Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tigers Release Gary Sheffield

In a shocking move this morning, the Tigers released Gary Sheffield and will thus eat his $14 million contract. I thought this might happen some time during the season but I was not expecting it today. There was a lot of talk about his being healthy and motivated early this spring but he did not have a good March and they apparently now think he is done.

The move gives the roster a lot more flexibility. It doesn't make a lot of sense to have a full-time designated hitter unless he's a premiere hitter which Sheffield has not been for a while now. My immediate reaction is that Marcus Thames would be the primary designated hitter with Jeff Larish also getting a lot of at bats but that's only one possibility.

I give Scott Warheit, the cutoff man at Mlive, a lot of credit for calling this move yesterday. He suspected that Sheffield would be released when the acquired Josh Anderson. Scott also thinks that Guillen will move to designated hitter and that Anderson will lead off and play left field. I'd be surprised if it happened quite like that but it's clear that this release opens up options that were not there before.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tigers Acquire Josh Anderson from Braves

The Tigers have received speedy center fielder Josh Anderson from the Atlanter Braves for side arming right-handed reliever Rudy Darrow. Anderson will make the Tigers as a back-up out fielder and pinch runner.

The move almost certainly means that Ryan Raburn, Brent Clevlen and Clete Thomas will not be on the team when it heads north. Clevlen is out of options and will be placed on waivers. There is a chance he might be claimed but I suspect he won't. Raburn and Thomas will probably start the season at Toledo. Unless they trade Marcus Thames this week, it also now looks as if Jeff Larish will not make the club either despite a strong spring.

The Braves regarded the 26-year-old Anderson highly enough that he was being considered as their starting center fielder. However, they decided upon Jordan Schafer instead. Anderson is a strong defender who can play all three positions and has blazing speed. In the past two years in the majors and minors he has stolen 93 bases in 110 attempts for an amazing 84.5 stolen base percentage. Thus, he gives the rather slow footed Tigers a dimension which they lack.

He has no power and gets on base at only a moderate clip so he's not likely ever going to be a regular. In 203 at bats with the Astros and Braves the last two years, he has batted .315/.364/.419. During his six year minor league career, he has hit .294/.344/.378. He hits RHP better than LHP so he does have possibilities as a pinch hitter or limited platoon player. His career minor league OBP is .351 versus RHP and .314 versus LHP. In his limited MLB at bats, he is batting .392 versus RHP and .299 versus LHP.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Three Pitching Moves but Puzzle Not Solved

The Tigers made three moves involving their pitching staff today. First, they placed Joel Zumaya on the 15 day disabled list because of his shoulder problems. This is no surprise. He has been throwing again but it's no secret he would not be ready for the start of the regular season.

In another move, they sent left-hander Kyle Bloom back to the Pirates. As evidenced by his 8.44 ERA in five appearances, Bloom did not have a good spring so this move is also no surprise.

The more interesting move was Dontrelle Willis being placed on the disable list with an anxiety disorder revealed in a blood test. I found this interesting because I was not aware that anxiety disorders could be diagnosed through blood tests. A quick google search shows that this is a fairly new practice. Anyway, the doctors have told him that it is treatable and that he will be put on a regimen.

How treatable it actually is and how much of his pitching problems are caused by the disorder remain to be seen. Still, the fact that they found something and that they believe it is treatable is good news. Nothing will happen right away of course, but this gives us some hope that he can perhaps turn his career around.

The next move could involve Jeremy Bonderman as it was revealed yesterday he will likely miss his first start. Bonderman is apparently healthy but is still not at full strength and they want his velocity to improve before he pitches in regular season games. He is currently pitching in the high 80s which is a far cry from the mid 90s of the past. I suspect they want to see him at least throw in the 91-93 range consistently before putting him back into the rotation.

The other injury which could potentially impact the first week of the season is Nate Robertson's sprained thumb. It's not supposed to be serious but it's also not known when he will pitch again.

So who starts the first five games of the season? it has been announced that Justin Verlander will pitch on opening day and that Edwin Jackson will pitch game two. Armando Galarraga will probably pitch game five which is the Tigers home opener. This leaves games three and four in question. I would guess that Robertson would pitch one of those games if healthy. The other would likely go to Rick Porcello, Eddie Bonine or Zach Miner.

A couple of weeks ago it looked like Porcello would win the fifth starter job. Then he missed a start with a finger nail injury and hasn't pitched as well since then. I don't know if the nail injury has anything to do with it but he has been struggling with his control last couple of times out. He may need more time in the minors but the injuries may give him at least a start or two in the majors.

Last week, Jim Leyland told Miner that he would not be in the starting rotation so it seemed he would open the season in the bullpen. I still think he will be in the bullpen but a spot start is possible. Bonine has also put himself in the mix with a strong spring where he has given up just one run in 14 innings.

So, the starting rotation picture is as clear as mud. And that's just the first week. I suspect the rotation will be fluid for a while.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Old School Saber Stat

Analysts are always trying to invent the perfect statistic for defining total offensive production - a technical version of Runs Created, Batting Runs, Base Runs, VORP, etc. I like those types of advanced formulas because they are more accurate measures of offensive contribution than simpler statistics. However, many people find them complicated and avoid them. The simplicity of the OPS statistic is the main reason it has been able to penetrate the mainstream audiences to an extent.

OPS has some limitations. It gives too little weight to walks and to extra base hits and too much weight to singles. It also gives no credit to players for stolen bases. I think the biggest presentation problem is that it does not measure anything concrete. On Base Percentage is the percentage of plate appearances which result in a batter reaching base. Slugging Percentage (which is misnamed because it's really an average rather than a percentage) is the average number of total bases per at bat. So, OPS is the sum of a percentage and an average which is kind of crazy. It works reasonably well in ranking hitters on total hitting production but it has no real definition.

We can not get around the inaccurate weighting of walks and hits without using a more advanced statistic. However there is relatively simple measure which addresses stolen bases and which is more concrete than OPS. The Total Average (TA) statistic presented by sports writer Tom Boswell in 1981 is the ratio of total bases gained to outs. It is calculated as follows:

TA = (TB + BB + HBP + SB)/(AB-H+CS+GIDP)

(It should be noted that Barry Codell introduced a Base-out percentage in the Baseball Research Journal in 1979 which was the same as TA except that it included sacrifice flies and bunts in both the numerator and denominator).

Jim Albert and Jay Bennet in their excellent book Curve Ball showed that Total Average is slightly more highly correlated with runs than OPS is. That is because of the inclusion of stolen bases and caught stealing. It has the opposite weighting problem of OPS in that it gives to much credit for walks and extra base hits. Still, it is at least as accurate as OPS and more concrete without much if any loss in simplicity.

The Total Average leader between 2007-2008 was Albert Pujols at1.142. In other words, Pujols gained 1.142 bases for every out. Chipper Jones (1.136) and Alex Rodriguez (1.131) were second and third. We would get the same three leaders using OPS. The top three current Tigers were Magglio Ordonez (.937), Miguel Cabrera (.929) and Curtis Granderson (.923). Ordonez ranked 22nd in the Majors, Cabrera 26th and Granderson 28th. The Table below shows the Total Averages in 2007-2008 for players in the 2009 Tigers starting line-up.

Table 1: Totals Averages in 2007-2008 for Tigers 2009 Starting Line-up









































Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Tigers Bench

I've spent a lot of time this spring writing about the Tigers 5th starter role and bullpen. The pitching staff is where most of the questions lie but there are also battles for bench spots. With a twelve man staff and Gary Sheffield a full-time designated hitter, the Tigers are left with just four bench spots to cover eight positions. The first two spots belong to catcher Matt Treanor and infielder Ramon Santiago who will back up at second and short.

Marcus Thames will also make the team unless he is traded which would seem to be a real possibility. Thames hits for tremendous power but lacks versatility and bats right-handed on a team that needs left-handed punch. He's a good hitter to have around if one of their starters goes down for a while but is not the ideal reserve on this roster so they may try to move him and his $2.3 million salary.

If Thames stays, that leaves one spot to fill. The leading candidate would be Jeff Larish who can play first and third and has the left-handed bat they lack. He has also had a good spring batting .283/.397/.547. The problem is, they also need a back-up center fielder on the roster. They could use Inge to spell Curtis Granderson when he needs a rest but they have indicated they'd prefer to have Inge third base only. This is another reason why Thames could be moved - so they can keep both Larish and a center fielder.

The center field possibilities are Brent Clevlen, Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn. Thomas would be the ideal choice since he is the best fielder of the three and bats left-handed. However, he has been recovering from Tommy John Surgery and just started playing in the field. He has also not hit well this spring either so he may need a little time in the minors.

Clevlen is primarily a right fielder but can play center field reasonably well. He is also out of options so they risk losing him if he doesn't make the roster. So, if there is a spot available on the opening day roster for a backup outfielder, he might be the most likely choice.

Ryan Raburn seems less likely because he didn't hit much last year and hasn't had a good spring and offense is supposed to be his strongest asset. He also has versatility in that he has played all three outfield positions plus second base and third base. The problem is he is not very good at all those positions and really should be a corner outfielder.

Long shots for the bench include Timo Perez and Mike Hessman. Perez bats left-handed and would make a good pinch hitter but isn't much better than Thames defensively. He is a candidate only because of his strong spring - a .333 batting average and .593 slugging percentage. Hessman has good power and is a solid third baseman but doesn't make much contact and hasn't had an impressive spring.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

George Kell passes away

Today is a sad day for Tigers fans as the beloved George kell passed away at age 86. Kell's connection to the Tigers spanned six decades starting in 1946 and continuing as a broadcaster on both radio and television from 1959 to 1996.

Kell played 15 years (1943-1957) for five Major League teams including the Tigers from 1946-1952. He was a lifetime .306 hitter and a ten time all-star. he had some of his best years with the Tigers including 1949 when he batted a league leading .343. He led the league in both hits and doubles in 1950 and 1951.

Detroit fans remember him best as a broadcaster who spanned generations of Tigers fans. As a Massachusetts fan, I unfortunately did not get to hear him broadcast games. My link to the Tigers was Ernie Harwell. Those who did hear Kell have fond memories:

Michael interviewed him two years ago

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bullpen taking shape

The Tigers cut three more relievers this morning. Freddy Dolsi was optioned to Toledo and Casey Fien and Fu Te Ni were assigned to the minors. The moves reduce the number of players in camp to 42 and make the bullpen picture a little clearer.

I am a little surprised they cut Fien today because he had pitched well this spring. I wasn't really expecting the non-roster invitee to make the opening day roster but I though he might be among the last cuts. Other non-roster players with a chance to make the team are Juan Rincon and Ryan Perry. Both have had strong springs. There is one spot free on the 40 man roster but, if both were to make the team, they would have to open up another spot. Rincon, with his past Major League success seems a good bet to break camp with the team. I'm less sure about Perry.

There are three locks in the bullpen right now - Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney and Bobby Seay. Joel Zumaya would also be a lock but he seems destined to start the season on the disabled list. While he has had a rough spring and has not been guaranteed a spot, I think Zach Miner will make the 25 man roster as well.

That leaves three more spots. I am going to guess that Nate Robertson gets the fifth starter role and that Rick Porcello and Dontrelle Willis start the season in the minors. I also expect Kyle Bloom, who has not had a great spring, to be returned to the Pirates. I think Clay Rapada will be the second lefty out of the pen and that Rincon and Perry will round out the staff.

If I am correct, then the opening day staff would look like this:


Justin Verlander
Jeremy Bonderman
Armando Galarraga
Edwin Jackson
Nate Robertson


Brandon Lyon
Fernando Rodney
Bobby Seay
Zach Miner
Clay Rapada
Juan Rincon
Ryan Perry

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Three candidates remaining for 5th starter

With the news that Zach Miner has been been essentially ruled out as the fifth starter to open the season, the field has been narrowed to three candidates. The three are Nate Robertson, Rick Porcello and Dontrelle Willis, although it's hard to imagine Willis opening the season in the rotation the way he has pitched.

After two scoreless outings (seven innings total), Robertson is probably the front runner at the moment. His ERA for the spring is now down to 3.27 and recent reports on him have been good - he's working both sides of the plate with improved control and his slider has been sliding again.

Rick Porcello has been impressive all spring and I do not think they would be afraid to insert him into the rotation in April if there were no other options. However, ideally he would start at Erie to get a little more work and to delay his service time clock. If none of the veterans were to show they were ready, then Porcello would be the number five starter. That's the way it looked about a week ago. If Robertson continues to pitch well though , then I think that is the direction they will go.

Regardless of all the positive stories about how Dontrelle Willis is making strides this spring, he has had no good outings and his control is still a major problem - seven walks and two hit batsmen in 8 2/3 innings. I suspect he will be asked to start the season in the minors. He doesn't have to accept such an assignment but, if he were to refuse, he would forfeit two years of salary. Since nobody else is likely to want him on their Major League roster right now, I don't think he'd have any choice but to accept.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bonderman is back

Jeremy Bonderman pitched for the first time in 10 months tonight going two scoreless innings in a 5-2 loss to the Braves. He threw 29 pitches allowing two hits and two walks. He struck out one and got the other five outs on ground balls. Jason Beck reports that Bonderman was throwing 88 to 91 MPH. That's not very fast for him but OK for his first game.

The possible bad news is that Placido Polanco left the game after being hit on the hand by a pitch. There is no word on whether it's anything serious but Billfer said that he left the game immediately without going to first which indicates that he was probably hurting quite a bit. Hopefully, it is not a break of any kind. They don't need another repeat of the Granderson situation last year.

The other bad news tonight was that Dontrelle Willis was awful again - seven hits, two walks and five runs in 2 2/3 innings. It's gotten to the point that a poor performance by Willis is so routine that it doesn't disappoint anymore. Kind of like a Joel Zumaya injury.

Now, back to the good news. Three more relievers pitched scoreless ball tonight - Ryan Perry (1 1/3 IP), Juan Rincon (1 IP) and Clay Rapada (1 IP). Each has a decent chance of making the opening day roster.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back from Lakeland

My father and I just got back from Lakeland after 11 hours of highways, airports, delays and planes. The first thing we saw upon landing at Orlando International Airport was the Space Shuttle. As we traveled on the airport train, we saw some people in front of us yelling excitedly and pointing into the distance We then looked up and saw a big yellow light ascend rapidly into the Florida Sky. It was the first time I had ever seen the Space Shuttle live so that was a pretty cool and unexpected experience.

Spring training is a great baseball experience because you get to see the Major League players in a relatively low key atmosphere. I would recommend that every baseball fan try it some time. Still, this trip to Lakeland was quite a bit more crowded than my past trips to see the Lakeland Flying Tigers in May of 2007 and 2008. Whereas the Flying Tigers draw just a few hundred fans many nights, spring training crowds typically approach the 8,000 Joker Marchant Stadium capacity. While Lakeland is a pretty laid back town in May, it has more the feel of a bustling tourist town in March. The good thing though is that most of the tourists are Tigers fans.

On Monday, we saw the Tigers play the Cardinals - my father's favorite team. The sea of red at the park was evidence that Cardinal fans travel well. Not surprisingly the preferred clothing of Cardinal faithful was an Albert Pujols jersey and his supporters were rewarded with a long home run to center field.

The Tigers won the game 7-6 thanks to a ninth inning run. They scored on a bunt single by Ramon Santiago and singles by Timo Perez and Placido Polanco. Perez had four hits including a home run and a triple for the day and two more hits on Tuesday. Brent Clevlen also added a home run, a long blast to center.

Other than Zach Miner who gave up four runs in three innings the pitching was solid. One of the highlights of my trip was getting the chance to see Ryan Perry for the first time. As advertised, the 2008 first rounder threw bullets. He was sitting at 96-98 MPH throughout a scoreless ninth inning.

Game two versus the Astros was again well attended but the presence of Astros fans was a little less obvious that that of Cardinals fans the previous day. Instead of red, there was a lot of green at the stadium including Tigers players wearing green caps in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. The game ended in one to one tie after eleven innings. Spring training games rarely go deep into extra innings and will sometimes end in ties depending on the availability of pitchers.

Justin Verlander had his best start of the spring allowing just a run on one hit through six innings. Although he walked three batters, he was much more efficient than he had been in previous starts throwing just 68 pitches for the six innings. He was working on his curve ball and threw very few fast balls on the day. Casey Fien, Fu-Te Ni and Kyle Bloom all looked impressive in pitching one scoreless inning apiece. The only Tigers run scored on a home run pulled down the left field line by Scott Sizemore.

One somewhat amusing side note was that Brandon Inge received the loudest ovations of any Tiger. I found it funny because he seems to get so much grief from online Tigers fans. I'm sure people will be comforted to hear that he still wears his socks high. He was actually the only Tiger in the starting line-up both days to do so.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fifth Starter job still up in the air

There are not a lot of positions at stake for the Tigers this spring. There are really only two - the fifth starter and the last bench spot. So, where does the battle for the fifth starter spot stand with three weeks until opening day:
  • Dontrelle Willis has been better than last year (how could he not be?) but still pretty awful. His control is still very poor - 5 walks and 2 hit batsmen in six innings. He hasn't been able to get the ball over with any consistency at all since he has come to the Tigers and it's hard to see him making the starting rotation. Barring some major progress in the next couple of weeks, I suspect they'll attempt to send him to the minors. With six Major League seasons under his belt, he does not have to accept the assignment but he might not have much choice.
  • After two bad outings, Robertson pitched three scoreless innings today allowing no walks. I'm not as pessimistic about Robertson as a lot of people but he'll need to have more outings like that to secure the job. He is also a bullpen candidate.
  • Zach Miner was the favorite among many internet fans before the spring started but he has not helped himself by allowing 10 runs and 18 hits in 10 innings. Although, he has pitched better as a starter during his career, the Tigers seem to like him in the long reliever role.
  • Rick Porcello has pitched well in limited action and some feel as if he is now the leading candidate for the final spot in the rotation. Lynn Henning seems very confident about that but I think it's just speculation on his part. Porcello was supposed to pitch tomorrow but a broken nail suffered in fielding practice has set him back a couple of days. Since I'll be in Lakeland on Monday or Tuesday, I'm hoping that's when he'll pitch.
If they had to make the decision right now, I would guess it would be Porcello. The season does not start until April 6 though so there is plenty of time left to make a decision. I think Rick needs to pitch really well almost every time out and the others need to fail (which so far they are). Otherwise, he'll start the season in Erie.

Of course, there is also the issue of Jeremy Bonderman's readiness to start the season. If he is unable to pitch the first week of the season, then they would need two of the above four pitchers in the rotation. The good news is that Bonderman pitched pain free in a simulated game today and is scheduled to make his first start on Thursday. If there are no more setbacks, he should be ready for the start of the season.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Zumaya still not ready

Joel Zumaya will miss tomorrow's simulated game due to a muscle cramp between his neck and shoulder. Why am I not surprised? It does not sound like anything serious but you have to wonder if he'll ever be healthy. He has not pitched since March 2 and I suspect he won't be ready when the regular season opens up. Jeremy Bonderman is still scheduled to pitch in the simulated game. If all goes well, he'll pitch on Wednesday in a real game. Jim Leyland thinks he will still be on track for the start of the season if there are no more setbacks.

It's a good thing spring training results don't count because it has not been pretty so far. The Tigers were pounded 9-3 by the Mets today. Edwin Jackson pitched three shutout innings but then tired after that giving up two homers in the fourth and walking the first two batters in the fifth before leaving. It was the longest stint of the spring so far for a Tigers pitcher. Adam Everett of all people, hit a home run for the Tigers.

Zumaya still not ready.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tigers Corner

A few people have asked about Tigers Corner - a book/magazine about the Tigers published by Maple Street Press in 2007 and 2008. The 2009 Tigers Corner was ready for publication this year but Maple Street Press decided not to publish it. So, the authors have decided to provide the content of 2009 Tigers Corner online free of charge. The articles will show up over the next couple of weeks. The authors include executive editor Gary Gillette, managing editor Brian Borawski, bloggers Ian Casselberry, Bill Ferris, Matt Wallace, Michael McClary and myself as well as Holland Sentinel Writer Dan D'Addona. The current article discusses the Tigers top prospects. It was written by Gillette, Borawski, Wallace and myself. My role in this particular article was limited but you should read it anyway!

The Tigers Corner site is currently in Beta mode but will soon become permanent and more impressive looking. The plan is to keep producing new content on the site throughout the year and then to publish a Tigers Corner Book like past Tigers Corner's books prior to the 2010 season.

Tigers Tryout Results

A reader asked about the Results of the Tigers tryout on Monday. They are now up at Detroittigers.com. There will be another tryout this summer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tigers videos, Thames, Cuts and Verlander

Eric Seals, a Free Press photographer, sent along some video of the Tigers at spring training in February. One is a segment on players signing autographs. The other is the Tigers at photograph day.

Marcus Thames strained an abdominal muscle in Tuesday's game versus the Cardinals and will miss about a week of action. This should not impact the opening day roster at all.

The Tigers made their first cuts today as they assigned pitchers Rudy Darrow and John Kibler and catcher Jeff Kunkel to minor league camp. There are no surprises there, although there is a chance Darrow could see action in Detroit later this season.

The Tigers beat the Yankees 7-4 today behind two home runs by Gary Sheffield. The item that jumped out at me though was Justin Verlander lasting only two innings and walking four batters. That can perhaps be explained by the fact that he in the process of adjusting his delivery:
The right-hander described it as a slight adjustment: He’s trying to keep his left knee bent -- rather than straight -- as he plants that foot on the mound.
While it's nice to see an explanation for his poor performance, I'm not sure what to think about his making mechanical adjusments. After all, it seemed as if making adjustments early last year hurt more than it helped. I do admit that pitching mechanics is not an area I know a great deal about though.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blogger tries out for Tigers

For the second straight year, fellow blogger Kyle tried out for the Tigers yesterday and has written a nice story about his experience. If you want a first hand account of what goes on at a tryout camp, go check out the article. He had no aspirations of making the team but rather used his experience to promote his cause - a homeless shelter in Lakeland called Talbot House. He will be accepting donations for the next month.

Miner hit hard, Porcello may benefit

Zach Miner again failed to impress today in his quest to become the fifth starter. Miner allowed three runs on seven hits including a Chris Duncan home run in three innings of work in a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals. Zach has now allowed ten runs in ten innings this spring. I try not to pay too much attention to spring statistics but when someone is fighting for a job and struggles this much to get outs, that's a bad sign.

As wild as Dontrelle Willis has been (a walk per inning), he has actually out pitched both Miner and Nate Robertson this spring. Of course, Rick Porcello is pitching better than any of them so far and looking more and more like the fifth starter each day. Lynn Henning certainly thinks so. More importantly, Jim Leyland likes him:

"Do I think he's one of those guys? [good MLB pitcher I assume] Yes, I do.

"Do I know for sure? No.

"He's a young, above-average pitcher with very good stuff."

Other bloggers are also discussing the possibility that Porcello will get a spot in the rotation. Billfer is noncommittal but lays out the pros and cons. Mack Avenue Kurt thinks that Porcello will be the fifth starter. I agree with Kurt.

Another pitcher making a lower profile bid for the staff is last year's first round pick Ryan Perry. He's more of a long shot but he has pitched well this spring. Today, he pitched a perfect seventh.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Three shutout innings for Porcello

Rick Porcello did not dominate the Marlins tonight. He gave up five hits and struck out only one in three innings. One thing he did didn't do though was walk a batter which is kind of a big deal for the Tigers this spring. Former pitching coach Chuck Hernandez lost his job, in part, because Tigers pitchers could not get the ball over the plate last year. Rick Knapp came over from a Twins system which has consistently produced strike throwers. It's pretty clear that the Tigers want to see improvement in that area and it hasn't been happening early in the spring.

Jim Leyland expressed his frustration yesterday after a game in which Tigers pitchers walked ten Yankees in the first five innings.
"Everybody's certainly getting opportunities. It's just a matter of going out, taking the bull by the horns and winning a job. You don't win jobs for anybody when you walk [that many] people in a ballgame. It's tough to win jobs like that. We had that problem all last year with too many walks."
Two of the pitchers responsible for that mess were Nate Robertson (4 walks) and Dontrelle (2). Neither of those two has impressed so far in their battle for the number five spot in the rotation.

If Willis and Robertson continue to struggle, then Zach Miner and Rick Porcello would be next in line if they haven't passed them already. Today was just one game for Porcello but, given that Leyland expressed displeasure with walks just yesterday, it's got to helps his chances. Miner, who has only walked one batter but has given up seven runs in seven innings this spring, goes tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Ducksnorts, Polanco and historic Tigers all-stars

Just a few random items today while I patiently wait for some Tigers starter to get through a couple of innings without walking multiple batters or piling up exorbitant pitch counts:

Geoff Young, who has been writing his San Diego Padres themed Ducksnorts since before blogs were called blogs, has published his annual Ducksnorts book. It's a book about the Padres but I have read his three annuals and have come away each time learning something new about the game. Geoff is an excellent writer who has the ability to analyze the game and tell an entertaining story at the same time. Among other things, this year's book includes an extensive Padres farm report, a review of the inaugural Padres 1969 season, research on pitcher run support and an essay on the relationship between fans, management and media.

Over at Sully Baseball, Paul Sullivan includes two Tigers all-star teams - the all time home grown team and the all-time acquired team. You may or may not agree with all his selections but it's a good read either way.

And one more item from the Fielding Bible: In the final section of the book, they rank position players on the aggregate of everything they did in 2008 including hitting, fielding and base running. They determined how many runs each player was worth according to batting runs created, base running runs using linear weights and defensive runs. The top Tiger in 2008 was Placido Polanco. They credited him with 126 runs - 83 with his bat, 38 with his glove, and 5 with base running. That was good for 30th in the majors.

Polanco was followed by Curtis Granderson who was responsible for 125 runs (99 batting, 17 fielding and 9 base running). Miguel Cabrera (108) and Magglio Ordonez (101) created more runs offensively than Polanco but were dragged down by sub-par fielding and base running.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Fielding Bible

I received my copy of the 2009 Fielding Bible this week and I am quite pleased with the content this year. In the first volume of the Fielding Bible published in 2006, it was billed as a breakthrough analysis but it really wasn't much different from what Mitchel Lichtman (Ultimate Zone Rating) and David Pinto (Probabilistic Model of Range) had already created. In fact, most analysts considered Lichtman's system to be better. The value of the original Fielding Bible was in the presentation. John Dewan explained the Plus/Minus fielding system in a way that was more accessible than other systems. In fact, when asked how the UZR system works, Lichtman once responded by telling people read the Fielding Bible.

The 2009 version of the Fielding Bible does actually include some features that you can't find elsewhere. For example, Bill James introduces a system of Defensive Misplays which is based on both sabermetrics and scouting. The way it works is Baseball Info Solutions Video Scouts carefully and repeatedly watch every single play of the season and determine how many misplays each fielder makes. They go far beyond just counting errors. For example, if an fielder bobbles a grounder on a potential double play ball, and only gets one out instead of two, he gets charged with a misplay. If an outfielder fails to anticipate the wall and lets a catchable ball hit it, then it's a misplay. The system recognizes 54 separate misplays.

In addition to misplays, their system also counts good plays. James defines a Good Fielding Play as "a play that is made when it appears most likely that it can not be made". Some examples of good plays are infielders fielding ground balls which looked like they would get through for hits or outfielders reaching over the fence to catch balls that would have been homers. Their system includes 27 different kinds of good plays.

New Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira made more good fielding plays (93) in 2008 than any other fielder in the majors. Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds made the most misplays (67). Net Fielding Plays are calculated by subtracting misplays from good plays. Teixeira had the highest Net in 2008 with +71. The best Tiger was Placido Polanco at +18.

They also converted +/- (Plays Made Above Average) to Defensive Runs Saved, something they had not done in the original version. The new Tigers defense looks very strong based on Defensive Runs Saved. Even with his injuries woes the past couple of years, Adam Everett was the leading shortstop with +48 Runs Saved between 2006-2008. Other Tigers among the leaders were:

Placido Polanco (+30) - fourth among MLB second basemen.
Brandon Inge (+39) - fifth among third baseman.
Gerald Laird (+15) - fifth on the list of catchers.
Curtis Granderson (+14) - tenth best center fielder.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Composite Projections for Tigers Pitchers - 2009

I posted the composite projections for Tigers batters on Saturday. The projections for the pitchers are shown in Table 1 below. In this case, I calculated the average ERA and K/BB projections over the same three systems I used for batters: CHONE, Marcels and ZIPS. To give you some context, the median ERA for regular starting pitchers last year was 4.22 and the median K/BB ratio was 2.1.

The projection for Verlander (4.09 ERA and 2.2 K/BB) would be an improvement over last year (4.84, 1.9) but not as good as his 2007 numbers (3.66, 2.7). I think the Tigers need something more like 2007 from him if they are going to contend. Armando Galarraga is expected to regress from 3.73/2.1 in 2008 to 4.34/1.9 this year. Jeremy Bonderman is expected to be around league average but right now I'm wondering just how much he's going to pitch.

Zach Miner's ERA is projected to be 4.21 which would be very solid but keep in mind that the systems are projecting him as a reliever rather than a starter and reliever ERAs tend to be lower than starter ERAs. His projected K/BB ratio of 1.6 is less encouraging. The projections for the rest of the potential starters are not rosy with Edwin Jackson, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis all expected to have ERAs of 4.84 or higher.

Table 1: Composite projections for Tigers starters.




Justin Verlander



Jeremy Bonderman



Armando Galarraga



Edwin Jackson



Nate Robertson



Dontrelle Willis



Zach Miner



Sunday, March 01, 2009

Should we be concerned about Bonderman?

As you probably know by now, Jeremy Bonderman missed yesterday's start due to stiffness in his arm. He was then scheduled to pitch a simulated game instead but that was canceled too. Now, he is taking anti-inflammatory medication and will be re-assessed in a couple of days.

Bonderman is frustrated. Ian is waving a red flag. Billfer is greatly concerned. Leyland remains calm but doesn't offer a lot of encouragement:
"I'm not sure what to believe," Leyland said. "But we're not going to do anything stupid."
Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus seems to think this is not a big deal and that we should expect these kinds of bumps in the road after the kind of surgery Bonderman went through. Sources told him that the Tigers knew a long time ago that Jeremy would be behind schedule in preparation for the regular season. Carroll also reminds us that other pitchers such as David Cone and Kenny Rogers were able to return successfully from similar surgery.

so, I guess we just have to be patient and see what happens next. I'm not panicked but I'm concerned. Any time a pitcher which you are counting on to keep the team competitive has a stiff shoulder, you have to be a little concerned.


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