Monday, August 31, 2009

September Call-ups

Jason Beck is reporting that The Tigers have recalled pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Eddie Bonine and Casey Fien, catcher DustyRyan, and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez from Toledo. They have also purchased the contract of Brent Dlugach from the same club. They will have to make a 40 man roster move in order to make room for Dlugach. Dlugach is the only surprise of the group but it makes sense given the offensive woes of Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago. This will give them the flexibility to do a lot of pinch hitting late in games without using up their last utility infielder.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tigers Steal One from Rays

It's been a familiar pattern this year. The Tigers get a well pitched game but the bats go silent for seven innings or so. You think it's a 3-1 loss and you look at the scoreboard to see what the Twins and White Sox are doing. Then the Tigers rally in the eighth or ninth inning to win it.

Today, the Tigers were held to one run for seven innings by six-foot-nine-inch Rays starter Jeff Niemann. With the Tigers down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Clete Thomas doubled down the right field line to lead off the inning. Clete is only batting a modest .250 with a .736 OPS but he always seems to be involved in their late inning rallies this year. Niemann retired the next two batters but then was replaced by Grant Balfour. Balfour proceeded to pitch very carefully to Curtis Granderson and walked him to put two men on with two out.

It was up to Placido Polanco to keep the inning going. He hit what looked like a fairly routine fly ball to left but the ball kept carrying over the fence. Left fielder Carl Crawford made a leaping attempt but he fell short and the Tigers had taken a 4-3 lead.

Fernando Rodney, who has actually become a calming presence (at least for me) on the mound as of late, pitched a scoreless ninth to preserve the win. Fernando now has 29 saves in 30 opportunities and has held the opponent scoreless in 18 of his last 22 appearances.

Meanwhile, the White Sox lost another one to the Yankees to fall six games back and the Twins trail the Rangers 3-2 in the seventh. The Twins are five games behind pending the outcome of that game.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

David Price Stymies Tigers

Today did not go as planned. I was prepared to drive out to Erie, PA to see the Sea Wolves in Jerry Uht Park for the first time. However, Hurricane Danny dumped two to four inches of rain across New England and I didn't think it would be much fun driving through that for several hours. So, I figured I would stay home and watch the Tigers play the Rays on the Fox game of the week. That did not work out either as the broadcast was preempted by coverage of Ted Kennedy's wake.

I listened to the Tigers game on the radio instead and, from the sound of it, all I missed was a luckluster effort and a 3-1 loss. Rays left-hander David Price shut down the Tigers allowing just one run on five hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings. The Tigers scored their only run in the eighth inning when Magglio Ordonez singled home Adam Everett. Curtis Granderson nearly tied the game with a home run in the same inning but Gabe Gross caught his long drive to right at the wall.

The Tigers got some pretty good pitching from unexpected sources. Nate Robertson made his first start of the year and allowed two runs, one earned, in four innings of work. The bespectaled left-hander allowed four hits and a walk and struck out four. Zach Miner followed with three scoreless innings and Ryan Perry worked two innings giving up one unearned run. both unearned runs against Tigers pitchers were due to errors by Adam Everett whose fielding this year has not been good enough to offset his .617 OPS.

On a positive note, the White Sox were shelled 10-0 by the Yankees and remain five games back. We now need to root for the Rangers to stop the hard charging Twins who are four games out going into tonight's game.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bottom of Order Lifts Tigers

The bottom of the Tigers order has not exactly carried its weight in the second half but they did the job tonight leading the Tigers to a 6-2 win over the Rays. The middle of the order was quiet but Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird and Adam Everett combined for five hits and five RBI. Lead-off hitter Curtis Granderson also added two hits. Curtis has gone 7 for 24 with 5 extra base hits since being benched for two games after a 0 for 13 spell.

Rick Porcello threw over 100 pitches for the first time this year reaching 104 before being removed with two outs in the fifth inning. The rookie right-hander allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings. Brandon Lyon threw two perfect innings of relief with two strikeouts to help preserve the victory. In case anyone has not noticed, Lyon has been tremendous since June. Brandon has a 1.32 ERA and a 36/11 K/BB ratio in 41 innings since June 1.

The Tigers have now won three of four from tough oppoents this week and increased their lead to 4 1/2 games tonight. The new second place team is the Twins who beat the Rangers 3-2 tonight and have won eight of their last ten. The White Sox fell to 5 back losing 5-2 to the Yankees in extra innings.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tigers Win a Road Series

After losing 10 consecutive road series, the Tigers have finally won one by taking the first two games from the west division leading Angels. As Billfer points out, it was was worth staying up late last night to watch it happen. Here are some of my thoughts on the game and the Tigers in general:

Jarrod Washburn pitched over his head for the Mariners this year and pitched below his ability in his first few games for the Tigers. Last night, he pitched the way you would expect him to pitch most games. He was shaky but got through three innings allowing six runs.

That bases loaded wild pitch by Zach Miner which turned into an out was so well executed that it almost seemed like he and Alex Avila did it on purpose. Still, he didn't pitch well and I'm not sure why Jim Leyland has decided why he should be pitching in high leverage situations so much.

Clete Thomas made a great leaping catch in the eight inning which wasn't quite a game saver but saved them a lot of trouble. He is now being used as a daily defensive replacement for Magglio Ordonez and it paid off last night.

Miguel Cabrera now has 6 hits, 5 extra base hits and 7 RBI for the series. Since the all-star break, he is batting .397 with a 1.127 OPS. The hot streak has raised his season numbers close to MVP territory. He is 4th in batting (.343), 3rd in OBP (.408), 2nd in SLG (.579) and 3rd in OPS (.988). The MVP favorite at the moment is probably Joe Mauer but Cabrera is closing fast.

Magglio Ordonez is quieting all the vesting option discussions by batting .361/.429/.590 in his last 19 games.

Aubrey Huff, on the other hand, is batting .211 with a .577 OPS since the all-star break.

I actually feel very confident when Fernando Rodney enters a game now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tigers Relief Staff Improving

One of the problems with statistics such as ERA and FIP is that they do not consider the impact of situations in which a pitchers pitched. This is a problem for evaluation of relief pitchers because the influence of their innings on the outcomes of games varies so much by situation. For example, if Fernando Rodney enters a game in the ninth inning with a man on base, nobody out and a one run lead, every at bat of the inning has the potential to drastically change the game's final result. On the the hand, if Zach Miner is used in the eight inning of game where the Tigers lead 10-0, his performance will likely not have much effect on the outcome of the game.

The Win Probabilty Added (WPA) statistic weights each at bat against a pitcher according to the importance of the situation. In the above example, Rodney's inning would carry more weight in the calculation of WPA than Miner's inning. For more information on the calculation of WPA, see this earlier post.

As a team, the Tigers relievers have a 0.89 WPA (according to FanGraphs) which places them ninth among American League relief staffs. However, if we look at their WPA month by month, we can see that they have improved as the season has progressed:

April -0.88
May 0.19
June 0.08
July 0.59
August 0.91

Additionally, their 2.00 WPA in the past 30 days is second only to the Yankees. So, the Tigers relief staff has been very strong as of late.

Individually, Fernando Rodney's 2.71 WPA for the season is third best in the league behind Jonathan Papelbon (3.70) and Mariano Rivera (3.20). The WPAs for other currently Tigers relievers are listed below:

Fernando Rodney 2.71
Ryan Perry 0.47
Fu-Te Ni 0.29
Bobby Seay 0.29
Brandon Lyon 0.27
Zach Miner -0.01

Rodney has maintained a high WPA all season but others have improved in recent weeks. Brandon Lyon's 1.09 WPA over the last 30 games is second in the league to Joakim Soria (1.18). Ryan Perry is 13th in the league for the same period with a 0.64 WPA.

In conclusion, the Tigers relief staff has gone from one of the league's worst early in the season to one of the best over the past month. Much of the credit for that improvement should be given to pitchers who have been setting up Rodney.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Aubrey Huff: RBI Man?

When the Tigers acquired Aubrey Huff from the Orioles on Monday, most Tigers fans around the internet seemed to like the deal. They reasoned that the Tigers had done well to acquire a much needed left-handed bat for a less than elite pitching prospect in Brett Jacobson, even if it was only for six weeks. However, fans differed in their degree of satisfaction with the trade.

One group of fans pointed to Huff's less than stellar .723 OPS as evidence of a sub-par season so far in 2009. Since Huff typically hits well late in the year (a .933 OPS in August and September the last two years), they were optimistic that he he might get hot down the stretch but the .723 OPS was still a concern.

Another group of fans countered that Huff was actually having a good year because his 72 RBI before last night was better than any Tiger including Miguel Cabrera. They argued that Huff was an RBI man who was able to accumulate a lot of RBI even with his low OPS because he hit better with men on base. It's true that he has hit a lot better with men on base this year: .9o6 OPS with men on base versus .556 with the bases empty. That probably explains his high RBI total this year but the question is whether he will maintain that pace with the Tigers

Some fans reasoned that Huff was better with men on base because he focused better in those situations. While I don't doubt that a player can be more focused in certain situation, a 63% increase in OPS with men on base seems too much to be explained by focus.
So, I went back to 2006-2008 to see if this propensity to hit better with men on base was a general trend for Huff. He did hit somewhat better with men on base in those years: .855 OPS with men on base versus .823 with the bases empty. That's a 4% difference which is slightly higher than the American League average of 2%. So, it's possible he has focused more with men on base but the 63% difference in 2009 so far is likely a fluke and we can not be expect it to be maintained.

Has Huff had a good year or bad year? While I doubt he can maintain his on base/bases empty split for the rest of the season, he has to be given credit for what he has done, fluke or no fluke. So, he hasn't had a great season but he has been better than his .723 OPS would indicate. On the downside, his very poor .259 OBP with the bases empty means that he is not doing a good job providing teammates with opportunities to drive in runs. The more important question is whether Huff can keep driving in runs at the same rate for the Tigers as he did for the Orioles. I would say it's unlikely unless he starts hitting better than his .723 overall OPS so far this season.

How does Huff compare to Miguel Cabrera who has a .952 OPS but the same number of RBI as Huff? Cabrera has not hit as well with runners on base this year: .928 with runners on base and .972 with the bases empty. So, while Cabrera has a .229 advantage in overall OPS, Huff has a slight lead in OPS with men on base. This would explain why they both have 72 RBI.
Looking at 2006-2008, Cabrera hit 10% better with runners on base (1.000) than with the bases empty (.905). If their OPS stays the same, I would expect Cabrera to easily exceed Huff in RBI by the end of the season.

In conclusion, I think Huff has been a good RBI man this year but I don't think it's because he has an extraordinary ability to hit with men on base. If he continues to post a .723 OPS, his RBI rate will likely slow. While RBI is a decent measure of past production, it is not as predictive of future production as a statistic like overall OPS which is not dependent on situations with limited sample sizes.

The data contained in this article were abstracted from ESPN.COM.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Line-up Comes Back to Top Mariners

The Aubrey Huff era began tonight with probably the Tigers best line-up of the season in terms of both talent and structure. The addition of Carlos Guillen, Alex Avila and Aubrey Huff the last few weeks makes the line-up look a lot better. Guillen was moved into the third spot which makes a lot more sense than Clete Thomas, Donald Kelly and other names that have appeared there this year. Huff batted third and the rest of the line-up is shown below:

Granderson CF
Polanco 2B
Guillen LF
Cabrera 1B
Huff DH
Thomas CF
Inge 3B
Avila C
Everett SS

The new order scored four runs in the bottom of the 8th to overcome a 3-1 deficit as the Tigers beat the Mariners 5-3. The big blows were a leadoff homer to left by Avila and a two run single by Miguel Cabrera. They were also helped by a Jose Lopez error and an improbable double steal of second and home by Cabrera and Ryan Raburn.

Young Rick Porcello was matched up against King Felix Hernandez and the rookie looked as strong as he has looked all year for 5 1/3 innings. He struckout 8 and allowed just one hit before allowing a homer to shortstop Josh Wilson on a 0-2 count. He left with the bases loaded and two outs. Ryan Perry was also strong getting the final out of the 6th and striking out the side in the seventh.

The ninth was a bit scary with Fernando Rodney putting runners at second and third with one out. He finally got out of it striking out Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez to end the game. The final out was an excruciating 12 pitch at bat with Ken Giffey on deck and fans chanting: "Rodney ! Rodney!" in the background. It was a very entertaining game.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tigers Acquire Aubrey Huff

The Tigers have acquired first baseman/third baseman/designated hitter Aubrey Huff from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor league reliever Brett Jacobson. The left-handed Huff is only batting .253/.321/.405 this year with a .651 OPS since the all-star break. However, he is a notorious streak hitter withe a pretty good track record. He batted .304 with a .912 OPS last year and has a .818 career OPS.

I would guess that Huff will be the designated hitter against right-handed pitchers with Marcus Thames still DHing versus lefties. Huff has a career OPS of .849 versus right-handed pitchers. I also imagine he will be batting in the third spot that Jim Leyland has had so much trouble filling this year. He won't help the Tigers defensively but it's hard to imagine him doing a worse job defensively filling in at third base than Ryan Raburn.

Joel Zumaya has been transferred to the 60 day DL, in order to make room for Huff on the 40 man roster. There is no word yet on who he'll replace on the 25 man roster but my guess is it will Raburn. In terms of roles, Huff is basically a left-handed Raburn. Billfer has press conference notes about this move

Defense Helping Tigers Pitching

In many past posts, I have used the Fielding Independent Pitching statistic (FIP) to estimate what the ERAs of Tigers pitchers should be based on events over which they have the most control: strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and homers. The idea is to get a predicted ERA independent of a defensive support behind the pitcher. One valuable characteristic of FIP is that it is more predictive of future ERA than ERA itself. Thus, it can be used to identify pitchers which may improve or regress in the future. The FIP statistic is found at FanGraphs.

One criticism of FIP is that it fails to take into account how hard a pitcher was hit. So, Matthew Carruth and Graham MacAree developed another statistic (tRA) which incorporates all the elements of FIP along with batted ball data (ground ball, line drive, infield fly and outfield fly rates). tRA tells us how many runs per game a pitcher should have allowed given all of these rates. The tRA statistic can be found at Stat Corner. Since roughly 92% of runs are earned, we can take the tRA numbers and multiply by .92 to get tERA. tRA and tERA are a bit more predictive of future ERA than FIP but not substantially so. You can learn more about about tRA at the Stat Corner glossary.

The Table below compares the ERA of Tigers starting pitchers to their FIP and tERA. The first thing to notice is that most of the Tigers pitchers have FIPs and tERAs which exceed their ERAs. This is an indication that they may be receiving a good deal of defensive support or some other kind of good fortune. Some of my thoughts on each pitcher are included below:

Justin Verlander is the one Tigers starter whose ERA (3.28) is higher than his FIP (2.81) and tERA (3.10). It would make sense that a high strikeout pitcher would not get as much defensive support as a pitcher who puts the ball in play. Just based on memory, it also appears that he gives up hits in bunches which also would hurt his ERA in comparison to FIP and tERA.

Edwin Jackson has a big discrepancy between his ERA (2.85) and tERA (4.11). Some of that mat be defensive support but it's important to note that his 81% left on base percentage (LOB% at Fan Graphs) is the highest in the league. That is something that help his ERA a lot. Watching games, it seems as if he has the ability to step up his fastball a notch with runners on base so, while it's not likely he can maintain such a high LOB%, I would expect him to remain above average in that respect. He was at 76.1% last year which is also very good. Still, I would expect Jackson's ERA to rise somewhat by the end of the season.

Jarrod Washburn has an ever bigger difference between his ERA (2.95) and tERA (4.62) than Jackson. A big reason for the gap is that he is an extreme fly ball pitcher who pitched most of the season for a Mariners team which had the best defensive outfield in the majors. He doesn't have that benefit with the Tigers and that's likely going to hurt his ERA substantially.

Rick Porcello has a tERA (5.23) which exceeds his ERA (4.34) by almost a run. That is likely partly a result of a ground ball pitcher supported by strong infield defense. The infield defense is still there and he's still developing so I think he can at least maintain his ERA down the stretch.

Armando Galarraga also has a much higher tERA (6.27) than ERA (5.16) so he is likely another hurler benefitting from defense. He also has the worst tERA in the league.

Table: ERA versus FIP and tERA for Tigers Pitchers

Pitcher

ERA

FIP

tERA

Verlander

3.28

2.81

3.10

Jackson

2.85

4.22

4.11

Washburn

2.95

3.86

4.62

Porcello

4.34

5.21

5.23

Galarraga

5.16

5.52

6.27

Friday, August 14, 2009

Back to Back Gems

Brandon Inge blasted a walk off homer to left field off of former Tiger Roman Colon as the Tigers beat the Royals 1-0 tonight. It was only the second homer since the all-star break for the slumping Inge but it certainly came at a good time. It was the second straight shutout for the Tigers who beat the Red Sox 2-0 yesterday afternoon.

While Inge might be recognized as tonight's hero, much of the credit has to be given to the starting pitcher for the second straight game. Yesterday, right-handed power pitcher Justin Verlander blanked the Red Sox for eight innings with 100 MPH heat and Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect ninth.

Tonight, it was a totally different kind of pitcher but the results were the same. Soft tossing left-hander Jarrod Washburn shutout the Royals on three hits for eight innings before yielding to Brandon Lyon in the ninth. It was a big win but it was also a relief to see Washburn pitch a strong game after getting shelled in his first two starts as a Tiger. The Royals also got a great pitching performance from Cy Young candidate Zach Greinke who held the Tigers to no runs and three hits in seven innings.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tigers Defense Slipping but Still Strong

At one point this season, the Tigers were ranked as the number one defensive team in the league according the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic found at FanGraphs. Their defense is still strong but has slipped a bit as the season has progressed. They are currently 23.5 defensive runs saved above average with ranks them fourth in the American League:

Mariners 46.5
Rays 46.3
Rangers 25.0
Tigers 23.5
Angels 13.2

Despite the defensive regression, they are still way ahead of last years unit which was 39.1 runs saved below league average. The difference of 62.6 runs between 2008 and 2009 is worth an estimated six additional victories over a full season. A position by position look follows:

First base

Miguel Cabrera is ranked about average (UZR=+0.5 runs saved above average).

Second base

Placido Polanco's 7.2 UZR is second in the league to Dustin Pedroia. He is ranked above average by the plus/minus statistic listed at Bill James Online as well but not by as much (+2).

Shorstop

Adam Everett is ranked close to average on UZR (0.5). That he is only average defensively is a concern given that he has become a black hole at the plate.

Third base

Brandon Inge is an excellent defender by either measure: +9.5 on UZR and +10 on +/-.

Center field

Curtis Granderson has a -2.8 UZR and +1 +/-. It's really looking like Curtis is not the defender he seemed to be in 2007 when he ranked near the top of the league on most defensive measures. Last year, he was significantly below average so it's been two straight years of average at best for Granderson defensively.

Corner outfield spots

With the revolving door in left and right this year, there isn't enough data on specific players here. Clete Thomas is looking stong in right field according to Ultimate Zone Rating (+10.3) but has a +/- of -1 which is an example of how volatile these defensive measures can be with a limited sample. Magglio Ordonez is a little below average on both measures.

Summary

Overall, the Tigers are very strong at second and third, possibly above average in one corner outfield spot with Thomas and about average everywhere else. There is no position where they are substantially below average. While they are not looking as stellar as they did early in the season, defense still maintains a relative strength.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Magglio Likely to Reach Incentives

As most of you know by now, whether or not Magglio Ordonez returns to the Tigers at an $18 million dollar salary next years depends on whether he reaches playing time incentives. If he starts 135 games or accumulates 540 at bats this year, then his contract option for 2010 automatically vests. Similarly, if he starts 270 games or reaches 1,080 plate appearances in 2008 and 2009 combined, then he'll be back next year.

Right now, Magglio is at 982 plate appearances for 2008 and 2009 combined which leaves him just 98 short of the 1,080 mark. He is playing regularly again too so, unless he gets hurt, his option will almost certainly vest. He is batting just .267 with a .696 OPS for the season which makes him one of the worst right fielders in Major League Baseball. He is hitting somewhat better as of late batting .295/.338/.459 in the last 17 games but that's still not very good for a corner outfielder, especially one who lacks defensive skills.

Marcus Thames seems to be a better option with his .257/.328/.508 line for the season. He also has hit right-handers better - a .796 OPS for Thames versus .623 OPS for Ordonez. For whatever reason, Dave Dombrowski has not released Ordonez and Jim Leyland prefers playing Ordonez to Thames. Maybe, Illitch won't eat the contract or maybe Magglio is playing due to team chemisty or maybe they are still holding out hope that he will revert to form the last two months. Regardless, I think we should get used to the fact that Ordonez is going to play regularly this year and be a Tiger again next year. Hopefully, he can accumulate just enough bloop singles to help them into the playoffs this year.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Looking Towards 2010: Avila and Sizemore

It's hard to think about 2010 with the Tigers in the middle of a pennant race but there are a couple of interesting situations which I want to address. The first one is actually affecting the 2009 season and that's Alex Avila's emergence as a Major League catcher. When it was first announced on Tuesday night that he was being called up from AA Erie to replace Dusty Ryan as the second catcher, my first reaction was that it was a desperation move made by a team badly in need of an offensive spark. I don't want to get overly excited about two games but the move looks great so far - four hits, two doubles and a homer in eight at bats.

For now, the plan is for Avila to catch any time Rick Porcello or Amando Galarraga starts. Gerald Laird will start when any of the other three starters pitch. So, Laird is still the primary receiver but Avila will be playing more than the previous two backups, Dane Sardinha and Ryan. If Avila hits well and shows that he can adequately handle the catching position, we could be looking at a platoon by 2010 with the left-handed batting Avila getting the bulk of the starts. Yes, that is still a big if.

The seventh year veteran Laird is an excellent defensive catcher who leads the majors with a 41.1 caught stealing percentage. He also has the reputation of being a good handler of pitchers. The problem is that he is batting just .228 and his .646 OPS is third worst among catchers. Laird has a .616 OPS versus right-handers and a .749 OPS versus left-handers which is why a left-handed hitting platoon partner would be ideal.

The 22 year old Avila batted .264/.365/.450 with an impressive 52/77 walk/strikeout ratio for the SeaWolves prior to he callup. In addition, Alex had a .865 OPS against Eastern League right-handers. It's not always going to be as easy as it has looked the last two games but it is expected that he will hit Major League pitching well enough to be a starting Major League catcher over the long term. While there are still questions about his defense (pitch blocking in particular), he is improving and is expected to become a solid defender in time.

Again, it's just two games and he is just one year removed from the first year player draft and playing a position which generally requires a lot of development. I had expected him to potentially start by perhaps 2011. However, if the Tigers think he is ready enough to start twice every five games in the middle of a pennant race, one has to consider the possibility that he could be the number one catcher by 2010.

The other topic of interest is the second base situation. The 33 year old Placido Polanco is still a top defender - six runs saved above average according to both Ultimate Zone Rating (FanGraphs) and the Plus/Minus system (Bill James Online). However, his .708 OPS is lowest among qualifying American League second basemen and tonight's four hit game did not change that.

Polanco is a free agent after the season and the Tigers have not discussed an extension as of yet. I think it's unlikely that they will offer him a mult-year deal at this stage of his career. It is possible that they will offer him arbitration and hope that he either accepts and stays with the team one more year or refuses giving the Tigers draft pick compensation. According to Eddie Bajek's projected Elias rankings now housed at MLB Trade Rumors, Polanco will almost certainly be at least a type B free agent.. Since Dave Dombrowski does not like arbitation, I'm not sure of the likelihood of that scenario but it seems like the smart thing to do from my viewpoint.

If Polanco signs with another team, then who becomes the starting second baseman in 2010? The leading candidate would be Scott Sizemore who has has a very strong season at AA and AAA this year. The 24 year old right-handed batter is hitting a combined .309 with 48 extra base hits in 401 at bats for Erie and Toledo. Like Avila, Sizemore has a good eye and a solid 54/75 BB/K ratio.

Sizemore has the potential to be an offensive upgrade over Polanco but questions remain about his defense. He is regarded by most astute observers as an average second baseman with decent tools across the board but nothing special defensively.

Again, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves but we could potentially be seeing two new young starters in key spots on opening day next season.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tigers Call-up Avila and Lambert

Yesterday, the Tigers called up Wilkin Ramirez and made him a Major League leadoff hitter for one day. After the game, he was returned to Toledo along with Dusty Ryan. Catcher Alex Avila and pitcher Chris Lambert will be taking their places on the roster. Avila will also need to be added to the 40 man roster, although Billfer points out that they probably won't need to use an option. The talented but inexperienced Avila (drafted just last year) has had a very encouraging season for AA Erie posting a .806 OPS up to this point. He has not, however, hit well as of late with just a .673 OPS over the past four weeks.

The addition of Lambert is no surprise as everyone knew the Tigers would not go with 11 pitchers for long. The Avila move was totally unexpected though. I believe Avila and second baseman Scott Sizemore are the two best prospects in the system but I was not expecting Avila to be in the Majors until next year at the earliest.

I'm not sure how much Avila will be playing. Is he just being called up to replace Ryan as a backup to play once or twice a week? Or will they give the left-handed hitter more of a chance to try to spark the offense? If it's the former, then I'm not sure why they didn't just stick with Ryan rather than use up a 40 man roster spot which may become more valuable after the season. If it's the latter, then I think the expectations are unrealistic. I see it as a desperation move similar to the Cameron Maybin callup two years ago. Other Tigers bloggers seem to agree with that assessment:

Mack Avenue Tigers
Detroit Tigers Weblog
Fire Jim Leyland

On the other hand, posters at my favorite fan forum are divided on the issue:

Motownsports

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ramirez Up, Fien down

The Tigers have recalled outfielder Wilkin Ramirez from Toledo and optioned pitcher Casey Fien to the same club. Ramirez is batting .274/.352/.455 for the season but has been tearing it up as of late posting a 1.041 OPS since July 1. On the downside, he has a scary strikeout rate of 116 k in 347 at bats and that ratio has not improved much during his hot streak. It will still be good to see him get a chance on a team that badly needs offense. He will likely start versus Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz tonight.

The move leaves them with 11 pitchers for the time being. I imagine that won't last long. especially with them playing 17 games in 17 days. It's possible that Ramirez will only be around for a short while and then be optioned back when they call up another pitcher. I would like to think this is precusor to a Magglio Ordonez release but I've become very doubtful now that such a move will happen.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Clutch Clete Hits Walk Off


Photo credit: Michael Scott

Tonight's 6-5 win over the Orioles was not a pretty one but was probably one of the hardest fought and most satisfying victories of the year. The Tigers really needed this one tonight after a rough road trip where they looked bad in the field and anemic at the plate.

It could not have gotten off to a worse start as the Orioles scored five runs off of ace Justin Verlander in the first inning They were not lucky runs. He was shelled for six hits including a home run and two doubles. And everything was hit hard. The way the Tigers have been struggling to score runs in recent weeks, it looked like the game was over before they got a chance to bat.

Verlander rebounded remarkably well shutting out the Orioles on three hits and striking out eight over the final 7 2/3. It was a great show of maturity for the 26 year old right-hander. Given the circumstances, those 7 2/3 innings were among his most impressive of the year. He did not get a win for himself but he kept his team in a game that looked lost.

Down 5-0, the Tigers chipped away at the lead off rookie right-hander Chris Tillman. They scored three in the first highlighted by a lead off triple by Curtis Granderson, an RBI double by Placido Polanco and a two run double by Miguel Cabrera. They added another in the fourth on singles by Marcus Thames and Ramon Santiago and a couple of wild pitches. Cabrera then tied the game at five in the fifth with his 21st homer of the season.

It was still tied at five in the bottom of the ninth thanks to verlander's effort and a one two three ninth by Fernando Rodney. Granderson and Polanco were easily retired by reliever Danys Baez who looked very sharp in 1 2/2 innings up to that point. The last hope to prevent another extra inning game was Clete Thomas. Baez got two strikes on him and looked like he had him over matched but Clete was not impressed. Clutch Clete drilled the 1-2 pitch to center field fence to win it 6-5.

Tigers fans are feeling a lot better after this one than they were after yesterday's game. And the White Sox were idle tonight so the Tigers are now up by two games in the A.L. Central.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Gerald Laird Leads Tigers in Base Running

For most of baseball history, the only available measures of base running were stolen bases and caught stealing. Thanks to play by play data bases such as Retrosheet, it is now possible to track such events as advancing from first to third on a single and advancing on fly outs and ground outs. I talked a lot about base running measures in a series of articles last year. The most advanced base running statistics were developed by Dan Fox and can be found at Baseball Prospectus. They include the following (all of them are runs above average):
  • EqGAR (Equivalent Ground Advancement Runs) - Contribution of advancement on ground outs.
  • EqSBR (Equivalent Stolen Base Runs) - contribution of stolen bases including runs subtracted for caught stealings and pickoffs.
  • EqAAR (Equivalent Air Advancement Runs) - Contribution of base runners advancing on fly outs
  • EqHAR (Equivalent Hit Advancement Runs) - contribution of runners taking the extra base on a hit: first to third on a single, second to home on a single, first to home on a double.
  • EqOAR (Equivalent Other Advancement Runs) - contribution of other base running advancements - passed balls, wild pitches and balks (evidence shows that those events are not entirely random and are influenced by base runners to an extent).
  • EqBRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs)- the sum of the five above statistics above or total base running contribution.
Note that players are penalized for making outs and also for not advancing when the average base runner would have been expected to do so.

The Tigers have scored runs on the bases as follows so far in 2009:

EqGAR = -0.3 runs above (below in their case) average on ground outs
EqSBR = -5.2 on base stealing
EqAAR = -0.2 on fly ball outs
EqHAR = 1.2 taking the extra base on hits
EqOAR = 1.2 on other events
EqBRR = -3.2 total base running runs above average

Overall, the Tigers are 3.2 runs below the average team on the bases which ranks them 15th in baseball. Other than base stealing though, they have been an above average base running team They are 2.1 above average on all other base running advancement combined.

Individually, the Tigers leading base runner is not Josh Anderson or Curtis Granderson or Ramon Santiago but catcher Gerald Laird. He is 2.4 runs better than league average with places him in the American League top twenty and first among catchers. It may surprise some that Laird is the team's best base runner but I think Tigers fans that watch the team every day have seen that he is reasonably fast for a catcher and a smart base runner. Equivalent Base Running Runs for others are shown below:

Laird 2.4
Everett 1.4
thomas 0.9
Ordonez 0.0
Granderson -0.1
Anderson -0.2
Raburn -0.2
Inge -0.8
Polanco -0.9
Cabrera -1.6
Santiago-2.3
Thames-2.5

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