With the Tigers getting ready for their big three game series versus the Twins, I wanted to take a look at the two teams statistically. You know the Tigers are up by three games in the only statistic that ultimately matters but how did they get there:
The two teams are almost identical in run scoring and run prevention. The Tigers have scored 369 runs and allowed just 350 for a run differential of +19. The Twins have 378 runs scored and 348 allowed for a run differential of +30. Based on the Pythagorean Theorem the Twins should be 43-37 and the Tigers 41-37. So the Twins are under performing their expected wins by 2 games which is just the opposite of what they have done in recent years. The Tigers have won 4 more games than their expected wins.
The reason why the Tigers are winning more than the runs scored and runs allowed would suggest is their outstanding record of 24-11 in games decided by one or two runs. The Twins, on the other hand, are 16-22 in those games. Can the Tigers keep that up? It's not likely. The biggest known factor in winning close games is a strong bullpen. The Tigers bullpen has very good at protecting leads this year but it's not a dominant bullpen and not as good as the Twins.
As mentioned above, the two teams are very close offensively, each having scored 4.7 runs per game. What is interesting is that the Twins should have outscored the Tigers 384 to 352 according to the Runs Created statistic at Fan Graphs. Thus, the Tigers have scored 17 more runs that you would expect given their statistics. The Twins have scored six fewer runs than expected which is just the opposite of last year when they substantially outscored their runs created estimate.
One of the reasons for the Twins scoring more than expected last year was their base running. They were 10 runs above average according to the Equivalent Base Running Runs statistic in 2008. The Tigers were 9 runs below average. The Twins still lead this year but it's closer: +0.5 for the Twins and -4.5 for the Tigers.
The other reason the Twins scored more than expected last year was that they were the best hitting team in baseball with runners in scoring position. This year, the Tigers lead them in that category: .794 OPS for the Tigers versus a .763 OPS for the Twins.
The Tigers and Twins are as close in pitching as their are in run scoring. The Twins have a FIP of 4.35 while the Tigers are at 4.38. The Tigers starting pitching has been better - 4.22 ERA versus 4.43 ERA but the Tigers have had the inferior bullpen ERA: 4.46 versus 3.82. The difference in bullpens is the reason why the Tigers probably won't maintain their advantage in close games.
I've mentioned many times how good the Tigers fielding has been this year and nothing has changed there. According to the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic, the Tigers are second in fielding with 27.1 runs saved above average. The Twins, on the other hand, are 11.3 runs below average.
Looking at the individual value statistics at Fan Graphs, the leaders Tigers in overall runs above replacement (including hitting and fielding) are
The Twins leaders are:
The top six Tigers are 115.7 runs above replacement while the top six Twins are 127.9 runs above replacement. So, the Twins are getting more production from their core players. However, the rest of the Tigers are 0.9 runs above replacement while the remaining Twins are 20.7 runs below replacement. Thus, the Tigers are getting far more from their role players.
The Tigers really have not outplayed the Twins this year but have a three game lead thanks to what I consider good fortune in close games. I don't think the Tigers can sustain that so they will need to play better in the second half. Hopefully, they can start by having their bats wake up against the Twins this weekend.