Sunday, June 28, 2009

Inge, Tigers Avoid Sweep

With Marcus Thames up at the plate, the Tigers were one strike away from a sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. However, Thames managed to work a walk versus Astros closer Jose Valverde and the Tigers still had a life. Brandon Inge then crushed a two run homer to left to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead. It was Inge's 18th homer of the year and several of them have come in clutch situations late in games. Brandon had a slight limp as he rounded the bases on his homer as he had injured his leg running out an infield hit earlier in the game

Inge also scored the Tigers first run after his infield hit in the fifth. Inge ran the bases tentatively and slid into homeplate awkwardly on a double by Gerald Laird. Curtis Granderson scored the second run on a solo shot in the sixth tying the game at two at the time. He also has 18 homers tying him with Inge for the team lead.

Edwin Jackson had another quality start allowing three runs on seven hits and no walks in seven innings but left trailing 3-2. Jackson is second in the American League with a 2.45 ERA but has only six wins because he has received the worst run support in the American League - just under 4 runs per game. Last year, he had a 4.42 ERA but won 14 games thanks, in part, to excellent run support (5.0 runs per game) from the Rays.

Fernando Rodney got his 16th save in 16 official opportunities by pitching a scoreless ninth. He is eighth in the league in Win Probability Added, a statistic with takes into account the situations in which relievers have pitched:

Table: AL Win Probability Added Leaders

Aardsma, Sea 2.65
Papelbon, Bos 2.41
Francisco, Tex 2.00
Johnson, Bal 1.62
White Sea 1.57
Sherrill Bal 1.48
O'Day, Tex 1.43
Rodney, Det 1.39

Tigers Transactions

The Tigers made a couple of moves today. First, Nate Robertson has been on the disabled list with a mass in his elbow which will require surgery. Kurt was the first Tigers blogger or beat writer to report the story which originated at the East Windup Chronicle. Taiwanese left-hander Fu-Te Ni has been called up from Toledo to take his place.

After the game, the Tigers announce that Alfredo Figaro has been sent down to Toledo and will be replaced by Lucas French. The left-handed French will pitch against the left-handed heavy Twins line-up next weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tigers Fielding Deserves Credit

Much has been made about the impact of pitching in the Tigers turn around this year. After allowing 5.3 runs per game in 2008, they have given up just 4.4 runs per game this year, a decrease of almost a full run per game. Obviously, the pitching is substantially better this year with the additions of Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello and the improvements of Justin Verlander and, to a lesser extent, the bullpen.

While the pitching has been great, the defense is also playing a major role in the success this year. According to the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic at Fan Graphs, the Tigers have improved at every position this year and dramatically so at several positions. Overall, their team defense was 39.1 runs below average in 2008. This year, they are 30.6 runs above average, a turn around of almost 70 runs if they keep it up all season. That's an estimated 7 wins.

Now, let's look at the pitching. In 2008, the Tigers had a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 4.91. FIP is the the ERA that a pitching staff should have based on things which don't involve fielding - walks, homers, strikeouts and hit batters. In 2009, the Tigers FIP is 4.37, an improvement of 0.54 runs per game. If they keep that up for the entire season, it would be 87 runs. That comes out to an estimated 9 wins.

So, based on UZR and FIP, the Tigers fielding is responsible for about 45% of their improvement in run prevention while pitching accounts for 55%. Of course, you have to be careful when you separate pitching and fielding because they are so intertwined but the two most independent statistics available say that the defense is making a substantial contribution this year. It's doubtful that the pitching staff would look nearly as good this year without the glove work behind them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Six in a Row for Tigers

The Tigers topped the Cubs 5-3 tonight to give them six consecutive victories and a five game lead over the second place Twins. Not too many of those wins have been easy and this one was no exception. The Cubs threatened all night and the Tigers needed seven pitchers to complete the game. Rick Porcello and six relievers (everyone but Freddy Dolsi) allowed 7 walks and 11 hits but but stranded 13 runners.

Porcello only went five innings and allowed 11 base runners but held the Cubs to just two runs thanks, in part, to a ground out/ fly out ratio of 11/1. Joel Zumaya, the fifth reliever of the night for the Tigers, stayed away from the change-up this time and pitched a scoreless eighth inning to set up Fernando Rodney. Pitching against a backdrop of fireworks (set off next door to the stadium) Rodney did his usual Todd Jones imitation allowing the first two runners to reach in the ninth before getting out of it. His control was bad and Jim Leyland had Dolsi up in the bullpen quickly in the ninth. However, the manager then went out to the mound and seemed to calm Fernando down and he retired the Cubs in order after that.

The Tigers offense came from Gerald Laird (a homer and two hits), Miguel Cabrera (a homer and two hits) and Adam Everett (two hits and an RBI). After a getting a hair cut earlier in the day (yes the long curly hair is gone), Magglio Ordonez also added two hits.

Speed Never Slumps

Ordonez came out of the game for pinch runner Josh Anderson and for the second straight game Anderson made an out on the bases. After getting picked off first last night, he was out trying to advance from first to third on a bunt single by Gerald Laird tonight. Anderson has now run into so many outs on the bases this year that he is a below average base runner (0.2 runs below league average) according to the Baseball Prospectus Equivalent Base Running Runs statistic (EqBRR). If he can't use his speed effectively, he is pretty much useless offensively with his .621 OPS.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Raburn Walk Off Stuns Cubs

Magglio Ordonez made his return to the Tigers starting line-up batting seventh versus the Cubs tonight. The winning blow came out of the of that seventh spot but it was not delivered by Magglio. In the bottom of the ninth inning with the Tigers trailing 4-3, Ryan Raburn pinch hit for Josh Anderson who earlier pinch ran for Ordonez. Ryan belted a 1-0 slider from Chicago closer Kevin Gregg into the seats in left center field to beat the Cubs 5-4. It was a fitting end to a game which saw the lead change three times in the last three innings.

Brandon Inge clubbed a two run home run to left field off of Carlos Zambrano in the seventh to put the Tigers up 3-2. Scoring ahead of Inge was rookie Donnie Kelly who reached when he was hit by a pitch. Kelly would later score the tying run after drawing a nine pitch walk prior to Raburn's game winning blast.

Joel Zumaya came into to pitch the eighth in relief of Edwin Jackson who allowed two runs in seven innings. Jackson was a little wild tonight walking four but gave up only four hits and struck out seven. Zumaya looked sharp getting two outs on an assortment of curveballs and 100 MPH plus fastballs. After allowing a hit to Derrek Lee, he looked to have Micah Hoffpauir over matched but then he inexplicably waved off two pitches from catcher Gerald Laird and threw a big fat change-up right down the middle. Hoffpauir jumped on it and crushed a long home run to right field to put the Cubs up 4-3.

As has been the case a few times lately, Zumaya was saved by some late innings heroics from Tigers bats. This time, it was Raburn who bailed him out and the Tigers are now 11-8 in one run games, the best record in the division. More importantly, they have have the second best record (39-31) in the American league and are still four games ahead of the second place Twins.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Everything Is Fine With The Tigers Again

In the middle of the week, Tigers fans were in a state of panic. Their team had lost four in a row to the Pirates and Cardinals and their lead over the dreaded Twins was down to two games. They couldn't hit, two fifths of their rotation couldn't pitch and the bullpen was starting to falter. They even lost two games started by their two aces. There were rumors about Magglio Ordonez getting released and a suggestion that all was not right between Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland. Another second half collapse was surely on the horizon.

Four days later, things are looking a lot better. They took the last game versus the Cardinals and then swept the first place Brewers over the weekend. Their lead over Minnesota is back up to four games with the White Sox five back. After going a week without scoring more than three runs in a game, they scored 25 runs on 37 hits on Thursday through Saturday. They plugged rookie Alfredo Figaro into the rotation and he allowed just two runs while striking out seven in five innings. Justin Verlander bounced back today with a strong outing and Fernando Rodney got his control back pitching two perfect innings last night and tonight.

While all this was going on Jim Leyland got an extension and Ordonez was benched. You may or may not like Leyland as a manager but the players like him and I think removing his lame duck status helps the team, at least for this year. Ordonez may return to the line-up on Tuesday but it's good news that Leyland is not afraid to sit him down if he doesn't hit.

So, all the Tigers problems are solved and we can rest easily. Well, not quite. Their starting line-up is still full of holes, the backend of the rotation is still a big question mark and they lack a truely reliable stopper in the bullpen. It once again looks like we'll be following a contender this summer though.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dusty Ryan Called Up

Sources close to Dusty Ryan are reporting that The Tigers have called up the young backstop from Toledo to presumably replace Dane Sardinha as the backup catcher. This is a welcome move as the Tigers have been starting Gerald Laird too much and I believe it has been affecting his offense. Laird has been excellent defensively but has played in 57 of the Tigers 66 games and his batting average has slipped to .215. The Tigers have been reluctant to use the weak hitting Sardinha who is a capable defender but has batted just .097 in 12 games.

Dusty Ryan was batting .259/.374/.442 with 7 homers in 46 games for Toledo. He has good power but has trouble making contact with 51 strikeouts in 147 at bats. Although Dusty had trouble blocking pitches in his call-up to the Tigers last September, he is generally regarded as a strong defender.

Who is Alfredo Figaro?

As you have probably heard by now, the Tigers have placed Dontrelle Willis on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder and have called up Alfredo Figaro to take his place. Figaro, who will make his first start on Saturday is a hard throwing 24 year old right-handed pitcher. He was originally signed by the Dodgers as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic but they released him after one year and the Tigers snatched him in 2003.

At six feet tall and 173 pounds, Alfredo is rather small for a pitcher but he throws his fastball in the mid 90s and has touched 98. He also has a good curve and is working on a change-up. He was ranked 16th in the the Tigers system by Baseball America last year but Mark Anderson at TigsTown says his stock is rising and that he has a chance to be a long term starter for the Tigers.

Figaro, who is the cousin of Fernando Rodney has pitched 68 innings for AA Erie this year posting a 4.10 ERA with 59 strikeouts and 17 walks. His performance has been up and down but he has been very strong in his last two starts - two runs in 7 innings plus in each game and a combined 18 strikeouts. He excelled at A-level West Michigan last year compiling a 2.05 ERA over 123 innings. He then struggled a bit upon his promotion to Lakeland where he had a 4.91 ERA in 29 innings.

Alfredo is not a Rick Porcello type prospect and I'm not counting on him to stay in the rotation the rest of the year but he does have some potential. He couldn't do much worse than some of Willis's recent performances. He will probably struggle in his first exposure to Major League hitters but hopefully he can capture lightning in a bottle for a few games.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tigers May Try to Release Ordonez

Lynn Henning reported in an interview on WTKA today that Magglio Ordonez could be released by the Tigers before his vesting option for 2010-2011 kicks in. Thanks to Motor City Sonics for posting the link on MotownSports (He was actually one of the interviewers). Ordonez has a unique contract where an $18 million dollar option for 2010 automatically vests if he reaches 135 games or 540 plate appearances this season. An additional $15 million option would kick in for 2011 if he reaches 135 games or 540 plate appearances in 2010 or 270 games or 1080 plate appearances in 2009-2010.

If the Tigers release him before he reaches the necessary playing time, they would save $30 million dollars ($33 million in options minus a $3 million buy out for 2010). There is a catch however. According to the basic agreement, a team can not release a player for financial reasons, only for performance based reasons. Billfer wrote more about that issue on DTW a while back.

It will not be easy to release Ordonez for performance reasons but Henning says the Tigers will try to build a case empirically. If they released him today, the union would surely point to his .272 batting average and .343 On Base Percentage. Those are not Magglio-like numbers but they are respectable. The Tigers case would have to be built around his total lack of power - .343 slugging average - and his sub-par defense.

According to the Fan Graphs stats, Magglio is worth 2.3 runs less the the average American League batter ranking him 34th among 43 outfielders with 150 or more plate appearances. Defensively, he ranks 0.2 runs below the average right fielder. Overall, he is just 1.7 runs or 0.2 wins above a replacement level player. The best case the Tigers could give for releasing him might be be the fact that he ranks behind nine other Tigers in total player value.

I'm not sure any of the above is strong enough evidence to win a case against the union. There is also the issue of potentialy alienating players on the Tigers or potential free agents if they release him before his contract is up. I still believe it will be tough for them to free themselves of his contract but it is very interesting that they are apparently seriously thinking about attempting to do so.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Verlander is Human

In the last nine games prior to tonight's game, Justin Verlander had an ERA of 1.10 and 81 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings. Tonight, he did not look right out of the gate. It was quickly apparent that Justin didn't have the same stuff and command he had shown over the last seven weeks. He almost managed to get out of a tough first inning after loading the bases on a double, a walk and a single but couldn't get the final strike. After fouling off several two strike pitches, Yadier Molina blooped a double to right to score two runs. A balk and a double followed and the Tigers were down 4-0 after one inning. The Tigers ace was removed from the game after allowing four runs on eight hits in four innings. The only good thing is that, by leaving after 73 pitches, he got somewhat of a rest tonight.

You knew there was not much hope after the first inning with the anemic Tigers offense facing a good pitcher in Adam Wainwright. They got two solo homers from Brandon Inge and Miguel Cabrera but were overmatched for the most part. Frankly, they looked pretty lethargic tonight and the final score was 11-2 Cardinals. The Bengals have now gone six straight games without scoring more than three runs.

Getting back to the pitching, Nate Robertson pitched to four batters in the fifth and retired none of them. It appears as if Dontrelle Willis is on the verge of being released or sent back to the minors and with an ERA pushing 8.00, you have to wonder if Robertson may be next. The lone bright spot was Brandon Lyon who pitched two perfect innings to finish the game.

It will be Edwin Jackson versus Todd Wellemeyer on Wednesday. The Tigers really need their other ace to be a stopper tomorrow night.

Willis Out of Rotation

The Detroit News is reporting that Dontrelle Willis will not make his next start scheduled for Saturday. Although Jim Leyland did not say as much, this likely means that Willis will be permanently removed from the rotation. There is no word on whether he will be put in the bullpen, released, sent to the minors with his permission or placed on the disabled list. With Nate Robertson already serving as mop up reliever, the bullpen would not seem to be a likely destination for Willis though. If they call up a player from the minors to make the start, Lucas French would probably be the first choice. However, I would guess that Zach Miner will join the rotation and that the minor league call-up will pitch out of the bullpen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Porcello Does It All

I often complain about the win/loss statistic for pitchers, partly because it is so dependent on run support which is something a pitcher can not control, especially in the American League. With the Tigers playing in a National League park tonight, Rick Porcello got a chance to provide his own offense and came through with two hits and two Runs Batted. His batting provided the winning margin in a 3-1 win over the Pirates.

Porcello's pitching was pretty good too. He allowed just one run on six hits and one walk in seven innings. He struck out only two but used his hard sinker to induce 13 ground ball outs. It was a typical performance for the 20-year-old right-hander who is third in the league in ground ball percentage at 55.4%. The 99 pitches he threw tonight were the most he has thrown all season.

Rick didn't do it one hundred percent by himself. He got some help from his defense, most notably Miguel Cabrera. The big first baseman made four very good plays including an unassisted double play in the second inning. He also made two diving stops followed by perfect throws and stretched to snag a line drive.

The third Tigers run was supplied by Brandon Inge on a homer to left off reliever John Grabow in the eighth. Although he did not participate in the scoring Placido Polanco had a big night going four for four with a pair of doubles.

It has been a rough week for the bullpen but everything went smoothly tonight. Zach Miner pitched a scoreless eighth and Fernando nailed down his 12th save in the ninth inning.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thomas Optioned to Toledo, Kelly Up

According to the Free Press, the Tigers announced after today's game that Clete Thomas has been optioned to Toledo and that utility man Donald Kelly has been called up from the same club. Jim Leyland said that Thomas needs to work on his swing if he his going to be a Major League regular:
"I think he has a shot to be an everyday player, but he has to shorten up his swing,'' Leyland said. "It's really not a punishment. I'm sure he will be back."
So, Thomas bats third today and then gets sent down to work on his swing after the game? Leyland knows better than me but it seems pretty odd that he would bat a young player third who he admits was having trouble with his swing. It also seems pretty clear that Leyland likes Thomas so I would expect that he'll be back later in the season. Clete was batting .237/.315/.412 in 33 games and had been struggling at the plate the last couple of weeks.

The first thing you will probably notice about Donnie Kelly when you see him is that he is very tall and slim at 6-4 190 pounds. The 29-year-old Kelly is a nine year minor league veteran who came up through the Tigers system as a shortstop but now plays all over the field. In fact, he can play any position except catcher. Not only is he versatile but he also reputation as a good defensive player. The left-handed hitting Kelly was having a good season at the plate for the MudHens batting .341 and slugging .478 with 14 stolen bases.

Kelly has also spent time in the Pittsburgh and Arizona organizations and batted .148 in 27 at bats for the Pirates in 2007. Kelly is a good contact hitter but doesn't have a lot of power and is batting .285/.357/.383 in his minor league career. It's good to see Kelly rewarded for his strong play so far this season. He will be the starting left fielder versus Pittsburgh tomorrow night. I don't know where he'll bat but I think third is probably not a good idea.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Willis Stays in Rotation, Bondo to Pen

Jim Leyland announced today that Dontrelle Willis will start Sunday's game and that Jeremy Bonderman will go to the pen. This is not a big surprise given Jeremy's performance in Monday's game. The 26-year-old right-hander allowed 6 runs on 8 hits, including three homers in 4 innings and looked as bad as the statistics indicated. His velocity (high 80s at best) was well below the mid 90s he reached prior to his physical problems and his command was not very good either.

Dontrelle Willis is only a slightly more palatable option with his 6.60 ERA and 16/20 K/BB ratio in 30 innings. Willis has better stuff than Bonderman right now but seems to have little idea where the ball will go once he releases it. Still, he has pitched a couple of decent games and probably has a better chance of keeping the team in games than Bonderman.

I believe a better option would be Zach Miner. I know he nibbles too much and is maddeningly inconsistent but he was fairly successful as a starter for extensive periods in the past. In fact, in 13 starts at the end of last year, he compiled a 4.30 ERA. I'd feel more comfortable with him starting than either of their other options but I think that will only happen as a last resort.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tigers Win Ugly

The 1983 White Sox team slogan was "winning ugly", a term coined by opposing manager Doug Rader, who felt they were winning games which they did not deserve to win. You can call it luck or call it scrappiness but the Tigers won ugly tonight. The Tigers beat the White Sox 7-6 tonight in an extra inning game which is pretty difficult to summarize. If you look at the box score you will see that one of the main themes of the game was walks. There were 20 free passes in 10 innings, 12 by the Tigers staff and 8 by the White Sox. That only begins to describe the crazy night though.

Dontrelle Willis had a typically adventurous outing. He started off wild and then settled down a bit before walking four batters in the fifth. In between, he fell on the mound and seemed to hurt is leg in the first inning but continued. Then he almost got into a brawl with the lovable AJ Pierzynski in the fourth. He nearly hit Pierzynski with one of his out of control pitches and then AJ said something to him as he trotted down to first on a ground out. Both benchies emptied but there was no real trouble.

After walking the bases loaded in the fourth, Willis faced Pierzynski again. This time the White Sox catcher hit a little nubber to the right of the mound, Dontrelle made a terrific diving play and an equally good throw to first to end the ending. In all, Willis allowed three runs on five hits and five walks in five innings. It wasn't pretty but he kept them in the game and likely earned another start. The score was tied 3-3 when he left the game.

Everybody was wild tonight, even Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle who usually has pin point control. Buehrle walked four batters in 6 1/3 innings including three in the seventh. All three of those runners scored on a bases clearing double by Placido Polanco making it 6-3 Tigers. Polanco had come into the game 6 for 36 so it good to see him finally get a big hit.

Zach Miner, Bobby Seay and Joel Zumaya did not avoid walks totally but kept the the Tigers in front with three scoreless innings of relief. Fernando Rodney, probably tired pitching his sixth game in five days, failed to convert a save situation for the first time all year. He couldn't find the plate at all and walked the bases loaded without retiring anybody.

Now, it was Brandon Lyon's turn. He struck out Jermaine Dye but then walked Jim Thome to force home a run. Paul Konerko then smashed a double into the left field corner. One run scored. A second run scored. A third run almost scored but Ryan Rabun threw out Dwayne Wise at the plate on a very close play and the Tigers had another life. Lyon struck out rookie Gordon Beckham to end the inning.

Finally, in the top of the tenth, gimpy Miguel Cabrera hit a towering fly ball to left field which barely left the park and the Tigers took a 7-6 lead. Brandon Lyon finally closed it out with an easy one two three ninth.

So, this one was not pretty but they won and now have a 2-1 lead in the big five game series. With their two aces - Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson - pitching the finally two games, a series win looks probable.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Ryan Perry Optioned to Toledo

According to Jason Beck via Twitter, the Tigers have optioned Ryan Perry to Toledo to make room for Jeremy Bonderman who will pitch the second game of tonight's doubleheader. There was some thought that the Tigers might send down a position player and go with 13 pitchers for the White Sox series. However, a solid performance by Armando Galarraga today (3 runs in 6 2/3 uinnings) probably saved the bullpen enough so that an extra pitcher will not be necessary.

Perry has been impressive at times and has an ERA of 3.13 and 22 strikeouts in 23 appearances. However, his control has been bad ( 19 walks) and he'll get a chance to work on that in the lower pressure environment of the minors.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Clete Slams Angels

The game was tied five to five with the based loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. It would have been a great spot for Miguel Cabrera but the Tigers clean-up hitter had been removed from the game earlier for a pinch runner. Instead, it was Clete Thomas versus Angels reliever Jason Bulger. Thomas had been struggling going 3 for 24 since his two homer game versus the Orioles last weekend. This time, however, Clete drilled a one ball one strike pitch to left field for a grand slam to put the Tigers up 9-5. Cabrera could have done no better and the Tigers went on to win 9-6.

The Tigers actually went into the bottom of the eighth trailing 5-4 but tied it without the benefit of a hit. Jose Arredondo and Jason Bulger loaded the bases on walks and then Placido Polanco hit a shallow fly to center which was caught by Gary Mathews Jr.. Ryan Raburn scored when Mathews's throw bounced off Bulger's glove. The play ended when Raburn avoided the tag by diving head first to the left of the plate in reached out with his right hand to touch the plate. Magglio Ordonez then walked to reload the bases prior to Thomas's slam.

It was not a well pitched game by either side as there were 15 walks - nine issued by Angels hurlers and six by the Tigers. Rick Porcello went five innings allowing four runs, three in the first inning on a pair of home runs. The bullpen was not awful but they did blow a 4-3 lead. Perry gave up three hits and one of Porcello's runs in the sixth and Joel Zumaya allowed a bases loaded walk in the eighth. Fernando Rodney then allowed another run in the ninth.

Notes:

Marcus Thames had a successful return from his oblique strain going two for five. They are going to need him in the upcoming five game series versus the White Sox as the Tigers will face three lefties.

Cabrera walked twice today but was removed from the game for a pinch runner as his hamstring is still not at full strength. I doubt he will be able to start both games of tomorrow's double header.

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.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Thames is Back, Larish sent to Toledo

Jim Leyland announced after today's game that Marcus Thames will return to the Tigers tomorrow and that Jeff Larish has been optioned to Toledo. I was hoping to see Larish continue to get opportunities but the move makes some sense given that Larish has struggled at the plate over the past week or so and that they face a string of four left-handed starters in four days. Billfer explains why the move is also a bit surprising.

Thames and Ryan Raburn, who has done well lately after a slow start, will likely start all four games against the lefties. When the Tigers face right-handers, they will probably start Clete Thomas and Josh Anderson. Meanwhile, Larish will try to regain his stroke with regular at bats for the MudHens.

Jackson Is The Real Deal

When the Tigers first acquired Edwin Jackson from the Tampa Bay Rays for Matt Joyce last December, I was not happy with the move. I knew he threw hard and had great stuff and that he was once one of the top prospects in the game but his performance had never lived up to his potential. He lacked control (4.5 walks per nine innings), was not a strikeout pitcher (6.1 per nine innings) had a career 5.15 ERA.

Some pointed to his 14 win season with the pennant winning Rays last year as a sign that he had turned the corner. However, the wins came more from strong support from his offense, defense and bullpen more than his own performance. His 108/77 K/BB ratio and 4.88 FIP were less than impressive and a look at his game logs showed that he was not dominant even in his best games. I knew why the trade was made. The Tigers needed pitching, Dave Dombrowski loves high risk high reward players and, at 25 years of age, there was still a chance for Jackson to turn his potential into reality.

While I conceded that Jackson had some upside and that he gave the Tigers much needed pitching depth, I did not envision him being anymore than an innings eating starter with an ERA closer to 5.00 than 4.00. Thankfully, I was wrong about that and I think he has even exceeded the expectations of his staunchest supporters. His dominating complete game four hitter versus the Angels tonight lowered his ERA to 2.16, second lowest in the American League to Zach Greinke. He also has an excellent 62/19 K/BB ratio in 83 innings.

Last week, I said that his eight inning two hitter versus the Orioles was his best start of the season to that point. Tonight's game may have been even better. He allowed only four hits and one walk in nine innings but the best part was how he finished it up. With a two run lead in the top of the ninth, Jim Leyland let him go out there to finish it. This was reasonable given that he was still under 100 pitches when the inning started. He proceeded to strike out three very tough hitters - Bobby Abreu, Vladimir Guerrerio and Torri Hunter in succession to give the Tigers a 2-1 victory.

Most impressive was the fact that retired the trio largely by blowing it by them at 98 and 99 MPH that late in the game. Not only has Edwin managed to harness his great stuff but he knows how to pitch too. He got through eight innings by getting the Angels to hit the ball to his teammates and saved his best pitches for the ninth inning. His last two starts have finally convinced me that his good start is no fluke. The kid has figured it out.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Cabrera, Bonderman and Thames

The Tigers are coming off an ugly three game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox which ended with Miguel Cabrera straining his hamstring and Dontrelle Willis experiencing another melt down where he gave up five runs on no hits in one inning. The good news is that Cabrera is OK. He will miss tonight's game but should be back in the line-up tomorrow. The top of the line-up looks awfully weak without him:

Josh Anderson
Placido Polanco
Clete Thomas
Magglio Ordonez

So, the top two have On Base Percentages of .302, .292 and the clean-up hitter has a .348 slugging average. Thomas has the best stats of the top four but a .742 OPS is not what you expect from your third hitter. Justin Verlander will need to pitch like an ace tonight.

In other news, Jeremy Bonderman will start the second game of the double header versus the White Sox on Monday. He admits that his velocity is still low (high 80s) and that he will have to rely on his slider and yes his change-up. What happens to the rotation after that likely depends on how Bonderman and Armando Galarraga pitch on Monday and how Dontrelle Willis does on Tuesday. Two of them will remain in the rotation and the other will go to the bullpen or perhaps the minors.

Marcus Thames will likely return on Sunday when the Tigers start a string of four games versus left-handed starters. Who will be sent down to the minors when Thames is added will probably depend as much on options as on performance. Eddie compiled the numbers and Billfer did the analysis. In short, we can expect one of Clete Thomas, Jeff Larish or Ryan Raburn to be removed from the 25 man roster. I'm guessing Raburn but I wouldn't put a lot of money on it given all the lefty starters next week.

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