Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tigers Total Runs by Position: 2008 vs. 2009

In previous posts, I looked at the Tigers offense and defense by position in 2009. Today, I will compare their offense and defense by position in 2008 and 2009.

Table 1 below shows how their 2008 offense compared to their 2009 offense using the weighted runs above average statistic (wRAA) at FanGraphs. As a team they were 74 runs above average in 2008 and plummeted to 8 below average in 2009. That's an 82 run drop or approximately 8 wins.

Most positions in the Tigers line-up created more runs in 2008 than 2009, the only exceptions being first base (35 wRAA in 2008 vs. 39 in 2009), left field (-1 vs. +7) and DH where they were a putrid 10 below average both years. So, designated hitter has been a sore spot for two years now. DH is not usually the first position you look to upgrade in the off-season but it's something they need to address either by getting another hitter or by using the position more efficiently. The positions where they lost the most offense between 2008 and 2009 were right field (23 runs), second base and shortstop (16 runs), catcher (15 runs) and third base (14 runs).

Table 1: Tigers Batting Runs Above Average - 2008 vs. 2009

POS

2008

2009

C

-10

-25

1B

+35

+39

2B

+12

-4

3B

+6

-8

SS

-5

-21

LF

-1

+7

CF

+19

+10

RF

+28

+5

DH

-10

-10

Total

+74

-8


Table 2 presents the fielding runs above average for Tigers by position in 2008 and 2009. With the exception of catcher, all of these numbers are Ultimate Zone Ratings extracted from FanGraphs. The 2008 fielding runs number for catcher was taken from the Driveline Mechanics blog and 2009 number was the Total zone measure for catchers from Baseball-Reference.

The Table illustrates that they made up for the declines in offensive runs with large defensive upgrades at every single position. Their biggest improvements in fielding runs were at third base (20.7 run increase), right field (19.1), catcher (12.3) and second base ( 11.9). As a team they improved from 38 runs below average to 58 runs above average, an increase of 96 fielding runs or almost 10 wins.

Table 2: Tigers Fielding Runs Above Average - 2008 vs. 2009

POS

2008

2009

C

+1.0

+13.3

1B

-4.1

+3.7

2B

+0.4

+11.5

3B

-14.0

+6.7

SS

-0.8

+5.9

LF

-5.7

+4.1

CF

-6.2

+2.9

RF

-8.8

+10.3

DH

0.0

0.0

Total

-38.2

+58.4


Using the Runs Above Replacement (RAR) procedure at FanGraphs, we can combine the offense and defense at each position. In order to get RAR, we first need to add the batting runs above average and fielding runs above average from Tables 1 and 2. Then we add or subtract runs from each position according to the difficulty of the position defensively. For example, shortstops get 7.5 runs added and first basemen get12.5 runs subtracted. To move from the average baseline to replacement baseline, 20 runs per 600 plate appearances are added to each position.

Overall, it might surprise some that their position players contributed comparable numbers of runs above replacement in 2008 (226) and 2009 (244). Despite their offensive woes in 2009, their position players were actually slightly better overall in 2009. They improved the most in left field (17.6 run increase) thanks mostly to Ryan Raburn. They also improved substantially at first base (+12) and third base (+8.8) largely because they had players playing in the right positions this year. The biggest drops in total runs were at shortstop (-8.1) and second base (-4.2) where improved defense was not quite enough to make up for the offensive decline.

Finally, the below replacement numbers at designated hitter both years add to one of my themes of the winter: Make it a priority to get more offense out of the DH position next year.
Not only is it a position they need to improve but it would be a fairly easy way to upgrade the offense without sacrificing defense.

Table 3: Tigers Total Runs Above Replacement - 2008 vs. 2009

POS

2008

2009

C

+25.3

+21.6

1B

+41.5

+53.6

2B

+39.9

+35.7

3B

+15.7

+23.8

SS

+21.9

+13.1

LF

+10.3

+27.9

CF

+41.0

+40.7

RF

+36.0

+33.0

DH

-5.4

-5.7

Total

+226.2

+243.7



Monday, October 26, 2009

Tigers Defense by Position

Yesterday, I covered the Tigers offense by position. Today, I'll run down the defense using the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) statistic. Ultimate Zone Rating tells us how many runs a fielder saved/cost his team above/below the MLB average player at his position. As a team, the Tigers were 45.1 above league average not including pitchers and catchers. Using UZR numbers from FanGraphs, the positional breakdown is shown below:

1B +3.7
2B +11.5
3B +6.7
SS +5.9
LF +4.1
CF +2.9
RF +10.3

Additionally, The Driveline Mechanics site also recently rated catchers based on stolen bases/caught stealing, wild pitches/passed balls and fielding/throwing errors. Please check out that site for an explanation of their methodology. They determined that Gerald Laird was the best defensive catcher in the majors finishing 13.3 runs above the average catcher.

The first thing you might notice from the information above is that the Tigers were above average defensively at every single position in 2009. A breakdown by players follows:

Catcher - See above

First base - Miguel Cabrera was 3.4 runs above average during a season where his improvement was noticeable.

Second base - Placido Polanco (+12.1) topped all MLB second baseman with at least 800 innings.

Third base - Brandon Inge finished sixth in baseball at 8.5 despite a sub-par for him showing in the second half.

Shortstop - Adam Everett (+8.9) was clearly ahead of Ramon Santiago (-2.6)

Left field - This is just a mixture of small sample sizes (led by Jash Anderson's +7.7 in 305 innings) and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Center field - Curtis Granderson was only about average (+0.3) on UZR but was was +15 on the +/- system. This discrepancy is something we'll look at more closely this winter.

Right field - Magglio Ordonez was right around average (-0.3). Clete Thomas's +11.6 UZR in 502 innings in right field is a bit suspect due to sample size but I don't think too many would argue against his having been an above average right fielder last year.

The conclusion I would draw from this is that the Tigers had a strong defensive team last year and that likely helped their pitching staff substantially. While they need to improve their offense this winter, it should not be done at the expense of their defense - at least not too much. I'd like to see them improve offensively at DH/LF before breaking up their defensive strength.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tigers Offense by Position

Most Tigers fans are painfully aware that the Tigers offense was sub-par in 2009 and that improvements are needed during the off-season. The question is which positions should be upgraded? The answer to that question depends on how well they play defense at each position but let's start with the offense.

The wRAA column in Table 1 below tells us how many runs the Tigers created at each position compared to the MLB average. Overall, they were 8 runs below average (including the less offensive NL) without regard to position. Thanks to Miguel Cabrera, they were +38 runs above average at first base. They were also above average at each of the outfield positions: +7 in left field, +10 in center field and +5 in right field. They were below average everywhere else with the biggest deficits being at catcher (-25) and shortstop (-21). I'm sure it comes to no surprise that Gerald Laird and Adam Everett helped them fall so far below average at those two spots.

Based on the above, it would appear that their biggest needs would be more offense from their catchers and shortstops and that they are OK at first base and the out field. However, we all know that catcher's and shortstops don't generally hit as well as first basemen and corner out fielders. The Lg wRAA column shows us the American League averages by position. From that we can see that the most productive positions in the American League were rirst base (+16), right field (+13) and left field (+9). The least productive were catcher (-7) and shortstop (-6).

The final column of the table tells us how far above league average the Tigers were at each position only for players playing that position. Based on that, the Tigers were +22 at first base and +13 in center field. They were below average everywhere else: catcher (-18), designated hitter(-16), shortstop (-15), third base (-11), second base (-9), right field (-8) and left field (-2).

Table 1:Tigers Runs Above Average by Position in 2009

Position

wRAA

Lg wRAA

wRAA – Lg wRAA

Total

-8

+30

-38

C

-25

-7

-18

1B

+38

+16

+22

2B

-4

+5

-9

3B

-8

+3

-11

SS

-21

-6

-15

LF

+7

+9

-2

CF

+10

-3

+13

RF

+5

+13

-8

DH

-10

+6

-16


What can we conclude from this? First, it confirms that Cabrera was the hub of the entire offense and that they would have been lost without him. It also says that Granderson, while not up to his usual standards, had a good year offensively (The Tigers had the second highest wRAA in the AL at the center field position).

The other thing we learn from this is that the Tigers can stand to improve at a lot of positions. The number one position where they need more production is designated hitter. Whether they have one primary batter or a rotating DH, they can't afford to be so far below average offensively at a position which provides no defense. They also need to improve at the two corner outfield positions as those are two other positions which are problematic defensively.

My solution would be to put Carlos Guillen at designated hitter most days. I believe he can hit if he stays healthy and it seems like DH would be the position where he could most easily do that. Anything close to a .800 OPS from Guillen would be an upgrade. Acquiring a left-handed hitting left fielder to split time with Ryan Raburn would help too. Adding a right-handed hitting center fielder fielder who could spell Granderson versus some left-handers would be useful too. Casper Wells could be the answer there. They also need a full season of production from Magglio Ordonez.

In the infield, it appears that Scott Sizemore may take over at second base for Polanco. That will likely be a defensive downgrade but it could possibly give them better offense. At third, we can hope that a healthier Inge give will them a little boost. Giving more at bats to Alex Avila could get them more runs from the catcher position as well. I would be great if they could get more offense at shortstop as well but I think that will difficult to accomplish. More at bats for Ramon Santiago could be beneficial.

If all that happens, they could live with the defense oriented Laird and Everett in the line-up most days again next year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sizemore Breaks Leg

Update: Sizemore has a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle. That's relatively good news because it's the least serious kind of fracture and he is expected to be ready well ahead of spring training. Dombrowski said it will have no bearing on their off-season plans. Missing time in the competitive AFL is still not a good thing though.

According to the Arizona Fall League Twitter account (via Rotoworld), Tigers second base prospect Scott Sizemore suffered a fractured left tibia in a collision during yesterday's game. There is no official word from the Tigers as of yet but he will surely miss the rest of the AFL season. We won't know how serious of a break it is until he goes back to Detroit to get examined. Regardless, this is bad news for Sizemore and the Tigers.

The injury will likely impact the Tigers off-season plans. Dave Dombrowski hinted a couple weeks ago that Sizemore was ready to step in and become a starter for the Tigers next year. This would perhaps mean that they could allow free agent Placido Polanco to sign elsewhere. A good AFL season for Sizemore (and he was off to a strong start) might have made the decision relatively easy.

Now, there is a lot more uncertainty. Hopefully, Sizemore will be ready for spring training but right now I think it's going to be difficult for Dombrowski to count on an unproven second baseman with a broken leg to be ready to start on opening day. At the very least, he loses some development time.

The last month has not been the best of times for Tigers fans.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Off-season Thoughts

I haven't been writing here as much here lately as I'm trying finish up my sabermetrics book. I plan to publish it some time this winter. I'll have more details when it gets closer to completion.
I do want to give my thoughts on what I expect to happen this off-season though.

Contrary to popular belief, I think Dombrowski is usually pretty honest and open about his basic winter plan. Most years, he seems to do what he says he's going to do. For example, last year he reported that the Tigers needed to acquire a catcher, shortstop, starting pitcher and reliever and that they didn't have a lot of money to accomplish it. He also expressed a desire to improve team defense. So, he went out and acquired a catcher (Gerald Laird), a shortstop (Adam Everett), a starting pitcher (Edwin Jackson) and a reliever (Brandon Lyon).

Other years, the Tigers will pull a surprise move like signing Pudge Rodriguez or trading for Miguel Cabrera. I think a lot of that comes from Mike Illitch though. If he decides to spend then Dombrowski will change his plan. That's the impression I get anyway.

This year, their needs are still up in the air due to a number of their own players becoming free agents. That includes Jarrod Washburn, Aubrey Huff, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Lyon, Placido Polanco and Adam Everett. Washburn and Huff contributed little down the stretch and are almost surely not coming back. There is less certainty about the other four. All Dombrowski has said is that they won't be able to sign all their free agents.

I'm sure the Tigers would like to retain both Rodney and Lyon but that might not be possible depending on their budget. After saving 37 games in 38 opportunities, Rodney is going to get his chance at a big contract and his demands may be too much for the Tigers. Lyon is probably a better bet to remain a Tiger. If Rodney goes and Lyon stays then Brandon would likely inherit the closer role. If they both go, then the Tigers will likely obtain a veteran reliever to close. Dombrowski says that Joel Zumaya will be healthy for spring training and will play an important role but I'm certainly not counting on that happening. Ryan Perry may be the stopper of the future but probably not next year.

Dombrowski says that Scott Sizemore is ready to take over at second base base if they do not sign Polanco. Some see this as a signal that they are ready to let Polanco go and I tend to agree. Sizemore had an excellent season for Erie and Toledo and is continuing to hit in early Arizona Fall League action.

I suspect that the Tigers will look to upgrade at shortstop but would probably not be opposed to going with the Everett/Ramon Santiago combination again if nothing materializes. If the Mariners let Jack Wilson free, I'm sure Wilson to the Tigers rumors will pop up again but he's not really an upgrade. J.J. Hardy is a more intriguing possibility. He had a rough year for Milwaukee but he still has a lot of potential and could be a good buy low candidate.

Elsewhere, the Tigers are set at first base (Miguel Cabrera), center field (Curtis Granderson), right field (Magglio Ordonez) and most likely third base (Brandon Inge). Based on how little trust Jim Leyland had in Alex Avila down the stretch, it's likely that Laird will be the catcher at least at the beginning of the season.

Then there's Carlos Guillen who wants to play every day but doesn't want to be the designated hitter. Jim Leyland said he'll be the starting left fielder but he wasn't comfortable with him out there last year and he won't be this year either unless Carlos shows that he is healthy and can improve his defense. Ideally, they would just make him the full-time DH in order to maximize the chance that he stays healthy. I suspect he'll bounce back and forth between left field, DH and the DL though. Ryan Raburn will get his chances to play wherever Guillen is not playing - either DH or left field.

Since they need 486 games out of their LF, RF and DH spots and Guillen, Ordonez and Raburn will probably not come close to that, there will be plenty of opportunities for another outfielder. Clete Thomas and Casper Wells will both get looks, although Thomas is looking more like a role player at this point. Wilkin Ramirez is a possibility but they would probably prefer that he get more seasoning in AAA. Mike Cameron would be an interesting acquisition if he would be willing to play different positions. He could spell Granderson against certain left-handers and play some left field when Guillen can't. I suspect they will look to move Marcus Thames as they try to get more athletic.

I'm not expecting any really big moves though as I think the Tigers will be looking towards 2011. They have a lot of big contracts coming off the books after next season. That includes Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Inge and possibly Magglio Oronez. At that time, I think they will make a big push. That doesn't mean I don't think they will try to improve the team this off-season. I just think they'll be creative spenders rather than big spenders.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fan Scouting Report Reminder

If you have not yet submitted a ballot to Tom Tango's fan scouting report, he his accepting ballots through the end of the World Series. The sample size for the Tigers could use a little boost so I encourage you to participate. Details below.

For the seventh year, Tom Tango is conducting his fan scouting report on fielding skills. The results of this survey are a very valuable resource so I'm encouraging all knowledgeable fans who watch a lot of Detroit Tigers games to participate. The survey asks fans to rate the fielding skills of players on their favorite teams just based on observation. You will be asked not to use any stats at all and also not to vote based on what somebody else told you. Just use your own eyes as if you were a scout. The results were very interesting and informative last year but a large sample size is needed in order for them to be useful again this year. Some of the results appear in the Bill James Handbook which comes out every November. So, I urge all of you to complete the ballot.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tigers Pitching and Defense Improved in 2009

The Tigers were not very good at scoring runs in 2009 but they were pretty good at preventing runs. Their 745 runs allowed was 5th lowest in the league and only 13 runs more than the second lowest team (7 more if you subtract game 163). They also allowed 112 runs (or 0.7 runs per game) fewer than they did in 2008 when their staff surrendered 857 runs. Where did that improvement come from?

Table below lists the fielding independent events in 2008 versus 2009 (Data were extracted from FanGraphs). These are the things that pitchers control essentially without the help of their defense - strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and home runs. The pitchers struck out about 0.7 more batters per nine innings and walked roughly 0.3 fewer in 2009 versus 2008. On the negative side, they allowed more home runs in 2009 (1.07 in 2008 versus 1.13 in 2009). This resulted in a 0.26 reduction in FIP (the ERA you would expect based on strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and home runs). So, pitchers were better at things that they can control this year but not 0.7 runs per game better.

Table 1: FIP Stats for Tigers Pitchers - 2008 vs. 2009

Stat

2008

2009

K/9

6.17

6.85

BB/9

4.01

3.69

K/BB

1.54

1.86

HR/9

1.07

1.13

FIP

4.79

4.53


Based on the above, there was more to the Tigers improvement in run prevention than fielding independent events. Much of the improvement came on better results on balls in play. The batted ball data is shown in Table 2 (FanGraphs again). The BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of Tigers pitchers decreased from .307 in 2008 to .298 in 2009. A lower BABIP is typically an indication of better defensive support but some of it could be pitchers allowing more fieldable balls.

While the influence of pitchers on the results batted balls is limited, they do have a decent amount of control over what kind of batted balls they allow. The line drive rate of Tigers pitchers decreased from 19.4% in to 18.4%. Their ground ball rate increased from 42.0% to 42.7%. Both of these are positive changes. On the other hand, their outfield fly ball rate went up and their infield fly rate went down.

The tRA statistic builds on the FIP statistic by adding batted ball data (LD%, GB%, OFFB% and IFFB%) to walks, strikeouts, hit batsmen and homers. Their tRA (measured in runs rather than earned runs) went from 5.44 in 2008 to 5.11 in 2009. That's 0.33 runs better which still doesn't come close to the 0.7 run per game improvement overall.

Table 2: Batted Ball Stats for Tigers Pitchers - 2008 vs. 2009

Stat

2008

2009

BABIP

.307

.298

LD%

19.4%

18.4%

GB%

42.0%

42.7%

OFFB%

28.7%

29.4%

IFFB%

9.9%

9.5%

tRA

5.44

5.11


All of the above suggests that the Tigers pitching was better in 2009 but that they also received a lot of help from their fielders. Their 2008 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of -39.1 indicates that their fielders were 39 runs below the average team. Their 2009 UZR of +45.1 was about 84 runs better than 2008. That's about 0.5 runs per game better. Based on this, it appears that fielding was a little more responsible than pitching for their better run prevention.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saber Correct Tigers, Efficient Athletics

Many fans complained that the Tigers left too many runners on base and did not get the most out of their offense this year. Some said the same thing about the 20o7 and 2008 teams. In actuality, the Tigers scored almost exactly as many runs as they should have given their totals of hits, walks and various other positive batting events in both 2007 and 2008. Today, we'll take a look at 2009.

The Tigers finished tenth in the league with 743 runs scored in 2009.
Should they have gotten more runs from their offensive output? One way to answer this question is to look at weighted runs created (wRC). wRC is calculated from the number of walks, singles, doubles, triples, home runs and other things that a team does to score runs. The formula for wRC is a bit involved but the idea is that different batting events are given different weights according to how much they contribute to runs scored:

BB 0.31
HBP 0.34
1B 0.47
2B 0.77
3B 1.04
HR 1.40
SB 0.20
CS -0.42

From examination of thousands of games, it has been determined that, on average, a single contributes 0.47 runs. That is, if you add one single to a team's hit total in each game for 100 games, you can expect that to add 47 runs to their season total. The values for the other events can be interpreted similarly.

Applying the above weights to a full season of plate appearances yields a team's wRC. Table 1 lists the runs, wRC, difference between runs and wRC and % difference for all American League teams in 2009. Table 2 does the same for National League teams. The first thing you should notice is that all but 3 teams in the majors had wRC estimates within 5% of their actual runs scored. This means that wRC gives a good estimation of runs scored in most cases.

A closer look at table 1 shows that the Tigers had 739 runs created in 2008. So, their 743 runs scored was almost exactly as many runs many runs as would have been expected given their offensive output. That tells us that the Tigers were neither efficient nor inefficient with their offense. They were an average team in terms of making the most of their base runners.

The American League team which got the biggest bang out of their offensive output was the Oakland Athletics. Yes, Billy Beane's collection of softball players who clog the bases and don't play the game the right way had the most efficient offense in the majors. The Athletics scored 50 more runs than their runs created estimate. One reason for this was that they were the best base running team in the Majors according to the Equivalent Base Running (EqBRR) statistic at Baseball Prospectus (Base running skill beyond SB/CS is omitted from wRC). Based on EqBRR, the Athletics created 12.5 more runs with their base running than the average team.

The least efficient AL team might also surprise some people. The New York Yankees led the Majors in runs scored with 915 but should have created 971 according to their wRC. One reason for the discrepancy is that the Yankees did not hit as well with runners in scoring position (.766 OPS) as they did with the bases empty (.854 OPS).

Table 1: Efficiency of American League Offenses in 2009

Team

Runs

Runs Created

difference

% difference

Athletics

759

708

51

7.2

Angels

883

843

40

4.7

Rangers

784

758

26

3.4

Royals

686

677

9

1.3

Twins

817

807

10

1.2

White Sox

724

718

6

0.8

Tigers

743

739

4

0.5

Orioles

741

738

3

0.4

Indians

773

780

-7

-0.9

Blue Jays

798

807

-9

-1.1

Red Sox

872

882

-10

-1.1

Mariners

640

651

-11

-1.7

Rays

803

821

-18

-2.2

Yankees

915

971

-56

-5.8


Table 2: Efficiency of National League Offenses in 2009

Team

Runs

Runs Created

difference

% difference

Giants

657

607

50

8.2

Reds

673

659

14

2.1

Cardinals

730

719

11

1.5

Pirates

636

633

3

0.5

Marlins

772

769

3

0.4

Dodgers

780

779

1

0.1

Phillies

820

821

-1

-0.1

Brewers

785

786

-1

-0.1

Rockies

804

807

-3

-0.4

Diamondbacks

720

724

-4

-0.6

Padres

638

642

-4

-0.6

Braves

735

746

-11

-1.5

Cubs

707

719

-12

-1.7

Astros

643

655

-12

-1.8

Nationals

710

737

-27

-3.7

Mets

671

698

-27

-3.9

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