Sunday, September 28, 2008

Inge to third Guillen to left

The Carlos Guillen Brandon Inge positional shuffle took another turn today when Jim Leyland announced that Inge will move back to third and Guillen to left field in 2009. Inge has been struggling offensively and defensively as a catcher and has always been more comfortable at third. He is currently batting .204/.300/.366 which won't be good enough even with his strong defense at third. He'll likely hit a little better at third than he did at catcher but there is no guarantee of that.

Guillen has not played much outfield (just two games this year) but I suspect he'll be adequate. It will be mostly a matter of staying healthy. The move will make it very difficult for rookie Matt Joyce to get regular playing time and could mean that Marcus Thames will be dealt during the off-season. What I'd like to see is for them to trade Gary Sheffield (even if the Tigers have to eat a large portion of his salary), move Guillen to designated hitter and go with a Matt Joyce/Marcus Thames platoon in left field. Despite Sheffield's improved offense in the second half (.798 OPS since the all-star break), I'm still wary of his age and injury issues going forward.

The decision also leaves the Tigers without an experienced catcher. Dusty Ryan has looked good this September batting .306 with two homers in 36 at bats and displaying solid defense. He also showed good power in the minors hitting 17 homers and 24 doubles in 369 at bats with Erie and Toledo. However, he also struck out 122 times and,while I do like his future, he might need more time at AAA. Their only other catcher is Dane Sardinha who is batting a paltry .140. Ryan might indeed be ready for some kind of major league role but they'll almost surely add another catcher during the off-season to at least split time with him.

Ultimately, the reason for the move is they need to improve their defense next year. Depending on which defensive statistic you use, the Tigers rank anywhere from 24th (Defensive Efficiency Ratio at baseball Prospectus) to 28th (+/- at Hardball Times) in the majors. A big part of the problem is the left side of the infield. Carlos Guillen ranks 12th out of 20 third basemen in Revised Zone Rating and is 8 plays below the average third basemen according to the Fielding Bible +/- system (listed at Bill James Online). Edgar Renteria is 18th out of 20 shortstops in RZR and is 8 plays below average on the Fielding Bible +/- system. It's been well documented on this site that Inge is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. That should help them at both third and short as Renteria (making the shaky assumption he'll be back next year) does not move well to his right.

So, I have a mixed reaction to the announcement. I like what it will do for their defense but I'm not sure if Inge will hit well enough to justify playing regularly. I also don't like that it potentially keeps Joyce out of the running for a starting job next year. I like that Inge won't be catching and that Ryan will probably get a shot but I'm not sure if Dusty is ready.

Now, of course, Leyland has a history of saying one thing one day and changing his mind two days later so this could be much ado about nothing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Baseball America top 20s

Baseball America is rolling out its annual top 20 prospect lists for each minor league. The Tigers were shut out at the lower levels - Gulf Coast League (Tigers), New York Penn League (Oneonta) and Midwest League (West Michigan). However, further discussion over at at Motownsports reveals that pitcher Rick Porcello of Lakeland was named the number one prospect of the Florida State League. Shortstop Cale Iorg was the number 17 prospect in the same league. In the International League, Matt Joyce was number 13.

Pitching in Lakeland at the age of 19, Porcello has a 2.66 ERA and a 72/33 strikeout/walk ratio in 125 innings. While he can reach the high 90s if he needs to, he considers himself more of a sinker ball pitcher who pitches best in the low 90s. Even a sinker baller should get more strikeouts in A ball but he's too young for it to be a big concern yet.

Cale Iorg completed his first year of professional ball after two years of missionary work in Portugal. The 23 year old son of former major leaguer Garth Iorg batted .251/.329/.405 as a shortstop for Lakeland. He is still likely a couple of years from the big leagues.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Leyland will be back in 2009

Dave Dombrowski announced today that Jim Leyland will be back to manage again in 2009. When asked whether Leyland would be back next year, Dombrowski simply said:
"Yes, oh yeah," Dombrowski said when asked if Leyland would absolutely return in 2009. "He's under contract next year."
At one point this season, I wrote that he seemed tired and suggested that he might retire after the season. However, it recently became clear that he had no interest in quitting as he asked the Tigers for an extension beyond 2009. Leyland was regarded by many as a genius in 2006 and was considered as a big reason for their success that year. This year, however, some fans blamed him for the miserable season. Personally, I think he got too much credit in 2006 and too much blame by some this year.

I never considered Leyland to be a very good strategic manager but he had a reputation as a great motivator. Given the awful performance of this years team, particularly down the stretch, it makes one wonder how true that is. I wouldn't have been sorry to see him go just because I think a fresh start might be good for the team. Ultimately though I think the impact of baseball managers is overrated and I would rather see them concentrate on changing the roster (especially the pitchers) than the manager.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jones announces retirement

Sixteen year veteran Todd Jones announced his retirement today in his weekly Sporting News Column. Jones retires as the Tigers all-time career saves leader with 235. His 319 overall saves puts him 14th on the all-time list. Yes, Todd Jones is the 14th most prolific closer ever. Most of them weren't easy ones but he got the job done much more often than not. He was not an elite closer by any means but he got the most out of his limited talent.

Jones was a very popular player due to his self deprecating sense of humor and his ability to connect with fans. He finished with this final nugget in an interview with the Flint Journal:
"If you're a Tigers fan, I'll never stress you out again. If you're not a Tigers fan, you'll never have me as your ace in the hole, convinced I'll blow a lead against your team."
Many years from now, he'll be remembered by Tigers fans as the roller coaster - a nickname he got from Ernie Harwell for his penchant to pitch in and out of jams. He drove us all crazy but I think most will remember him with a smile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Triple crown and draft updates

With the Tigers now tied for last place with the Royals in the American League Central, all that's left for fans is to watch is individual accomplishments. Earlier, I discussed the possibility of Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera combining for a triple crown. Ordonez is currently fourth in the batting race and would have to finish very strong to overtake Joe Mauer:

Mauer, Min .329
Pedroia, Bos .324
Bradley, Tex .322
Ordonez, Chi .319

Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera is tied for the league lead in homers with the injured Carlos Quentin:

Cabrera, Det 36
Quentin, Chi 36
Rodriguez, NY 35

Cabrera is also chasing the RBI title:

Mornea, Min 128
Cabrera, Det 125
Hamilton, Tex 124

The Draft

One positive result of a late season swoon is that a team can improve its draft standing. I'm certainly not rooting for the Tigers to lose games but they now are tied with the eighth worst record in baseball which would give the the eighth or ninth pick in the 2009 draft. Here is how the Tigers rank as of right now:

1. Seattle 57-99
2. Washington 58-98
3. San Diego 61-95
4. Pittsburgh 65-91
5. Baltimore 67-89
6. Atlanta 69-88
7. San Francisco 70-86
8. Colorado 71-85
8. Detroit 71-85
10. Kansas City 72-86

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tigers blogger cracks the Elias code

Eddie at Tigers Thoughts has worked hard this summer to crack the Elias algorithm for determining type A and B free agents. He backed tracked from previous year's Elias rankings in order to reasonably determine their algorithm. He has the rankings for all major league players on his site. The only Tigers free agent who qualifies as either type A or B is Edgar Renteria who is type A. Thus, if the Tigers decline his his 2009 option, offer him arbitration, he rejects it, and another team signs him, the Tigers would receive two draft picks as compensation. Kyle Farnsworth was close to being a type B but his recent poor performances have dropped him below that level. If he had been a type B, the Tigers could have received one pick for him.

Eddie's work is now being recognized, not only in the internet community, but also by Free Press writer Jon Morosi. Congratulations to Eddie for his excellent contribution and thanks to Morosi for recognizing it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Offense as important as pitching in making playoffs

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the relative importance of offense and defense (pitching/fielding) for getting into the playoffs. I concluded that good defense is somewhat more important than good offense. However, good defense is not absolutely required if you have strong offense.

Today, I'll do the same analysis except that I'll break defense into pitching and fielding. Pitching is measured by Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). FIP is a gauge of how well a pitcher performs in events which he can control without the influence of fielders - home runs, strikeouts, walks and hit batsmen. Fielding will be measured by Defensive Efficiency Ratio(DER). DER is the percentage of times batted balls are turned into outs by the team's fielders, not including home runs. Offense is again defined by runs scored.

As before, each facet of the game is divided into three categories according to how teams rank on the appropriate statistic. Teams which finish in the top third of the league in FIP are classified as good pitching teams. Teams in the middle third are ok pitching teams and teams in the bottom third are bad pitching teams. The same was done for offense and Fielding. It gets a little messy processing all three parts of the game together so I'll present them separately in Tables1, 2 and 3 for the 128 playoff teams between 1988-2007.

Tables 1 and 2 show that offense and pitching are equally important with 61% of playoff teams having good offense and 62% having good pitching. It's important to be at least OK in both categories because only 8% of playoff teams had bad offense and 6% had bad pitching.

Table 3 indicates that fielding is not quite as important as offense and pitching: 46% had good fielding and 25% had bad fielding.

Table 1 - Offensive classification of playoff teams from 1988-2007

Offense

N

%

Good

78

60.9

OK

42

32.8

Bad

8

6.2


Table 2 - Pitching classification of playoff teams from 1988-2007

Pitching

N

%

Good

79

61.7

OK

42

32.8

Bad

7

5.5


Table 3 - Fielding classification of playoff teams from 1988-2007

Fielding

N

%

Good

59

46.1

OK

37

28.9

Bad

32

25.0


Now, let's look at the 38 World Series teams teams between 1988-2007. The data for offense, pitching and fielding are contained in Tables 4, 5 and 6 respectively. Pitching becomes a little more important than offense for World series teams: 74% had good pitching and 60% had good offense. Both are vital as no team with bad pitching or bad offense made the World Series during that period.

Fielding increased in importance for World Series teams as 58% of the teams had good fielding and only 16% had bad fielding.

Overall, I would conclude that offense and pitching are both key components of most winning teams and neither should be emphasized more than the other in building a playoff team. The better pitching teams might have a slight edge in reaching the World Series but the advantage is not striking. Fielding is less important but also can not be ignored.

Table 4 - Offensive classification of World Series teams from 1988-2007

Offense

N

%

Good

23

60.5

OK

15

39.5

Bad

0

0.0


Table 5 - Pitching classification of World Series teams from 1988-2007

Pitching

N

%

Good

28

73.7

OK

8

21.1

Bad

2

5.3


Table 6 - Fielding classification of World Series teams from 1988-2007

Fielding

N

%

Good

22

57.9

OK

10

26.3

Bad

6

15.8

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

2009 starting rotation

With the Tigers officially eliminated from the playoff race, it's time to look ahead to 2009. It's pretty clear that pitching was the biggest reason for the Tigers dismal 2008 so let's look at the pitching staff first. Who will be the starting pitchers in 2009? Here are the current candidates:
  • Justin Verlander is finishing up a very disappointing season but is still a lock for the 2009 rotation
  • Armando Gallaraga is finishing up a surprisingly good season and is also a lock for the rotation even if he is not a good bet to equal this season's success.
  • Jeremy Bonderman will be one of the starters if he is healthy. There has not been much news about him lately but the general feeling about him seems to be that he will be healthy and ready to go next spring. Still, we won't know for sure that his arm is sound until he starts pitching again. From what I gather, he hasn't been fully healthy since June, 2007.
  • Dontrelle Willis started against the Rangers on Monday and gave up three runs in five innings. He has made progress over the last few months but was still very wild. He'll be a front runner for a starting job due to his $11 million salary but his knee problem and bouts of extreme wildness are still concerns. He won't be in the rotation long if he becomes Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel again.
  • Zack Miner has pitched more good games than bad ones since becoming a starter. He's a fairly good candidate to be one of the starting five at the beginning of next season but the Tigers haven't committed to anything yet and he could end up as a swing man.
  • Nate Robertson has been demoted to a relief role. Some think that his big salary make him a front runner for the rotation next year but he's not a starter now and is certainly not a lock for next year.
  • Freddy Garcia pitched five strong innings last night in his 2008 debut. He will be a free agent but the Tigers did not sign him just so they could show case him to the rest of baseball. If he continues to pitch well down the stretch, they will surely make a big push to sign him. If they do sign him, he will be part of the rotation.
  • Kenny Rogers is done for the season and will likely retire.
  • Eddie Bonine, Chris Lambert and any other pitcher currently in the organization would be a long shot to begin next season in the rotation.
If they don't sign Garcia, I think there is a realistic chance they'll sign someone else. There will be a good number of decent starting pitchers on the market this off-season. Eddie at Detroit Tigers Thoughts has determined which ones will likely be Type A free agents meaning that the Tigers would have to surrender a draft pick if they sign one. Here is the list:

CC Sabathia - Type A
Ben Sheets - Type A
Oliver Perez - Type A
Derek Lowe - Type A
John Lackey - Type A but the Angels have an option and will likely keep him
AJ Burnett - Type A
Andy Pettitte - Type A
Mike Mussina - Type A
Ryan Dempster - Eddie hasn't listed relievers (Dempster was in the bullpen last year) yet but I would guess he's a Type A
John Smoltz
Brad Penny
Kyle Lohse
Greg Maddux
Braden Looper
Randy Johnson
Tim Wakefield
Paul Byrd
Jon Garland

With all the long term contracts for which they are already responsible, I suspect the Tigers will not be able to afford one of the big guns like Sabathia, Sheets, Dempster or Burnett. They also might not want to lose a draft pick to sign a Lowe or a Perez. I can see them going after a pitcher like Randy Wolf or Jon Garland but this is all pure speculation.

Looking ahead to 2009

The schedules for the next season used to come out on a cold snowy December day and would immediately warm me up with thoughts of summer. Now they seem to come out earlier and earlier. The 2009 schedule is now ready before the 2008 season is even over. Well, at least it's not technically over.

Anyway, they open up at Toronto on April 6 and play four games. Because, they have a roof, they will avoid that annoying off day after opening which is designed for a make-up game. In fact, they play on ten consecutive days before they have an open date. Their home opener will on April 10 versus Texas.

For those of you like myself who are inconvenienced by late starting west coast games, there will be fewer next year than there were this year. They go on a six game trips to Seattle and Los Angeles in April and Oakland and Las Angeles in August. They also have a three game series in Oakland at the end of June flanked by series at Houston and Minnesota.

In inter-league action, The Rockies, Brewers and Cubs will visit Comerica Park this year and the Tigers will travel to Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston. They end up the season with a nine game trip to Minnesota, Cleveland and Chicago followed by a three game home series versus the Twins. Hopefully, those end of season games will have more meaning in 2009

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Would you trade Granderson and Cabrera for...?

Today, I'll make another attempt to take something positive away from a lackluster season. In Curtis Granderson and Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers have two of the best young position players in the game. I wanted to see how this duo compared to those on other teams so I went through all the teams and attempted to rank the best young pairs in baseball.

This is a subjective process but my choices can be seen below in Table 1 below. In order to qualify for the list, a player has to be under 30 as of opening day next year. I used several different statistics to determine the final ranking but one of them was Wins Above Replacement Level (WARP). This is a Baseball Prospectus statistic which attempts to determine the overall value of a player including offensive and defensive contributions. It is the estimated number of wins that a player contributes above what a replacement level player would have done.

The best pair of young players belongs to the new York Mets with third baseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes. That choice was made with little hesitation but after that it gets more difficult. I chose Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer as the next best pair. This becomes a very solid #2 if Joe Mauer can stay at catcher and stay reasonably healthy for the next few years. Even if Mauer's knees force a switch to third base, it will still be strong because this would probably increase his offense and improve his durability.

Granderson and Cabrera finished third on the list. Both got off to slow starts this year - Granderson because of the hand injury and Cabrera perhaps because of the switch in leagues. I think each will do better next year. The next four duos belong to the Rays (Evan Longoria, BJ Upton), Marlins (Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla), Brewers (Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder) and Rangers (Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton).

Table 1: Best young duos in the majors

Rank

Team

Player

Age*

2007 WARP

2008 WARP

1

Mets

David Wright

26

12.0

9.2

Jose Reyes

25

7.9

7.9

2

Twins

Justin Morneau

27

5.8

8.4

Joe Mauer

25

6.2

8.2

3

Tigers

Curtis Granderson

28

11.2

7.9

Miguel Cabrera

25

7.7

4.9

4

Rays

Evan Longoria

23

N/A

7.0

B.J. Upton

24

6.0

6.7

5

Marlins

Hanley Ramirez

25

7.5

8.7

Dan Uggla

29

4.9

8.1

6

Brewers

Ryan Braun

25

4.4

7.9

Prince Fielder

24

7.7

4.6

7

Rangers

Ian Kinsler

26

6.2

8.6

Josh Hamilton

27

3.3

7.5

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Searching through the rubble

It's been a long disappointing season with few pleasant memories for Tigers fans but there might be some consolation prizes if players end the season on high notes. First, Magglio Ordonez has a chance to be the only Tiger other than Ty Cobb to win back to back batting titles. He's a bit of a long shot with three batters ahead of him but is only seven points behind the leader and coming strong:

Dustin Pedroia .328
Milton Bradley .327
Joe Mauer .323
Magglio Ordonez .321

Miguel Cabrera has a chance to be the Tigers first home run leader since Cecil Fielder hit 44 in 1991. With Cabrera on a roll and Carlos Quentin out for the season, he has a legitimate shot:

Carlos Quentin 36
Miguel Cabrera 33
Alex Rodriguez 33
Jermaine Dye 32

With 80 RBI in his last 82 games, Cabrera also has a shot at the RBI crown:

Josh Hamilton 124
Justin Morneau 119
Miguel Cabrera 116

With Carlos Crawford out for the season, Curtis Granderson has the triples title pretty much sewn up for the second straight year. He has the most triples (36) in back to back seasons for any Tiger since Sam Crawford in 1913-1914 (49) since Sam Crawford in 1913-14. These are the 2008 leaders:

Curtis Granderson 13
Carlos Crawford 10
Alex Rios 9
Brian Roberts 9

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Offense versus defense again

Yesterday I examined the importance of offense versus defense (pitching/fielding) in getting into the playoffs. Today, I'll take an even simpler approach to the same question. Once again, I ranked each team by how many runs they scored (offense) and how many they allowed (defense). Then I looked to see how often they ranked better offensively/ defensively. Here are the results for 128 playoff teams since 1988:

offense 47
defense 68
ties 13

Now for the World Series teams those years:

offense 8
defense 25
ties 5

So, the conclusions are the same as before:

Pitching/fielding is a little more important than offense in getting into the playoffs but it is not at all uncommon for teams with better offenses to make the playoffs.

Pitching/defense becomes more important for World series teams but it's still possible for a better offensive team to win the pennant.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Good pitching beats good hitting all the time?

You've heard it before: Good pitching beats good hitting all the time. Pitching and fielding wins pennants. Pitching is 90% of the game. So, I wanted to examine the relative importance of offense and pitching/fielding in getting into the playoffs. This sort of thing has been done before by Bill James, Pete Palmer, Baseball Prospectus and others but I haven't seen it done for a while so I wanted to revisit the question.

I didn't want to do a complicated analysis involving multiple regression or anything like that . I wanted to keep it simple and intuitive. What I did was rank every team each year since 1988 (except the strike year of 1994) based on offense (runs scored) and defense or pitching/fielding (runs allowed). I then classified each team's offense as good, OK or bad based on their rank. If they finished in the top third of the league, then they were good. If they finished in the middle third, then they were OK. If they were in the bottom third, they were classified as bad. I classified team pitching/fielding the same way based on runs allowed.

Crossing the offense classification (good, ok, bad) with the defense classification (good, ok, bad),
I got the nine categories (good offense and good defense, ok offense and good defense, etc) shown in Table 1 below. For example, the 2007 Indians were sixth in the American League in offense in 2007 and third in defense so they went into the OK offense/good defense category.

There were 128 playoff teams since 1988 and 47 of them had both strong offense and defense. The next most frequent categories were OK offense and good defense (35) followed by good offense and OK defense (25). The other combinations were less common.

What can we conclude from this data? More than a third of the teams which made the playoffs had both good hitting and pitching/fielding so it's important to try to build both components. Second, it IS more common for an OK offense/good pitching and fielding team to make the playoffs than a good offense/OK pitching and fielding team but it's not THAT much more common. There is more than one way to build a team for post-season. What about teams that have bad offense/good defense or good offense/bad pitching. Well, neither is a particularly good way to build a team but one is not worse than the other.

Table 1: Offense and Defense of playoff teams (1988-2007)

Offense

Pitching/Fielding

Number

Percent

Good

Good

47

36.7

OK

Good

35

27.3

Good

OK

25

19.5

OK

OK

7

5.5

Good

Bad

6

4.7

Bad

Good

7

5.5

Bad

OK

1

0.8

OK

Bad

0

0.0

Bad

Bad

0

0.0


The next question you may have is whether good pitching/fielding was more important for teams that made the World Series. Table 2 below is the same as Table 1 except it only includes teams that made the World Series. Again, the most common classification was the good/good category - 18 of the 38 teams. The defensive side of the ball did seem a bit more important for World Series teams as 13 teams had OK offense and good defense as opposed to just 5 teams with good offense and OK defense.

So, we can conclude that a lack of pitching/fielding is worse than a lack offense for teams aspiring to get into the World Series. However, being strong in both offense and pitching/fielding is even more important for winning pennants than it is for getting into the playoffs.

Table 2: Offense and Defense of World Series teams (1988-2007)

Offense

Pitching/Fielding

Number

Percent

Good

Good

18

47.4

OK

Good

13

34.2

Good

OK

5

13.2

OK

OK

2

5.3

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