Friday, July 31, 2009

Tigers Acquire Jarrod Washburn

The Tigers have acquired Jarrod Washburn from the Seattle Mariners today for pitchers Lucas French and Mauricio Robles. The 34 year old Washburn is having his best year as a Major Leaguer posting a 2.64 ERA and 79/33 K/BB ratio so far. He doesn't walk or strikeout many batters and puts the ball in play. Thus, he needs a strong defense to be successful. He had that with the Mariners and should get that with the Tigers as well. He will replace French as the only lefty in the Tigers rotation.

Both French and Robles were in my top 10 Tigers prospect list but neither is in the top five. So, the Tigers were able to significantly bolster their rotation without surrendering prize prospects. It should be noted however that Robles is very young and raw and has a fairly high upside.

The downside to this trade is that Washburn is a free agent at the end of the year. He should be a Type B free agent though which means they would get a supplemental draft pick for him if they offered arbitration and he turned it down.

I like this deal a lot and they may not be done. The Tigers are believed to be still looking for a hitter.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Live Chat

Billfer from Detroit Tigers Weblog will be hosting a live chat tomorrow from 2:00 - 4:00 PM as the trade deadline approaches. I will be participating for as much of the two hours as I can. The list of participants is not final but so far it includes:

Billfer has invited others and I’ll update things as more people become available. So stop back here or at any of the above mentioned sites between 2 and 4 tomorrow afternoon. You can also submit questions (or break news) on Twitter. Just use #TigsTrade in your tweet and it will pop into the chat automatically.



Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tigers Trade Rumors

I have no inside information to add here but I figured I would weigh in on the various trade rumors spreading across the net. From what I gather, Dave Dombrowski is aggressively pursuing both starting pitchers and hitters. That doesn't mean he'll find an appropriate match before the deadline on Friday but, from all accounts, he would like to do something.

Could they get both a starting pitcher and a bat? It sounds as if they want to keep Scott Sizemore (their potential starting second baseman in 2010), Alex Avila (possibly their starting catcher by 2011) and Casey Crosby (their top pitching prospect not already on the Major League roster). That leaves them with Cale Iorg, Wilkin Ramirez, Ryan Strieby (who is currently injured), Casper Wells and a host of pitchers - Alfredo Figaro, Cody Satterwhite, Luis Marte, Mauricio Robles, Brett Jobsen, etc - as potential trade bait. If that's the case, I doubt that will be enough to make two major acquisitions.

Should they go after a hitter or a pitcher? Offense is the more glaring need but the pitching targets may be more substantial upgrades than available position players. It will ultimately depend on how well they match up with potential trading partners though.

Possible pitchers include Jarrod Washburn of the Mariners and Zach Duke of the Pirates and Doug Davis and Jon Garland of the Arizona Diamonbacks. Washburn is the name I've seen most frequently connected with the Tigers but it's hard to know where the Mariners stand. They are 7 1/2 games out of first so they would seem to be sellers. However, they traded away catcher Jeff Clement and other prospects to acquire veteran shortstop Jack Wilson today. That doesn't look like a seller move but it's possible it was made with an eye towards 2010. Any of the pitchers would help out a rotation which currently features two unreliable youngsters in Rick Porcello and Lucas French.

As we all know, Roy Halladay is available too but I'm pretty sure he is not going to be a Tiger. It would likely cost them Rick Porcello and a few other top prospects and I don't think Dombrowski wants to do that. He also costs $15 million per year and their budget is reportedly already taxed.

Possible position players include outfielders Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham of the Nationals and Luke Scott of the Orioles. Dunn seems to be the most popular choice among Tigers fans but I don't think he fits on a team with Carlos Guillen currently locked in at DH. I'd be all for Dunn as a DH but, if he has to play left field, he'll give up almost as many runs with his glove as he produces with his bat. Scott and Willingham seem like more reasonable options, although they'll both likely be costly. I've heard Cody Ross mentioned too but the Marlins are still in the playoff hunt so that's unlikely.

Any of the above will be expensive - probably two or three of their best prospects. I believe it would be worth it for a first place team to make a move though. It's not every year the Tigers have a shot at post-season. I'd prefer a hitter but the best deal might be a pitcher. I'd take either.

Some links:

The cutoff man podcast - An interview with Danny Knobler by Scott Warheit.

Seattle Times - The most talked about rumor of the day (Washburn).

Detroit News - Lynn Henning's thoughts.

Bless You Boys - Ian discusses Washburn

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tigers have been Clutch in 2009

For the past week, I've been planning to write about how well the Tigers have done in the clutch this year. However, given their poor performance producing with runners on base in close games versus the Yankees and Mariners, I figured such a post would not be received very well. After the last couple of days, I think it's now safe to talk about the "clutchness" of the 2009 Tigers.

First, understand that a player's performance would not be considered clutch just because he hit well in high impact situations. A clutch performer is one who hit better in clutch at bats than he did in ordinary at bats. For example, a hitter who did great in both clutch and non-clutch scenarios would not be considered a clutch performer. On the other hand, a player who did great in the clutch but just average otherwise would be a clutch hitter. With that in mind, a new statistic at FanGraphs (simply called "Clutch") attempts to measure how much better a player does in clutch situations than he does in a typical at bat.

The clutch statistic is based on Win Probability Added (WPA), another FanGraphs statistic. Win Probability Added measures a players win contribution by calculating how much each at bat affected the probability of winning a game. Unlike stats such as OPS which do not consider context, WPA gives a player more credit for at bats which have a greater affect on the games potential outcome. For example, a player would get more credit for a walk off homer than he would for a solo homer when his team is up by 10 runs in the ninth inning. Ultimately, the players which contributed the most to their team's wins will have the highest WPAs.

The clutch statistic only considers opportunities in the highest leverage situations. That is, the plate appearances which have the greatest potential impact on the outcomes of games. If the Tigers are down 2-1 with two outs and two on in the ninth, that would be a high leverage situation and would be included in the clutch statistic. If they are up by 8 runs with the bases empty in the 8th inning, that would be a low leverage at bat and would not be included in the clutch statistic.

The clutch statistic then measures a player's WPA in these high leverage at bats compared to all other at bats. As a team, the Tigers WPA in clutch scenarios is 2.82 higher than it is in other contexts. That is second in the league to the Angels whose WPA is better in the clutch by 3.18. Simply put, this means that the Tigers have been the second best clutch hitting team in the American League this year.

Individually, the most clutch Tiger so far this year has been Curtis Granderson whose 1.40 clutch number is second best in the league to Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (1.71). Other clutch Tigers include:

Ryan Raburn 0.95
Placido Polanco 0.76
Carlos Guillen 0.67
Brandon Inge 0.67

The worst Tigers in the clutch have been:

Miguel Cabrera -1.36
Marcus Thames -0.98

One should keep in mind that, as with all situational statistics, the sample sizes which contribute to this measure are rather small for many players and should not be used for projecting clutch performance into the future. All we can say is that, so far this year, the Tigers have hit better in clutch scenarios than they have in other at bats.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Casey Fien Move Caps Busy Day

It's been a busy day for the Tigers. They activated Carlos Guillen and designated Josh Anderson for assignment this morning. In the afternoon, they defeated the White Sox 5-1 behind a complete game by Justin Verlander in the first game of a day night double header.

Later in the afternoon, they promoted Eddie Bonine from Toledo and optioned Freddy Dolsi to the same team. In the evening, both Bonine and Guillen helped them win 4-3 to complete a sweep of the twinbill. Bonine allowed three runs in six innings and Guillen homered. They scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth when Clete Thomas drew a bases loaded walk.

They weren't done yet though. Jason Beck just announced via Twitter that the Tigers have optioned Bonine back to Toledo and have purchased the contract of Casey Fien. The 25 year old Fien had a 3.61 ERA and 51/13 strikeout/walk ratio in 47 1/3 innings this year for the MudHens. The Tigers 2006 20th round draft pick out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has been especially sharp as of late. In the last month the right-handed reliever has a 19/3 ratio and 1.17 ERA in 15 1/3 innings.

Fien has a 92-95 MPH fastball and a good slider and Mark Anderson of TigsTown says he has a "bulldog mentality". According to Minorleagesplits.com, Casey is very tough on right-handed batters holding them to a .218 batting average since 2006. Left-handed batters have hit him at a .259 clip. He is an extreme flyball pitcher with 34.6% groundball percentage this year which makes him somewhat susceptible to the longball.

Dolsi Optioned, Bonine Up

It's been know since Wednesday that Eddie Bonine would start the second game of today's doubleheader. It's now known that he will be replacing Freddy Dolsi who had not pitched in almost two weeks. Dolsi has been optioned to Toledo. Bonine, who has a 4.67 ERA with just 33 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings for Toledo this year, will not likely stay with the Tigers beyond this one start. I would expect him to be sent back down after the game and be replaced by a reliever - perhaps Zach Simons or Casey Fien.

The Starting line-up for game two has been posted on Mlive:

1. Curtis Granderson, CF
2. Placido Polanco, 2B
3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Carlos Guillen, DH
6. Marcus Thames, LF
7. Brandon Inge, 3B
8. Ramon Santiago, SS
9. Dusty Ryan, C

It looks like Jim Leyland is back in the habit of using the third spot in the line-up for a player that ideally should be in the bottom of the line-up.

Guillen is Back for Real

The Tigers have activated Carlos Guillen from the disabled list and have designated Josh Anderson for assignment. Guillen, who went 7 for 19 with 6 walks in 7 games for Lakeland and Toledo, will be the designated hitter in both games of today's doubleheader with the White Sox. Guillen is expected to sit versus left-handed pitchers as he still has some pain in his shoulder swinging from the right side. The move will likely mean than Marcus Thames will DH versus left-handers and that Marcus Thmes and Ryan Raburn will split time in left field against right-handers. Here is the starting line-up for today's first game:

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

Guillen probably won't be able to play in the field but should be able to hit better than Anderson who was batting .242/.282/.315 in 165 at bats and getting too many starts. Ideally, they probably would have left Guillen in the minors until he was fully healthy but this is a team desperate for an offensive spark. They have lost four 2-1 games this week and play a doubleheader versus the White Sox today.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Guillen Recalled

EDIT: Since there have been no further reports on the supposed move, I'm thinking that the "recall" might actually mean he was pulled from his rehab due to injury. I'm sure we'll learn more either way later today.

In a surprising move, the Tigers have recalled Carlos Guillen from his rehab in Lakeland this morning (per MLB Press Pass). I had expected him to continue his rehab in Toledo for at least another few days. They seem to be rushing him but I suspect they want to watch him now so they can assess their trade needs as the deadline approaches. Guillen went 3 for 12 with 4 walks in 5 games with Lakeland.

There is no word yet on who will be removed from the roster to make room for Guillen. I doubt it will be Magglio Ordonez. I think if they were going to release him, they would have done so already. I would guess that they will either waive Josh Anderson or option Ryan Raburn. At any rate, I hope this move means the end of regular playing time for Anderson.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tigers Top Prospects

With the July 31 trading deadline fast approaching, there has been a lot of talk about the Tigers trading prospects for players that can help them down the stretch this year. Below is my list of Tigers top prospects put together after analyzing statistics and reports from TigsTown, Baseball America, Take 75 North, and other sites.

1. Second baseman Scott Sizemore has bounced back nicely from a wrist injury which sidelined him the second half of 2008. The 24 year old right-handed batter is batting a combined .295/.386/.503 for AA Erie and AAA Toledo. He has good plate discipline with a 46/66 BB/K ratio in 332 at bats. He is only an average defender so he will need to continue his hitting in the majors if he is going to be a regular. He has a chance to win the Tigers keystone job next year if Placido Polanco leaves via free agency.

2. Left-handed hitting catcher Alex Avila jumped to AA this year after batting .305 for Single A West Michigan in 2008. The 22 year old son of Tigers assistant GM Al Avila has responded with an excellent season for Erie batting .287 with 23 doubles and an excellent 43/66 BB/K ratio in 282 at bats. Avila is still a work in progress as a defender but has the potential to be a strong all around catcher. He could be starting for the tigers by 2011.

3. Left-handed pitcher Casey Crosby missed most of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery but has rebounded well this year. The 20 year old Crosby has a 3.18 ERA and 86/40 K/BB ratio in 76 1/3 innings with West Michigan. Casey throws hard but is inexperienced and needs to work on his control and continued development of his breaking pitch and change-up.

4. Big first baseman Ryan Strieby is doing for Erie this year what he usually does - tearing the cover off the ball. Scouts are still a little hesitant about hyping the 23 year old right-handed hitting slugger but you can't ignore his stats. He is second in the Eastern League with 17 homers, a .427 On Base Percentage and a .570 slugging average and first in OPS at .997. Last year, in a tougher environment for power hitters, he blasted 29 homers for advanced single A Lakeland. The 6-5 235 pound first sacker moves well for a man his size and has been tried in left field. He is blocked by Miguel Cabrera at first for the next several years which makes him a potential trading chip.

5. After batting .303 with 19 homers for Erie in 2008, the toolsy Wilkin Ramirez is having an up and down season for Toledo this year. The 23 year old outfielder is batting .269 with 10 homers and an alarming 93 strikeouts in 290 at bats. He has been coming on strong as of late posting a robust 1.096 OPS for the month of July. The speedy Ramirez has 27 steals in 35 attempts but is not a strong defender. He still has a high upside but he will need to make more frequent contact to be a regular corner outfielder in the Majors.

6. Dave Dombrowski raves about Cale Iorg calling him a future all-star shortstop. Those who have seen him play frequently think he can be an elite defender in the majors and, based on limited viewing, I concur. He looks to me to have the athleticism of Brandon Inge defensively. The problem is he has also hit like the 2008 version of Brandon Inge. The 23 year old Iorg is batting .228 with an awful 20/96 BB/K ratio for Erie this year. He has decent power for a middle infielder - 10 homers for Lakeland last year and 9 so far this year - but he'll need to make better contact before I move him up the list.

7. Mauricio Robles is a talented but raw left-handed pitcher currently pitching for Lakeland at the age of 20. He can throw in the mid 90s which is very hard for a lefty but needs to work on his control. His change-up and curve also need more work. He has struckout 10.4 batters per nine innings for West Michigan and Lakeland this year but also has walked 4.4 batters per nine innings.

8. Alfredo Figaro had two outings with the Tigers earlier in the year with mixed results but he's still a decent prospect. The 25 year old right-hander has a 4.10 ERA and impressive 59/17 K/BB ratio at Erie this year. Last year, Alfredo posted a combined 2.60 ERA and 119/42 ratio for West Michigan and Lakeland. He has a good fastball and curve but needs a third pitch.

9. Lucas French has pitched well enough in his three Major League starts to maintain a spot in the rotation for the foreseeable future. The big left-hander entered the season as a fringe prospect but has upped his status at age 23 with an improved slider. After striking out just 4.7 batters per nine innings for Erie in 2008, his k rate was 7.9 for Toledo this year. His control has improved as well - 3.2 walks per nine innings in 2008 and 2.2 in 2009.

10. At 24 years old, second baseman Brandon Douglas is a little old for West Michigan and needs to be challenged more. He makes excellent contact - just 26 strikeouts in 264 at bats - and is batting .345. He is said to have some gap power potential but has only 10 extra base hits this year. Last year, he hit .328 at four different levels as a shortstop. The move from shortstop was appropriate as his range and speed are more suited to second base.

Honorable mentions: Pitchers Luis Marte, Cody Satterwhite, Brett Jacobsen and Casey Fien, Robbie Weinhart, catcher Dusty Ryan, third basemen Francisco Martinez and Wade Gaynor and outfielder Casper Wells.

Note: Rick Porcello, Ryan Perry, Jeff Larish and Clete Thomas have too much time in the majors to technically be considered prospects. Unsigned draftees such as pitcher Jacob Turner are not eligible for the list.

Google Finally Likes Tiger Tales

When I type "Detroit Tigers" into Google, my blog rarely shows up in the top 100 if it shows up at all. On top of that, my page rank is zero which is strange given that I consistently get links from bigger sites. Today, when I typed "Detroit Tigers" into Google, Tiger Tales was the third item listed. The only thing ahead of it was a couple of links to DetroitTigers.com. What?

It's silly for my blog to be ranked ahead of powerhouses like Detroit Tigers Weblog and Bless You Boys and various Tigers news sites so I don't really know what's going on. I haven't done anything different to make it happen. It must be because I just wrote an article about the great Derek Jeter! I fully expect to be back on page 23 by the end of the week behind blogs that have been dead for five years but I'll enjoy my ranking while it lasts.

Edit: That didn't last long. I'm been bumped down to page 5 already

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jeter's Defense Improving?

One of the last things a Tigers fan wants to hear right now is something good about Derek Jeter but it probably beats reading a recap of today's frustrating loss. Anyway, Jeter's defensive talents or lack thereof have been well publicized and widely debated. He won three consecutive Gold Gloves between 2004-2006 but ranked no better than average defensively in 2004 and was among the worst defenders in the game according to every advanced defense metric between 2005-2007. His Ultimate Zone Ratings are shown below:

2005 -14.3 runs saved belowaverage
2006 -6.8 runs saved below average
2007 -15.3 runs saved below average

Other metrics such as the Fielding Bible +/- and the Probabilistic Model of Range had him ranked as bad or worse all three years.

However, something seems to be happening now that Jeter has reached his middle thirties. At the age when most shortstops are in rapid defensive decline, the 35 year old Jeter actually seems to be improving. His Ultimate Zone Rating was right about average (-0.5) last year and again this year (+0.5).

It if was just this year or just one metric, I might pass this off as a small sample size fluke but The +/- system is showing similar advancement for 2008 and 2009. Thus, it appears that Jeter's late career improvement is real. New York Post writer Joel Sherman says that Jeter admitted to his sub-par 2007 season and has made a point of doing exercises to step up his defensive game:

Perhaps the strongest condemnation came from Jeter, who said, "Last year (2007), I didn't have a good year defensively."

It doesn't sound like much, especially since Jeter limited a serial inadequacy to just 2007. Except Jeter is not one to ever publicly apologize for, or criticize, his own game. But this is more than words with Jeter. He rededicated himself in the offseason with exercises designed to improve his lateral quickness and first-step explosiveness. One Yankee official saw this version of Jeter and said, "He set the clock back five years."

Others observers say that the notoriously shallow positioned shortstop is playing deeper, thus giving him a little more time to make plays. My theory is that information from advanced fielding metrics has convinced the Yankees and Jeter that changes were needed in order to make him a decent defensive shortstop again. If that's the case, then I give them a lot of credit.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Zumaya Blows Another Lead

Zumaya came into tonight's game with a 3-2 in the seventh inning. Lucas French had pitched five solid innings and Fu-Te Ni a scoreless sixth against the powerful Yankees offense. Zumaya came in with a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning and fans feared the worst. Their fears were realized when Joel allowed five hits included a three run homer to Mark Teixeira. Another lead was blown and the Tigers lost 5-3.

Zoom has now blown five leads and two ties since June 7. His resume looks like this:

June 7 - Came into a tie game in the 7th inning versus the Angels, pitched 1 2/3 innings and allowed three walks including a bases loaded walk to Howie Kendrick in the 8th. The Tigers saved him by coming back to win 9-6.

June 8 - In the first game of a doubleheader versus the White Sox, Zumaya gave up a game tying home run to Paul Konerko in the 8th inning. The Tigers again bailed him out winning 5-4.

June 11 - After a Curtis Granderson homer tied it in the top of the ninth, Zoom made an error and allowed two hits and a run to lose it 4-3 versus the White Sox.

June 23 - Came in with a 3-2 lead in the 8th and surrendered a two run homer to the Cubs Micah Hoffpauir. The Tigers won 5-4 on a pinch hit walkoff homer by Ryan Raburn.

June 26 - Pitching with a 4-3 lead in the 8th inning versus the Astros, Joel allowed three straight walks and two runs and the Tigers lost 5-4.

July 6 - Gave up a two run triple to Willie Bloomquist to blow a 2-1 lead in the 8th versus the Royals. The Tigers lost 4-3.

July 17 - See above

So, what do the Tigers do about Zumaya? It's clear that Jim Leyland needs to stop bringing him into close games in the late innings but they can't give up on him. After his great rookie season, his next two seasons have been marred by serious injuries which limited him to 57 innings total. Given the nature of his shoulder injuries, I was not counting on him to pitch much this year at all and I'm amazed that he has lost no speed. He still consistently throws his fast ball 100+ MPH and has a nasty curveball when he can throw it for strikes.

The problem is his control has been awful - 22 walks in 31 innings. He has also been hit very hard at times, harder than a man with his stuff should be hit. They can't release him and he has little trade value at the moment but I believe he still has a great deal of potential if he can stay healthy. The best thing to do might be to send him to Toledo for a couple of weeks to work on his control and command issues in a lower pressure environment. One thing is clear though. Continuing to bring him into key situations in the middle of a divisional race should not be an option.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tigers Playing Better All Around at Home

Kevin, one of my readers, left a comment asking me what I thought about the Tigers extreme home/road split so far this season. They are 27-13 at home and 21-26 on the road. That 9 1/2 game difference is the biggest in the American League central and third best in the league behind the Red Sox and Rays.

I broke down their home/road differences by offense, pitching and fielding using split stats from ESPN.COM. The offensive comparison is shown in Table 1 below. You can see that the Tigers have scored 5.6 runs per game at home versus 4.1 on the road and that they are doing better at home by every important offensive statistic.

Table 1: Tigers Offense - Home and Away

Stat

Home

Away

Runs Per Game

5.6

4.1

Batting Average

.276

.245

OBP

.353

.307

Slugging

.456

.395

OPS

.809

.701


Run prevention at home and away is shown in Table 2. Their pitching differential at home (3.9) versus on the road (4.9) is not as wide as the offensive split but one run per game is a lot. Their superior pitching at home is seen in their strikeouts (7.5 per nine innings at home versus 6.8 on the road) and home runs (0.9 versus 1.2).

There is no easy way to look at their home/away fielding split directly but the last row of Table 2 gives us a clue. DIPS% is the ratio between the predicted ERA based on walks, strikeouts and home runs and their actual ERA. Their 120 ratio at home indicates their predicted ERA is 20% higher than their actual ERA. This suggests that their fielding at home has been very strong and has helped their ERA substantially. Conversely, the 97 ratio on the road says that their predicted ERA is 3% less than their actual ERA. Thus, it does not appear that their ERA has been influenced unduely by fielding on the road as it has been at Comerica.

Table 2: Tigers Run Prevention - Home and Away

Stat

Home

Away

Runs Per Game

3.9

4.9

BB/ 9 IP

3.9

3.8

K/ 9 IP

7.5

6.8

HR/ 9 IP

0.9

1.2

OPS

.706

.785

DIPS%

120

97


In conclusion, the Tigers are doing much better at home in all phases of the game - hitting, pitching and fielding. I don't know that their team is necesarily constructed for Comerica Park. It may be that they feel more confident at Comerica or they might just be catching teams at the right time at home. If it's not just a fluke and they continue their home dominance, then that is good news because they have more home games (41) than road games the rest of the way (34).

In an unrelated note, J. Ellet Lambie has a good article on the history of Tigers in the home run derby up at Eye of the Tigers.

Also, just up now is Billfer's article on his day behind the scenes at Fox Sports. It was a great experience for him and a must read article for all Tigers television viewers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tigers Head Into Break on High Note

The Tigers crushed the Indians 10-1 today to finish at 48-39 heading into the all-star break. Assuming the Twins hold onto their eight run lead, this means that the Tigers will be 3 1/2 games ahead of the White Sox and 4 games up on the Twins going into next weekend's series at Yankee Stadium. It's hard to complain about the overall result of the season's first half.

You could not have asked for a better finish to the first half than today's game. Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings allowing five hits no walks and eight strikeouts. That gives him a league leading 149 K's for the season which is only 14 short of his total for all of 2008.

Clete Thomas was sent down to Toledo to get regular playing time and to shorten his swing and it has paid off so far. He had a huge day today with a homer, a triple, a single and 5 RBI. He is now 7 for 13 since returning to the Tigers.

Brandon Inge started the home run derby a day early by belting round trippers in the fourth and fifth innings. He now has a team leading 21 for the season. Only Carlos Pena (24) and Russell Branyan (22) have more in the American League.

Marcus Thames went four for four to raise his season line to .272/.331/.544. Marcus continues to play every day and bat clean-up and is holding his own versus right-handers with a .784 OPS. As usual, he is mashing left-handers with a 1.032 OPS. I envision him going into a platoon when Carlos Guillen gets back but for now, at least, it makes sense for him to get regular at bats.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rodney Better Than His ERA

Reliever performance is always a topic of debate among baseball fans. Just looking at the Tigers this year, there is a whole array of opinions on Fernando Rodney. Some think he has been great because he has not blown an official save opportunity this year. Others say he is not very good because he pitches poorly in situations when a save is not on the line and allows too many base runners in general. Statistical evaluation of relievers is difficult for a couple of reasons:
  1. They pitch so few innings that their statistics can be influenced heavily by a couple of really bad outings.
  2. Their actual value depends on game situations more than any other player.
Using ERA to evaluate relievers is problematic because relievers often come in with runners on base and give up other pitcher's runs. So a pitcher could have a low ERA without actually being that effective. FIP ERA which is based on walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed rather than runs allowed is better but it still does not consider the game environments in which a reliever pitched.

In one instance, Brandon Lyon comes into the game with a one run lead and two runners on base in the 8th inning. In another game, Bobby Seay comes into the game with a 6 run lead and nobody on base. Now suppose each pitches a perfect inning. Using ERA or FIP, they would both get the same credit for that inning but Lyon's performance had more impact on the outcome of the game.

The Win Probability Added (WPA) statistic gives players (hitters, starters, relievers) credit based on the effect each player has on his team's probability of winning. These probabilities vary depending on the game score, the runners on base and the number of outs before and after each play. They are based on the results of thousands of games worth of data looking at every possible situation over and over.

More concretely, WPA works as follows. Suppose Bobby Seay comes into the game in the top of the 8th with a 2 run lead, 0 outs and a runner on first. According to the Win Expectancy Finder at Walkoffbalk.com, there is .787 (78.7%) expectancy that a team will win the game given that situation. Suppose Seay strikes out the first batter. There is now one out and the probability of winning has gone up to .848. Thus, the strikeout was worth .848-.787=.061

Now suppose the next batter after that doubles home a run. The Tigers now have a one run lead with a runner on second and one out. The probability of winning goes down to .693. So Seay loses points on that batter: .693-.848=-.155.

If you add up all the gains and losses for all the batters Seay faces you get his WPA. WPA doesn't necessarily solve the problem of small sample sizes but it is a reasonable stat for relievers because it gives more weight to plate appearances which have a strong impact on winning and losing games.

As a team, the Tigers bullpen has a WPA of -4.35 which places them 11th in the American League. If we had used ERA or FIP instead, they would have fallen even further down the list. So, the performance of Tigers has been below average this year. Table 1 below lists The WPAs for Tigers most frequently used relievers in 2009. Table 2 lists the American League leaders. These data were abstracted from the Fan Graphs web site.

Table 1: WPA for Tigers Relievers

Pitcher

G

WPA

Fernando Rodney

38

1.75

Bobby Seay

38

0.30

Ryan Perry

26

-0.17

Zach Miner

19

-0.18

Nate Robertson

21

-0.19

Joel Zumaya

27

-0.78

Brandon Lyon

34

-0.93


Table 2: American League WPA Leaders

Pitcher

G

WPA

Jonathan Papelbon

38

2.54

David Ardsma

40

2.18

Mariano Rivera

36

1.92

Frank Francisco

27

1.91

Fernando Rodney

38

1.75

Joe Nathan

35

1.71

Jim Johnson

35

1.59

Darren O’Day

31

1.58


Fernando Rodney is the leading Tigers reliever according to WPA (1.75) so far this year. This ranks Rodney 5th in the American League. If we ranked Fernando according to his by ERA (4.03), WHIP (1.32) or FIP (3.97), he would not have finished in the top 30. He ranks better on WPA because, like most closers, Rodney comes into a lot of critical situations and gets positive results a lot more often than negative results. He has not pitched as well in less critical situations (like a four run lead in the ninth inning) but those games do not carry as much weight with this statistic. The only other Tigers reliever with a positive WPA is Bobby Seay at 0.30.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Thomas Up, Kelly Down

According to Jason Beck, via Twitter, the Tigers have recalled Clete Thomas and designated Donnie Kelly for assignment. Thomas did well in his stint with Toledo batting .341 with 10 doubles and 11 stolen bases in 88 at bats. Kelly got off to a fast start with the Tigers but has just two hits in his last 24 at bats and is down to .250/.308/.354 overall.

Thomas is not coming up to sit on the bench. Clete should be replacing magglio Ordonez in right against right-handed starters. Hopefully, Jim Leyland will keep Ryan Raburn and Marcus Thames in the line-up against most pitchers, at least until they go into a slump. There is no good reason for Ordonez to be getting more playing time than any of those three right now.

You never know about Leyland and his line-ups but I doubt we'll see a repeat of Thomas in the third spot. Ultimately, he may be a leadoff man but right now I can see him batting seventh in place of Magglio.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Galarraga Shines, Bullpen Does Not

Armando Galarraga pitched his best game since April tonight but the bullpen could not finish the job and the Tigers lost to the Royals 4-3. The Big Cat allowed just one run on five hits and had five strikeouts in seven innings. He commanded his slider as well as he has in a while and overall had a very encouraging performance. They are going need more games like that from Armando if they are to maintain their tenuous lead in the AL Central.

Unfortunately, Galarraga's fine effort was wasted as the bullpen blew it twice. Joel Zumaya came into the game in the bottom of the eighth with a 2-1 lead and gave up two runs. He allowed a single, a walk and a two run triple to Willie Bloomquist who earlier homered off Galarraga. After the Tigers tied it at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Fernando Rodney (who tends to pitch poorly in non-save situations) allowed a homer in the ninth to Mike Jacobs to make it 4-3 Royals.

Other than Galarraga's strong outing, the only bright spot was Ryan Raburn who went two for four. The Tigers left fielder homered to put his team up 2-1 in the sixth and then doubled to tie it in the eighth. He also made a base running blunder as he was out trying to stretch the double into a triple. He is about the only Tiger hitting right now though. Since his 1 for 20 start, Ryan has hit .341 and slugged .636 in his last 88 at bats.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Granderson On Pace for 30/30

Curtis Granderson was named to the American League all-star team today along with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson. Curtis is not having his best year this year (.256/.341/.467) and is really struggling against left-handed pitchers(.587 OPS versus LHP and .906 versus RHP). However, it's not a stretch to say he has been the second best center fielder in the league this year behind Torri Hunter.

Granderson is second behind Hunter with 50.8 Runs Created and third behind Hunter and Adam Jones with a .354 Weighted On Base Average. He is also 2.1 fielding runs better than league average according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Jones, on the other hand, has been one of the worst center fielders in the league. Franklin Gutierrez is the top center fielder defensively at 12 fielding runs above average but is middle of the pack offensively. So, one can make a strong case that Granderson should be on the team behind Hunter.

The all-star game is a public relations event though. Not many national fans are going to care about his runs created or his Ultimate Zone Rating so how do they promote him as a player? There's that quadruple twenty thing from 2007 but that's getting a little old and, with just two triples so far, he's not likely to come close this year. He is on a pace to hit 36 homers and steal 30 bases though so a 30/30 season is a possibility.

The thirty/thirty combo is less rare than the quadriple twenty. Since 2000, it's been done 16 times including Grady Sizemore of the Indians and Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins in 2008. However, it's never been done by a Detroit Tiger in the history of the franchise. The only one who came close was Kirk Gibson who had 29 homers and 33 stolen bases in 1986 and 27/30 in 1985.

Granderson has never hit more than 23 homers before but is hitting more fly balls than ever this year and hitting them far so 30 homers is not out of the question. The stolen bases may be more difficult because he doesn't always get the green light from Jim Leyland. On a team that is struggling to score runs, Leyland has been more willing to let Grandy run more this year and he has been successful - 15 steals in 19 attempts. As long as he keeps up that success rate, he should continue to get opportunities. Thus, I think 30/30 is well within his grasp.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tigers Versus Twins: Stat Comparison

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:

Overall

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.

Offense

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.

Pitching

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.

Fielding

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.

Value Statistics

Looking at the individual value statistics at Fan Graphs, the leaders Tigers in overall runs above replacement (including hitting and fielding) are

Inge 31.2
Cabrera 28.0
Granderson 24.3
Polanco 13.7
Everett 9.6
Laird 8.9

The Twins leaders are:

Mauer 40.1
Morneau 25.0
Crede 19.6
Span 16.0
Cuddyer 15.0
Kubel 12.2

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.

Conclusions

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.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

June Could Have Been Worse

The Tigers finished the month of June with a record of 15-13 but it could have been a lot worse. By any other measure other than victories, the Tigers had a poor month. They were outscored by opponents 134-112 which means they were 9th in the league runs scored and second in runs allowed. By the Pythagorean Theorem, a team with those numbers would typically go 11-17, not 15-13.

They were outhit and/or pitched by a wide margin in most categories: .273 to .249 in batting average, .365 to .319 in on base percentage, .439 to .417 in slugging average, .804 to .736 in OPS, 126 to 86 in walks, etc. Those are not the numbers of a winning team. They won because they were able to win a lot of close games: an 11-4 record in games decided by two runs or fewer.

You can look at things a a couple of different ways. You could say that they were lucky to win as much as they did despite being outplayed statistically. Or you might suggest that they have a talent for performing in the clutch and winning close games. Personally, I side more with the former than the latter but they did win those games and the wins can't be taken away. I see it as them going through a period where they played poorly but still managed to win and to keep their division lead.

Whatever way you look at it, they need to start playing better if they want to keep their lead. The next series will be a big one. They will be facing the Twins in the dreaded Metrodome, a place where usually only the Twins get lucky.

Tigers Win Ugly Again

It's approaching 1:00 AM so I won't comment much but the Tigers beat the Athletics 5-3 tonight to finish the month of June four games in front of both the Twins and White Sox. It was a somewhat sloppy effort by the Tigers who walked seven batters, made two errors in the field and a couple more on the bases. Fortunately, the Athletics could not take much advantage of the walks and miscues as they managed just five hits, hit into two double plays and left eight runners on base.

Armando Galarraga was not especially sharp walking six batters in 6 1/3 innings but allowed just two hits and one run. Brandon Lyon and Joel Zumaya then got the Tigers through the seventh and eighth without allowing a run. Zumaya looked at his hand several times during and after pitching so it's possible he may have a blister. I'm sure we'll find out more later today but neither Jim Leyland nor trainer Kevin Rand seemed to make a big deal out of it.

Fernando Rodney entered the ninth with a 5-1 lead and he typically made it interesting by allowing a walk, a two run homer to Mark Ellis and a single. He got out of it with an inning ending double play.

The hitting hero for the Tigers today was Placido Polanco who hit a two run homer in the first and an RBI single in the ninth. Ryan Raburn had three hits including two doubles, an RBI and a run scored.

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