Saturday, May 31, 2008

Guillen working out in left

Last year, Guillen was the shortstop. He started out this year at first base and later moved to third base. Could his next move be to left field? He has been working out there and Jim Leyland says that it's possible he could play out there eventually. He is trying to think of a way to have Brandon Inge play third base more often which I think is a good thing. Moving Guillen to left field doesn't seem like the best solution though. Carlos has never played the outfield before and his reactions to infield plays over the last couple of years does not give me much confidence that he will play well anywhere defensively.

My solution would be to give up on Gary Sheffield and move Guillen to designated hitter. As with the Willis/Galarraga move however, not every move is purely a baseball decision. Guillen is a veteran team leader who doesn't want to be designated hitter so it's difficult for Leyland to just pencil him into that slot even though it seems the logical thing to do. It's also difficult for the Tigers to give up on Sheffield who is owed a lot of money this year and next year.

For now, Marcus Thames is the regular left fielder but I suspect another shake up will happen once he stops hitting for a few games. I do have to give Leyland credit for one thing this year. He is not sitting on his hands waiting for things to happen. He is restricted by economics and politics but he's trying to do something even if it doesn't always make sense on the surface.

Willis/Galarraga to split start

Jim Leyland announced this morning that Dontrelle Willis and Armando Galarraga will split Tuesday's start with Willis pitching the first 4 or 5 innings and The Big Cat taking over after that. I don't think the split start concept is going to be a permanent thing and it's not a bad way to try to get Willis back into the groove. Still, it's unfortunate that he is sharing a start with their best pitcher so far this year.

Galarraga has been a bit lucky overcoming a high walk rate (4.1 BB per 9 IP) and below average ground ball rate for a sinker/slider pitcher (44.1%). He also seen an inordinate proportion (80.6%) of balls in play turned into outs. These are all indications that he is not likely to sustain his low ERA but, as it stands now, he does have the lowest ERA on the staff this year by far. Armando's ERA (3.44) is almost a whole run lower than any other starter. Jeremy Bonderman is next at 4.34 and Justin Verlander, Nate Robetson and Kenny Rogers are all over 5.00. One should also consider that although they are hitting the ball in the air of him, he is not getting hit hard. He has one of the lowest line drive percentages in the league (14.7%) and one of the highest infield fly to outfield fly ratios (15.3% of his flies are infield pops).

Due to economics and politics, Leyland probably doesn't have much of a choice. They are paying a lot of money to Willis and they need to try to get him going with regular innings. I think it's pretty obvious why those innings are not going to be taken away from Bonderman or Verlander. Some fans have said they'd like to see Robertson go to the pen because he tends to pitch very well for 3-4 innings before fading. However, his k/BB ratio (44:19) is easily the best on the staff and he has not been horrible in any one game this year (no more than 5 runs in any start). He keeps the team in games just about every time out. My choice for the split start would be Rogers but he's a veteran and team leader so that wasn't going to happen.

It's not being framed as a demotion for the Big Cat but it will be viewed that way by fans. With a shaky staff and even shakier bullpen, he is still going to get plenty of opportunities though. Hopefully, he pitches as well out of the bullpen as he did as a starter.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Blog poll - NL awards (week 8)

Jason Collette (who has taken over the weekly blog poll for a very busy David Bloom) has this weeks results up at RotoJunkie. Each week a group of bloggers (including myself) votes on the the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards based on season results up through that week. This week we did the National League and the leaders are listed below. The complete results can be found at RotoJunkie.

MVP

1. Lance Berkman
2. Chipper Jones
3. Chase Utley

Cy Young

1. Edinson Volquez
2. Tim Lincecum
3. Brandon Webb

Rookie of the Year

1. Geovany Soto
2. Joey Votto
3. Jair Jurrjens

Thames, Big Cat lead Tigers over Angels

After two very frustrating losses, the Tigers salvaged one game of the three game series winning 6-2 tonight. Armando Galarraga had been tapering off as late but pitched a masterful game tonight allowing just two runs on four hits in 8 1/3 innings. The only runs scored on a two run homer by little Macier Izturis in the ninth. With three solid starts in the series, the Tigers now have 12 quality starts in their last 16 games.

New left fielder Marcus Thames led the offensive attack with two homers - one to right and one to center - and four RBI. He also hit two deep smashes to right for outs. Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez and Edgar Renteria also had two hits apiece. They now go to Seattle for a three game weekend series.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thames, Granderson and Guillen

Some notes about tonight's game and beyond:

According to Jason Beck, Marcus Thames is going to be the regular left fielder for a while. I'm not sure if he's going to bat third against right-handers as well as left-handers but he got a homer the first time up against lefty starter Joe Saunders tonight. The next time up, he just missed another when he hit a deep fly to left. As I type this, Thames is batting .254/.315/.462 with 4 home runs in 65 at bats. He replaces Matt Joyce who was batting .212/.276/.519 with 5 homers in 52 at bats. Joyce had gone 0 for 9 with 6 strike outs in his last 2 games.

Jim Leyland also announced that Curtis Granderson is going to bat against most lefties from now on. This is a good move because they need his glove in center and he isn't going to learn to hit lefties if he doesn't face them. He is one for two with a great diving catch so far tonight.

Carlos Guillen is sitting tonight and tomorrow to deal with his hemorrhoid problem. Brandon Inge is playing third. I think he should stay at third with Guillen at DH but I don't think that's the plan.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sheffield to DL, Larish up

Gary Sheffield has been placed on the 15 day disabled list with a strained left oblique suffered in yesterday's game. Jeff Larish has been called up from Toledo to take his place. He will likely be the designated hitter against right-handed pitchers until Sheffield returns. He won't be starting tonight though as Carlos Guillen will be the designated hitter and Brandon Inge will play third. Guillen has a case of hemorrhoids which has been limiting his mobility for the last several games. Guillen will DH until he feels well enough to play in the field again.

Larish is a 25 year old left-handed hitting first baseman who is one of the best position prospects in the Tigers system. He was hitting a robust .274/.369/.589 with 16 homers for the Toledo Mud Hens this season. Last year, he batted .267/.390/.515 with a league leading 28 home runs for Erie of the Eastern League. He was selected the Tigers player minor league player of the year and was also voted the best power hitting prospect of the Eastern league by Baseball America last year. He also fields his position well but is not likely to see much action in the field for the Tigers.

One thing Larish adds to the Tigers is another left-handed bat. The Tigers are batting just .259/.336/.416 versus right-handers as opposed to .301/.354/.416 versus left-handers. As a result, they have received fewer at bats against left-handed pitchers than any team in the league. With Curtis Granderson, the switch hitting Guillen, Larish and Matt Joyce, teams might think twice about throwing all right-handed starters against them.

Tigers shutout for twelve innings

The Tigers pitchers pitched 11 scoreless innings and still lost tonight. The Angels beat them 1-0 when Bobby Seay walked Garret Anderson on four pitches with the bases load in the 12th inning. Kenny Rogers pitched his best game of the year - seven shutout innings on five hits and one walk. Zach Miner kept it tied at zero with scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth. He got out of a bases loaded jam in the 8th and was then aided by a nice leaping catch by Magglio Ordonez to end the ninth.

Freddy Dolsi came in to pitch the 10th and survived some bizarre plays. First there was the Little League play. Torii Hunter singled and then moved up to second base after the ball was returned to the infield and Dolsi was walking back to the mound. He got a free base simply because nobody was paying attention. I don't think I've seen that before anywhere. Dolsi followed that with a wild pitch during an intentional walk to the next batter Garrett Anderson. Somehow, he got out of it when Miguel Cabrera made a nice play on a grounder to first. It's a good thing they didn't lose the game there because we never would have heard the end of it from the national media and this time the riducule probably would have been deserved.

Dolsi then pitched a scoreless 11th. He was left in for the 12th and proceeded to load the bases before yielding to Seay. You could blame this one on Seay or on Jim Leyland for letting rookie Dolsi go through the Angels line-up a second time around. I would blame the offense for their league leading 8th shutout though. The vaunted Tigers offense went 12 innings without scoring. That about says it all.

Note:

Gary Sheffield left the game in the third inning after hurting his oblique muscle running to first base. They are calling it oblique spasms but there is no indication of how much additional time he'll miss if any. He was replaced by Ryan Raburn tonight.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Home stand ends on sour note

The Tigers lost 6-1 to the Twins today and lost the series two games to one. That made it a 4-2 home stand which isn't bad but it could have been better. On the heels a 19-3 thrashing of the Twins last night, the Tigers could manage only one run in 7 2/3 innings against Twins rookie Glen Perkins today. It was tied at one until Francisco Cruceta allowed a grand slam to left-handed hitting Jason Kubel. Some have questioned why Jim Leyland did not have a lefty (Bobby Seay or Dontrelle Willis) ready to pitch to Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and or Kubel and it's a good question.

There were some good signs in this series. They got two more quality starts from Justin Verlander and Nate Robertson. They are still last in the league with 17 quality stats but 9 have come in the last 13 games. Unfortunately, their bullpen is starting to pitch the way many of us feared when the season started. The pen gave up 4 runs on Friday night and 5 more today and , in general , has been pretty shaky as of late.

On the offensive side, they hit the ball very hard this week and averaged 9 runs per game. Unfortunately, they continue not to do a great job distributing the runs evenly across games. They scored only one run today after 19 yesterday and, despite being third in the league in runs scored, have had more than their share of low run games and they are losing virtually all of those games. This point was nicely illustrated by Billfer.

At least this week, they played closer to what we expected at the beginning of the season - great hitting, decent starting pitching and a leaky bullpen. The other piece of good news (and I know many are probably tired of hearing this) is that nobody in the division is pulling ahead. The Tigers are still just six games behind pending the outcome of the White Sox - Angels game tonight. Next up for the Tigers is a nine game western swing with three games each in Los Angeles, Seattle and Oakland.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ordonez, Tigers rout Twins

On a night when they shared the Detroit sports spotlight with the Pistons and Redwings (both playing playoff games at home), over 41,000 fans watched the Bengals play the Twins at Comerica Park. That is a pretty impressive crowd for a regular season game of a team which has frustrated their fans all year. Tonight, the Tigers did not disappoint as they put up more points than the Lions do on many Sundays. They pounded Boof Bonser and the Twins 19-3 and probably could have scored more had they not called off called off the dogs after the fifth inning.

The Tigers scored early and often tonight - two runs in the first, four in the third, six in the fourth and finally seven in the fifth. They had 17 hits and they didn't just hit; they lashed line drives and long shots all over the field.

The big hitter was Magglio Ordonez who crushed a two run homer to left in the first, a two run double to the opposite field in the third and another two run blast over the left field wall in the fourth. That's six RBI in four innings leaving him two short of the Tiger record of eight by Jim Northrup. Magglio came up again in the fifth with two on but Juan Rincon walked him on four pitches. It seemed like he pitched around him with the score 14-3? That would be his last chance as Jim Leyland yanked him from the game to give him a rest after the inning. Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen were also replaced.

What kind of night was it for the Tigers? Brandon Inge struck out in the fifth and a run still crossed the plate. With bases loaded, Inge swung and missed on strike three but the ball got by the catcher Joe Mauer, Inge reached first and a run scored.

Another positive was some decent pitching from Nate Robertson who gave up three runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. Robertson has actually pitched a little better than his 5.88 ERA this year would indicate. He has not pitched any terrible games. He has been consistently mediocre but he gives a good offensive team a chance a chance to win in just about every game. The Tigers are notorious for not giving Nate a lot of run support but that obviously wasn't a problem tonight.

On the 24th anniversary of their 35-5 start in 1984, the Tigers are just 21-28 but are somehow just 5 1/2 games back as they picked up a game on the first place White Sox tonight. They also moved into a fourth place tie with the Royals who got shutout today. The Tigers have tried hard to fall out of the race but this division won't let them. Hopefully, they can now start taking advantage. They play the rubber game of the series tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 when Justin Verlander faces Glen Perkins.

Where did the offense go?

I was looking at the Major League batting leaders yesterday and noticed that 20 of the top 25 hitters according to OPS (on base plus slugging) were National Leaguers. The unlikely American League quintet among the leaders included Milton Bradley, Carlos Quentin, Josh Hamilton, Kevin Youkilis and Jack Cust. The batting average list also had only 5 AL batters in the top 25. Among the 22 batters with 10 or more homers, there were just 4 American Leaguers.

These leader boards looked very unusual so I wanted to examine the stats more closely. Table 1 below illustrates that the junior circuit is trailing the senior circuit in runs scored per game (4.37 in the AL versus 4.56 in the NL) through May 23. The last time the non-DH league scored at a greater rate than the DH league was 1974. The AL also trails in batting average, OBP, slugging and home runs.

Table 1: Offense in 2008 - AL versus NL


AL

NL

R/G

4.37

4.56

BA

.259

.261

OBP

.329

.334

SLG

.397

.410

HR/PA

0.86

0.96



Table 2 below shows that offense is way down in the AL in 2008 compared to April and May of recent years. In fact, it's down a half run per game from last year - 4.85 in 2007 to 4.37 in 2008. The last time run scoring was that scarce for a full season was 1992. While batting averaged has dropped somewhat, the biggest declines have been in the power stats. Home runs are down 20% this year compared to the last three years while slugging percentage is down by about 6%.

Table 2: American League Offense from 2005-2008


2005

2006

2007

2008

R/G

4.67

5.02

4.85

4.37

BA

.263

.271

.264

.259

OBP

.328

.338

.335

.329

SLG

.413

.433

.418

.397

HR/PA

1.00

1.15

1.04

0.86



So what's going on with the AL offense this year? There are a few different theories. In a recent column in The Sporting News, David Pinto of Baseball Musings illustrated that the American League is significantly younger than the National League this year. The average age weighted by plate appearances is 29.5 in the AL and 28.8 in the National League. Furthermore, the highest concentration of plate appearances in the AL have gone to players aged 31-34, an age when players are typically on the decline. Conversely, the highest concentration in the NL has gone to players between ages 24-30, the prime years for hitters.

In a Baseball Prospectus article, William Burke and Joe Sheehan looked at batted ball data and discovered that fly ball rates are down in the AL - .215 between 2005-2007 and .203 this year. Home runs per fly ball are also down - .124 between 2005-2007 and .111 this year. This suggests to me that pitchers are keeping the ball down more in an attempt to induce more ground balls and that is keeping power at a minimum.

Burke and Sheehan also suggested that teams are choosing defense over offense in their personnel decisions more now than they they did in the height of the "steroid era". I'm not sure I completely agree with them but a look at team defense reveals that the median Defensive Efficiency Ratio (percentage of balls in play converted into outs) has increased from .692 in 2006-2007 to .704 this year. Part of that is likely due to the increase in ground balls but BP article points out more possible evidence of better defense:
BABIP hasn’t changed all that much, but fly-ball rates have. Because the batting average on fly balls in play is generally lower than the BA on groundballs in play, a constant BABIP and a lower fly ball rate implies that defense has gotten better.

There has also been some speculation that reduction in PED use might have something to do with the drop in offense. Deadened balls are also a possibility. However, it seems that both of those factors would cause uniform drops across the AL and NL but only the American League offense has decreased. Thus, some of the other theories seem more plausible especially Pinto's theory about older players in the AL. Other possible explanations could be an emphasis on pitching that induces ground balls, and better fielding.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tigers Sweep Mariners

The Tigers completed a sweep of the Mariners with a 9-2 rout this afternoon. After averaging just 2.8 runs per game and going 3-12 in their previous 15 games, the Bengals scored 30 runs on 44 hits and 21 extra base hits versus the Mariners.

It was a well balanced attack with each regular plus Brandon Inge batting .300 or better for the series. Every starter except Pudge Rodriguez also had at least one extra base hit. It was especially encouraging to see several struggling Tigers come through:

Curtis Granderson - 4 for 11 with a homer and a double
Miguel Cabrera - 5 for 11 with two doubles
Edgar Renteria - 6 for 11 with a triple and a home run
Brandon Inge - 3 for 8 with a double, triple and homer while playing four positions
Gary Sheffield - 4 for 13 including three hits today

They got some good starting pitching as well with Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman each pitching six strong innings. It was the second consecutive solid start for each pitcher. It is very important that they continue to get quality starts from what should be the two best starters on the staff. On the negative side, Kenny Rogers continued to struggle allowing 4 runs on 8 hits in 3 walks in 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday.

It was a very positive series for the Tigers but we should remember a similar series in April versus a then reeling Rangers club. They outscored the Rangers 37-10 for a three game sweep but were unable to sustain their offense in coming weeks. Next up is the Minnesota Twins for a three game series at Comerica. It's gotten to the point in the season where they can't afford another swoon and they need another strong series versus Minnesota.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Willis to pen, Rapada to DL

Dontrelle Willis has been added to the Tigers 25 man roster and will pitch out of the pen initially. He will take the place of Clay Rapada who has been placed on the 15 day disabled list with biceps tendinitis. Putting a starting pitcher who fairly recently signed a 3 year $29 million contract in the bullpen is an unusual move but I think it's a good one.

Willis struggled with his control all spring, then hurt his knee and continued to have some trouble finding the zone during his rehab at AAA Toledo. Armando Galarraga, who took Dontrelle's place in the rotation, has been the Tigers best starting pitcher this year posting a 3.06 ERA in six starts spanning 35 1/3 innings. There had been speculation that Galarraga would go to then pen to make room for Willis but the Tigers have decided to go with the hot hand. A smart move in my opinion.

I would imagine that Willis will pitch long relief. If he does well as a reliever, he will then probably move back into the rotation replacing a pitcher who is either unhealthy or pitching poorly. What if nobody is nobody is injured or pitching poorly? Well that would be a nice problem to have but I'm not counting on it given the way this season has gone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tigers bats wake up

I'm not a big believer in managerial rants leading to success on the field but maybe this time it worked or maybe they were just due. At any rate, the offense, which came into the game last in the majors in runs scored this month, erupted for 12 runs on 17 hits including 8 extra base hits. The big hitters included the following:

Edgar Renteria - 4 for 4 with a triple, homer and 5 RBI.
Curtis Granderson - homer and a double.
Miguel Cabrera - 3 hits.
Placido Polanco - 3 hits.
Magglio Ordonez - home run and a single
Carlos Guillen - home run and a single.

The beneficiary of all the offense was Justin Verlander who has received very little offensive support this year. Verlander responded with a solid performance - one run on 4 hits and a walk plus 7 strikeouts in 6 innings.

The Tigers built up an 11-1 lead after six but the bullpen made it interesting and they had to hold on to win 12-8. It was the type of game many of us were expecting from this team coming into the year - great offense, solid starting pitching and a leaky bullpen somehow securing the victory. Hopefully, they don't follow up this win by getting shutout. They need to start hitting big on a regular basis or they are going to fall out of the race.

Clubhouse disharmony?

The story many fans have been expecting about broken team chemistry appeared this morning in the USA Today where Jason Grilli and some current Tigers cited clubhouse problems as the reasons for the Tigers poor play this year. Gary Sheffield, Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen were also quoted. Ian summarizes everything and Billfer analyzes it. Unlike the Tigers perhaps, Ian and Billfer know their roles.

I agree with Billfer that the most disturbing quote came from supposed team leader Carlos Guillen:
"We never said we were going to win 100 games," Guillen says. "All we said was that we have a good team with good players. That was the (sports) media and fans doing the talking. "You don't win games looking good on paper. You've got to do it on the field. "That wasn't fair to us."
How are high expectations not fair for a team with a collection of all-stars and the third highest payroll in the majors? Guillen is not the greatest communicator and may not have expressed himself properly but it didn't sound very good. We had good reason to expect the team to be very successful this year.

Jim Leyland was not happy with any of the comments and he expressed himself in an obscenity laced rant later in the day. Jason Beck has the highlights in his blog. The audio can be found at 971theticket.com. Sometimes obscenity laced tirades can sound nasty but when Leyland does it, it's hilarious. He said the right things and sounded genuine but under control. He responded appropriately harshly to Grilli, Guillen and Inge (or maybe it was Sheffield) without actually naming names except for Grilli. If you don't mind a lot of bleeps, I recommend listening to the audio. I've already listened to it a few times myself.

This stuff is all entertaining but, in the end, it doesn't matter too much to me. Billfer echoed my feelings at the end of his post:
I don’t know what these guys do on a daily basis to prepare. I don’t know how much they care and I know I can’t tell by looking at them what is going on in their heads. I don’t know if they are lazy because of their contracts or if the only thing they care about is winning. I don’t know if they like each other or if they hate each other. I don’t know if they’ve tuned their manager out, or if they are trying too hard, or not trying hard enough. And frankly I don’t care. I just want to see them play some decent baseball damn-it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back from Lakeland

My father and I returned from Lakeland today after a very enjoyable trip. We saw three good games, although the Flying Tigers lost Saturday's game. They were indeed more entertaining than the Tigers have been this year which is not hard to do. I got a chance to meet several friends from Motownsports.com which is always fun.

Joker Marchant Stadium is a great place to watch a game. The crowds were pretty small which allowed me to go all over the park viewing the game from different locations. I even sat in the "Berm area" (a grass hill behind the outfield fence leading up to a patio with benches and tables) for a few innings watching the outfielders as kids rolled down the hill in front of me. They had a pretty impressive team poster give away on Saturday night - a 2 foot by 1 1/2 foot team photo. That was a pretty good gift for a minor league game where tickets cost $6 max. They also had a spectacular fireworks show after the game on Saturday night. The Flying Tigers definitely put on a great show for their fans.

I talked about Rick Porcello, Jeremy Laster and Guillermo Moscoso in yesterday's post. I'm an analyst rather than a scout but here are some of my observations on some of the other players I saw:

James Skelton - probably the smallest catcher I've ever seen. He has no power but is an on base machine and has pretty good speed. Another way he misfits the catcher prototype is that he bats left-handed. I've never really understood why a catcher needs to be big as their seems to some advantages to a catcher being small and agile. It's been said that big catchers are more durable at a position where a player takes a beating. I'm not convinced that size has a lot to do with durability though.

Scott Sizemore - didn't have a great game on Saturday but generally seems to work the count and have good at bats. He made a couple of good plays Friday night.

Cale Iorg - got two hits in each of the three games and hit the ball hard. He looked pretty solid at shortstop as well.

Ryan Strieby -a power hitting first baseman who got two homers during the series.

Jay Sborz - looks to be a lot more in control than when I saw him play for the Oneonta Tigers a couple of years ago. The reliever still throws hard and reached 97 when I saw him but now throws strikes.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Report from Lakeland - Day 2

The Flying Tigers won again last night - 4 to 1 over the Dunedin Blue Jays. I got to see Porcello for the first time and he looked about how I expected him to look. He's very tall and throws hard - mid 90s for most of the game and got as high as 98. As advertised, he is pretty polished for a 20 year old with a good change-up and breaking pitch to go with the fastball. He was not over powering. They hit some balls pretty hard but he held them to one run in 5 2/3 innings. His control was good - just one walk.

Other than Porcello, the highlights of the night were an inside the park homer by Jeremy Laster and five consecutive strikeouts by reliever Guillermo Moscoso. Laster looked impressive - a center fielder with good speed and power. Moscoso looked very tough. the batters looked helpless against him.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Report from Lakeland

I arrived in Lakeland yesterday and was able to watch a night game in shorts and a tee shirt which is something I still can't do up north. The Lakeland Flying Tigers won 8-7 as the parent Tigers continued to lose. Rick Porcello pitches tonight so I'm looking forward to that.

I got a chance to see Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney working out this morning. Zumaya threw maybe about 60 pitches and didn't seem to be holding anything back. It appeared to be maximum effort with a healthy grunt on many of his pitches. Fernando Rodney threw fewer pitches than Zumaya but was throwing hard and looked smooth. I'm neither a scout nor a doctor but they both looked fine, no evidence of pain or discomfort.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Off to Lakeland

I'll be heading out to Lakeland on Thursday morning to watch the Flying Tigers play the Dunedin Blue Jays for three games. When I went down there last year, I saw Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. This year, I'll get a chance to see 20 year old right-handed pitcher and top prospect Rick Porcello. I'm also curious about catcher James Skelton and infielders Scott Sizemore and Cale Iorg.

Sometimes the most interesting player you see in a minor league game is not who you go to see though. Last year, I was only marginally interested in Wilkin Ramirez (great tools but no results up to that point) but he looked pretty impressive when I saw him. He's having a very good year for AA Erie this year.

If nothing else, the weather will be summery - 90 degrees and mostly sunny for three days. I haven't experienced that in a while. The hotel does have a computer which I'll check every day but I won't be spending much time on it (I'm actually good about staying off computers when I'm on vacation!). If something really interesting happens in a game, I'll write something but other than that, I'll be back on Sunday. Hopefully, the Flying Tigers will be more entertaining than the Tigers have been this year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blog Poll - NL Awards (week 6)

David Bloom has the results of his weekly blog poll up at Baseball Happenings. Each week a group of bloggers (including myself) votes on the the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards based on season results up through that week. This week we did the National League and the leaders are listed below. The complete results can be found at Baseball Happenings.

One thing that struck me as I filled out my ballot yesterday was how many National Leaguers and how few American Leaguers are having big offensive seasons. The top 10 OPS and 24 of the top 30 OPS in the majors belong to National Leaguers. So much for the American League being the hitter's league.
MVP

1. Lance Berkman
2. Chase Utley
3. Chipper Jones

Cy Young

1. Brandon Webb
2. Tim Lincecum
3. Edinson Volquez

Rookie of the Year

1. Geovany Soto
2. Jair Jurrjens
3. Kosuke Fukudome

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bondo's peripherals going south

Watching Jeremy Bonderman, from 2004 through the first half of 2007, you got the feeling that, while maddeningly inconsistent, he was very close to developing into a top pitcher. He had two good fastballs (four seamer and two seamer) and one of the best sliders in the game. His fielding independent statistics were excellent - high strikeouts, low walks and lots of ground balls with relatively few homers allowed. For someone reason, Jeremy's ERAs never matched his other stats but there was reason for optimism for the still young pitcher.

Then in the middle of last season starting somewhere around that ten run meltdown versus the Angels on July 29, he lost his control and his pitches didn't seem to be as sharp as in the past. It grew into more than just a slump. It was a miserable second half that ended when he revealed that he had been hiding an injury to his elbow for several weeks. The table below shows that his peripherals went down hill drastically in the second half starting with the Angels game. His strikeouts per game dropped from 8.1 to 6.0, his walk rate rose from 1.8 to 4.2 and his home run rate climbed from 1.1 to 1.5.

It was actually a relief to find out that he was injured and that it was apparently not a serious one as it gave us some confidence that he would be able able to rebound this year. Instead, the table reveals that his strikeout rate (5.0) and walk rate (5.8) are even worse this year than they were in the second half of last season. He has gone from a pitcher with one of the best K/BB ratios in the league to one who walks more than he strikes out. I can't say whether he still has a health problem and I don't know a lot about pitching mechanics but the trend is troubling.

Table: Bonderman's stats: 2004-2008

Year

IP

K/9 IP

BB/9 IP

HR/ 9 IP

ERA

2004

184

8.2

3.6

1.2

4.89

2005

189

6.9

2.7

1.0

4.57

2006

214

8.5

2.7

0.8

4.08

2007 (through July 24)

127

8.1

1.8

1.1

3.69

2007 (July 25 - end)

48

6.0

4.2

1.5

8.50

2008

45

5.0

5.8

1.4

4.80

Pitching and defense killing Tigers

With the season approaching the quarter pole and the Tigers still struggling to come close to the potential most of thought they had, it's time for my first statistical summary of the season. One thing to keep in mind as you go through the tables below is that offense is way down in the American League so far this year. The average runs scored per game is down a half run from last year (4.9 in 2007 versus 4.4 so far this year). Thus, where a team ranks among other teams in the league is more relevant than comparing raw numbers between 2007 and 2008.

The Tigers are second in the league in runs scored per game just as they were in 2007. Where they are lagging is in run prevention - 9th in 2007 and dead last so far in 2008. The fact that their runs allowed per game has increased from 4.9 to 5.5 in a much less offensive environment is very telling. Much has been made about the up and down nature of their offense including five shutouts and some feel as if they could be winning more with a more consistent offense. However, their pythagorean estimate of wins based on runs scored and runs allowed is exactly the same as their actual wins. Thus, run prevention is the big problem much more than an inconsistent offense.

Table 1: Overall


2007

2008


#

Rank

#

Rank

Record

88-74

5

16-21

12

R/G

5.5

2

4.8

2

RA/G

4.9

9

5.5

14




Table 2 shows that while their isolated power (SLG-BA) is down a little bit (2nd in ISO in 2007 versus 5th in 2008), their OBP is up (4th in 2007 versus 2nd in 2008). The biggest reason for that is an astonishing increase of one walk per game (2.9 in 2007 versus 3.9 in 2008). They don't rank quite so high in batting average this year (2nd in 2007 versus 4th in 2008) but the walks are making up for it.


Table 2: Offense



2007

2008


#

Rank

#

Rank

BA

.287

2

.265

4

BB

2.93

12

3.94

2

K

6.5

7

5.8

8

ISO

.171

2

.152

5

OBP

.345

4

345

2

SLG

.458

2

.417

5

OPS

.802

3

.762

2



Table 3 shows that their pitching is bad as it was last year. Looking at the starter and reliever splits, we can see that starters ERA has dropped from 9th last year to 14th this year (a half run worse than the 13th team). The reliever ERA ranks about the same as in 2007. So, as if we didn't already know, the the starting pitchers are a problem. However, it's important to note that their Fielding Independent Pitching ERA does not rank much lower than last year (11th in 2007 versus 12th in 2008). This indicates that, while the pitching is bad, it's really not much worse than it was in 2007.

Table 3: Pitching



2007

2008


#

Rank

#

Rank

FIP

4.73

11

4.67

12

ERA

4.57

9

5.10

14

SP ERA

4.68

9

5.44

14

RP ERA

4.37

11

4.47

10




Fielding is harder to measure but Table 4 illustrates that the Tigers are not doing nearly as well defensively this year and this is likely just as important, or perhaps more more so, in their decline as pitching. They were third in the American League in Defensive Efficiency or DER (% of balls in play converted into outs) in 2007 but have dropped to eighth this year.


Using The Hardball Times plus/minus stat, they ranked 3rd in fielding last year and have dropped to 10th this year. In this system, they break down fielding by looking at types of balls hit (ground ball, fly ball, pop up, line drive) . These stats are explained further in an article by Dave Studeman. This system is denoted +/- in the table.


Looking at Revised Zone Rating (RZR), they were 4th in 2007 and 10th so far this year. Each position on the field has a zone around it and a player's RZR is the proportion of balls hit into his zone which he converts into outs. Team RZR is the proportion of balls hit into all fielding zones which are converted into outs. Balls not hit into any zone are not considered in the calculation. For a further discussion of DER, RZR and other fielding statistics, check out Fielding Stats at The Hardball Times by Dave Studeman.

The chart below also breaks RZR into infield and outfield. The table shows that both their infield and outfield defenses have slipped substantially this year. The infield ranked 6th in 2007 and is now 13th. Similarly, the outfield has gone from 1st to 6th. I should note that the Tigers outfield has made more out of zone plays than most teams so far this year so that might bump their rank up a couple of notches. Still, their overall defense is down quite a bit this year so far.

Table 4: Fielding


2007

2008


#

Rank

#

Rank

DER

.705

3

.697

8

+/-

+45

3

-6

10

Overall

.829

4

.820

10

Infield

.781

6

.759

13

Outfield

.898

1

.907

6


In summary, offense has not been a major problem this year. They have been inconsistent and they need to improve in that respect but so far it's not causing them to lose games. At any rate, it's not something I'm worried about. They are hitting for average and power, drawing a ton of walks and not striking out a huge amount. The offense will be fine.

The problem is run prevention and it's not just pitching. Sub-par fielding has also been a big contributor to their slow start. With Cabrera at first, Guillen at third and Sheffield in left, I'm not sure how much they can improve their defense without another positional re-alignment. I also think that the range of Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria may be declining somewhat. So, while the fielding is a problem, I think our best hope is that their starting pitchers pitch better from this point forward.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Toothless Tigers lose series to Red Sox

The Tigers lost three of four to the Red Sox this week and they looked bad in the process. The starting pitching continues to be the biggest problem. They did not have any quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) in the series. That's not unusual for them though. They've had only eight all year which is by far the lowest in the league. The next lowest total is 16 by Tampa Bay. For those who prefer ERA, they are dead last there as well. Their 5.46 starting pitcher ERA is more than a half a run higher than the Yankees (13th in the league at 4.79).

Justin Verlander continued to struggle mightily tonight allowing five runs on nine hits in six innings. His poor start is probably the biggest surprise on the team and it's getting to be a concern.He claims he is physically healthy and that it's just a matter of mechanics but his ERA is now 6.43 and it's sure taking him a while to figure things out. Even the fast starting Armando Galarraga got roughed up last night - five runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. It's gotten to the point where if a starter gives up just four runs, such as Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson did in the first two games of the series, then it's a decent start.

Other than last night's 10-9 win, they did not have a great series offensively either scoring three runs or less in the three losses and being held to two hits in eight innings by Tim Wakefield. Miguel Cabrera went 2 for 14 and is now batting just .252. Edgar Renteria went 0 for 11. Curtis Granderson had a horrible series going 2 for 18 with eight strikeouts including seven in the last two games.

The only bright spot was their walk off win last night and even that had to be considered lucky. They scored two runs in the ninth inning off of Jon Papelbon thanks to a check swing single that didn't get past the pitcher's mound, an error by Julio Lugo and a bloop single by Placido Polanco. It was Polanco's fifth hit of the night.

I passed off their 0-7 and 2-10 start as a slump but now they have lost six out of seven just after it looked like they were starting to turn it around. With the starting pitching showing no real signs of fixing itself, I'm starting to become less optimistic about this team. On a positive note, nobody else in the division is doing anything either. Amazingly this 15-21 team is only 3 1/2 games behind. That means that when or if they figure things out, they will have a chance to catch up quickly.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Pitching to the score

You often hear pitchers talk about how they pitch to the score. That is, they do their best pitching when the game is close and let up somewhat when their team gives them a big lead. Jack Morris, for example, has said on a number of occasions that the reason for his relatively high career ERA (3.90) was that he pitched to the score. He says he was more interested in getting wins and pitching deep into games than he was about his ERA and that he would give up a lot of his runs in games where his team had built up a big lead. I don't doubt that pitchers pitch differently according to the situation but how much does it affect their actual performance?

A few years ago, Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus examined Morris' claim in "The Jack Morris Project". He tracked every inning of Morris' career and looked at his performance in different game situations - ties, one run leads, six run leads, etc. Joe did not find that Morris pitched much better in close games than he did with big leads. He did however, admit that he was not really sure what a pitcher's performance would look like if he actually did pitch to the score.

My goal here is to expand upon Sheehan's project by looking at a large group of pitchers rather than just one. From that, I should be able to get a better idea of what pitching to the score looks like and which pitchers have such a tendency.
An example of how the analysis works is this: If a starting pitcher begins an inning with a two run lead, his runs allowed during that inning go into the "up by two runs" category. Using the retrosheet databases, I looked at every inning pitched by every starting pitcher between 1990 and 2007 (excluding 1999 because the data were not available that year). The results are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: MLB ERA by Score - 1990-2007 (excluding 1999)


Total

Up 7+

Up 6

Up 5

Up 4

Up 3

Up 2

Up 1

IP

460,868

12,270

7,770

12,361

19,151

29,278

43,883

65,792

ERA

4.45

4.57

4.60

4.73

4.49

4.51

4.31

4.33



Tied

Down 1

Down 2

Down 3

Down 4

Down 5+

IP

165,728

49,910

29,090

15,201

6,822

3,612

ERA

4.39

4.37

4.63

4.89

4.77

5.69



You can see that the overall ERA for starting pitchers was 4.45 and you should also notice that the lowest ERAs do indeed come in innings where the margin is small: 4.39 in tie games, 4.33 when up by one run, 4.37 when down by one run, etc. The worst ERAs occur in innings where the pitchers are behind by a significant margin: 4.89 when down by three, 4.77 when down by four, etc. That should be expected though because a pitcher who is behind by a lot of runs must not have been pitching well prior to the inning and would tend to continue to struggle going forward. More interestingly, the ERAs in innings where pitchers had big leads were also relatively high: 4.73 with five run leads, 4.60 with six run leads, etc.

Table Two presents annual data comparing the performance of pitchers in close games (tied, down by one, up by one) and blow outs (leading by five or more runs). I computed a ratio as follows:

(ERA in close games/ERA in blow outs) X 100

A ratio of 100 would mean that pitchers performed the same in innings where the margin was small as in innings where they had big leads. A ratio under 100 would indicate that they did better with when the score was close, whereas a ratio of over 100 would indicate a better ERA in innings beginning with a large lead.



Table 2: MLB ERA - Up by five runs versus within one run

year

total ip

total ERA

IP up 5+ runs

ERA up 5+ runs

IP within 1 run

ERA within run

ratio

Total

460,868

4.45

32,401

4.64

281,430

4.37

94

1990

25,521

3.97

1,718

3.99

15,783

3.99

100

1991

25,587

4.02

1,775

4.20

16,013

3.97

94

1992

26,098

3.85

1,528

4.18

16,643

3.75

90

1993

27,730

4.26

1,840

4.56

17,075

4.20

92

1994

19,472

4.55

1,506

4.53

11,699

4.49

99

1995

23,907

4.53

1,783

4.87

14,365

4.48

92

1996

27,006

4.73

2,017

5.18

16,248

4.57

88

1997

27,168

4.45

1,897

4.67

16,590

4.38

94

1998

29,466

4.55

2,093

5.00

18,094

4.40

88

2000

28,756

4.86

2,253

5.07

17,117

4.79

95

2001

28,774

4.57

2,045

4.73

17,536

4.41

93

2002

28,761

4.40

2,091

4.29

17,637

4.37

102

2003

28,616

4.52

2,094

4.61

17,165

4.48

97

2004

28,437

4.62

1,946

4.67

17,239

4.58

98

2005

29,138

4.36

1,897

4.45

17,983

4.33

97

2006

28,295

4.69

2,046

4.77

17,082

4.59

96

2007

28,135

4.62

1,872

4.77

17,162

4.54

95



Using 2007 as an example, we get (4.54/4.77) x 100 = 95. That means that pitchers pitched 5% better in close games than in blow outs. Averaging across all 17 years in the study, pitchers did 6% better in close games.

Next, I looked at individual pitchers and that's why I included so many years in the study. Just looking at one year or a couple years of data wasn't going to work because the sample size for innings pitching with a lead of five or more runs would be too small. So, for this part of the analysis, I selected 23 pitchers with 2,000 or more innings pitched during the period. These data are in Table 3 below.

Table 3: Individual pitcher ERA - Up by five runs versus within one run

First

Last

total ip

total ERA

IP up 5+ runs

ERA up 5+ runs

IP within 1 run

ERA within run

ratio

John

Smoltz

2,648

3.33

161

4.18

1,515

3.25

78

Andy

Benes

2,222

3.84

186

4.45

1,343

3.55

80

Steve

Trachsel

2,254

4.21

145

4.95

1,467

4.04

81

Tom

Glavine

3,684

3.37

321

4.01

2,186

3.39

85

Kevin

Brown

2,837

3.31

163

3.87

1,717

3.35

87

Kevin

Appier

2,342

3.55

167

4.32

1,471

3.76

87

Tim

Wakefield

2,256

4.34

189

4.75

1,343

4.16

88

Roger

Clemens

3,443

3.06

242

3.39

2,046

3.04

90

David

Wells

2,935

4.13

309

4.17

1,714

3.77

91

Randy

Johnson

3,370

3.22

289

3.20

1,976

2.95

92

Jack

Morris*

3,746

3.90

327

4.46

2,169

4.15

93

Greg

Maddux

3,921

2.97

296

3.13

2,387

2.93

94

Livan

Hernandez

2,168

4.22

175

4.48

1,281

4.23

94

Andy

Pettitte

2,320

3.77

220

3.52

1,349

3.45

98

Jamie

Moyer

2,658

4.18

259

4.16

1,500

4.15

100

Mike

Mussina

3,155

3.71

302

3.70

1,864

3.72

101

Curt

Schilling

2,882

3.40

242

3.31

1,685

3.33

101

Kevin

Tapani

2,083

4.33

158

4.00

1,227

4.08

102

Chuck

Finley

2,453

3.85

203

3.72

1,450

3.81

102

John

Burkett

2,467

4.24

215

4.11

1,440

4.29

104

David

Cone

2,126

3.55

162

3.55

1,242

3.88

109

Kenny

Rogers

2,603

4.31

269

3.71

1,438

4.13

111

Brad

Radke

2,229

4.26

182

3.52

1,309

4.53

129

Scott

Erickson

2,093

4.55

222

3.05

1,192

4.62

152


*Jack Morris pitched between 1977-1994. All others pitched between 1990-2007.

In this table, you can see that not all pitchers pitched better in close games. In fact, 10 0f the 23 pitched as well or better in blowouts. The ratios range from 78 (22% better in close situations) for John Smoltz to 152 (52% better in blow outs) for Scott Erickson. This gives us some idea of what the performance of a pitcher who pitches to the score might look like - probably more like Smoltz than Erickson.

Where does Jack Morris fit into this? Morris pitched in an earlier but overlapping period: 1977-1994. The durable right-hander had a career ratio of 93 which puts him pretty close to the MLB average and right in the middle of the pack of qualifying pitchers. This tells me that his pattern of performance in close games versus blow outs looks pretty typical and there is no indication that his career ERA was unduly affected by pitching to the score.

This study has many possibilities and some other questions I'd like to look at as time allows are:
  • Do pitchers get more strikeouts in close games than they do in games where they lead by a wide margin?
  • Do pichers with lower ratios tend to have more actual wins than expected wins given their total runs allowed and runs support?
  • Do different types of pitchers (power pitchers, good pitchers, older pitchers, etc.) pitch to the score more than others ?

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at "www.retrosheet.org".

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