Friday, April 30, 2010

Big Night for Tigers Rookies

The Tigers exploded for eight runs in the fourth inning to defeat the Angels 10-6 tonight. The inning included rookie second baseman Scott Sizemore's first major league home run. Later in the inning freshman, out fielder Brennan Boesch also whacked his first big league round tripper, a grand slam no less.

The biggest rookie performance of the night, however, came from red hot Austin Jackson. The Tigers center fielder went five for five to raise his batting average to .364. Jackson is now third in the American League in batting pending the outcome of Vladimir Guerrero's game tonight. It was also his fourth straight game without a strikeout after striking out in a record 19 consecutive games to begin his career.

On the defensive side, Rick Porcello continued to struggle allowing five runs in 5 1/3 innings. He pitched a little better than the numbers indicate as he was victimized by some infield hits. He also had good control and walked nobody. Still, it was a less than ideal outing from someone they are counting on to be one of their top pitchers. Ryan Perry was very strong in relief striking out three in 1 2/3 shutout innings.

It will be Scott Kazmir versus Jeremy Bonderman tomorrow afternoon in game two of the series.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tigers Bullpen Bailing Out Starters

The Tigers defeated the Twins 11-6 tonight to even up the three game series at one game apiece.  The game followed a familiar pattern.  The Tigers fell behind early -- six to one in the fourth inning -- and then clawed their way back for another come from behind victory.  They scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth to make it six to five and then exploded for six runs in the bottom of the sixth.  The hitting heroes were Magglio Ordonez (three hits and three RBI), Brandon Inge (homer, double, three RBI) and Brennan Boesch (two doubles and two RBI).

As has bee the case all season, the bullpen had as much or more to do with their comeback as the bats. The usually reliable Max Scherzer could not make it through the fourth inning allowing 6 runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.  The bullpen bailed him out though as Brad Thomas, Phil Coke and Jose Valverde combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings.  They struck out five and allowed just four baserunners and gave the offense a chance to get back into the game.

The Table below compares the performance of the Tigers starters and relievers so far this year.  Their starters rank last in the American League with a 5.54 ERA in 127 innings.  The relievers, on the other hand, have a league leading 2.31 ERA in a league high 78 innings.  So, the pen has been worked hard and has responded superbly.

If we look at the peripherals, we can see that starters have allowed significantly more hits per nine innings (9.9 versus 7.4) and home runs per nine innings (1.0 versus 0.5) than the relievers.  The starters also have a much lower ground ball rate (42.4% versus 50.2%).  All of that explains the difference in ERAs. 

There are some indicators that the gap will soon close.  The starters have a better walk rate per nine innings than the relievers (3.1 versus 4.5).  The .335  batting average on balls in play for the starters compared to .270 for the relievers suggests that the the bullpen may have received more luck and defensive support.  The starters should get better in the future and the bullpen may regress a bit.  Up to this point, though, the starters have been bad and the relievers have saved the Tigers.

                          Table: Tigers Starters Versus Relievers

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tigers Drop Opener to Twins

The Tigers played tonight's game as if it was in the Metrodome.  The Twins scored the first run of the game in the sixth on a walk and a dropped fly ball by Ryan Raburn.  They scored the second run of the game in the seventh on two walks a balk, an infield hit into the shift by Jim Thome and a throwing error by Scott Sizemore.  It would be less painful if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau did the damage but they actually went zero for eight with four strikeouts.  That's the way it goes with the Tigers play the Twins.

But when the final score is 2-0, you know the real story of the game was pitching.  Francisco Liriano pitched eight shutout innings allowing just four hits and striking out 10 Tigers along the way.  After spending three years battling to come back from Tommy John surgery, Liriano is once again pitching like an ace with an 0.93 ERA in four starts.  It's going to be really hard to stop the Twins if he keeps this up.

Justin Verlander may have pitched his best game of the season tonight but was still inefficient.  He allowed just one unearned run in 5 2/3 innings but took 121 pitches to do it. He walk three batters and went to a bunch of three-ball counts.  He still has only pitched six innings once this year.  He did strikeout seven though and was pretty tough to hit tonight so it was a pretty positive outing. 

Game two is tomorrow night with Max Scherzer facing Scott Baker. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Austin Jackson's Bizarre April

Austin Jackson is off to a fine start in his rookie season.  We were told he was ready to be a major league center fielder but he has exceeded expectations so far.  It's too early to look at any defensive numbers but he appears to have very good extincts and his range looks exceptional.  He is also producing offensively.  With two more hits tonight, he is now batting .325 with a .385 on-base percentage.  He's even showing some power with eight extra base hits and a .470 slugging average.

The only chink in his armor so far has been his eye raising 32 strikeouts in 19 games.  He struck out twice tonight stretching his strikeout streak to 19 games.  According to retrosheet, no player has struck out in that many consecutive games to begin his career since 1952 (day by day logs are not available prior to that season).  He is on a pace for 259 strikeouts which would blow away Mark Reynolds's record setting 223 whiffs last year.       

The strikeouts are a concern but they would be a bigger concern if he was not also on a pace to get 219 hits.  It's been feast or famine for Jackson in April.  The speedy outfielder has 27 hits and 32 strikeouts in 83 at bats.  So, he has had only only 24 at bats that have been not hits or strikeouts.  That translates into a .500 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).  If you've heard people say that a .500 BABIP is not sustainable, it's because no player has finished above .400 since Jose Hernandez had a .404 BABIP for the Brewers in 2002.

What's the closest anybody has ever come to a 200 hit 200 strikeout season?  According to Lee Sinnis's Baseball Encyclopedia, Bobby Bonds had 200 hits and 189 strikeouts in 1970.  Reynolds had only 150 hits to go with his 223 strikeouts last year. Obviously, Jackson won't keep up his strikeout or BABIP pace for the whole season and it's highly unlikely he'll be the first 200/200 man  but he's had a pretty bizarre start to his rookie season.  And overall, it's been a very good one.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Podcast Appearance

I just appeared on Sethspeaks, a podcast about the Minnesota Twins.  I talked about the Tigers which is easier than talking about myself or my book.  The host of the show is Seth Stohs of, and You can hear the show here.  I appear at about the 22 minute mark. 

Fielding Bible Stats at FanGraphs

You may have noticed that FanGraphs recently added some new defensive statistics. It's too early in the season to analyze player fielding but I will be using these measures a lot in the future.  So, I'll take some time today to explain them.  Much of this post was abstracted directly from my book Beyond Batting Average which discusses these and many other statistics in great detail.

The newly listed FanGraphs statistics were originally published in the Fielding Bible - Volume II and are based on John Dewan's plus/minus system.  The two statistics most people will be using most often are

rPM - plus/minus runs saved

DRS - defensive runs saved.

The Fielding Bible system is similar to Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) which has been at FanGraphs for a while.  Both systems use detailed play-by-play data on location and type of batted ball from Baseball Info Solutions (BIS).  The methods are similar in theory but use somewhat different algorithms and thus produce varying results for some players.

BIS video scouts watch videotape of every MLB game and every play is entered into a database which includes exact direction, distance, speed and type of every batted ball. Direction and distance are entered by simply recording the exact location of the ball on a replica of the field shown on the computer screen. The speed of a batted ball is recorded as soft, medium and hard.  Each play is also categorized according to batted ball type: groundball, line drive, fly ball, fliner (a cross between a fly ball and a line drive) or bunt.

Dewan first published the plus/minus methodology and results in The Fielding Bible in 2006 and added enhancements in the The Fielding Bible – Volume II in 2009.  The plus/minus system breaks the field into small areas and determines the probabilities of players making plays in each area based on location, speed (hard, medium, soft) and batted ball type (ground ball, fly ball, line drive, bunt).  The system uses these probabilities to determine how many outs each player was expected to make and how many he actually did make in comparison to the average player.

Dewan explains that each type of play (e.g. softly hit ground ball hit into the hole between short and third) has a difficulty determined by how many times all fielders in MLB converted that play into an out.  For example, if that play was made 30% of the time, then a player gets a score of +0.70 for making that play.  If he doesn't make that play, then he gets a -0.30 score.

The scores on all of a player’s plays are summed to compute his +/- rating.  This rating represents how many plays the player made above or below the number of plays an average player at his position would have been expected to make given the same opportunities. For example, Adam Everett had a +/- of +9 in 2009 indicating that he made nine more plays than the average shortstop would have been expected to make given the same opportunities. 

Dewan converts plays made above average to defensive runs above average using situational run expectancies.  Based on these expectancies, Dewan determined that each plus/minus point for a shortstop is worth 0.76 runs.  For example, Everett cost his team 9 x 0.76 = 7 runs in comparison to the average shortstop.  For outfielders and corner infielders, Dewan adjusts the +/- figure for the potential of individual balls going for extra bases. The result is the rPM statistic.

Dewan also introduced defensive runs saved (DRS) in The Fielding Bible – Volume II.  DRS is an extension of the plus/minus system.  In addition to +/- runs saved, DRS includes other sources of runs saved by position:

rSB - stolen base runs cost/saved for catchers

rGDP - Double play runs cost/saved for infielders

rARM - Arm runs cost/saved for outfielders

rHR - home run runs cost/saved for outfielders

For example, Everett had 7 plus/minus runs and -1 double play runs for a total of 6 DRS in 2009. This is similar to his UZR of 5.3.  So DRS serves as a confirmation of UZR in this case.  Some players do not match so closely on DRS and UZR but that is a topic for another day.  For now, I'll say a little more about the four additional statistics listed above.

The rSB measure is based on the number of stolen bases and the success rate against an individual catcher.  However, it also takes into account the stolen bases and success rate against the pitchers they caught.  So, if one pitcher on a staff was bad at holding base runners and one catcher caught a disproportionate number of that pitcher's games (compared to other catchers on the same team), the catcher will not be unduly penalized for something that wasn't his fault.  Gerald Laird saved the Tigers nine more stolen bases above what would have been expected from the average catcher in 2009.  Each stolen base saved is worth .62 runs so Laird had a MLB leading seven rSB.

The rPM statistic looks at how many plays a player made above what an average player would have been expected to make but does not give a player credit for turning double plays.  The Fielding Bible system counts the number of times an infielder had opportunity to be involved in a double play (including fielding balls and making pivots) and how many times he successfully participated in a double play.  Like the other statistics above, rGDP is converted to runs cost/saved.  Adam Everett had a -1 rGDP so he cost the Tigers one run on double play balls in 2009.

The rPM statistic only considers an outfielder's ability to make catches and does not consider the outfielders arm.  The rARM statistic gives an outfielder credit for his ability to throw runners out and to prevent runners from advancing. For example, when a batter hits a single to left field with a runner on first and second base unoccupied, the runner either stops at second or attempts to advance to third.  If the runner stops at second, then the outfielder would get credit for a hold.  If the runner is thrown out at third, then the outfielder is credited with a kill.

For each outfielder, Dewan counts the numbers of advancement opportunities, holds and kills.  He then determines how each outfielder compares to league average in both kills and holds.  Finally, using situational run expectancies (e.g. How likely is it for a run to score with a man on first and third and no outs compared to a runner on first and one out?), he then calculates runs saved above/below average for each outfielder.  Bobby Abreu was the MLB leader with 11 runs saved with his throwing arm in 2009. If we only look at Abreu's rPM of -10, he rates as a poor outfielder.  However, if we add his arm rating to the equation, his final DRS is +1.

BIS also tracks how many times outfielders caught balls that would have been home runs if the ball was not caught.  That is, the ball was heading over the fence and the outfielder either reached over the wall and pulled it back in or caught it just before it would have gone out.  Adam Jones saved the Orioles an MLB best six runs with home run saving catches (rHR) in 2009.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Guillen to DL, Boesch Recalled

Carlos Guillen pulled his hamstring rounding third base in last night's game versus the Angels and has been placed on the 15 day disabled list.  This could be a big blow to the Tigers as the switch hitting Guillen is the only left-handed bat in the starting line-up other than Johnny Damon.  The timing is especially bad because he has been hitting well as of late raising his season numbers to .311/.391/.443. 

Left-handed hitting outfielder Brennan Boesch has been recalled to take his place.  Boesch, the Tigers third round pick in 2006, was off to a hot start this year batting .379/.455/.621 for Triple-A Toledo.  The 25-year-old rookie had somewhat of a breakout year at Double-A Erie in 2009 batting .275 with 28 homers and 61 extra base hits.  Boesch and right-handed batting Ryan Raburn will likely take Guillen's spot in the line-up. 

Boesch has intriguing power but that is his only real offensive skill.  He does not make good contact and by most accounts has holes in his swing which will make it difficult to improve his on-base ability.  He has a good enough arm to play right field but is not a strong defender.  He was ranked as the Tigers 25th best prospect in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thoughts on Tigers Offense

When the season started many feared that the Tigers would not have enough offense to stay in the race.  After 14 games, they are 6th in the league with 4.5 runs scored per game.  It's easy to see how the runs are scoring from the statistics.  They are second in the league with a .275 batting average and third in base on balls percentage (11.4 % of PA have resulted in BB).  They have seven regulars with OBPs north of .370. 

On the downside, the Tigers are lacking in power hitting just 8 homers in 14 games.  Only three players have home runs so far.  They rank 10th in the league in isolated power ( slugging average - batting average) at .129.  This is certainly an area of concern.   

Much has been made of the Tigers inability to produce with runners in scoring position.  Their .216 batting average with RISP is 9th in the league.  However, this is something that tends to even out over the course of a season so I'm not going to be concerned about 153 at bats.  For those saying that they are not clutch, don't forget that they had five come from behind victories in their first eight games.

Some thought on individual players:

So far, Miguel Cabrera seems to be avoiding those games where he appears to be lost at the plate and could be primed for a monster year.  He's batting .364/.453/.618.

Magglio Ordonez has rediscovered his power which eluded him even during his second half surge last year.  He already has four homers after hitting just nine in 2009.  His Isolated Power is .246 compared to .118 last year.

It's hard to know what to make of Austin Jackson.  He has a .381 OBP but is striking out at an alarming rate.  He's on a pace to accumulate 220 hits and 230 strikeouts, which would be quite a feat.  The lack of contact is bound to catch up to him soon. I have, however, been impressed with his gap power and his defense is outstanding.

Scott Sizemore has been sloppy at times defensively but has a .372 OBP and a 6/5 BB/K ratio.  As is the case with Jackson, he has showed some potential but more time is needed before we can make any reliable conclusions.

Gerald Laird has been awful offensively (.410 OPS) but has been uncharacteristically bad defensively.  This should open the door for Alex Avila but so far he has not taken advantage.  He has a .438 OPS.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Contest Winner

The Winner of the Stumbling on Wins book contest is Todd Estes, who sometimes writes about baseball at Todd's Journal.  Congratulations Todd!  The Tigers scored nine runs in the Seattle series.  Everybody overestimated their run total but Todd came closest at 11 runs.  There was no need for a tie breaker but Todd would have won that one too.  Austin Jackson led the Tigers with six hits in the series.  Mr Estes guessed that Jackson would get four hits but was the the only one to select Jackson.  Everyone else guessed either Magglio Ordonez or Miguel Cabrera.

If you would like to purchase Stumbling on Wins, you can purchase the book at Amazon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Contest Reminder and More Sabermetrics in Mainstream

Today is the last day to enter the Stumbling on Wins book contest.  I introduced Stumbling on Wins and the contest on Monday.  The winner gets a free copy of the book.  There is one main question and one tie breaker question.  If there is still a tie after the tie breaker, then there will be a random drawing.  Please send your answers via e-mail: TIGER337 (at) COMCAST (dot) NET (I left out @ and . to throw off SPAM bots).  Also, please put "Book Contest: Stumbling on Wins" in the header of your e-mail.  The deadline for entries is tonight at 8:00 PM. 

Main Question: How many runs will the Tigers score against the Seattle Mariners in the three game series from April 16-18?

Tie breaker: Which Tiger will get the most hits in the series and how many will he get?

I also wanted to mention that sabermetrics has hit the mainstream media again today.  This time the New York Times has a column written by Baseball-Reference creator Sean Forman.  He discusses Batting Runs, ERA+ and Total Zone and includes 2009 leader boards for each.  It's really good to see the mainstream media start to accept and try to understand sabermetrics as they have recently.   

Predictably, the commenters are skeptical of the new statistics.  One of them even says that we can't trust the numbers because we don't know how they are calculated.  Of course, that's not true.  They are all explained in Beyond Batting Average.  Batting Runs and ERA+, in particular, are explained in great detail. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tigers Making Habit of Coming from Behind

The season is barely a week old and already the Tigers have managed almost a season's worth of dramatic comebacks.  They did it again this afternoon versus the Royals.  They could do nothing against starter Brian Bannister for six innings and fell behind 5-0.  In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Tigers exploded for six runs versus a tired Bannister and three relievers.  The big hit was a double by Carlos Guillen which drove home the tying and go ahead runs.  They held on to win 6-5 behind Ryan Perry and Jose Valverde.

The Bengals have had to come from behind in all but one of their six wins so far:

Opening Day - The Tigers were trailing the Royals 4-1in the sixth but came back to win 8-4.  Johnny Damon's two run double highlighted a six run seventh.

Thursday - Down 2-1 to the Indians after seven, the Tigers scored three in the eighth and three in the ninth to win 7-3.  Bannister was the tough luck loser in that one as well having nothing to show for six strong innings.

Friday - The Tigers were losing 2-0 in the fifth versus Cleveland before coming back to win 5-2.  They scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth thanks largely to a three run throwing error by Indians third baseman Jhonny Peralta.

Sunday - The Tigers were down 7-1 in the sixth but rallied to win 9-8.  They scored in each of the last five innings capping the scoring with a three run ninth.  The tying run scored on a bases loaded walk to Damon and the winning run came home on a wild pitch.

The general pattern is that the Tigers don't hit the opposing starter and then club the relief staff.  Is this a good sign? One might argue that the Tigers are building a false sense of security making themselves think they can come back from any deficit.  On the flip side, you could say that these early come from behind victories will make them more confident in similar situations later in the season.  I'm not big on intangibles but I think I believe the latter theory more than the former.  I can't imagine the Tigers being so confident in their ability to mount comebacks that they'll relax early in games.     

A skeptic might also argue that they have taken advantage of some weak teams in the Royals and Indians.  However,that is something that they haven't always done in the past.  The Royals, in particular have given them trouble in recent years.  So, I'm looking at their cardiac comebacks and 6-2 record as nothing but positive.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Detroit Tigers Podcast Appearance

I appeared on the Detroit Tigers Podcast last night with hosts Mike McClary of the Daily Fungo and Ian Casselberry of the MLive Cutoff Man blog.  We talked about my book Beyond Batting Average and about the Tigers in general.  The segment with me starts right before the 33 minute mark of the Podcast. 

Book Contest: Stumbling on Wins

Two Economists David Berri and Martin Schmidt recently published the book Stumbling on Wins and are offering a free copy in a contest which I will explain shortly.  I know David from his Wages of Wins Journal which centers around his first book.  As well as being an excellent writer, David is a Tigers fan and a sabermetrician. 

I am still in the process of reading Stumbling on Wins but am finding it to be an excellent read so far.  The book looks at numerous examples of imperfect decision making in sports.  It reminds me a lot of Moneyball, except that it covers basketball, football and hockey as well as baseball.  The following description can be found at the Stumbling on Wins web site:
Don’t they want to win? Every sports fan asks that question. And no wonder! Teams have an immense amount of detailed, quantifiable information to draw upon. They have powerful incentives for making good decisions. And yet, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again...mistakes you’d think they’d learn how to avoid!

Now, two leading sports economists reveal those mistakes in basketball, baseball, football, and hockey–and explain why sports decision-makers never seem to learn their lessons. The next quantum leap beyond Moneyball, this book offers powerful new insights into all human decision-making. Because if multimillion dollar sports teams are getting it wrong this badly, how do you know you’re not?

You can preview and purchase the book at Amazon.

Now for the contest.  Again, the winner gets a free copy of Stumbling on Wins.  There is one main question and one tie breaker question.  If there is still a tie after the tie breaker, then there will be a random drawing.  Please send your answers via e-mail: TIGER337 (at) COMCAST (dot) NET (I left out @ and . to throw off SPAM bots).  Also, please put "Book Contest: Stumbling on Wins" in the header of your e-mail.  The contest closes on April 16 at 8:00 PM.  

Main Question: How many runs will the Tigers score against the Seattle Mariners in the three game series from April 16-18?

Tie breaker: Which Tiger will get the most hits in the series and how many will he get?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Back End of Tigers Rotation Off to Good Start

Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding the Tigers going into the season was the back end of the starting rotation.  It may still be the biggest question mark but things couldn't have gone much better than they did this week.

First, Dontrelle Willis pitched six solid innings in a 7-3 victory over the Royals on Thursday.  Willis allowed just two runs on seven hits and struck out four.  Most importantly, he got the ball over the plate.  He walked two batters in the first inning but that was it.  Two walks in six innings was about as good as you could expect from a pitcher who walked more than a batter an inning the last two years. 

Willis also recorded 54 strikes in 88 pitches, a 61% strike rate.  That is not outstanding but it's better than the 50% he averaged in 2008 and the 57% he averaged last year.  The league average strike percentage is 62% with 65% being very good.

Today, it was Jeremy Bonderman's turn against the Indians.  He responded by retiring the the first 11 batters before running into trouble in the fourth.  He gave up a run on two walks, a single and a wild pitch.  He also piled up a pitch count of 32 in that inning which helped shorten his day on the mound.  He returned in the fifth to pitch another perfect inning but was then removed with his pitch count at 91.  His final line was 5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 5 K and 2 BB.

Bonderman looked like a completely different pitcher than he was the past two years when battled health problems.  According to Game Day, he threw his fastball consistently at 92 MPH for the first four innings.  That is not as hard as his pre-injury velocity but faster than he's thrown at any point since thoracic surgery.  His slider was sharp and, perhaps most importantly, he mixed in his new split finger pitch effectively.

It was just one start for each pitcher but it was all very encouraging.  Willis faces Kansas City again in his next outing on Tuesday.  Bonderman will work at Seattle next Friday.  

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Valverde is Notorious Slow Starter

It was a nice first start for Max Scherzer tonight.  And Miguel Cabrera's at bat in the ninth was amazing.  Other than that, it was a lackluster performance by the Tigers and a really tough loss to a weak team.  It's late so I won't talk much about it.  However, I do want to bring up one point about Jose Valverde's blown save.  I was looking at his career monthly splits just now and was reminded that he is a slow starter (See table below).

His lifetime ERA in March/April is 4.30 in 52 1/3 innings.  In May, it's 5.00 in 63 innings.  His ERA then gets dramatically better by month - 3.86 in June, 2.23 in July, 2.13 in August and 1.52 in September/October.  The reason is his tendency to give up the gopher ball early in the year (as we saw tonight).  He has allowed 2.1 homers per nine innings (HR/9) in April.  In May and June, he has surrendered 1.3 and 1.5 HR/9.  In the final three months of the year, his rates have been 0.5, 0.6 and 0.3. 

So, as painful as it was to watch the finish of tonight's game, we can take solace in fact that things will likely get better for Valverde as the year goes along.  On the downside, we'll probably see a couple of more gopher balls at bad times before he starts to get rolling. 

52 1/3
49 1/3
80 1/3


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Crosby and Satterwhite are Hurting

In case you have not heard by now, two of the top Tigers pitching prospects - Casey Crosby and Cody Satterwhite - are injured.  Crosby, who previously recovered from Tommy John surgey, now has tenderness in his elbow.  It is not believed to be serious but you have to question at this point whether there is a problem with his mechanics which make him susceptible to elbow problems.  The left-handed Crosby is the consensus second best prospect in the Tigers organization behind Jacob Turner.  So, this would be a major blow if it develops into something serious.

Depending on who you talk to, Satterwhite's injury appears to be more serious and perhaps career threatening. Satterwhite has an inflamed shoulder and has gone to see orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, always an ominous sign.  The Tigers are not revealing that anything is seriously wrong but prospect expert Mark Anderson of tweeted that Satterwhite has a torn labrum.  Satterwhite, a second round pick in 2008, is arguably the best relief prospect in the Tigers system.

These stories are discussed in more detail in other blogs:

Bless You Boys 
Detroit Tiger Weblog 
Erie SeaWolves Blog

Monday, April 05, 2010

Opening day Victory

The Tigers got the season off to a good start today with an 8-4 win over the Royals.  They had to overcome a 4-1 deficit to do it.  They scored six runs in the seventh inning against three Royals relievers to complete the comeback.  Rookie Scott Sizemore opening the seventh with a walk and Ramon Santiago followed with pinch single.  The other fresmman starter Austin Jackson then doubled in a run to make it 4-3.  Free agent acquisition Johnny put them ahead 5-4 with a two run double.  Later in the inning, Cabrera added an RBI single and Brandon Inge a two run double. 

Other thoughts on the game follow:

Justin Verlander was not too sharp today.  He was unable to put away Yuniesky Betancourt (.688 lifetime OPS) in 9 pitches before his home run.  That is something that shouldn't happen to a pitcher of Verlander's caliber.  He gave up four runs in five innings to a very weak line-up

Ryan Perry looked superb retiring all four batters he faced with ease.  Jim Leyland had him in a set-up role today with may be an indication of how he will be used in general.  Joel Zumaya pitched a 1-2-3 sixth before allowing a lead-off infield single in the seventh.

Jose Valverde appeared to forget how many outs there were on an apparent game ending double play ball in the ninth.  He went to first for one out instead and had to face one extra batter.

Jackson looked fine in his debut.  He got the one big hit and hit another ball hard.  He also threw a runner out at the plate in the seventh.  He threw it from fairly shallow center and it bounced on the mound before reaching Gerald Laird.  It was not a great throw but it got the job done.  He has a very good arm and will make better throws than that. 

Placido Polanco had 6 RBI today? Good for him.  I always liked Polanco and will root for him in the National League.   

A New Way to Preview Beyond Batting Average

There is now a new way to preview my book Beyond Batting Average. It's called Book Buzzr. On the top of the middle column of this blog, you'll see a picture of my book. Click "read free sample" and you'll be able to see 30 pages of my book. You'll even see the pages turning!

Opening Day Chat

Many of the Tigers bloggers are doing a big chat before the game today. So, please join us at 3:00.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

More Baseball Predictions for 2010

Earlier, I gave my predictions for the Tigers in 2010.  Now, I'll present my MLB forecast:

Division Winners

AL East - Boston Red Sox
AL Central - Detroit Tigers
AL West - Seattle Mariners
Wild Card - New York Yankees
NL East - Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central - St. Louis Cardinals
NL West - Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild Card - Atlanta Braves


AL MVP - Miguel Cabrera
AL Cy Young - Felix Hernandez
AL Rookie of Year - Brian Matusz

NL MVP - Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young - Roy Halladay

NL Rookie of Year -Jason Heyward


AL Champion - Boston Red Sox
NL Champion - Philadeplhia Phillies
World Series Champion - Boston Red Sox

Boston Globe Goes Saber in a Big Way

A couple of days ago Bill Simmons announced that he has joined the sabermetrics revolution.  Now, the Boston Globe has followed.  Every year, the Globe has a huge 15 or so page section previewing the baseball season.  It's always a must read but this year even more so.  The whole supplement is centered around sabermetrics and how the Red Sox use advanced statistics in their decision making.

Much of the information in the preview will not be new to those who follow sabermetrics closely but it's very significant that the Globe - one of the most influential forces in the written sports media - is focusing on it so intently. The Internet savvy Peter Benjamin seems to be leading the charge.  Benjamin has an excellent article on Ultimate Zone Rating.  Beat writer Amalie Benjamin has a nice article on Red Sox statistician Tom Tippett.  Veteran writer Bob Ryan, who has been critical of sabermetrics at times in the past, also writes about the important role that sabermetrics is playing in the Red Sox decision making.

The only Globe writer who is not on board is Dan Shaughnessy:
While baseball is played on green grass in fresh-air stadiums, an army of geeks will be holed up in their basements, under a naked light bulb, crunching numbers and finding new equations to measure something that simply can’t be quantified.
Ha! Where have we seen that before?  The truth is that Shaughnessy is a bright guy and I strongly suspect he gets sabermetrics more than he leads on.  He just likes to stir the pot and he's one of the best writers in the country in doing so.

Shaughnessy aside, I would not underestimate the impact that The Globe could have on the mainstream media and fans in regards to sabermetrics.  I think we are on the way to seeing a somewhat different coverage of the game over the next few years.

Tigers 2010 Forecast

I'm not going to do a long multi-part preview as I have some years but I wanted to do a brief forecast before opening day:

Runs Scored: 770
Runs Allowed: 735
Record: 86-76 (yeah, I know the Pythagorean record would be 85-75 but I gave them a little boost)

How they will finish: They will beat out the Twins by one game and the White Sox by two in a thrilling pennant race.   

1.Miguel Cabrera .315/.395/.565 40 homers
2. Magglio Ordonez .305/.375/.470 20 homers
3. Scott Sizemore .275/.355/.435 15 homers (Optimistic!  I know.)

Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander 220 IP 3.45 ERA 225/70 K/BB
2. Rick Porcello 185 IP 3.75 ERA 130/60 K/BB
3. Jose Valverde 2.85 ERA 70/25 K/BB 40 saves

1. Scott Sizemore .275/.355/.440 15 homers, steady average defense
2. Alex Avila .250/.330/.425 (wins regular job by end of year)
3. Austin Jackson .260/.320/.395 20 SB (strong start, then struggles later in year)

Other Random Predictions
  • Max Scherzer 180 IP 4.10 ERA 175/75 K/BB
  • Jeremy Bonderman will pitch 150 innings with a 4.60 ERA
  • Dontrelle Willis will be released in May and the 5th rotation spot will b e a revolving door. 
  • Ryan Perry 3.75 ERA 65/30 K/BB (new set-up man)
  • Brandon Inge .240 25 home runs, more great defense
  • Ryan Raburn 450 PA .265/.345/.450 20 HR (takes over as primary DH when Guillen gets hurt)

Friday, April 02, 2010

Bill Simmons Becomes a Saber

The big news in the saber world today is that popular ESPN Bill Simmons has joined the sabermetrics revolution.  This might be the best opportunity yet to get sabermetrics more into the mainstream.  It wasn't just a Sports Guy humor column either.  It was a thoughtful discussion of sabermetrics reminiscent of Joe Posnanski's ramblings.  For example, I enjoyed his critique of OPS+:
Love the concept, don't love the execution. Right now, everything plays off the number 100. If you have a 100 OPS-plus, you're average. From there, your OPS-plus increases by two points for every percentage point you're better than everyone else that season. When Albert Pujols led the National League in 2009 with a 188 OPS-plus, that meant he was 44 percent better than average (100 + 88 / 2) before correcting for park factors. That's already too complicated for someone like my father. He's out right there. If your stat is complicated AND hard to relate to, that's a deadly combo. 

What he's saying is that a 188 OPS+ does not mean that Pujols was 88% better than league average.  It means he is 44% better than league average.  Simmons implies that the statistic would be more easily understood if it matched the interpretation, that is, Pujols should have an OPS+ of 144.  I've heard that critique before and I absolutely agree with it.

Simmons also discusses UZR, WAR and other stats which are gaining steam on the Internet.  This was a pretty big step for a writer who previously expressed his frustration with sabermetrics:
See, I stopped writing about baseball these past two years when the sabermetrics movement became too complicated for my liking. Did I respect the work of Baseball Prospectus, Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, Jonah Keri and everyone else in that community? Of course. I just hated the finality of it, the concept that numbers could trump anything I was watching with my own two eyes. If numbers always prevailed, what was the point of watching baseball or having arguments about it? I longed for the old days when you could say things like, "I hate watching J.D. Drew -- when is that contract going to end?" and there wasn't some dude lurking behind me with Drew's stellar OPS, VORP and WAR numbers saying, "Well, actually ... "

His column today was great news to someone who spends a lot of time trying to explain advanced statistics to fans who are new to sabermetrics.  This should help to advance the field quite a bit.  And selfishly, it could expand the target audience for Beyond Batting Average.

Potential Breakout Seasons

We talk a lot about how spring training statistics are not very meaningful.  However, in an earlier post, I cited some research by John Dewan, owner of Baseball Info Solutions, which suggested that players who hit for a much higher than normal slugging average in spring training have a tendency to carry their performance through the regular season.

With spring training almost over, it's a good time to see which Tigers players slugged above their norms this spring.  I first calculated the slugging average (SLG) of each player for 2007-2009 (minor league data are used where MLB data are unavailable).  I then subtracted that number from the 2010 spring training SLG to get the difference.  The top six differences for Tigers batters are shown in the table below.

Brent Dlugach, with a three-year SLG of .403, and a spring training SLG of .674 heads the list with a .271 difference.  Others include Don Kelly, Clete Thomas, Gerald Laird, Johnny Damon and Austin Jackson.  The spring sample sizes are small of course and we can't expect all six of these players to slug higher than their norms.  We also can't expect any of these players to slug as high as they did in spring training.  However, there is a good chance that a couple of these players will significantly outperform their prior three year averages.

Three-Year SLG
Spring SLG
Brent Dlugach
Don Kelly
Clete Thomas
Gerald Laird
Johnny Damon
Austin Jackson


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