Saturday, February 28, 2009

Composite Projections for Tigers Batters in 2009

Everybody is doing projections at this time of year. PECOTA is the most popular system and the best one for forecasting batting stats but it's premium content that requires a subscription. Thus I am going to present the composite projections from three other systems: CHONE, Marcels and ZIPS. Taking the average of these systems has shown in the past to be as accurate as PECOTA.

Table 1 lists the projections for Tigers regulars. Most of the starters are projected to do about the same as last year. Two exceptions are Miguel Cabrera who is expected increase his OPS from .886 in 2008 to .937 in 2009. Most of that improvement would come from his OBP - .349 last year and a .385 projection. The other player for whom the systems see significant improvement is Brandon Inge. Inge hit .205/.303/.369 last year but a .235/.312/.398 is forecasted for this year. Nobody is expected to hit worse than last year.

Table 1: Composite projections for Tigers regulars





Curtis Granderson




Placido Polanco




Magglio Ordonez




Miguel Cabrera




Carlos Guillen




Gary Sheffield




Gerald Laird




Brandon Inge




Adam Everett




The reserves and potential reserves are listed in Table 2. Not surprisingly, Ramon Santiago is not expected to hit as well as he did in 2008 when he batted .282/.411/.460. His projection for this year is .257/.327/.372. Among players battling for the 25th spot on the roster, Ryan Raburn has the most favorable line( .262/.329/.439) but Larish is not far behind (.252/.327/.421). Of course, the two other prime candidates - Clete Thomas and Brent Clevlen - provide better defense.

Table 2: Composite projections for Tigers bench





Marcus Thames




Ramon Santiago#




Matt Treanor




Ryan Raburn




Jeffrey Larish*




Brent Clevlen




Clete Thomas*




Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not a lot of battles for positions

While the Tigers pitching staff is still very much up in the air, the rest of the team is pretty much set. Barring injuries, the opening day line-up is all but engraved in stone. Jim Leyland confirmed last week that it will likely go like this:

Granderson CF
Polanco 2B
Ordonez RF
Cabrera 1B
Guillen LF
Sheffield DH
Laird C
Inge 3B
Everett SS

Three bench spots are also sewn up:


That leaves just one spot up for grabs:

They need a back-up center fielder as well as a left-handed bat. Clete Thomas would be the ideal candidate but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not be ready for the beginning of the season. So, they'll probably have to settle for center field or left-handed but not both.

The most likely center field backups are Brent Clevlen and Ryan Raburn. Clevlen has no more options remaining so they risk losing him if he doesn't make the 25 man roster. That could play in his favor but I think that will be less of a factor than some people believe. A lackluster winter ball season probably didn't help his cause. what will help him is that he is more capable of playing center field for an extended period than Raburn would be.

Raburn's attributes are his versatility and superior hitting ability. He has played all three outfield positions plus second base and third base, although he is only barely adequate as an infielder. His true hitting talent probably falls somewhere between the .304/.340/.507 line of 2007 and last year's .236/.298/.368 line.

Other possible back-ups include Alexis Gomez and Casper Wells. Gomez is a Leyland favorite and was one of the 2006 heroes but has not played in the majors since then. He is left-handed but can only play center-field on occasion. Wells showed some impressive power last year but they probably prefer that he get more seasoning at Toledo.

Another possible left-handed bat is first basemen/hopefully third baseman/possible corner outfielder Jeff Larish. At 26 years old, he doesn't have a lot left to prove in the minors but they won't have room for him if they decide a backup center fielder is a necessity. Timo Perez is also a possibility as a left-handed hitting corner outfielder.

The only other player I could see winning the final spot is Mike Hessman who is neither left-handed nor a center fielder. Hessman has good power and is a good defensive third baseman but has never gotten much of an opportunity. He'll likely be sent Toledo again and get called up when injuries hit.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Team Base Running in 2008

In a recent article at Beyond the Box Score, Sky Kalkman identified the best base runners of 2008 using the Baseball Prospectus base running statistics.

The BP statistics created by Dan Fox include the following (all of them are runs above average):
  • EqAAR (Equivalent Air Advancement Runs) - Contribution of base runners advancing on fly outs
  • EqGAR (Equivalent Ground Advancement Runs) - Contribution of advancement on ground outs.
  • EqSBR (Equivalent Stolen Base Runs) - contribution of stolen bases including runs subtracted for caught stealings and pickoffs.
  • EqHAR (Equivalent Hit Advancement Runs) - contribution of runners taking the extra base on a hit: first to third on a single, second to home on a single, first to home on a double.
  • EqOAR (Equivalent Other Advancement Runs) - contribution of other base running advancements - passed balls, wild pitches and balks (evidence shows that those events are not entirely randomly and are influenced by base runners to an extent).
  • EqBRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs)- the sum of the five above statistics above or total base running contribution.
Note that players are penalized for making outs and al;so for not advancing when the average base runner would have been expected to do so.

In Sky's team analysis, he excluded stolen base runs from the EqBRR. While that is a reasonable way to look at things given that many batting runs stats already include stolen bases and caught stealing, I wanted to look at team base running including stolen bases and caught stealing. The Tigers scored runs on the bases as follows in 2008:

EqGAR = -3.28 runs above (below in their case) average on ground outs
EqSBR = -5.20 on base stealing
EqAAR = -1.60 on fly ball outs
EqHAR = -0.82 taking the extra base on hits
EqOAR = +1.84 on other events
EqBRR = -9.06 total base running runs above average

EqBRR or Total base running runs above average for all teams is shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Team base running runs above average in 2008































































The best base running team was the Mets at 19.70 runs above average and the worst was the Orioles with -16.18. So there was about a 36 run difference between the best and worse teams in the majors. While 22 teams fall between +10 and -10, there are eight teams that fall outside that 20 run range. So, while base running may not be as vital as some people suggest, it also not something to be ignored.

The difference in base running between the Tigers (-9.06) and Twins (11.21) accounted for about 20 runs difference. That helps to explain why the Twins scored more runs than the Tigers last year despite the same OBP and 203 fewer total bases.

A rough estimate of how many runs a team should score is Runs Created = Total Bases times OBP. Based on that, the Tigers (2,504 TB and .340 OBP) should have scored about 70 more runs than the Twins (2,301 TB and .340 OBP) instead of 7 runs fewer. Base running explains part of that. A bigger reason was the Twins .305 batting average with runners in scoring position versus the Tigers .268.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Spring training position battles - the starting rotation

It's been a relatively quiet spring training for the Tigers so far. It appears that every player is in the best shape of his career and is determined to have a rebound season this year. Those are the type of stories we always hear at this time of year but this year more than others it seems. Anyway, they open up the schedule next Wednesday versus the Braves in Lakeland at 1:00. There are not a lot of battles for jobs among position players this spring but the starting rotation is yet to be decided. Here is how it looks:

Justin Verlander is a lock to start and will probably be the opening day starter. Whether or not he can regain his command is an important question though. He needs to improve his control this spring. I'll be watching his walk totals and pitch counts this spring. By pitch counts, I mean I don't want to see him throwing 90 pitches by the fifth inning.

Jeremy Bonderman will be in the rotation if he's healthy. There doesn't appear to be a of of concern that he won't be healthy but it's no guarantee he'll be 100% by opening day. The things to watch with him is whether his fastball velocity and the command of the slider is back. I'm optimistic about Bonderman but then I usually am.

Armando Galarraga will be another starter barring a total meltdown this spring. I'm a little less skeptical of him than most stat guys. I doubt he'll post another 3.73 ERA but I think he can be at least league average this year.

Edwin Jackson is the fourth starter virtually guaranteed a spot in the rotation. I still am not a fan of the trade which brought him to the Tigers but he does give them badly needed depth. The thing to watch with him is to see if he can continue to improve his control this spring after taking a step forward in that area last year.

Dontrelle Willis will probably be the fifth starter if he is fully healthy and not pitching like Steve Blass. I'm skeptical as to whether he has anything left but the reports so far have been positive. He is going to be one of the most interesting pitchers to watch this spring.

Nate Robertson would likely be next in line if Willis is a mess or if there is an injury to another starter. Robertson will never be great but I think he can get back to where he was prior to last year which is good enough for a fifth starter.

Zach Miner probably deserves to get a shot before Willis or Robertson but will likely begin the year in the bullpen.

Rick Porcello will get a look this spring but, unless he is lights out and there are a lot of injuries, he will almost surely be starting at Erie in 2009. He could be up to Detroit this summer though.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tigers Base Running Needs Improvement

In Jason Beck's column yesterday, he reported that Jim Leyland wants the Tigers to improve their base running this year:
"I think we were a below-average baserunning team that has to get at least average,"
The Tigers skipper went on to say that it's hard to teach base running because there is not a statistic for it:
"It's one of the toughest parts of the game to teach, because it's really not a statistic," Leyland said. "You see the batting average. You see the RBIs. You see the home runs. You don't see the baserunning. There's never anything about the baserunning in the paper, other than stolen bases.
There actually are statistics for it now and Jason Beck found one on Bill James Online. According to that site, the Tigers advanced an extra base (e.g go from first to third on a single, steal a base) 12 fewer times than the average team in 2008.

It was actually worse than that though as James' methodology does not include base advancement on ground balls and fly balls, two categories where the Tigers were particularly bad. Using my algorithm (which is really a variation of what James did), the Tigers were actually -65.9 bases gained below average in 2008.

Table 1 below shows that the Tigers were below average in all running categories: Taking the extra base on hits (-6.1), moving up on ground outs (-34.8), advancing on air balls (-17.1) and other types of advancement (-7.9). The other category includes stolen bases, caught stealing, pickoffs, passed balls, wild pitches and balks. In contrast, the team was above average in a couple of categories in 2007: hits (+10.7) and other (16.2). Overall, they were right around league average in 2007 (+1.3).

So, Leyland is not just blowing spring training smoke. They really were bad at base running last year and it's an area which needs work. The biggest culprits were Magglio Ordonez (-34.6), Miguel Cabrera (-19.8), Marcus Thames (-13.2) and Edgar Renteria (-12.8).

Another thing to keep in mind is that the first place Twins were +45 in base running last year which is one of the reasons they scored 8 more runs than the Tigers despite being tied in OBP and .036 behind the Bengals in slugging. The other reason was a .305 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Table 1: Advancement By Tigers Base Runners in 2007-2008

Bases Gained Above Avg.






Ground balls






Other (SB,PB,WP,BK)






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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Is reaching base on errors a skill?

Major League Baseball has traditionally recorded reaching base on error as if it were an out in the official statistics. Their argument is that reaching base on an error is not the result of something a batter did well but rather rather is due to a fielding mistake. Thus, they say that the batter should get no positive credit at all. This practice is so ingrained into the record keeping process that it is very difficult to even find the Reached on Error (ROE) statistic.

Many have argued that some players have the ability, because of their speed, to force errors and that reaching base on fielder miscues is more like a hit than an out. Therefore, they believe that an error should not count in calculation of batting average and that it should count as reaching base in on base percentage. At the very least, they think it should be recorded separately from outs and more commonly reported.

The purpose here is to investigate whether an error is a random event or an event which some players are more likely to create than others. I looked at the retrosheet play be play database from 2000-2008 and found ROE data for all players during that period. I considered all ground balls that did not result in hits as opportunities to reach base on error and counted the ROEs. I did not include balls hit in the air because it would be hard to argue that those errors were forced by the batter's speed. I calculated ROE percentage (ROE%) for each player by dividing ROE by opportunities. The MLB average ROE% was .034 (or 3.4%).

There were 281 players with 500 or more opportunities during that period and their ROE% ranged from .016 (Alex Cintron) to .065 (Rondell White). Considering statistical probability, the distribution of ROE% did not look like one that came from a random event. There were many more ROE% that were further above .034 than would be expected if reaching on error was a random event. The more mathematically inclined can see the math at the end of the post*.

The top ROE% from 2000-2008 are listed in Table 1 below. The first thing you might notice is that the list is not comprised of speedsters. There is no Juan Pierre or Ichiro Suzuki or other players who would come to mind when you think of batters who might force fielders to make errors. Rather, it looks to me like a random list of players with no distinguishing quality.

So, while reaching base on errors is probably not a random event, it also doesn't seem to be the result of speed. It could have something to do with the way the ball spins off a players bat, the ballpark infields or official scorers or something else. It's worth further investigation.

Table 2 lists the current Tigers. Gary Sheffield with his 4.6% is a player who reaches base more than would be expected if it were a random event.

Table 1 - ROE% for MLB players 2000-2008





Rondell White




Sammy Sosa




Gabe Kapler




Ty Wigginton




Marlon Byrd




Jeff Cirillo




Joe Randa




Tony Graffanino




Aaron Boone




Mike Cameron




Tim Salmon




Jeff Bagwell




Craig Biggio




Reggie Sanders




Jeff Kent




Benito Santiago




Table 2: ROE% in 2000-2008 for current Tigers





Gary Sheffield




Adam Everett




Carlos Guillen




Placido Polanco




Magglio Ordonez





There were 281 players with 500 or more opportunities to reach base on an error on a ground ball between 2000-2008. The population proportion (p) = .034. To test whether a player's ROE% differed significantly from a chance event, we can do a normal approximation of the binomial. The z-score is z = (roe% - p)/SE where SE (standard error) is SQRT (p(1-p)/n).

For example, Rondell white had 883 opportunities and a ROE% of .065. Thus,
SE=SQRT ((.034*.966)/883)) = .0061 and z=(.065-.034)/.0061 = 5.08.

Z-scores of 1.64 or above suggest that an event may not be not random. With 281 players, we would expect about 14 (or 5%) of the players to have z-scores above 1.64 and 3 (or 1%) to have z-scores about 1.96. Instead, we have 37 with z-scores above 1.64 and 16 with z-scores above 1.96. This leads me to believe that reaching base on error is not random (but not necessarily a skill either).

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at 20 Sunset Rd., Newark, DE

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oh my God! ARod used Steroids!

With all the mania surrounding the discovery that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids, I thought I'd chime in with my thoughts. First, the more pertinent story is that 104 players tested positive in 2003. When you consider that many of the performance enhancing drugs are not detectable, 104 is a very large number to test positive. It is further evidence that performance enhancing drugs were and perhaps still are rampant in the game. I think it's likely that thousands of players have used performance enhancing drugs at all levels of baseball. So, the ARod discovery is hardly news.

Why all the shock and outrage over steroid use in the first place? Steroids have been used in professional sports for decades. They were used in the NFL back in the 1970s with the Steelers being one of the featured teams. It became fairly common knowledge that steroid use was rampant in football in the 1980s and a drug program was put in place in 1989. So , why the big surprise when it was learned the Major League Baseball players were also using performance enhancers?

If you've gone to a gym in the last 30 years, you've probably noticed a lot of huge guys in there. Many of those bodies have been enhanced by steroids and it starts early. One study found that 6.5% of high school boys used steroids without a prescription. That wasn't in 2000. It was 1989. It's known that use of performance enhancers has been widespread for a long time in the general population. So, why wouldn't MLB players with all the pressures of professional sports and so much money at stake also be using?

We know that amphetamine use was commonplace in baseball in the 1960s. In fact, they were introduced to the game in the 1940s. So, for those who think that the modern players have ruined game, there is no telling how many of you childhood heroes from the 40s, 50 and 60s may have cheated by consuming unnatural chemicals.

Don't forget the Cocaine scandal of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It centered around the "We are family" Pirates but was part of the general MLB scene of that period. Now, Cocaine is not generally a performance enhancer but this was further evidence that large numbers of Major League players have long been using illegal drugs.

Contrary to popular belief, steroid use did not begin with Jose Canseco in 1991. Former pitcher Tom House was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle in May , 2005 saying that it was rampant as early as the 1960s:
"I pretty much popped everything cold turkey', House said. "We were doing steroids they wouldn't give to horses. That was the '60s when nobody knew. The good thing is, we know now. There's a lot more research and understanding."

House, 58, estimated that six or seven pitchers per team were at least experimenting with steroids or human growth hormone.
Former Houston Astro Ken Caminiti claimed that over half the players were using by the mid 90s. Jose Canseco said it was 85%. Yeah, Canseco likes to exaggerate and tell stories but his reports on steroid use have turned out to have as much credibility as anyone. In late 2007, the Mitchell Report uncovered use by dozens of players and this was done with virtually no cooperation from players at all.

So, Bud Selig and MLB in general needs to stop feigning outrage and pretending that baseball is a clean game tarnished by a few arrogant superstars. It should be pretty clear to most by now that steroids have been around for a long time in baseball and that their use has been widespread. Alex Rodriguez's steroid use is not a story that needs to covered 24 hours a day on the MLB Network or any place else. It shouldn't be news at all at this point.


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