/3 innings.

21 year old left-hander Charles Furbush allowed 1 run in 5 innings in his first start for West Michigan after being promoted from the GCL Tigers.

Oneonta Tigers (A-) 18-14

Third baseman Ron Bourquin, who batted just .192 in 78 at bats for Lakeland, is hitting .304 in 79 at bats for the GCL Tigers.

22 year old second baseman and recent draft pick Justin Henry is batting .348/.454/.461 in 24 games.

Another recent pick, 22 year old catcher Devin Thomas, is batting .250 with 5 homers in 26 games.

21 year old third baseman Cory Middleton is batting .283/.360/.404 in 99 at bats.

23 year old Venezuelan Guillermo Moscoso has a 1.49 ERA and 33/8 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings.


GCL Tigers (Rookie) 15-13

19 year old second baseman Heyden Parrott is batting .341/.366/.443 in 88 at bats.

22 year old outfielder Luis Arlet is batting .307/.352/.485 in 101 at bats.

21 year old shortstop Roger Tomas is batting .304/.364/.420 in 69 at bats.

19 year old lefty and recent draft pick Aaron Fuhrman has a 4.50 ERA and 32 K in 28 innings.

Tigers Stopped by Royals

Tigers fans were flying high after the Tigers swept the Twins in the dreaded Metrodome earlier this week. After losing 2 of 3 to the last place Royals at home, they have now returned to earth. he Royals won the series finale 5-2 today behind the strong pitching of Brian Bannister who allowed just 1 run on 4 hits in 7 innings. After pitching probably his best game of the year last time out, Tigers starter Nate Robertson allowed 5 runs (4 earned) on 11 hits in 6 innings to take the loss.

Craig Monroe hit a solo homer in the 3rd to put the Tigers on top 1-0 at the time but the Royals scored 2 in the 4th and never lost the lead after that. Monroe's homer was his 2nd in 2 days after going more than 6 weeks with none. Magglio Ordonez drove in their only other run with a double in the 9th. It was Ordonez's 38th double of the year which puts him on a pace for 64. That would break Hank Greenberg's Tigers record of 63 in 1934.

Pending the outcome of the Indians game with the Rangers tonight, The Tigers have a 1 1/2 game lead in the AL Central. They now go back on the road for a 5 game series at Chicago including a doubleheader on Tuesday night. The opening game tomorrow night will match Andrew Miller against Mark Buehrle. Jeremy Bonderman will pitch the first game of Tuesday's twin bill . They will call up a pitcher from the minors to pitch game 2. My guess is that it will be Jordan Tata. Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander will pitch the final 2 games of the series.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stars Defeat Monarchs on Inge Blast.

The Detroit Stars defeated the Kansas City Monarchs tonight on a dramatic 10th inning homer by Brandon Inge. It was a wild game which saw the Stars leading the whole way until Todd Jones allowed 2 runs in the top of the 9th to make it 8-8. In the bottom of the 10th frame, Sean Casey reached first with a one out base hit to center field. Then Brandon Inge followed with a line drive homer to left and was met by a mob scene at the plate. It was the second time this week that Inge won a game with a hit in extra innings. The other one was on Thursday versus the Twins.

Despite the final line of 5 runs in 5 2/3 innings, Justin Verlander actually had some great stuff tonight. A combination of some wicked movement and Pudge Rodriguez not doing a great job blocking the plate led to 3 wild pitches and a passed ball. At least 3 and perhaps 4 of the runs would not have scored if not for the wild pitches and passed ball.

The Tigers have been getting pretty solid relief performances from their patchwork bullpen in recent weeks but today it got a bit sloppy. Jason Grilli got them out of the 6th despite throwing another wild pitch. Macay McBride gave up another run in the 8th to make it 8-6. Todd Jones, then entered the game in the 9th and allowed 3 singles and 2 runs for his 5th blown save of the year. Jones receives a lot of criticism from Stars fans but he had been unscored upon in 9 previous appearances before tonight. Thankfully, Chad Durbin kept the game tied with a perfect 10th giving the Tigers the opportunity to win it in the bottom of the inning.

There were other hitting heroes besides Inge for the Stars tonight. Craig Monroe who had been slumping badly for about 2 months returned from a back problem today to get a double, a homer and 4 RBI. The homer was his first since June 1. Ryan Raburn hit his Major League homer leading off the first inning for the Stars and Placido Polanco added a solo shot in the 7th. Gary Sheffield had 3 hits on the night.

The series finale will take place tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 with Nate Robertson opposing Brian Bannister.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Celebrating Barry Bonds

This has nothing to with the Tigers but the Barry Bonds home run chase is one that all baseball fans are following closely whether they admit it or not and whether they like it or not. After missing 3 games with sore knees, Barry Bonds ended a 0-21 slump with 2 homers (numbers 752 and 753 lifetime) and 6 RBI today. This left him two home runs short of Hank Aaron's record of 755. Unfortunately, for the Giants, it wasn't enough to beat the Cubs who edged them 9-8.

Most of the mainstream media and many of the independent bloggers seem to dislike Bonds very much and don't consider his home run total to be legitimate. My feeling is that it's likely that hundreds of players used steroids over the years and that Major League Baseball did nothing to stop it until recently. I also feel as if baseball was happy with the increased offense which steroids may have produced. Fans love the long ball and baseball was not about to do anything to stop it. That is, until it became a hot topic that threatened to soil the image of the game.

The baseball world, including the media, seems to be focused mostly on Barry Bonds and a few elite sluggers but the problem extends far beyond that. Judging from the results of steroids tests in recent years, it seems clear that many of the users have been marginal players including pitchers. In fact, more pitchers than batters have tested positive. The notion that lesser players stood by and watched while a handful of big sluggers improved their game was always a silly one to me anyway. Professional athletes are extremely competitive individuals and they would not let others get that kind of advantage.

That being said, I do not condone illegal drug use and abhor the idea that many players may have felt pressured to take steroids in order to keep up with the competition. I am very glad that they have some drug testing programs in place with strict penalties. It's not enough because there is no test for Human Growth Hormones and some other drugs. However, I think it at least starts to get the point across that use of steroids is now taboo in professional baseball.

The players, management, media and fans need to move forward now. Nothing can be done to change the past and no one person or small group of people is to blame. For many years now, baseball has been dominated by home runs more than any era before it and it's not just a few players. Just about everybody is a home run threat now. There are many reasons for that - smaller ballparks, smaller strike zones, increased weight training and yes steroids has probably played a role as well. It's just another era like the dead ball era, the 30s era and the 60s era. The "steroids era" has been different and it's been entertaining just like eras before it.

What about the home run record you say? Bonds is going to set the most hallowed of baseball records. It doesn't matter. You can't compare players from different eras using raw statistics anyway. Every era is unique. Players in the early part of the 20th century would lead the league with fewer than 10 homers. The 1960s saw plenty of homers but batting averages hit rock bottom. Steroids use or not, Bonds breaking the home run record does not make him a better home run hitter than Aaron or Babe Ruth. We don't really know who was the best home run hitter. All you can really do is compare players to players of their own era.

The home run record really does not prove anything except that Bonds is probably among the greatest sluggers of all time. The home run race should really just be about entertainment. Bonds is arguably the best all around player of his era and a very entertaining one. He may be the best player who ever played although I still lean towards Babe Ruth in that debate. I enjoy watching Barry Bonds play and I'm going to celebrate the record chase. It's a memorable time in baseball history and we should be savoring it, not be fighting it.

Tigers Sweep Twins in Metrodome

Tigers Sweep Twins in Metrodome: There's a title you don't see too often. I'm not sure when that last happened but the Metrodome has been a thorn in the Tigers side for years. All three games were one run victories: 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 in 10 innings. I was working at home today but only saw bits and pieces of this one. Here are my thoughts:
  • Timo Perez went 1 for 4 with a walk and scored the winning run in his Tigers debut. Given Perez's track record, I'd rather see Ryan Raburn in the line-up but Jim Leyland went with the left-handed batter against the right-handed Scott Baker today. I'm not sure whether or not it will be a strict platoon.
  • Bonderman was fairly sharp for 6 innings (just one run allowed) but ran into trouble in the 7th when he gave up 2 runs. One run scored when Curtis Granderson lost track of the ball against the white dome and it barely landed over the baggy for a home run. I think he would have had it if he been able to see it. It was a typical Metrodome moment.
  • The Tigers bullpen pitched well in another close game. Today, Bobby Seay, Zach Miner and Todd Jones pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
  • Brandon Inge went 2 for 5 and doubled in the eventual game winning run in the 10th. It was good to see him getting a big hit against the very tough Joe Nathan.
  • After a grueling two weeks of games versus playoff contenders and one crazy ballpark, the Tigers go home to face the Royals for a 3 game series. This should be an easy one but we all know it doesn't always work that way.

Thames on DL, Perez Up

That tremendous diving catch that Marcus Thames made in the 8th inning of last night's game will cost him and the Tigers. WXYT is reporting that he has been placed on the 15 day disabled list with a hamstring injury suffered on that play. According to MudHens.com, the Tigers replaced him on the roster by purchasing the contract of Timo Perez from the Toledo MudHens. This promotion will not require an additional 40 man roster move because the recent trade of Roman Colon opened up a spot.

Perez has had a strong year for the MudHens batting .322/.364/.491 in 91 games. He has not had much success in the Majors hitting .262/.301/.373 in 1,581 lifetime at bats with the Mets, White Sox and Cardinals.

It's a shame that Thames hurt himself just when he was starting to play regulary and to hit well. With Craig Monroe nursing a sore back, Ryan Raburn will likely be the starting left-fielder for at least the next couple of games. I wanted to see Raburn get some playing time so this a bad news/good news story.

Update: Danny Knobler is now saying that Perez will start today which is disappointing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Miller, Ordonez Lead Tigers Over Twins

For the second straight night, the Tigers eked out a one run victory in the dreaded Metrodome. This time it was 3-2 versus the always tough Johan Santana. As usual, Andrew Miller was a bit wild but tough to hit. He allowed 4 hits and 4 walks and struck out 5 in 5 innings. The only run he gave up was in the 5th when he loaded the bases on a single and two walks and then hit Justin Morneau with a pitch to force in a run.

Miller left with a 3-1 lead thanks mostly to Magglio Ordonez who knocked in all 3 Tigers runs. Ryan Raburn, playing center field for Curtis Granderson against the left-handed Santana, lead off the 4th inning with a double. Placido Polanco followed with a single and Magglio Ordonez smashed a one out two run double to put the Tigers in front 2-0. Ordonez added a solo homer in the top of the 6th for his 3rd RBI of the game. This was great to see, not only because they needed it tonight, but also because Ordonez had had only two extra base hits since June 19th coming into the game.

Jim Leyland used a parade of 5 relievers - Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay, Chad Durbin, Macay McBride and Todd Jones - to get the team through the last 4 innings. They combined to allow 6 hits and one hit batsman and seemed to be in constant trouble but allowed only one run. It was a frustrating night for the Twins who left 14 men on base. McBride was helped out by Marcus Thames who made a fantastic diving and tumbling catch of a fly ball off the bat of Joe Mauer to end the 8th inning.

With the Indians 5-1 loss to the White Sox today, the Tigers pulled 2 games out in front in the AL Central. The Tigers go for a sweep of the series tomorrow afternoon when Jeremy Bonderman faces Scott Baker

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Robertson, Tigers Blank Twins

Nate Robertson out dueled Matt Garza for 7 innings tonight in the Minnesota House of Horrors and the Tigers held on to shutout the Twins 1-0. In his first 7 inning stint since April, Robertson allowed just 3 hits and 2 walks before yielding to Macay McBride in the 8th. McBride was a little wild and walked a batter but got through the inning with the help of a double play. Todd Jones spared us the roller coaster ride tonight with a 7 pitch 1-2-3 ninth.

Garza pitched about as well as Robertson allowing just 3 hits and 1 walk in 7 innings but he was the victim of an unearned run in the 6th. Brandon Inge reached base on an error by shortstop Jason Bartlett on a routine grounder leading off the 6th. He moved up to second when Curtis Granderson walked and then scored on a two out single by Magglio Ordonez. That was all the scoring in the game.

The Tigers remain a game ahead of the Indians who beat the White Sox 6-5 in 11 innings tonight. Game two, tomorrow night, will be a match-up between Andrew Miller and Johan Santana.

Questionable Strategy

I don't often question in game managerial strategy but why did Jim Leyland have Placido Polanco attempt to sacrifice with runners on first and second with nobody out in the 6th and 8th innings tonight? I know it was a tight low scoring game but Polanco is batting over .330 and is very good at moving runners over without bunting. Plus, a successful bunt in that situation takes the bat out of Sheffield's hands as you know he would be walked with first base open. Polanco was unsuccessful on both attempts so it was two wasted at bats. The only reason I can think of is that Polanco's lat injury is still affecting him at the plate. If that's the case, then why is he still playing and batting second?

Granderson Chasing Records

Curtis Granderson went 3 for 3 including a double tonight to raise his batting average to .299. He is 15 for 34 with 4 doubles, a triple and 2 homers in last 8 games. He now has 27 doubles, 16 triples and 13 homers on the season for a league leading 56 extra base hits. Most of you know by now that he is on a pace to break the American League record of 26 triples set by Sam Crawford of the Tigers in 1914. You might not know that he is also on a pace to break the team record of 99 extra base hits set by Hank Greenberg in 1940. Granderson is on a pace for 100.

Speaking of Granderson, you should be reading his excellent blog regularly. In his latest entry, he talks about trading baseballs to fans for bags of peanuts during games at Seattle over the weekend.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tigers Gain Split with Mariners

The Tigers gained a split of the 4 game set with the Mariners by winning 11-7 today. I did not watch today's game and only heard parts of it on the radio but it sounded as if Justin Verlander did not have his best stuff. He allowed 4 runs on 8 hits in 7 innings but was the benefactor of some good run support. The Tigers pounded Jeff Weaver for 7 runs on 10 hits in 5 innings and had 12 hits in all.

The Tigers scored their runs on a combination of power and speed. They had 3 homers on the day from Marcus Thames (his 11th of the year), Omar Infante (1st) and Magglio Ordonez (14th). They also ran wild on backup catcher Jamie Burke stealing 5 bases including a steal of home by Gary Sheffield and Sean Casey's second steal of the year. Sheffield now has 16 steals on the year and seems poised to become a 20 20 man at age 38. Casey, who homered on Friday night, is now a 2 2 man.

The homer by Ordonez in the 8th was his first since June 1. He also has only 3 extra base hits since June 19th so his power has been almost nonexistent lately after a great start. Hopefully, today's homer will get him going again. Marcus Thames, on the other hand, is showing plenty of power since becoming a regular. After going 2 for 5 with 4 RBI today, he is now batting .325 with 5 homers, 3 doubles and 13 RBI in his last 12 games.

The Tigers didn't have their best series. They played sloppy defense, Rogers and Verlander were not especially sharp and the batters left quite a few men on base so coming out of it with a split is kind of a relief. They remain a half game up on the Indians who topped the Royals 5-3 today. Next they travel to Minnesota for a three game series on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and we all know the Metrodome is a tough place to play.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Pudge's Defense Slipping?

In last year's Fan Fielding Survey conducted by TangoTiger, fans rated Ivan Rodriguez as the best defensive catcher and one of the top defenders at any position in the game. As a supplement to the survey, I was asked to write a piece discussing his defense without the use of numbers. Since he was obviously a fantastic fielder, it was not too difficult for me to laud his defense.

This year it might not be so easy to write an article supporting him as one of the top defensive players in the game. While watching Tigers games this year, I've noticed that his defense seems to have slipped a bit. He is still very quick and agile and has a great arm but runners seem to fear him less and he does not seem to be blocking pitches as well. So, I decided to look at his defense statistically.

The table below (extracted from The Hardball Times database) shows that they are running on him more this year than last: 0.57 SB attempts per game in 2007 versus 0.39 in 2006. He has also been less successful throwing runners out in 2007 (23% caught stealing) than in 2006 (46%) or 2005 (44%).

Table: Ivan Rodriguez's Fielding Stats as a Tiger

Year

Inn

SBA/G

CS%

(WP+PB)/G

OPS

2004

1051

0.48

29.0

.450

.893

2005

1033

0.51

44.0

.380

.735

2006

1054

0.39

46.0

.320

.769

2007

612

0.57

23.0

.560

.771


More pitches have been getting by him as well. There have been 0.56 wild pitches plus passed balls per game in 2007, 0.32 in 2006 and 0.38 in 2005. Wild pitches are included in this calculation because it's really difficult to distinguish between wild pitches and passed balls and I think official scorers sometimes give Pudge the benefit of the doubt due to his reputation.

Of course, catching stats must be taken with a grain of salt. A team's pitching staff has as much influence on stolen bases, passed balls and wild pitches as a catcher. However, this year's team has many of the same pitchers as last year's team so why the drop in performance? I'm also aware that catchers have many responsibilities beyond throwing out base runners and blocking pitches. Still, I can't help noticing through both observation and statistics that Pudge seems to have slipped in both areas this year.

You may have noticed that I have not talked about 2004 up to this point. Ivan's 2007 stats look more like his 2004 stats than 2005 or 2006. Remember that Rodriguez had a spectacular year offensively for a catcher in 2004 (.893 OPS) but his defense was sub-par by his own admission that year. He was so disappointed that he made a point of losing a great deal of weight in order to regain some of his athleticism. It apparently worked as his defense improved markedly perhaps at the expense of his offense. Now, it appears that his catching skills have gone back to what they were in 2004 but his offensive production has not.

So, what do the Tigers do with him after this season? He is 35 years old and no longer has the skills of an elite catcher but he is still an above average defender and hits well for a catcher. It seems pretty obvious that they should let his 2008 option kick in and I'm pretty sure they would not hesitate to extend him through 2009. Without any future catching help on the horizon, this seems to be a given. However, what if he demands a long term multiyear deal? Can they afford to do that in light of his age and declining offense and defense? if it comes to that and I suspect it might, it won't be an easy decision for the Tigers.

Bonderman and Sheffield Stop Mariners

The Tigers bounced back from last night's sloppy fielding and umpiring to top the Mariners 6-3 tonight. Gary Sheffield put the Tigers ahead 4-1 with a grand slam in the 3rd inning, his 22nd homer of the year. Jeremy Bonderman then went on to give up 3 runs on 6 hits in 7 innings for his third straight strong start. He struck out 5 (including Ichiro Suzuki twice), walked nobody and induced 11 ground ball outs but he also gave up a couple of home runs to Jose Guillen in the third and Adrian Beltre in the 7th. Luckily they were solo shots. Not walking people will do that for you.

The other big blast for the Tigers was by Sean Casey who hit his second home run of the year in the 7th. The ball was crushed to right and it was the most power we've seen from The Mayor this year. Casey is now up to .302/.367/.405 after his slow start. It's still not the kind of production you want to see from a first baseman but not embarrassing either.

Marcus Thames played first base and extended his hitting streak to 9 games with 2 more hits tonight. He is batting .351 with 4 homers and 3 doubles during that stretch. He continues to play regularly in left field versus righties and at first base versus lefties.

Brandon Inge played some spectacular defense tonight to help preserve the lead. He made a Brooks Robinsonesque diving catch to his right on a hard liner in the 7th. He then charged in and made a bare handed grab and quick throw to first on a squibbler in the 8th. Casey also made a nice scoop on the back end of that one.

Ryan Raburn got his first Major League start tonight playing center field in place of Curtis Granderson against the lefty Jarrod Washburn. He went 0 for 2 with 2 walks and a run scored. He had an uneventful game in center field which is a good thing.

Game 3 will be tomorrow night at 10:00 with Kenny Rogers facing Miguel Batista.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tigers Outfielders Among Zone Rating Leaders

In my previous post where I showed how the Tigers and four other top American League contenders ranked on several statistical categories, we saw that the Tigers finished 4th in the league in Revised Zone Rating (RZR). We also learned rhat the Tigers outfield ranked number one in the league and that their infield ranked in the middle (7th). In this article, I'll break out zone rating for each of the Tigers regulars.

Zone Rating and Revised Zone Rating were invented by John Dewan, who is now the President of Baseball Info Solutions. The Zone for a whole team is the area on the field in which at least half of the batted balls are converted into outs. Each position has its own zone and RZR is the proportion of balls in a fielder's zone that he successfully turns into outs. Contrary to popular myth, Zone Rating does indeed penalize players for making errors as errors are not outs.

The data in the the table below were extracted from The Hardball Times database. They illustrate that there have been 193 balls hit into Brandon Inge's zone (BIZ). He has turned 136 of them into outs (plays). This comes out to a .705 RZR. Those are not all the plays he made though. He also turned 32 balls outside of his zone into outs (OOZ) but they are not included in the RZR calculation. Also notice that there are 22 qualifying MLB third basemen reaching a minmum number of innings (Qual) and that he ranks 7th. So he is in the top third at his position on this statistic.

Placido Polanco also ranks well among second basemen - 8th out of 23 qualifiers. Carlos Guillen does not rank as well - 15th out of 27 - but he is not doing quite as poorly as his errors make him look. Sean Casey ranks 17 out of 25 but, to be fair, I'll mention that this statistic does not take into account throws taken from infielders, something which seems to be a strength for him.

Magglio Ordonez has noticeably improved his defense this year and this stat shows it. He has sucessfully handled nearly 95% of the plays in his zone which is the best in baseball. Curtis Granderson has handled 94% of plays in the center field zone which is good for second best in the majors to Andruw Jones. Granderson has also caught 45 balls outside his zone which is among the most in baseball. Craig Monroe ranks 10th among 18 left fielders but has caught more balls outside his zone than any other left fielder. So the Tigers outfielders are doing quite well and this is likely helping the pitching staff quite a bit.

While I think Revised Zone Rating is the best statistic available during the season for evaluating defense, it is not a perfect statistic. It does not take into account where balls are hit in the zone as it treats all balls in the zone the same regardless of difficulty. It also does not consider how hard balls were hit. There are statistics such as David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR) which do take these issues into consideration but they are not published until after the season.

Table: Tigers Zone Rating Ranks as of July 8, 2007

Pos

Player

Qual

Rank

BIZ

Plays

RZR

OOZ

1B

Casey

25

17

94

67

.713

16

2B

Polanco

23

8

171

146

.854

23

3B

Inge

22

7

193

136

.705

32

SS

Guillen

27

15

195

157

.805

27

LF

Monroe

18

10

121

103

.851

30

CF

Granderson

21

2

213

200

.939

45

RF

Ordonez

25

1

137

130

.949

19

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