Sunday, August 31, 2008

Best seasons for Tigers position players

About a week ago, I listed the top seasons for Tigers rookie position players. Today, I'm looking at the best years of all time using the same criteria as I did for rookies. The top 16 are presented in Table 1 below. Remember that position and how well a player fielded his position count for a lot. Thus, players like Charlie Gehringer and Alan Trammell appear prominently on the list and a player like Harry Heilmann drops down a little from where his batting statistics would put him.

Table 1: Top 16 seasons for Tigers position players

Rank

Player

Year

Pos

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS+

RCAA

WS

1

Ty Cobb

1911

OF

654

.420

.467

.621

193

119

47

2

Norm Cash

1961

1B

672

.361

.487

.662

197

113

42

3

Ty Cobb

1917

OF

669

.383

.444

.570

210

99

46

4

Ty Cobb

1910

OF

591

.383

.456

.551

202

97

45

5

Ty Cobb

1912

OF

609

.409

.456

.584

203

100

40

6

Charlie Gehringer

1934

2B

708

.356

.450

.517

149

64

37

7

Alan Trammell

1987

SS

668

.343

.402

.551

157

64

35

8

Charlie Gehringer

1936

2B

731

.354

.431

.555

141

65

34

9

Ty Cobb

1915

OF

700

.369

.486

.487

182

84

48

10

Ty Cobb

1909

OF

651

.377

.431

.517

190

88

44

11

Harry Heilmann

1923

OF

626

.403

.481

.632

195

96

35

12

Hank Greenberg

1938

1B

681

.315

.438

.683

167

86

34

13

Hank Greenberg

1935

1B

710

.328

.411

.628

171

79

34

14

Magglio Ordonez

2007

OF

678

.363

.434

.595

167

72

36

15

Harry Heilmann

1927

OF

596

.398

.475

.616

180

78

32

16

Bill Freehan

1968

C

635

.263

.366

.454

143

35

35


Notes:

Ty Cobb (1911, 1917, 1910, 1912, 1915, 1909)

Six of the top 16 seasons belonged to Cobb and a case could could be made for even more than that. It was difficult to choose Cobb's number one season but I went with 1911 because he created more runs above average (119) than any other season. He also had his highest batting average (.420) , slugging average (.621) and runs created per game (15.2) that year. In all six listed seasons, he led the league in batting average and OPS. For his career, he lead the league in batting 12 times, slugging 7 times and OPS 9 times.

Norm Cash (1961)

The 26 year old Cash led the league in batting (.361) and OPS (1.148) in 1961. That was the only season in the top five that didn't belong to Cobb. Although Cash had a solid 17 year career, he never came close to matching those numbers again.

Charlie Gehringer (1934, 1936)

Gehringer led the league in batting (.356), runs (134) and finished second in OBP (.450) and doubles (50) on a pennant winning team in 1934. His 1936 season was very similar. He was the MVP in 1937 but his 52 runs created above average that year didn't quite make the cut. He was also a very solid defensive second baseman throughout his career.

Alan Trammell (1987)

Trammell should have won the MVP but it was inexplicably awarded to George Bell. The Tigers shortstop finished third in batting (.343), second in runs created (137) and sixth in OPS (.957). He was also a strong defender on a division winning team.

Harry Heilmann (1923, 1927)

Heilmann led the league in batting (.403) and finished second in OBP (.481) and slugging (.632) in 1923. In 1927, he was first in batting (.398) second in OBP (.475) and 4th in slugging (.616). His 1921 and 1925 seasons were also in the running for inclusion on this list. By most accounts, Heilmann was a weak defensive player and that hurt him somewhat in the rankings.

Hank Greenberg (1938, 1935)

In 1938, Greenberg finished first in homers (58), and second in sugging (.683), runs created (164) and OPS+ (167). In 1935, he led the league in runs created (159) and won the MVP for a championship team. Greenberg is another batter who almost appeared on this list more often. He won an MVP in 1940 and his 183 RBI in 1937 is still the third highest total in major league history.

Magglio Ordonez (2007)

Ordonez had the best offensive season for a Tiger in 46 years leading the league in batting (.363) and doubles (54), finishing third in runs created (152) and fourth in OPS (1.029).

Bill Freehan (1968)

This was going to be a top 15 list but I wanted to include Freehan and I couldn't bump any of the other seasons to fit him. Considering that it was the year of the pitcher and that great offensive seasons for catchers are rare, his 1968 season was truly remarkable. He finished in the top ten in OBP (.366), slugging (.454), OPS (.820), home runs (25), RBI (84) and runs created (94). He was also probably the best defensive catcher in the league.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All time best seasons for Tigers pitchers

A couple of weeks ago, I listed the top seasons for Tigers rookie pitchers. Today, I'm presenting the all time top Tigers pitching seasons. Using the same criteria as I did for the rookies, I ranked the top 15 seasons ever in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Top 15 Tigers pitching seasons

Rank

Player

Year

IP

W

L

ERA

ERA+

RSAA

WS

1

Hal Newhouser

1946

293

26

9

1.94

188

60

33

2

Hal Newhouser

1945

312

25

9

1.81

195

59

38

3

Bobo Newsome

1940

264

21

5

2.83

167

60

26

4

Dizzy Trout

1944

352

27

14

2.12

168

57

42

5

Hal Newhouser

1944

292

29

9

2.22

161

47

35

6

Denny McLain

1968

336

31

6

1.96

154

42

33

7

Virgil Trucks

1949

275

19

11

2.81

148

52

27

8

Bobo Newsome

1939

246

17

10

3.37

145

50

23

9

Dizzy Trout

1946

276

17

13

2.35

155

44

27

10

Mark Fidrych

1976

250

19

9

2.34

158

38

27

11

Hank Aguirre

1962

216

16

8

2.21

184

54

22

12

Jim Bunning

1957

267

20

8

2.70

143

40

26

13

Tommy Bridges

1936

295

23

11

3.60

137

39

26

14

Justin Thompson

1997

223

15

11

3.02

151

40

21

15

John Hiller

1973

125

10

5

1.44

285

34

31



Notes:

Hal Newhouser (1946)

Newhouser's numbers may been slightly better in 1945 but he may have been aided by the dilution of talent created by players serving in World War II. Thus, I went with his 1946 season as the top year for a Tigers pitcher. Newhouser finished 2nd in the American League MVP voting. He led the league in ERA (1.94) wins (26) and strikeout rate (8.46 per 9 IP).

Hal Newhouser (1945)

Newhouser won the AL MVP award by finishing first in ERA (1.81), wins (25), innings (313), complete games (29), shutouts (8) and strikeouts (212). He also won two World Series games.

Bobo Newsome (1940)

Newsome finished 4th in the MVP voting. He was second in ERA (2.83) and wins (21). He won two games in the 1940 World Series before losing a 2-1 pitchers duel in game 7.

Dizzy Trout (1944)

A case could be made that Trout was helped by the diluted talent pool as 1944 was his best year. However, his strong season in 1946 season makes his '44 season look legitimate. Trout finished first in ERA (2.12), innings (352), complete games (33) and shutouts (7).

Hal Newhouser (1944)

Newhouser finished first in wins (29) and strikeouts (187) and second in complete games (25) and shutouts (6) . His performance earned him the AL MVP award.

Denny McLain (1968)

McLain was baseball's last 30 game winner. He won the CY Young, the MVP and helped lead the Tigers to the World Championship.

Virgil Trucks (1949)

Trucks finished first in strikeouts (153), second in WHIP (1.211) and third in ERA (2.81).

Bobo Newsome (1939)

After being acquired from the St. Louis Browns early in the season, Newhouser went on finish first in complete games (24), third in wins (20) and second in strikeouts (192) for the two teams combined. Of his 291 total innings, 246 came with the Tigers.

Dizzy Trout (1946)

Trout's season was overshadowed by Newhouser's great year but he finished 3rd in the league in ERA+ (155), sixth in ERA (2.35) and was in the top ten in innings, shutouts, complete games, strikeouts and wins.

Mark Fidrych (1976)

The charismatic Fidrych had one of the most famous and best rookie seasons in baseball history. He led the league with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games and won the Rookie of the Year award. He finished second to Jim Palmer in the Cy Young voting.

Hank Aguirre (1962)

Aguirre had an outstanding season as a starter and reliever amassing 16 wins, 10 saves and leading the league with a 2.21 ERA and 6.75 hits per nine innings.

Jim Bunning (1957)

Bunning led the league in wins (20) and innings (267) and was second in strikeouts (182) and third in ERA (2.70).

Tommy Bridges (1936)

In arguably his best of several great seasons, Bridges finished first in wins (23) and strikeouts (175) and fourth in ERA (3.60).

Justin Thompson (1997)

It surprised me to see how well Thompson's 1997 season compared to other great Tigers seasons in terms of my two biggest criteria: ERA+ and RSAA. He finished 5th in the league in ERA (3.02) and 4th in WHIP (1.137)

John Hiller (1973)

Hiller had arguably the best year ever for a Tigers reliever. He finished fourth in both the MVP and Cy Young voting. He had a 1.44 ERA, 10 wins and a league leading 38 saves in 125 innings.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Best rookie seasons for Tigers position players

In an earlier post, I ranked Armando Galarraga's season among the top rookie pitchers seasons in Tigers history. Today, I'll look at their best rookie position players of all time. Some of the statistics I used to determine the ranks seen in Table 1 below are:
  • OPS+ = OPS relative to league average OPS after adjusting for ballpark (e.g. Rudy York had an OPS+ of 150 in 1937 indicating his OPS was 50% better than league average).
  • RCAA = Runs Created Above Average. A stat invented by Lee Sinins, the author of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. Sinnis calculates each player’s Runs Created, and then compares it to the league average, given that player’s number of plate appearances.
  • WS = wins shares - estimate of number of wins a player contributes to a team based on his individual statistics. Divide by 3 to get estimated wins contributed. (e.g. Rudy York had 18 win shares in 1937 so he contributed an estimated 6 wins by himself).

I also considered number of plate appearances, position played and quality of defense. Fielding was difficult to measure because the more sophisticated zone based stats are only available in recent years. Thus, I used stats such as Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs Above Average and Fielding Win Shares as well as anecdotal information.

Table 1: Top 10 rookie seasons for Tigers position players

Rank

Player

Year

Pos

Age

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS+

RCAA

WS

1

Rudy York

1937

C

23

417

.307

.375

.651

150

26

18

2

Dale Alexander

1929

1B

26

700

.343

.397

.580

148

50

24

3

Matt Nokes

1987

C

23

508

.289

.345

.536

135

20

20

4

Donie Bush

1909

SS

21

676

.273

.380

.314

114

12

27

5

Dick Wakefield

1943

OF

22

697

.316

.377

.434

127

26

24

6

Harvey Kuenn

1953

SS

22

731

.308

.356

.386

101

4

19

7

Lu Blue

1921

1B

24

709

.308

.416

.427

116

18

17

8

Roy Johnson

1929

OF

26

713

.314

.379

.475

118

19

19

9

Lou Whitaker

1978

2B

21

567

.285

.361

.357

101

-1

17

10

Ira Flagstead

1919

OF

25

342

.331

.416

.481

155

27

16


Here are some notes on each batter:

Rudy York (1937)

York blasted 18 home runs in the month of August which is still an American League record. He finished in the American League Top five in slugging (.651), homers (35) and OPS (1.026). Not that he needed it, but he gets extra credit in the ranking for being a catcher. He wound up playing 13 Major League seasons between 1934-1948, most of them with the Tigers. He batted .275, with 277 home runs and a 123 OPS+ in 1,603 games.

Dale Alexander (1929)

Alexander finished in the American League top ten in batting average (.343), slugging (.580) and OPS (.977). He batted .331 in five seasons with the Tigers and Red Sox but was a terrible fielder and was sent to the minors after batting .281 in 1933.

Matt Nokes (1987)

Nokes hit one homer for every 14.4 at bats in 1987, good for fourth best in the league. He also gets extra credit for being a catcher. He played 11 seasons with five major league teams but never again approached the numbers of his rookie season.

Donie Bush (1909)

Bush led the league in games played (157) and walks (88) and finished third in OBP (.380). His rookie season was his best one offensively but he went on to play 16 seasons as a steady shortstop, mostly with the Tigers.

Dick Wakefield (1943)

Wakefield was likely helped somewhat by the diluted talent pool during World War II but he finished second in batting (.316), 6th in OBP (.377) and 5th in slugging (.434). That was his only truly full season but he played nine years mostly with the Tigers and posted a 131 OPS+ in 2,132 career at bats.

Harvey Kuenn (1953)

Kuenn finished sixth in the league with a .308 batting average in 155 games as a shortstop. That performance earned him the American League Rookie of the Year award. Kuenn went on to bat .303 in 15 seasons for five major league teams.

Lu Blue (1921)

Blue walked 103 times to finish second in the league and his .416 OBP was good for eighth. In 13 major league seasons, he walked 1,092 times with only 436 strikeouts.

Roy Johnson (1929)

Johnson, Alexander's teammate in 1929, led the league with 45 doubles and finished second with 128 runs scored. He batted .296 with a 107 OPS+ in 10 seasons.

Lou Whitaker (1978)

Whitaker and Trammell began their long careers as a solid hitting and fielding keystone combo in 1978. Whitaker batted .285 with a .361 OBP and won the American League Rookie of the Year. He played 19 seasons, all with the Tigers, and batted .276/.363/.426.

Ira Flagstead (1919)

Flagstead batted a robust .331/.416/.481 with a 153 OPS+ but ranks as low as tenth on this list because he had only 342 plate appearances in 1919. He played 13 seasons, mostly with the Tigers and Red Sox, and batted .290 with a .370 OBP.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Back from Oneonta

I took my first trip to Damaschke Field in Oneonta on Friday night and I felt like I was at a high school game. Most of the seats were high school style bleacher seats and it was a quiet crowd of under 500. They did have a few box seats with names on them but most of those were empty. The official attendance was 452 but I'm pretty sure it was less than that. One thing I liked was that is was all baseball. Long time owner Same Nader wanted it to be a family atmosphere and a pure baseball experience, and although the team was recently sold, the tradition continues. There are no mascots or fans dressed up as Sumo wrestlers or anything else designed to attract casual fans. And if you need to have a beer when you watch a minor league game, Oneonta is not the place for you. They sell no alcohol at all at Damaschke Field.

One amusing feature is the little incentives they give to players who perform various feats. For example, a player gets a free sub from Quizno's on Route 28 plus $20 worth of gas if he hits a double. A home run gets him a pizza, some free gas and a personalized bat. A bunt single is $10. How is that for motivation? They have similar prizes for pitchers who win games and fielders who make good plays. I don't think these types of incentives are unusual in the minors but what made it unique was that they announce it to the fans when a player wins something.

After the sparse audience at Friday night's game, I was a little surprised when I showed up the next night to an overflow parking lot. I learned the reason when I went to buy my ticket. Tickets were free that night which apparently is a common occurrence there. The attendance was close to the Damaschke Park capacity of 4,000. Not only was it free but they game away dozens and dozens of baseballs to fans and awarded an endless supply of raffle prizes. This time the subs, the pizzas and the gas were for the fans as well as the players. I didn't win anything but I'm not sure what I was going to do with a free gift certificate to Dairy Queen on Main Street in Oneonta anyhow.

Sadly, for the people of Oneonta, the town with a population of about 6,000 is probably not going to be able to support a team much longer. Under new ownership, they are guaranteed a team through 2010 but I suspect they will have to move after that. While it's a pleasant experience, the facilities pale in comparison to other teams at that level. The Lowell Spinners, for example play in a very modern stadium and have sold out every game for years. Lowell has a population of more than 100,000 and is surrounded by fairly densely populated suburbs.

Now for my very amateur scouting report. first, Oneonta is not a team of elite prospects to begin with and I missed some of their better pitchers. I did not get a chance to see Luke Putkonen, Anthony Shawler or Tyler Stohr. The pitcher who impressed me the most was Mark Brackman, a 16th round pick in the 2007 amateur draft. He's a big guy (6-7 230 pounds) but has a smooth delivery and good control. He pitched two innings and received poor defensive support allowing two unearned runs. He has a 4.21 ERA and 33/9 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings pitched for Oneonta this year.

Shortstop and 11th round pick Brandon Douglass is having good season hitting .329/.365/.435 in 216 at bats for the GCL Tigers, West Michigan and Oneonta combined. From what I saw (and this is very limited), he does not appear to have a shortstop's range or arm. I would not be surprised if they moved him to second in the future.

My sleeper prospect for the visit is Mike Gosse, a 23rd round pick this year out of the University of Oklahoma. The left-handed hitting second baseman from Canada looks like the David Eckstein of the New York Penn League. He is listed at 5-7 165 pounds but I'm pretty sure he is shorter than that. He made good contact (four hits for the two nights) and showed surprising pop on a ground rule double to right. He is batting .304 with a 12/10 BB/K ratio in 193 at bats for Oneonta.

By the way, they lost both games to Hudson Valley 10-1 and 7-5 and are 25-34 for the season. But keep an eye on Mike Gosse!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fan Fielding Survey - 2008

For the sixth year, Tom Tango is conducting his annual survey on defensive skills. The results of this survey are a very valuable resource so I'm encouraging all knowledgeable fans who watch a lot of Detroit Tigers games to participate. The survey asks fans to rate the fielding skills of players on their favorite teams just based on observation. You will be asked not to use any stats at all and also not to vote based on what somebody else told you. Just use your own eyes as if you were a scout. The results were very interesting and informative last year but a large sample size is needed in order for them to be useful again this year. So, I urge all of you to complete the ballot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mike McClary's 17 questions

Mike McClary posed 17 questions about the Detroit Tigers at the Daily Fungo. Big Al has answered them. Mack Avenue Kurt is in the process of answering them. Now, I'm going to answer them.

1. Who’s the closer in 2009?

This is a tough one but they drafted a bunch of college relievers (although some could be starters) in the early rounds of the amateur draft this summer. I don't know if any of them will be ready to close in 2009 but I get the feeling that they won't be signing Frankie Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes to an expensive multi-year deal. They may not go into spring training with a set closer. Instead there may be a competition between Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, minor league reliever Casey Fein and maybe a free agent such as Damaso Marte or Dan Wheeler.

2. Does Chuck Hernandez return as pitching coach?

I think it's very hard for fans to evaluate pitching coaches because their work is done behind the scenes for the most part. I'm not going to place the blame on him without proof but it's clear that very few of their pitchers have shown much development over the last couple of years. Instead they are getting worse for the most part. Someone will have to take the hit for this disappointing season and I suspect he'll be one of the people to go.

3. Is Nate Robertson a Tiger next season?

I think it's possible they can trade a left-handed pitcher with a decent track record before this year but they won't get much for him. Thus, I think he'll be back. Since he has good control and tends to pitch fairly well his first time through the line-up, he might make a good reliever.

4. Can Dontrelle Willis bounce back?

I think he can bounce back to being a major league pitcher again. He has been working on his control in the minors with decent results so we may see him back in Detroit some time in September. Getting back to his Cy Young runner-up form of 2005 is not likely. Getting back to league average innings eater form is a possibility.
There's a lot of work to be done though.

5. Can the Tigers deal Carlos Guillen?

There would certainly be a market for his talents (even if they are declining) but there will not be too much interest in his contract which has three years and $36 million remaining. He'll likely be the Tigers third baseman next year.

6. If the Tigers can get a catcher, do they — and do they move Brandon Inge back to third?

I don't think they'll be able to get a good starting catcher so I think Inge will remain there next season. I like the idea of Inge playing third but then you'd have the likely problem of two really bad hitters in the line-up - Inge and the new catcher. And they'd also have to figure out what to do with Guillen.

7. Does Vance Wilson return at long last?

Wilson underwent a second Tommy John surgery in June so his career may be over. They'll need a back up and Dusty Ryan coming off a solid minor league season is a likely candidate. Ryan is a good defensive catcher and should be far superior to Dane Sardinha offensively.

8. Who’s the shortstop?

I think Edgar Renteria will be back. I talked about this in an earlier post.

9. Would they deal Magglio Ordonez as some suggest?

I think they still have a window of opportunity to win next year and I don't see them trading him for prospects (which is what a team usually gets when they trade a player with a large contract) during the off-season. If they have another bad first half next year, they might try to deal him during the season.

10. How does Jeremy Bonderman recover?

I've always been a Jeremy Bonderman supporter and I'm going to say that he'll bounce back next year. I believe his poor pitching since last June was primarily related to health problems and all indications are that he should be healthy next spring. I don't think he'll ever be the ace many had hoped but if he can return to his 2006 form, he will be valuable.

11. Is Clete Thomas on the big club to stay?

I don't think Thomas hits well enough yet to be a regular but I think he is ready to be a useful backup outfielder. He bats left-handed, can play all three outfield positions and has a lot of speed. Those are things that the Tigers can certainly use off the bench so I think they'll find a spot for him next year.

12. Who is 2009’s Matt Joyce?

Dusty Ryan is a possibility.

13. Are the Tigers counting on Freddy Garcia?

I would hope they are not counting on a pitcher coming off shoulder surgery but I think he'll re-sign with them (because of the Venezuelan connection) and be given an opportunity to win a job in the spring.

14. Will Brent Clevlen finally break through?

I don't think Brent Clevlen is that good of a prospect. It took him three years to learn how to hit upper level minor league pitching and he still strikes out at an alarming rate. He's a good defender with some power but I think he'll be a reserve outfielder at best and I think Thomas has more to offer.

15. What can the Tigers expect out of Joel Zumaya?

Another bizarre injury perhaps? Zumaya is still very young and can still throw 100 MPH so I wouldn't count him out but he needs to stay healthy. He also needs to learn to be more of a pitcher rather than a thrower. I'd love to see them try him as a starter.

16. Do they sign Placido Polanco to an extension before the season?

I would not sign him to an extension. He'll be 33 years old next year and 33 year old infielders who rely on batting average for most of their production tend to decline very fast. He should be fine next year but I'd wary about extending him.

17. What’s Gary Sheffield’s role — if any?

I doubt they'll be able to move his salary so I think he'll be back next year. He is healthy again and a healthy Gary Sheffield is still a productive player but he concerns me a lot. I question whether a 40 year old with a violent swing and multiple shoulder surgeries in his past will be able to stay healthy. That's a problem because he tries to play through injuries and Jim Leyland doesn't sit him so it hurts the team.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Will Renteria be back next year?

Most Tigers fans agree that the Edgar Renteria for Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez deal has been a very bad one for the Tigers but let's forget about the deal and focus on Renteria for a moment. The Tigers need to decide what to do with him after the season as they have an $11 million team option for next season. If they decline the option there is a $3 million dollar buy out but, according to Cots Contracts, the Red Sox are responsible for that money. Given those parameters, I would say it's very likely that the Tigers will decline the option.

Declining the option would not necessarily mean that he is gone though. Instead of letting the option kick in, the Tigers could offer him arbitration. If he accepts arbitration, he would likely make less than $11 million and potentially a lot less than that. If he declines arbitration and another team signs him, then the Tigers would probably get two first round draft picks in the amateur draft. You can find more details at Detroit Tigers Thoughts. Another choice is to not offer him arbitration but still try to negotiate a contract. Of course, the final possibility would be to just let him go.

Is he worth bringing back if they can get the cost of the contract down to a more reasonable level? He's had a bad year at the plate batting .271/.323/.359. His .681 OPS ranks him 8th among 12 American League shortstops with 300 or more plate appearances. He has done better as of late though which suggests that he might be getting adjusted to the league. After batting a woeful .254/.301/.326 before the all-star break, he has batted .320/.386/.456 in 103 at bats since then. If he keeps swinging the bat as he has been recently, he could get close to his career averages of .290/.348/.404 by the end of the season.

How is his fielding? He looks a bit pudgy and slow for a shortstop but the numbers say he might not be quite as bad as he looks. The Fielding Bible system (reported by Bill James online) says that he has made 2 more plays in his zone than the average shortstop this year. They also back up my observation that he is better at going to his left (+7) than he is at going to his right (-5). He is 13th among 19 qualifying shortstops in the majors according to Zone Rating and is 13th out of 21 based on Revised Zone Rating. So, the consensus seems to be that he has been average to a little below average defensively this year which is the same as last year.

Based on the numbers and the fact that he is 33 years old, it would be nice to find another option. Ramon Santiago is having a good year in limited at bats but has a lifetime line of .238/.307/.318. I think he makes a good backup infielder but I don't think I'd want to see him as a starter. By all accounts, Michael Hollimon is more of a second basemen than a shortstop and there is no guarantee he'll be even as good as Renteria on a regular basis. Among free agents, Rafael Furcal is a solid player but he has a back problem and will likely be costly. Orlando Cabrera is a better fielder than Renteria but is 33 and not any better offensively. He'll also probably require a multi-year deal and they've got enough of those already. Cesar Izturis can field but can't hit. So their are other options but each has its problems.

I'm still torn on what they should do but, given all the alternatives, taking the arbitration risk on Renteria does not seem like a bad idea. He's not as awful as some have made him out to be and could bounce back a bit offensively in his second year in the league. There is also a real possibility that some team (especially a National League team) would take a chance on him and that the Tigers would end up with two draft picks. That would be a good result.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Where does Galarraga's rookie season rank in Tigers history?

One of the few things that has gone right for the Tigers this year is Armando Galarraga's surprising and stellar season. The 26 year old Venezuelan was acquired from the Rangers for fringe prospect Michael Hernandez before the season and did not make the opening day Tigers roster out of spring training. He got the call when Dontrelle Willis got hurt in April and has been in the rotation (except for one relief appearance when Willis tried to come back) ever since. Not only has he been the Tigers best pitcher but he is also a strong Rookie of the Year candidate. With that in mind, I decided to go through the history of the Tigers to see how The Big Cat ranks among the best rookie seasons ever.

The best seasons for Tigers rookie pitchers are listed in chronological order in Table 1 below. The table stats are defined as follows:
  • Year = Rookie year
  • IP= Innings Pitched
  • W= Wins
  • L = Losses
  • ERA = Earned run average
  • ERA+ = ERA relative to league average ERA after adjusting for ballpark (e.g. Mark Fidrych had a 159 ERA+ so he was 59% better than league average).
  • RSAA = Runs saved over an average pitcher's runs allowed
  • WS = wins shares - estimate of number of wins a player contributes to a team based on his individual statistics. Divide by 3 to get estimated wins contributed. ( e.g. Mark Fidrych had 27 win shares in 1976 so he contributed an estimated 9 wins by himself).

Table 1: Top seasons for Tigers rookie pitchers (chronological order)

Player

Year

Age

IP

W

L

ERA

ERA+

RSAA

WS

Roscoe Miller

1901

24

332

23

13

2.95

130

42

30

Ed Siever

1901

24

289

18

15

3.24

119

27

22

Ed Summers

1908

23

301

24

12

1.64

147

27

21

Hooks Dauss

1913

22

226

13

12

2.67

117

8

14

Herman Pillette

1922

26

275

19

12

2.85

136

34

22

Hal White

1942

23

217

12

12

3.39

136

28

18

Frank Lary

1955

25

235

14

15

3.10

124

18

15

Mark Fidrych

1976

21

250

19

9

2.34

159

38

27

Dave Rozema

1977

20

218

15

7

3.09

139

29

18

Mike Henneman

1987

25

97

11

3

2.98

142

14

13

Joe Zumaya

2006

21

83

6

3

1.94

235

24

12

Justin Verlander

2006

22

186

17

9

3.63

126

18

15

Armando Galarraga

2008

26

133

11

4

3.11

139

18

11

Armando Galarraga*

2008

26

192

16

6

3.11

139

26

16


*Projected


I used the above stats and some other things to rank the seasons:

1. Mark Fidrych (1976)

The charismatic Fidrych had one of the most famous and best rookie seasons in baseball history. He led the league with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games and won the Rookie of the Year award. He finished second to Jim Palmer in the Cy Young voting. "The Bird" injured his shoulder the following year and then, after several come back attempts, pitched his last game in 1980 at the age of 26.

2. Ed Summers (1908)

"Kickapoo" Summers was the best pitcher for the pennant winning Tigers finishing in the top five in the league in ERA, innings and wins. That would be his best season but he followed it up with another strong season the next year, a third consecutive pennant winner for the Tigers. He pitched five seasons for the Tigers posting a 2.42 ERA (113 ERA+) in 999 innings. He pitched his last game in 1912 at the age of 27.

3. Roscoe Miller (1901)

Miller was the Tigers best pitcher in their first year of existence. His 35 complete games that year is still an American League rookie record. He never came close to duplicating his 1901 season and had a short career pitching 772 innings in four seasons with the Tigers, Giants and Pirates. He was done at age 27 in 1904.

4. Herman Pillette (1922)

Pillette pitched one inning for the Reds in 1917 and didn't pitch again until 1922 with the Tigers. He finished second in the league with a 2.85 ERA that year. Like the above pitchers, his rookie year would be his best. His ERA rose to 3.85 the next year and he pitched his last game in 1924. His son Duane pitched eight season for four teams between 1949-1956.

5. Dave Rozema (1977)

Rozema followed up Fidrych's amazing season with his own excellent season. He had the best bases on balls ratio in the league (1.4 BB/9 IP) and was seventh in ERA (3.09). He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting (Eddie Murray was first) and eighth in Cy Young voting. His rookie year was his best year but he lasted 10 seasons and was an important starter/reliever for the 1984 championship team.

6. Hal White (1942)

The 5-10 right-hander posted a strong 136 ERA+ in 217 innings in 1942. He pitched 12 seasons as a starter and reliever for the Tigers, Browns and Cardinals appearing in 336 games and posting a career ERA of 3.78 (106 ERA+).

7. Joel Zumaya (2006)

The 21 year old fire baller was a major contributor during the 2006 pennant winning season. He was the fastest pitcher in the league and had a 1.94 ERA in 83 innings and 10.5 strikeouts per 9 innings. He is still just 23 but his career has been derailed by a myriad of injuries.

8. Ed Siever (1901)

Siever was another member of the first Tigers team ever. He pitched 289 innings and finished ninth in the league with a 3.24 ERA (119 ERA+). He then led the league with a 1.91 ERA the following year. He pitched seven seasons with the Tigers and Browns compiling a 2.60 ERA (117 ERA+) in 1,507 innings.

9. Justin Verlander (2006)

Verlander finished 7th in the league with a 3.63 ERA and won the American League Rookie of the Year award. He also finished 7th in Cy Young voting. He followed his rookie season with another strong season in 2007 but is having a rough season in 2008.

10. Frank Lary (1955)

Lary had a 124 ERA+ in 235 innings in his 1955 rookie season. The "Yankee killer" went on to pitch 12 major league seasons and had 128 wins and a 113 ERA+ in 2,162 innings. He had three ERA+ of 127 or more in his career.

11. Mike Henneman (1987)

Henneman was a key reliever for the Tigers during the epic 1987 pennant race. He had a 2.89 ERA (142 ERA+) and accumulated 11 wins and 7 saves in 97 innings. He lasted 10 years pitching in 561 games for the Tigers, Astros and Rangers. He posted a career ERA of 3.21 (130 ERA+).

12. Hooks Dauss (1913)

After pitching two games in 1912, Dauss had a 117 ERA+ in 226 innings in his 1913 season. It was certainly not his only good season or his best season as he became the winningest pitcher in Tigers history. He had 222 victories in 3,391 innings for the Tigers between 1912 and 1926 and won 10 or more games 14 consecutive years.

So where does Galarraga's season rank? If you look at the last two rows of Table 1, you'll see Armando's 2008 statistics as of August 14 and his projected statistics if he keeps up the same pace through the end of the season. Based on the projected stats, I would say that his season would be close to Dave Rozema which would rank him 5th or 6th among Tigers rookie pitchers all time. That's a pretty good season for a hurler of whom many Tigers fans had never heard before this season.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Galarraga, Tigers avoid sweep

After sleep walking through the first 34 innings of the series, the Tigers broke through for five runs in the eighth inning today to defeat the Blue Jays 5-1. Down 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Miguel Cabrera singled versus Jason Fraser to score Placido Polanco with the tying run. Two walks later, Edgar Renteria put the Tigers in front with a two run double and Brandon Inge then capped the rally with a two run single.

I'll give most of the credit for this one to Armando Galarraga for keeping them in the game with eight strong innings allowing just the one run on six hits and two walks. I was skeptical about Galarraga's low ERA earlier in the season but, instead of regressing, he has gotten even better in recent games. After having control problems earlier in the season, the Big Cat has posted an impressive 30/7 K/BB and ratio and 2.72 ERA in 39 2/3 innings since the all-star break.

For the season, Armando has a 3.11 ERA (good for sixth in the league) and a 92/44 k/BB ratio in 133 innings. I think he has emerged into a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate and his 11-4 record should help him gain support among voters. Galarraga has been one of the few bright spots in a pretty disappointing season for the Tigers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wednesday links

I'm tired of doing daily recaps of this sorry season so I've been looking at walk-off data and some other stuff. That takes time but I'll post more soon. For today, here are some interesting links from around the net:
  • Eddie B is doing a thorough look at the top bullpens in recent years to see how they were built. He then uses that data to see how the Tigers might put together a pen with players that may be available after the season. He recently completed Part 6 but make sure you scroll down and read the whole series of posts. He will also write several more future posts on the subject.
  • Billfer analyzes the management of Justin Verlander's workload and concludes that leaving him in for more than 115 pitches is generally not a good idea.
  • Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus has an article on Tigers outfield prospect Wilkin Ramirez. It's premium content but I'll tell you that he thinks that the toolsy Ramirez is finally developing into a blue chip talent. One scout says this about him:
"I like the way he goes about everything ..... He has power, on-base skills, and don't forget that he's a 60 [on the 20-to-80 scouting scale] runner as well. His defense is adequate, but I think he's the kind of guy who is an everyday corner outfielder on a first-division team—he could be pretty special."
  • Lynn Henning thinks the Tigers are going to substantially cut payroll after the season and may even trade Magglio Ordonez. I'm not expecting a CC Sabathia or Frankie Rodriguez type free agent signing but I'd be surprised if they traded Ordonez.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Teams that walk-off

Since I have been on the subject of walk-offs (a game where the home team wins in their final at bat), I thought it would be a good idea to see which teams have won and lost the most walk-offs between 1990 and 2007. Tables 1-6 display the major league leaders and Table 7 looks at the Tigers.


Table 1: Most walk-off wins in a year 1990-2007 (excluding 1999)

Team

Year

Wins

Florida

1997

16

Oakland

2004

15

Chicago (AL)

2004

15

Houston

1992

15

Los Angeles (NL)

1991

14

Milwaukee

2000

14



Table 2: Highest walk-off winning percentages 1990-2007 (excluding 1999)


Team

Year

Wins

Losses

PCT

Houston

1992

15

1

.938

Cleveland

1995

12

2

.857

Florida

2003

10

2

.833

New York (AL)

2005

10

2

.833

Seattle

2007

8

2

.800



Table 3: Most walk-off losses in a year 1990-2007 (excluding 1999)

Team

Year

Losses

Los Angeles (NL)

1992

15

Chicago (NL)

1991

14

Texas

2002

14

Cincinnati

1993

14

San Francisco

2004

14



Table 4: Lowest walk-off winning percentages 1990-2007 (excluding 1999)

Team

Year

Wins

Losses

PCT

Texas

1996

1

9

.100

Seattle

1998

1

9

.100

Pittsburgh

1996

2

11

.154

Cleveland

1991

2

10

.167

Florida

2001

3

12

.200



Table 5: Highest cumulative walk-off winning percentages 1990-2007 (exc 1999)

Team

Wins

Losses

PCT

Oakland

150

108

.581

St. Louis

138

111

.554

Minnesota

137

114

.540

Houston

132

114

.537

Atlanta

120

112

.517



Table 6: Lowest cumulative walk-off winning percentages 1990-2007 (exc 1999)

Team

Wins

Losses

PCT

Texas

95

120

.442

Pittsburgh

102

121

.457

Seattle

101

119

.459

Chicago (NL)

115

133

.464

Mon/Was

119

136

.467



Table 7: Tigers walk-off records 1990-2007 (excluding 1999)

Category

Year

Record

Most wins

1991

10

Highest PCT

1991

10-5 .667

Most losses

2002, 2004

9

Lowest PCT

2001

4-7

Cumulative Record

All years

100-101 .498


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

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tigers take series from Athletics

The Tigers topped the Athletics 6-1 today to take the three game series two games to one. Winning a series at home from a team that had previously lost ten in a row and has one of the weakest line-ups in baseball is no great feat. Still, it's nice to see that the Tigers are not mailing in the season as they apparently did in 2005 under similar circumstances. Friday night, it looked like they might be ready to do just that but they bounced back yesterday and today.

It's a shame the Tigers have fallen so far out of the race because all 19 of the remaining games this month are against teams that are at about .500 or below - Toronto (4 games), Baltimore (3), Texas (3), Kansas City (6) and Cleveland (3). Not only that, but 13 of those games are at home. It would have been a good opportunity to make a move in the pennant race but now it looks like it won't make a difference. It would still be nice if they can give us a good show and win most of those series though.

One guy who is entertaining us as of late is Miguel Cabrera. He is batting .346/.399/.654 in 168 plate appearances since June 27. His 1.053 OPS over that span is best in the American League. With pitchers now pitching around him - six walks in his last four games - it might be a good time for a line-up change. I'd like to see Cabrera moved into the third spot in front of Magglio Ordonez. That way he would get more at bats and wouldn't be pitched around very much. Either that or have Ordonez bat third and Cabrera fourth with Carlos Guillen batting fifth. Jim Leyland doesn't like to change the batting order though so this is a move I'm not expecting.

They will continue to pitch around Cabrera as long as Gary Sheffield struggles. Sheffield has shown a little more power since the all-star break but .234/.318/.468 is not good enough for a designated hitter. Sheffield is hitting a paltry .225/.326/.380 for the season. According to The Boston Globe, Sheffield says he would waive his no trade clause in order to be traded to a contender. He is still owed about $19 million this year and next though so I don't know who would want him. It's possible some team might think he will get hot for a few weeks and make a deal if the Tigers agree to pay a good proportion of the remainder of his contract. That's another move I'm not expecting though.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Are the Tigers completely done and other burning questions

I've asked myself this question a few times this year: Are the Tigers done?

Well, they are not mathematically eliminated but it has now reached the point where it will take a miracle to catch up. They are 8 1/2 games between the White Sox and 7 1/2 behind the Twins. That's a lot of ground to make up and it's unrealistic to expect (1) their pitching (especially their nonexistent bullpen) to suddenly turn it around (2) both the Twins and White Sox will collapse.

Was leaving Justin Verlander in to throw 130 pitches Wednesday night a bad idea?

Billfer definitely thinks it was a bad thing and I tend to agree but I'm a little less certain. Justin Verlander leads baseball in pitches thrown and in Pitcher Abuse Points - a system developed by Rani Jazayerli based on the number of pitches thrown per game. We all know that pitchers used to throw a lot more than they do today. It has been shown in recent years that excessive pitching can cause injuries. However, there are still a lot injuries today even with more careful workload management. It's also true that not all pitchers with heavy workloads get hurt. My feeling is that certain pitchers can handle heavy workloads as much today as they did twenty or thirty years ago. Why not? The key is to determine which ones. I'm not sure that they know how to do that yet but Verlander better be one of them because he has been throwing a lot.

Do the Tigers need to blow up their team and start over again next year?

No, they still have enough good pieces in place to make a run again next year. It would be nice if they could move Gary Sheffield and maybe find a better defensive defensive shortstop to replace the declining Edgar Renteria but I would leave the core of their offense intact. There is a lot of talent at the top of the line-up in Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. The key will be to add as much pitching as they can by getting their own pitchers healthy again, promoting young relievers and adding free agents. We'll be discussing that all winter.

What do we have to look forward to for the remainder of the season?

The most interesting story the rest of the way might be Ordonez's pursuit to become the only Tiger other than Ty Cobb to win back to back batting titles. I'll also be watching to see if Granderson and Cabrera can stay hot and what kind of numbers they can put up. Armando Galarraga has been a pleasure to follow all year and actually seems to be getting better in recent starts. I don't think Armando will be rookie of the year (Evan Longoria is the best bet) but he may get some votes. Matt Joyce has also been a pleasant surprise and should continue to get at bats.

Besides Galarraga and Joyce, what other young players can we expect to see the rest of the way?

Zach Miner has done well as a starter so far and may be able to make the rotation next year so I'll be keeping an eye on him. Clete Thomas, Jeff Larish and Mike Hollimon will also probably get more opportunities down the stretch. A couple of new players who might also be called up are reliever Casey Fien and catcher Dusty Ryan. Both could play significant roles next year if all goes well.

Will Jim Leyland be back next year?

This is purely speculation but I don't think he will be. It's been a very disappointing year and one way or another, I think he will be gone. He could be fired or more likely a mutual agreement that he resign. I don't think it will even come to that though. Based on recent interviews (and I know that's not a great way to judge things), he seems very frustrated and worn down and I believe he may just retire.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What about walk off losses?

In my previous post, I examined the effect of walk off wins on a team's performance the next day. I found that the winning percentage in games immediately after the walk offs was almost exactly the same it would be if we assumed no carryover effect from the day before. Thus, the theory that a sudden victory creates a psychological lift which leads to success in the following games seems to be, in general, untrue.

Eddie at Tigers Thoughts wanted me to do the same analysis for walk off losses. It has been said the effect of a walk loss is more demoralizing than a walk off win is uplifting. I'll test that theory using the same method as I did for walk off wins. I used the same 1995-2007 data set (excluding 1999) with 2,473 walk offs. It turns out that teams won just 46% of the games immediately following walk off losses but we can't stop there.

As with walk off wins, there are there are two factors to consider. First, walk off losses happen on the road and are followed by road games 86% of the time. Since teams win just 46.1% of their road games, you would expect them to have a low winning percentage in games after sudden losses even without a carryover effect. Also, teams with low winning percentages tend to have more walk off losses. For both of these reasons, one would expect a win in the next game after a walk off loss less than 50% of the time even if walk off losses had no influence.

I calculated the expected winning percentage in games after sudden losses the same way as I did in my previous post. That is, I first computed the winning percentage of the specific team for that year and site. For example, the 2007 Twins won 46.9% of their road games. Thus, they would have a probability of .469 of winning a home game the day after a walk off assuming no carryover effect. I did this for each of the 2,473 walk offs and then calculated the average probability to be .457. This means, that assuming no carry over effect, we would expect 45.7% of the games after walk offs to have resulted in wins.

Since the expected winning percentage (45.7%) for games after walk offs was almost the same as the actual winning percentage (46.0%), I can conclude that, in general, a walk off loss has no affect on the result of the following game. So, based on this analysis, it appears that the walk off losses are not as demoralizing as some think....let's hope that rings true for Wednesday's game. Ouch.

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

Monday, August 04, 2008

Do walk off wins create momentum?

Much has been said by players, broadcasters and fans about the concept of momentum in baseball. It is said that a big inning can change the course of a game or that a come back win can turn a season around. Momentum is difficult to measure because it can supposedly shift at any point in a game and is not necessarily a dramatic event when it happens. For example, a lead off single after a tough at bat could be a game changer.

While it is difficult to isolate all potential momentum turning events, one convenient group of events is walk off wins (any game won in the home team's last at bat). it is widely believed that a walk off win or sudden victory creates a boost for a team that carries over to the next game more often than not. I wanted to see if this was true, so I went to the retrosheet database and found all walk off wins between 1995 and 2007 (excluding 1999 as the data are not available). There were 2,489 of these sudden victories during the period which comes out to 7.5 per team for a season. My goal was to see if walk off winners had a tendency win the next game after their walk offs.

Sixteen walk offs fell out of the sample because they occurred in the final game of the season and thus were not followed by another regular season game. That gave me 2,473 games with which to work. I discovered that teams won 52.7% of the games immediately following walk off wins. That's more than 50% so at first glance it seems that there is a bit of a tendency for teams to win games following walk offs.

Before jumping to conclusions though, there are a couple of important factors to consider. First, walk off wins only happen at home so chances are (85% of the time to be exact) that the next game would also be at home. Since teams win 53.9% of their home games, you would expect them to have a good winning percentage in games after walk offs even without a carryover effect. Also, teams with good winning percentages tend to have more walk off wins. For both of these reasons, one would expect a win the next game after a walk off more than 50% of the time even if walk off wins had no influence on future games.

I calculated the expected winning percentage in games after sudden victories as follows: For each walk off, I calculated the winning percentage of the specific team for that year and site. For example, the 2007 Tigers won 55.6% of their home games. Thus, they would have a probability of .556 of winning a home game the day after a walk off assuming no carryover effect. I did this for each of the 2,473 walk offs and then calculated the average probability to be .528. This means, that assuming no carry over effect, we would expect 52.8% of the games after walk offs to have resulted in wins.

Since the expected winning percentage (52.8%) for games after walk offs was almost exactly the same as the actual winning percentage (52.7%), I can conclude that, in general, a walk off win has no affect over the result of the following game. As cautious as I am about accepting intangibles, this result is still surprising to me. I was not expecting a dramatic effect but I thought that sudden victories would have a small influence over ensuing games. Based on this analysis though, it appears that a walk off win is just another win.

Tomorrow, I will look at walk off losses.

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

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Tigers back to .500

A little while back, the Tigers climbed to .500 for the first time and it felt like they were on a roll. Now, after their third straight loss, a 9-3 drubbing at the hands of the Rays, the Tigers are back at .500 and it feels like a downward spiral. The Tigers continue to tease their fans staying within striking distance (6 1/2 games behind) of the White Sox and Twins but it's getting harder and harder to be optimistic about a team that can't seem do anything against the stronger teams in the league.

It was a strange game for Kenny Rogers tonight. He struck out eight batters in 3 1/3 innings but got pounded for 7 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks. He has now given up 12 runs in his last two games and his ERA has climbed to 4.98.

In general, their pitching staff is a mess as Nate Robertson has an ERA over 6.00 and even Justin Verlander has failed the last two times out. Nobody needs to be reminded that they have no reliable relievers. The latest news on Joel Zumaya is that he is in pain again. They have not found anything seriously wrong but it sounds to me like it might be smart to shut him down for a while. On a positive note, Kyle Farnsworth made his first appearance for the Tigers tonight and pitched a perfect eighth.

The hitting star tonight was Miguel Cabrera who went three for three with a walk. Cabrera is now batting .348/.388/.634 in 115 at bats since July 1. His 1.022 OPS during that time is sixth in the league.

The Tigers will try to salvage one victory in this series when Armando Galarraga faces James Shields tomorrow afternoon.

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