Sunday, June 07, 2009

One Third of the Way Home

The Tigers have reached the 54 game mark meaning that they are one third of the way through the season. They lead the American League Central division with a 29-25 record. Neither the Tigers record nor the division's mediocrity is shocking. What is surprising is how they have gotten to this point. After finishing 4th in the American League in runs scored and 12th in run prevention in 2008, the Tigers have done a reversal in 2009. They are currently 7th in offense with 5.0 runs per game and 2nd to the Mariners in run prevention with 4.4 runs allowed per game.

It may seem as if the Tigers have the worst offense you've ever seen lately but overall they are in the middle of the pack in every offensive category:
  • 10th in batting average (.264)
  • 9th in slugging (.413)
  • 8th in OBP (.334)
  • 10th in Isolated Power (.149)
  • 9th in homers (55)
  • 8th in walks (179)
So, why are they seventh in offense when they are between 8th and 10th in most categories? With all the talk of Josh Anderson and the speed he brings to the Tigers you might think they are running the bases well but the statistics don't indicate that they are. According to Baseball Prospectus Equivalent Base Running Runs (EqBRR) Statistic they rank 10thin the league with 3.2 runs below average. Surprisingly, the leading base runner is Gerald Laird who is 2.0 runs better than average.

Where the Tigers do rank well is hitting with runners in scoring position. They are second in the league in batting average with RISP at .285. That is probably the reason why they rank better in runs scored than they do in other hitting categories.

On the other side of the ball, their pitching staff is 3rd overall with a 4.20 FIP. Most of that is due to their starters who rank first in ERA (FIP splits not available) at 3.81. We can thank Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander for that. Their bullpen ERA of 4.68 is 9th in the league.

One of their goals in the off-season was to improve their defense and they have been successful. They rank first in Defensive Efficiency Ratio at .707, second on The Hardball Times Fielding Runs Above Average statistic (+18) and third on the the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic (+21). I went into detail on their substantial defensive improvement in an earlier post.

There is a long way to go but the Tigers have managed to stay in first place thanks to stellar starting pitching and team defense and the good fortune of playing in the American League Central. Can they keep it up? I don't see the division getting any stronger as every team has as many or more holes as the Tigers. The White Sox and Twins appear to be the biggest threats and the Tigers have traditionally struggled against those teams. So, they will need to do better in head to head top head match-ups. Having two studs like Verlander and Jackson in the rotation certainly helps.

Do they have enough offense? So far, it's been enough but it seems to be getting worse. Earlier in the season, they were getting help from unexpected sources - a tremendous start from Brandon Inge and contributions from Adam Everett, Ramon Santaiago, Josh Anderson, etc. Lately, the bottom of the line-up has come back to earth and it has shown in the final scores. They are going to need Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco to get going if they are going remain league average in runs scored. A healthy powerful Marcus Thames would also help.

The other concern is the bullpen. Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya have been very good so far but their history of fragility is always worrisome. Their middle and long relief is almost nonexistent so any time they don't get a strong start, the team is in trouble.

Because of their limited offense and iffy bullpen, I don't see them pulling away from the division. They will probably try to make a trade for a corner outfielder or extra reliever but that is easier said than done. Trade or no trade though, I think they can stay in the race all year.


  1. Hopefully, Ordonez and Polanco moving toward their career numbers at the plate and the return of Thames (and hopefully Guillen at some point) offset the likely regression in hitting with RISP.



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