Sunday, February 28, 2010

Damon Among Best Baserunners in 2009

A couple of years ago, I developed the bases gained above average (BGAA) algorithm to determine the best and worst baserunners in the game. The algorithm was built upon a system presented in the 2007 Bill James Handbook. In the BGAA system, runners receive credit for the following:
  • advancing an extra base on a hit (i.e. going from first to third on a single, second to home on a single or first to home on a double)
  • advancing on a ground out
  • advancing on an air out
  • stealing a base
  • advancing on a wild pitch, passed ball or balk
They lose points for the following:
  • running into an out on a hit, ground out or air out
  • getting picked off or caught stealing
  • otherwise running into an out on the bases
It works as follows: Elvis Andrus of the Rangers had 41 opportunities to advance an extra base on a hit in 2009. He was successful 20 times and was never thrown out. The average runner was successful 35% of the time. So, you would expect him to take an extra base roughly 14 (.35 x 41) times. Thus, Andrus gained 6 bases over what would would be expected from an average runner.

Similar calculations are done for other events (ground outs, air outs, other base running) with points subtracted for outs on the bases. At the end, everything is summed to get bases gained above average (BGAA). The full algorithm can be found here.

The American League BGAA leaders in 2009 are shown in Table 1. You can see that recently acquired Johnny Damon finished seventh in the league at 18.9 bases above average.

Table1: American League BGAA Leaders, 2009

Ellsbury, Bos......... 34.9
Getz, Chi............... 27.0
Kinsler, Tex........... 24.4
Bartlett, TB........... 22.6
Davis, Oak............ 21.7
Punto, Min........... 20.4
Damon, NYA....... 18.9
Andrus, Tex.......... 18.2
Bautista, Tor........ 18.0
Gardner, NYA..... 17.9

Some information used in this figure was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at 20 Sunset Rd., Newark, DE 19711.

This system does come with a caveat. In the BGAA system, every type of base advancement is treated the same. In reality, base advancement is more likely in some situations than others. Specifically, the probability of advancement on hits, ground outs and air outs changes according to the numbers of outs and the location of batted balls. The equivalent base running runs (EqBRR) statistic at BaseballProspectus.com does take those things into consideration.

Damon had an EqBRR of 2.9 runs above average. He ranked lower on the EqBRR system - 21st in the league - than he did on the BGAA system. Still, he finished higher than any Tiger on either system. The leading Tigers baserunner in 2009 was Adam Everett - 10.3 BGAA and 2.1 EqBRR.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Busy Schedule

As many of you know, I spent the winter finishing my book Beyond Batting Average. Hence, I didn't do as much analysis on Tiger Tales as I usually do in the off-season. Along with promoting my book, I now have two other projects which will take priority over my blog this season.

First, I am covering the Tigers for John Burnson's Heater Magazine. Heater is a subscription fantasy baseball news site. If you are just looking for news on the Tigers, then Heater is probably not for you. However, if you are into fantasy baseball, I would recommend checking it out. You can see a sample issue or purchase a subscription here.

My newest project will be writing about relief pitchers from a fantasy baseball perspective at Baseball Prospectus. This is a collaboration between Heater and Baseball Prospectus. It will be part of BP's premium content. You can read more about it here.

I will continue to post at Tiger Tales but, for the time being, it will be difficult for me to continue the volume of analysis I have done in the past. I will comment on all the big news and will do an analysis here and there but it won't be as regular as it has been in past years.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Casey Fien Removed from Roster

The Tigers designated reliever Casey Fien for assignment yesterday to make room for Johnny Damon on the 40 man roster. This means that Fien will now either be traded, lost to another team through waivers or outrighted to AAA. Any team that acquires Fien on waivers will have to add him to its 40 man roster. Chances are Fien will remain in the Tigers organization.

The right-handed Fien had a 7.91 ERA in 11 1/3 innings for the Tigers last year. He did, however, have a solid season for AAA Toledo posting a 3.41 ERA and 66/15 K/BB ratio in 58 innings. Fien is not a top prospect at age 26 but has always good control in the minors and could see time in the majors again this year.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Internet Radio Interview

Last night, I appeared on The Knee Jerks with hosts Greg Eno and Big Al Beaton. Jennifer Cosey, who writes the underrated Tigers blog Old English D, was also on the show. We talked about Johnny Damon, spring training and other topics. I haven't heard it yet but it was a fun interview. If nothing else, you get to hear my Massachusetts accent.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tigers sign Damon to One Year Deal

After weeks of rumors, the Tigers finally signed Johnny Damon to a one year $8 million deal today. Damon will likely play left field on most days and will either leadoff or bat second depending on the readiness of rookie center fielder Austin Jackson. More importantly, Damon gives the Tigers a badly needed left-handed bat. Prior to the signing, the only projected starter batting from the left side was switch hitting Carlos Guillen.

Speaking of Guillen, the next hurdle for the Tigers may be convincing him that he's a designated hitter. Guillen has made it clear that he wants to play in the field regularly but, with the signing of Damon, the DH spot would appear to be his only position most days.

The move also leaves Ryan Raburn without a position but he'll likely amass 400 plate appearances as the fourth outfielder and second DH. The one who might be out of a major league job, at least at the beginning of the season, is Clete Thomas. With Brandon Inge and Scott Sizemore both coming off surgery, the Tigers may want to go with someone like Don Kelly who can play the infield.

My Sabermetrics Book



The book I have been writing for the past year and a half is finally done. Titled Beyond Batting Average, this book is designed to help knowledgeable baseball fans gain a better understanding of the multitude of new statistics that have been introduced on the Internet and elsewhere in recent years. It puts everything in one place and ties all the metrics together into an organized 15 chapter story.

This comprehensive sabermetrics primer will introduce fans to these new measures with easy to understand explanations and examples. It will also illustrate the evolution of baseball statistics from simple traditional measures to the more complex metrics used today. You will learn how all the statistics are connected to winning and losing games, how to interpret them and how to apply them to performance on the field. By the end of this book, you should be able to evaluate players and teams through statistics more thoroughly and accurately than you could before.

As an added bonus, the book contains the never seen before artwork of Samara Pearlstein who writes Roar of the Tigers and Blue Cats and Red Sox. Included is the beautiful cover seen above, as well as several illustrations inside the book. I believe it is some of her finest work.

The book can be purchased at Lulu.com.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SIERA makes Verlander, Scherzer Look Good

Numerous alternatives to ERA have sprung up the fast few yeara - FIP, xFIP, QERA, etc. The theory is that these component ERAs are truer measures of a pitcher's run prevention skill than ERA because they focus on events that he can control - strikeouts, walks, home runs, fly balls, ground balls. Pitchers have less control over how many hits they allow because they share the responsibility of hits with fielders. Thus, hits are not included in any of these formulas.

The ERA estimators are also independent of sequencing of events. For example, if a pitcher allows a leadoff home run followed by two singles, he will only allow one run. However, if he allows two singles and then allows the home run, he'll be charged with three runs. Theoretically, he pitches equally as poorly in both instances but the number of runs that score is different simply because of sequencing. How much control individual pitchers have over sequencing is still open to debate but there is no evidence that most pitchers can consistently control it to a great extent.

These new estimators have proven to be somewhat better than current ERA at predicting future ERA. Eric Seidman and Matt Swartz of BaseballProspectus.com recently developed Skill Interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA) which looks to be a further improvement over FIP, XFIP and QERA. The math behind SIERA is very complicated and won't be presented here but you can think of it as the ERA that a pitcher should have had based on his rate of strikeouts, walks, ground balls, fly balls and pop ups.

One of the benefits of SIERA is that it considers the interaction between events whereas other measures look at events separately. For example, SIERA considers that a high ground ball rate helps a pitcher who walks a lot of batters more than it helps one who doesn't. This is because walks and ground balls together can potentially create double plays. A pitcher with a high ground ball rate and high walk rate may look better on SIERA than he does on QERA.

Similarly, a high fly ball rate (and an accompanying high home run rate) is less damaging to pitchers like Johan Santana who strike out a lot of batters and walk few batters. This is because they allow few baserunners and their home runs tend to be solo shots. Santana tends to have a FIP which exceeds his ERA because FIP counts all home runs equally for all pitchers. A pitcher like this will tend to have a lower SIERA than FIP.

Looking at Tigers pitchers in 2009, Justin Verlander had a SIERA of 2.80 (his FIP was 2.84) which is much lower than his 3.45 ERA. The reason for this discrepancy is that he tended to allow runs in bunches last year which inflated his ERA. In theory, you would expect him to have an ERA closer to 2.80 than 3.45 next year if his K, BB and batted ball rates are similar. Verlander had the top SIERA in the American League last year.

Max Scherzer also did better on SIERA (3.54) than he did on ERA last year (4.12) which is one reason to be optimistic about his future. Interestingly, the pitcher they traded for him - Edwin Jackson - went in the other direction posting a 4.21 SIERA and 3.62 ERA.

On the downside, Rick Porcello had a 4.41 SIERA compared to a 3.96 ERA. His FIP was even higher at 4.88. The reason for the discrepancy in his SIERA and FIP was his high ground ball rate, an event not included in FIP.

The data contained in this article were provided by Cubs Stats.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Johnny Damon Rumors Heating Up

Johnny Damon to the Tigers rumors picked up steam today. A summary can be found at MLBTradeRumors.com This includes ESPN's Buster Olney:
Heard this: The overwhelming expectation among some executives involved in the Johnny Damon bidding is that he will wind up with Tigers.
Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated is saying the Tigers have offered at least two years for $14 million:
hearing Tigers' offer may actually be a bit north of $14 million over 2 years. but damon still may prefer 1 yr. chisox, braves also trying
Another trusted source Mark Anderson of TigsTown also thinks the Tigers will sign Damon by tomorrow. There have also been rumblings about the White Sox and Braves but the Tigers seem to be the clear front runner.

Given that owner Mike Illitch seems willing to continue spending big, the amount of the contract seems less important than the years. Two years for a 36 year old outfielder is somewhat risky and leaves open the possibility that the Tigers might get stuck with three declining players in 2011 - Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen. However, the Tigers desperately need a left-handed bat so I'd support even a two year deal.

If the Tigers do sign Damon, he'll likely lead off and play left field. Carlos Guillen would probably be forced into a full-time designated hitter role whether he likes it or not. Ryan Raburn would back up at all three outfield positions. Clete Thomas would take on either a reduced role on the end of the bench or go to Toledo for regular at bats.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Damon would Address Major Tigers Flaw

When the Tigers traded Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees in a three way deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in November, much was made of his struggles versus left-handers. His .183 batting average versus left-handed pitchers in 2009 is now probably the most famous batting split in the history of the Tigers. Lynn Henning has probably mentioned it about 30 times himself.

Grandy's inability to hit southpaws was indeed a big problem but what might be an even bigger problem for the Tigers now is batting against right-handed pitchers. Last year, the Tigers had an OPS of .768 versus left-handers and .740 versus right-handers. Take away Granderson and the 2009 OPS against lefties shoots up to .804. But what about right-handed pitchers which account for about 75% of plate appearances? If you take away Granderson's .897 OPS versus righties, the Tigers had an OPS of .720 in 2009. That's not very good.

The table below illustrates the problems the Tigers had versus right-handers last year. Miguel Cabrera led the team with a .936 OPS and Granderson was second. Ryan Raburn also hit them pretty well in limited opportunities - an .800 OPS in 128 at bats. None of the other regulars hit higher than Carlos Guillen's .757. Three of the regulars were under .700 - Gerald Laird (.590), Adam Everett (.546) and Brandon Inge (.675)

The trade left the Tigers with only one regular, who bats from the left side - Guillen, an oft injured switch hitter. The potential new faces in the starting line-up - Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore both bat right-handed. There is chance that left-handed hitting catcher Alex Avila (.852 versus RHP in AA) will help out, but Laird is still set to be the starting catcher at the beginning of the year. Clete Thomas is another possibility, although so far fielding has been his forte. Finally, there is hope that Guillen will play more often this year. Even if he does though, there is a serious line-up imbalance which other teams are bound to exploit.

This is why it makes sense for the Tigers to sign Johnny Damon. There is a lot of talk about how he would be a much needed leadoff hitter but they need a left-handed bat more than they need a leadoff hitter. Damon batted .282/.365/.489 overall last year including an .889 OPS versus RHP. The Tigers could certainly use a bat like that.

The question is money. Damon is reportedly looking for an expensive two year contract for $11 million per year and agent Scott Boras is once again hoping to make a late off-season deal with the Tigers similar to the Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez signings. It didn't seem possible a month ago that the Tigers would make that kind of move this winter but with the signing of Jose Valverde and the extension of Justin Verlander, there is no doubt that Mike Illitch is still willing to spend big. So, there is a decent chance the Tigers will get their left-handed bat.

Table 1 - Tigers 2009 OPS splits versus RHP/LHP

Player

Level

vs RHP

vs LHP

Gerald Laird

MLB

.590

.730

Alex Avila

AA

.852

.692

Miguel Cabrera

MLB

.936

.958

Scott Sizemore

AA/AAA

.892

.896

Adam Everett

MLB

.546

.726

Ramon Santiago

MLB

.716

.621

Brandon Inge

MLB

.675

.854

Ryan Raburn

MLB

.800

.976

Magglio Ordonez

MLB

.744

.973

Austin Jackson

AAA

.769

.755

Carlos Guillen

MLB

.757

.758

Clete Thomas

MLB

.721

.654

Tigers Lock-up Verlander through 2014

The Associated Press is reporting that the Tigers have signed Justin Verlander to a five year $80 million contract. Without the contract, Verlander would have become a free agent after the the 2011 season. So, this contract takes him through his final two arbitration years and three years beyond that.

I am usually wary of pitchers being signed up long term because they are such a big injury risks. However, Verlander is the type of pitcher where you don't mind seeing a team take a risk. Last year, the 26 year old right-hander emerged as the ace of the staff leading the majors in both innings (240) and strikeouts (269). He also finished sixth in the league with a 3.45 ERA and was third in K/BB ratio (4.27).

Some have expressed concern about his 840 innings at age 26 and the fact that his 3,937 pitches were 300 more than any pitcher in the majors last year. However, he experienced no loss of velocity or command over the course of the season and has never had a serious injury. By most accounts, he also has a clean delivery which should help protect him from injuries.

The other good thing is that he'll only be 31 in 2014 which means the contract covers his prime years. So, while a pitcher's contract is never a safe one, this one is a reasonable deal. It's a move I think the Tigers had to make if they have aspirations of being a perennial contender over the next several years.

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