Monday, May 31, 2010

Cabrera Close to Triple Crown Numbers

After a three-homer game on Friday night and a four-hit performance yesterday, Miguel Cabrera is among the leaders in all three traditional triple crown categories.  He is third in the American League in batting average, second in home runs and first in Runs Batted In.  Batting average might be the most difficult of the three categories for a slugger like Cabrera to win, especially with Ichiro Suzuki looking over his shoulder:

Morneau Min .368
Cano NY .362
Cabrera Det .352
Butler KC .348
Suzuki Sea .342


With Jose Bautista unlikely to maintain his current home run pace for much longer, this is a very winnable category for Miguel:

Bautista Tor 16
Cabrera Det 14
Konerko Chi 14
Wells Tor 13
Wigginton Bal 13

RBI is another category which the Tigers first baseman is very capable of winning, especially with Austin Jackson, Johnny Damon and Miguel Ordonez getting on base ahead of him.  The leaders follow:

Cabrera Det 48
Guerrero Tex 44
Longoria TB 42
Bautista Tor 41
Morales LA 39

Winning the traditional triple crown would be a noteworthy achievement for anyone but most readers of this blog are aware of the limitations of BA/HR/RBI.  First, batting average ignores walks.  Then home runs leaves out doubles and triples.  Finally, a player's RBI total is too dependent on his teammates.  So, we'll look at some other possible triple crowns.

The favorite statistical line of the internet community is BA/OBP/SLG.  This trio provides a good summary of offensive production combining the ability to hit for average, to get on base and to hit for power.  Cabrera is third in OBP but further from the top in that statistic than he is in batting average:

Morneau Min .488
Youkilis Bos .445
Cabrera Det .427
Ordonez Det .411
Butler KC .405

Cabrera would have a more difficult time leading in this measure as his ability to walk is not as strong as his ability to get hits.

Miguel is leading the league in slugging average:

Cabrera Det .670
Morneau Det .667
Cano .607
Wells Tor .602
Bautista Tor .600

One criticism of BA/OBP/SLG is that it does not take durability into account.  For example, a batter with a .330/.420/.600 line in 160 games would be more valuable than a batter with the same line in 130 games.  So, it would be nice if one item took playing time into account.  One simple statistic which does this is Total Bases.  In order to maintain three categories, we can use the following line: BA/OBP/TB. Cabrera leads the league in total bases:

Cabrera Det 122
Cano NY 119
Wells 118
Morneau 114
Longoria TB 112

Cabrera is having a great season and has a chance to win any of the above triple crowns.  However, the traditional triple crown would probably be the easiest for him to win since it doesn't include walks.  Anyway you look at it, he is having a remarkable season.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Three Homers in a Loss Not so Rare

We all know by now that Miguel Cabrera hit three homers in a 5-4 loss to the Athletics on Friday night.  But how rare of an event was that?  Andy at Baseball-Reference printed a list of  77 players who have hit three homers in a loss.  It includes all the players who did it in years for which box scores are available.  There were a five other Tigers on that list besides Cabrera:

  • Carlos Pena hit three homers in a 10-9 loss to the Indians on May 19, 2003.  One might have expected that something like this would have happened in 2003.
  • Cecil Fielder cleared the fence three times in an 11-7 loss to the Blue Jays on May 6, 1990.
  • Bill Freehan hit three round trippers as the Tigers lost to the Red Sox 12-11 on August 9, 1971.
  • Rocky Colavito slugged three homers in a 7-6 loss to the Indians on July 5, 1962.
  • Steve Boros hit three bombs as the Tigers dropped a 6-5 decision to the Indians on August 6, 1962.  Boros was the biggest surprise on the list as he only hit 26 career home runs.  He did whack 16 in 1962 though.
Andy also determined that about 17%  (77 out of 442) of games where players hit three homers resulted in losses.  So, Cabrera's day was a little unusual but not outrageously rare.

Scherzer is back in a Big Way

After four consecutive losses, the Tigers needed a win badly today.  They needed Max Scherzer to get back on track even more than the needed a win.  They got both.  In his first game back after his stint in Toledo, Scherzer struck out a career high 14 batters in 5 2/3 innings as the Tigers routed the Athletics 10-2.  Phil Coke and Joel Zumaya later added three more k's for a team total of 17. 

Scherzer went down to Toledo to work on his mechanics and it apparently worked.  He looked like a completely different pitcher than the one who last pitched for the tigers on May 14.  According to Brooks Baseball, his average fastball today was 94.5 MPH with a maximum of 99 MPH.  He touched 97 MPH numerous times.  In contrast, his average fastball on May 14 versus the Red Sox was 92.2 with a high of 95.5.  His change-up and slider were also very sharp today.  The only negative was four walks but pinpoint control has never been his forte even when he's going well.

Offensively, the Tigers snapped out of their recent slump. Cabrera led the 15 hit attack with four more hits and four RBI, including his fourth homer of the series.  Needless to say, Cabrera was not the one of the hitters who was slumping.  More significantly, Brandon Inge had three hits including a home run and two doubles.  Gerald Laird added two hits as well.        

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dontrelle Willis Designated for Assignment

The Tigers have Designated Dontrelle Willis for assignment to make room for Max Scherzer, who will be pitching tomorrow.  Willis had a 4.98 ERA in eight starts and one relief appearance but he pitched worse than his ERA indicated.  He was having his usual trouble locating the plate this year walking about six batter per nine innings and his velocity had diminished in recent starts.  He made some progress over 2008-2009 when he walked over nine batters per nine innings, but not enough.

The charismatic Willis was a pleasure to watch in his prime with the Florida Marlins.  He has always been positive and upbeat even through all his struggles with the Tigers.  By all accounts, his enthusiasm is genuine and he is well liked.  So many fans were pulling for him to come through but it never worked out as a Tiger.

He originally seemed to be a footnote to the blockbuster trade which sent him and Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and four others.  His contract extension prior to the 2008 season was mystifying because he had already started his decline prior to the trade.  It has been theorized by some that it was done to help them sign his friend Cabrera.  That seems like an odd business move but we'll probably never know.  

Regardless of his contract or how you feel about him as a person, his removal from the roster was long overdue.  He is being replaced in the rotation by Max Scherzer,who has much better stuff and a lot more upside.  Armando Galarraga will stay for now.  If the Tigers stay in the race, however, you can bet that they'll in the market for a starting pitcher this summer.  

Max Scherzer to Start Tomorrow

If you watched yesterday's game, you might have noticed that Armando Galarraga warmed up early in the game as Dontrelle Willis struggled.  Later, he entered the game in the sixth inning and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings.  After watching him warm up twice, you might have wondered whether Max Scherzer would be called up to take his place as Sunday's starter.  If you thought that, you would have been correct.  Tigers Twitter just reported the news:
Scherzer will be recalled from Toledo and start for the Tigers on Sunday. #mlb
There is no word yet on who will be send down to make room on the roster but my guess is Armando Galarraga.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Guillen Up, Worth Down

The Tigers have recalled Carlos Guillen from Toledo and optioned Danny Worth to the same club this afternoon.  After spending time on the disabled list due to an injured left hamstring, Guillen went 6 for 18 with four extra base hits in six games for the MudHens.  He will be the starting second baseman and bat sixth tonight versus the Athletics.  Red hot Brennan Boesch remains in the number five slot behind Miguel Cabrera  Here is the line-up:

Jackson CF
Damon DH
Ordonez RF
Cabrera 1B
Boesch LF
Guillen 2B
Inge 3B
Avila C
Everett SS.


There was some question as to whether they would keep Danny Worth over Don Kelly.  With the brittle Guillen at second base, it made some sense to have an extra middle infielder who can play excellent defense.  However, the Tigers apparently decided that having an extra outfielder in Kelly was more valuable.  There is also the matter of making sure that the younger Worth gets regular playing time in Toledo.

Schedule Finally Gets Routine for Tigers Fans

It's been a little bit difficult to follow the Tigers so far this season.  It's not because they are playing poorly.  In fact, they are 25-21 and one and a half games out of first place despite a tough early season schedule.  Not many are complaining about the way they have played to this point.

The problem is that it's been hard to get into a baseball fan routine with the crazy schedule they've had.  Not even two months into the season, they have already had to west coast trips.  This means that fans living in the eastern time zone (which, of course, is the fast majority of Tigers fans) have either missed two weeks worth of games or have lost sleep staying up until 1:00 AM or later.

Beyond the late night games, there were the usual April afternoon games which are difficult to follow for those that work a typical day shift.  Then there were the three postponements in May.  It all adds up to many Tigers fans not being able to sit down and watch a lot of games so far.

That all changes this Memorial day weekend as the Tigers start a seven game home stand versus the Athletics and Indians.  For those able to watch the games in person at Comerica Park, beautiful late May/early June weather is in the forecast for all seven games.  For the rest of us, it's the beginning of normal baseball viewing for this season.  There will be the occasional weekday afternoon game that we might miss.  However, there will be no more west coast games for the rest of the season.  Indeed, there will be no game starting later than 8:10 PM. 

They even have a couple of doubleheaders scheduled to make up for the earlier postponements.  The first one is on July 17th at Cleveland.  They then have another twin bill on August 3rd versus the White Sox.  So, there is plenty to look forward to for those who haven't been able to watch a lot of games so far.   

What this all means is that the summer of 2010 officially begins for Tigers fans this weekend.   

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jackson Back in Line-up Tonight

Austin Jackson, who was hit in the head by a Ramon Troncoso fastball on Saturday evening in Los Angeles, is back in the line-up tonight.  He had major swelling over his left eye when he woke up on Sunday morning, but that's pretty much gone now.  Additionally, tests have shown that he has no concussion so he is good to go after missing just one game.  That is all great news considering how scary it looked when he was first hit.  Hopefully, it won't affect him psychologically.

One important player who won't be in the line-up tonight or tomorrow is Miguel Cabrera.  Cabrera is going home to Florida where his wife is giving birth to their child.  Without him the line-up looks less than imposing:
  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Santiago, SS
  3. Damon, DH
  4. Ordonez, RF
  5. Boesch, LF
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Kelly, 1B
  8. Avila, C
  9. Worth, 2B
There was some thought that the rehabbing Carlos Guillen might come back early and that he would be used at first base in this series.  However, he needs more time and they need him to settle in at second base.  So, Don Kelly is tonight's first baseman and Ryan Raburn will probably start against the left-handed Jason Vargas tomorrow.  To say that Cabrera for Kelly is not an even swap would be the understatement of the year.  Thus, they'll be counting on Justin Verlander to shutdown the weak hitting Mariners tonight. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Raburn Recalled, Who's Next?

The Tigers recalled Ryan Raburn from triple-A Toledo today and returned Casper Wells to the same club.  Raburn, who was sent down 10 ten days ago to make room for a 13th pitcher, had 12 hits and six doubles in 27 at bats for the MudHens.  With pitchers batting this weekend against the Dodgers, we may see Raburn as pinch hitter in the series.  After that, there is a good chance he'll eventually platoon with Brennan Boesch.  Boesch has been outstanding since his recall but has not hit well versus left-handers historically.

Wells has two hits in nine at bats as a Tiger but isn't being sent down for performance.  The Tigers would love to be able use his defensive skills off the bench but it is better to let him get regular at bats in the minors.  He was called up temporarily because Raburn needed to stay in the minors for at least ten days. 

So, what's next?  Carlos Guillen will play second base as he starts a rehab assignment with the MudHens today.  If there are no setbacks, we can probably expect him back with the Tigers by next weekend.  He will be replaced by either Don Kelly or Danny Worth. 

Kelly is a little better hitter than Worth but neither will be kept for his bat.  Kelly's value defensively is that he can play outfield as well as infield.  On a team with a more than one below average outfielder, he is often used as a defensive replacement in late innings. 

The reason Worth has a chance to stick is that he's an excellent defensive middle infielder and can play also play third base.  With the brittle Guillen taking over at second base and Adam Everett hitting below the Mendoza line, some extra flexibility in the infield would be useful.  Odds are Kelly will stay though because can back-up in both the infield and outfield, even if he doesn't field as well as Worth.

Another player to watch his Max Scherzer, who was excellent in his first start for Toledo.  He pitched eight shutout innings allowing just one hit and one walk with ten strikeouts.  More important are the reports that he adjusted his arm slot and increased his velocity copared to his starts with the Tigers.  If things continue to go well, he won't be in the minors for long.

If Scherzer forces a return to the majors, who would he replace?  I would think that Dontrelle Willis is on a short leash.  While the results have not been awful, his velocity and control have deteriorated in recent starts.  Most of his fast balls were under 88 MPH last night and his command was not good.  With two off days this week, his next start will almost surely be skipped.  There is no need for a fifth starter until June 1 and it's possible that Scherzer will be ready by then. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Swingin' Brennan Boesch

One of the first things you notice when you watch Tigers rookie Brennan Boesch bat is that he swings at everything.  There is almost no pitch he doesn't like.  His aggressive approach is illustrated by the plate discipline statistics at FanGraphs.  He has swung at about two-thirds of all pitches he's seen so far (Swing%=66.1).  That is substantially above the the major league average of 44.7%.  In fact, it is the highest swing% in all of baseball this year. 

Boesch not only likes to swing at pitches in the strike zone (Zswing%=83.2).  He has also swung at more than half of pitches outside the strike zone (Oswing%=51.6%).  The average batter swings at only a little more than one out four (27.4%) pitches outside the strike zone.  One might think that such a free wheeling approach would lead to a lot of strikes but his overall contact rate on all pitches (Contact%) is 81.8% which is better than the league average of 80.9%.

No other batter in baseball swings as much as Boesch.  The player who comes closest is Vladimir Guerrero, a notorious free swinger who has been successful with the same approach for a long time.  Guerrero has a Swing% of 65.2 and an Oswing% of 49.8 which places him second to Boesch on both measures.

On the other end of the spectrum is Brett Gardner who has swung at a lower percentage of pitches (32.1%) than any player in the game.  He also has swung at only about one out of five (19.3%) pitches outside the zone.  He only swings at what he can hit and is fifth in the league with a 93.7% contact rate. 

Boesch is certainly in good company with Gurrero but very few can maintain that kind of success as a bad ball hitter for a long period. It will be interesting to see how he reacts once pitchers challenge him by throwing the ball more frequently and further out of the zone.

Up to this point, though, the young outfielder is hitting the ball and hitting it hard.  He has a .387 batting average, 14 extra base hits.680 slugging average in 78 plate appearances.  He has also been hitting with men on base piling up 19 RBI in 20 games.  He can't keep up that pace all year but so far the Tigers and their fans are enjoying his swingin' ways.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Beyond Batting Average Update

One of my least favorite things to do on this blog besides write about Tigers losses is self promotion.  However, I've learned that if I don't talk about my book Beyond Batting Average or get somebody else to talk about it, then it gets lost in the shuffle.  So, I'll give you an update.  The book has gotten quite a few favorable views in recent weeks and most of them are listed below.  You can find more information about the book including a thirty page preview here:

Beyond batting Average 


Here is what people are saying about the book:
Dan Dickerson (Detroit Tigers broadcaster)

I really love Beyond Batting Average - it makes the cut for the "suitcase" library that I take with me on the road...definitely a handy resource

Tom Tango (The Book Blog)

If you are a non-mathy guy, but want to understand sabermetrics better, then a huge thumbs up for this book. If you are pretty much comfortable with sabermetrics, but still not there yet (you haven’t run any of your own studies), then a regular thumbs up.

David Gassko (The Hardball Times)


There has not really been a comprehensive resource that explains all the sabermetric statistics you need to know in one simple package. Well, at least there wasn’t until Lee Panas published Beyond Batting Average. 

Dan Szymborski (Baseball Think Factory)


Panas hits all the basic issues quite well and seems to be very up-to-date on what measures are generally used by the statnoscenti of the internet, which is extremely helpful to people who want to jump in with both feet. The author is also very good at telling the reader where these stats can be found and has focused on stats that are readily accessible to the public. 


Steve Slowinski (DRays Bay)

Lee's writing is clear and concise, but also quite engaging for a topic that can sometimes get quite nerdy and dull. If you're looking to learn more about sabermetrics and want a book to start you off on the right foot, this is a great book to look into. And even if you already know a good deal about sabermetrics, it's a really handy reference tool. I consider myself well versed in baseball statistics, but I learned a decent bit from the book and I'm sure that I'll be referring to it whenever I have questions over the course of the season. Thanks Lee, this is a keeper.


Paul Wezner (TigsTown)

Beyond Batting Average gets the TigsTown stamp of approval, and a recommended read for all of you baseball fans out there yearning to learn more about sabermetrics, no matter your skill level.

Justin Inaz (Beyond The BoxScore):

Lee Panas published a terrific sabermetric primer. It's extremely current, with great scope, and will be an awesome resource for those interested in learning more about sabermetrics--especially player valuation statistics. I'm linking to Tango's review of it, but you can find the book on Lulu. If I do my baseball class again next year, I'll probably assign Lee's book.

Brad Berreman (SeamHeads)

Beyond Batting Average is written in an easy to digest format, and even has some funny and interesting illustrations sprinkled in. Mr.Panas uses multiple examples to help the reader apply the various formulas and understand how the advanced metrics are calculated. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I think any baseball fan that is interested in learning more about new baseball statistics but has been intimidated by the scope of them would agree.

John Harris (The Sports PhD)

Overall, Panas wrote a short and accessible introduction to sabermetric statistics. If you want to learn more about the most advanced statistics on the market right now, it is tough to find a better source.

Bert (MotownSports)

I got your book today and it's fabulous. Your clear and patient style, your ability to put yourself in the shoes of the average fan to take them further, and your systematic approach are just what I was looking for.

David Berri (Wages of Wins Journal)

if you are interested in learning more about the wonderful world of baseball statistics, I highly recommend this book.

U.S. Patriot (Walk Like A Sabermerician)

Lee's straightforward approach and knowledge will make it a good resource for those who are just getting into sabermetrics.

Jon (Camden Depot Blog)

I rarely review a book, but this is one that I think merited that. It is a solid addition to anyone's library. The introductory baseball statistics reader who wants to learn more and be able to start engaging in conversations about metrics would find this most useful.

Kurt Mensching (Bless You Boys)

With his book, Lee gives the reader a step-by-step guide through how stats were developed and how to best apply them.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sizemore and Scherzer Optioned to Toledo

The Tigers announced some surprising moves after the game tonight.  First they optioned Max Scherzer to Toledo and recalled Armando Galarraga to take his place.  Galarraga's recall was expected but Scherzer's demotion is somewhat of a surprise.  He has been shelled in four straight starts but I thought they would give him more time to figure things out.  He'll get a chance to work out his problems in Toledo.

They also optioned Scott Sizemore to Toledo and purchased the contract of Danny Worth.  Sizemore has been a disappointment offensively and has looked especially lost at the plate recently.  Still, I wasn't expecting a demotion just yet.  Worth is a weak hitting defensive specialist, who was batting .274 with a .665 OPS for Toledo.  Worth can play both second base and shortstop.

Finally, the Tigers announced that Carlos Guillen will be their starting second baseman when he comes off the disabled list.  We'll see how long he stays healthy playing in the infield.  I think the main reason for the move is that it will allow them to keep Boesch's bat in the line-up.  For now, Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago and Worth will cover second base.

Boesch Leads Another Tigers Comeback

The Tigers pulled off another dramatic come from behind victory tonight when they stunned the Red Sox 7-6 in 12 innings.  They won this one on a walk-off walk by Ramon Santiago versus Red Sox reliever Ramon Ramirez in the 12th.  The Bengals used a familiar formula tonight:
  • Lousy starting pitching 
  • Good relief pitching
  • Late inning rallies
  • Great rookie performance

They fell behind early when starter Dontrelle Willis walked seven batters and allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings.  They were then down 6-1 after Eddie Bonine allowed two more runs in the fifth.  That would be all the runs the Red Sox would score as relievers Ryan Perry, Phil Coke, Joel Zumaya and Jose Valverde combined for seven shutout innings.

Large deficits early in the game have not daunted the 2010 Tigers and they showed their resilience again tonight.  They scored three runs in the sixth to make it 6-4.  The inning was highlighted by a two run triple by red hot rookie Brennan Boesch.

Magglio Ordonez closed the gap to 6-5 with a lead off homer in the eighth.  Brandon Inge tied it at six with a double scoring Miguel Cabrera who had walked.  Boesch was in the middle of that rally too getting a single prior to Inge's hit. 

Boesch also tried to spark a rally in the tenth when he drilled a one out double but was left on second.  We would have to wait a little longer for the comeback to be complete.  The Tigers finally won it in the twelfth with singles by Magglio Ordonez, Boesch and a walk to Inge setting up Santiago's game winner.


Earlier in the day, I was wondering whether Brennan Boesch was for real.  Tonight, he continued to be unreal in leading the Tigers to another fantastic comeback. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Is Boesch for Real?

Rookie Brennan Boesch's excellent start has been a big surprise to most of the baseball world.  Since replacing Carlos Guillen, who is out with a strained hamstring, the 25-year-old outfielder has hit .361 with three homers and 11 extra base hits in 17 games.  Playing for double-A Erie in 2009 and triple-A Toledo in 2010, he batted .290/.338/.526.  So, he does have legitimate power but he has hit for much better contact as a Tiger so far than one would expect.

Can he keep it up?  Most scouts are skeptical of his hitting ability.  For example, The Baseball America Prospect Handbook had him ranked as only the 25th best Tigers prospect before the season.  It contained the following passage:
He has bat speed , but his stroke can get long and has an arm bar that results in a lot of holes.  He has particular difficulty pulling his hands in when pitches come inside with fastballs. 
It also mentioned that he needs to improve his approach.  I think it's obvious what that means just by watching him.  He swings at everything.  In fact, he has swung at about half (49.5%) of pitches outside of the strike zone.  The major league average is just 27.3%.  As a result, he has just two walks in 61 at bats.  One would think that major league pitchers will eventually take advantage of his free swinging approach.

An indicator that his batting average will likely soon regress sharply is his high batting average on balls in play (BABIP).  He currently has a .380 BABIP, whereas his career minor league BABIP is .316.

In his favor is the fact that he has pounded right-handed pitchers the last two years.  He batted .300/.349/.583 against them in the minors in 2009 and the beginning of 2010.  In contrast, he only batted.267/.310/.395 versus left-handers.  Because of this severe platoon split, the Tigers have used him almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers so far.

Nobody doubts his power.  The question is whether he will continue to get on base enough to justify leaving him in the regular line-up permanently.  He didn't walk much even in the minors where he received a free pass in 6.1% of his career plate appearances.  So, he'll probably need to bat at least .275.

It may be difficult for him to hit as high as .275 as a regular but he might be able to do it in a platoon role.  So far, he is making it hard for me to doubt his ability to hit right-handers in the majors  If he can keep it up, it would give the Tigers the young left-handed power hitter they've been needing for years. 

Data for this article was taken from FanGraphs.com and Minorleaguesplits.com.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Casper Wells is on the Way

Outfielder Casper Wells is apparently going to be a Tiger tonight when the Tigers face the Red Sox in Comerica Park.  This was first learned on Twitter via a tweet from Toledo teammate Robbie Weinhardt.  The tweet has since been removed but Wells confirmed the rumor:
"I was pretty much in shock," he told CBS 6 on the phone from the airport. "I told my dad [Casper Wells, Sr.] and he said 'what?' We're all in shock."
Wells was batting only .203 with a .282 OBP and five homers in 118 at bats for Toledo.  The 25-year-old right-handed batted does, however, have promise as a power hitter and a good defender.  He hit 27 homers in 125 games between single-A West Michigan and double-A Erie in 2008.  Last year, he batted .260/.369/.489 at Erie.  He can play all three outfield positions. 

Billfer explains how he thinks the roster will shake out at Detroit Tigers Weblog and I agree with his thinking.  Wells will likely replace Alfredo Figaro on the roster tonight.  He then may return to Toledo on Sunday if Armando Galarraga is recalled to start a game.  This would prevent Jeremy Bonderman or Rick Porcello from pitching on three days rest. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tigers Split with Yankees

The Tigers split a double header with the Yankees today winning the day game 2-0 and losing the nightcap 8-0.

In the first game, the slow starting Rick Porcello pitched his best game of the year so far shutting out the Yankees on four hits over seven innings.  The young right-hander had the Yankees pounding the ball into the ground recording 14 outs on ground balls.  Ryan Perry and Jose Valverde pitched scoreless ball in the eighth and ninth innings to complete the combined shutout.  The Tigers scored their two runs in the bottom of the sixth on singles by Austin Jackson, Johnny Damon, Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch and an RBI grounder by Magglio Ordonez. 

Despite the lopsided score in game two, the Tigers got some strong pitching from Jeremy Bonderman.  Like Porcello, Bonderman pitched probably his best game of the year.  He held the powerful Yankees to two runs in seven innings allowing just five hits and one walk.  He also had seven strikeouts and threw 71 of 99 pitches for strikes.  It was a close game until the Yankees exploded for six runs in the ninth against Phil Coke and Alfredo Figaro. 

Despite only gaining a split, it was an encouraging day for the Tigers.  They got great starting pitching from two guys who have been struggling.  This gives them hope for the future and also helped to preserve a tired bullpen.  Tomorrow afternoon , it will be Justin Verlander versus CC Sabathia as the Tigers go for a series win. 

Raburn Optioned, Figaro Recalled

The Tigers optioned outfielder Ryan Raburn to Toledo and recalled Alfredo Figaro from the same club this morning.  This is not so much a demotion for Raburn as a move to fill an immediate need.  With a doubleheader scheduled against the Yankees today and Tigers starters usually unable to pitch deep into games, the Tigers apparently felt that they needed to add a thirteenth pitcher to the staff for the short term.

Figaro was fourth in the International League with a 2.55 ERA in six starts this year.  He also had a 27/10 strikeout to walk ratio in 35 1/3 innings pitched.  The 25-year-old right-hander posted a 6.35 ERA in five appearances, including three starts, for the Tigers last year.  He is probably most remembered for his start versus the White Sox on the final weekend of the season where he didn't make it through the second inning.  He is, however, a pretty good prospect and is throwing well this year.

Raburn has been a disappointment as a role player this year batting .213 with no homers in 47 at bats and struggling defensively.  With the strong showing by rookie Brennan Boesch and Don Kelly not having any remaining options, Raburn was the easiest player to stash in the minors for the time being.  I doubt he'll be in the minors for long though. 

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Tigers Starters Need to Get Going Fast

In case you haven't noticed, the Tigers starting pitchers have been bad this year.  In fact, they are dead last in the American League with a 5.66 ERA.  They have been been bailed out by big rallies and strong relief pitching in the early going but they can't rely on that all year long.  The Tigers just completed a 1-4 road trip where they received little help from starters.  Clearly, the rest of the team isn't going to pick up the starters game after game of bad starts.  The starters need to get going soon.  The pitcher by pitcher run down follows:

Like last year, Justin Verlander is showing signs of putting things together after an awful start to the season.  He has a 4.50 ERA and 42/16 K/BB ratio in 42 innings but has allowed only four earned runs in his last three starts.  The biggest concern with him now is his inefficiency, as he has only pitched into the seventh once.  They need their ace to do better than that.

Rick Porcello has not pitched quite as badly as his numbers - a 7.50 ERA and 46 hits in 30 innings.  He has been victimized by poor defense and a good number of ground ball singles but he has certainly been a disappointment.  He has allowed five or more runs in each of his last four starts.  Teams don't win many games where their starter does that.

Max Scherzer has poor numbers across the board - a 6.81 ERA, four walks per nine innings and six homers in 37 innings.  Even his strikeout rate (6.1 per nine innings) is way down from last year (9.2).  In his last three starts, he has allowed 21 runs and 27 hits in 13 innings.  He's been a huge disappointment.

Surprisingly, Dontrelle Willis has been their most consistent starter compiling a 3.99 ERA so far.  He has three quality starts and has allowed three runs or fewer in all but one of his starts.  His control is much better than it was the last two years but his 21/15 k/BB ratio is far from stellar.  Still, most Tigers fans would be thrilled if he kept pitching at this level all year.

Jerry Bonderman has a 5.74 ERA and was saved from a 7.14 ERA when his awful start on Friday night got erased by the postponement.  He has his usual good peripherals - a 21/9 K/BB ratio and just two homers in 26 2/3 innings.  However, as is also his custom, he has been pitching poorly with men on base which is seen in his 51.1% left on base percentage.  In most instances, we would view good peripherals, a low LOB% and a high ERA as bad luck and an indication that his ERA will soon improve.  However, in Bonderman's case, we know that this all too familiar pattern will not right itself very easily. 

It's never a good idea to have knee jerk reactions early in the season but I think it has reached the point where the starting pitching has to be considered a real concern.  The Tigers have somehow managed to go 17-14 with the worst starting pitching in the league.  However, the starters will need to carry their own weight soon or it's going to be a long season.

Jackson's Declining K Rate is a Good Sign

Much has been made of Austin Jackson's unusual early season statistics:

.370 batting average
1.24 K per game
39.8 line drive percentage
.511 batting average on balls in play (BABIP)

He .370 batting average - second only to teammate Miguel Cabrera - is causing the baseball world take notice.  However,  but some of his other numbers make it look like he's destined for a big fall.  His line drive percentage is almost eight percentage points ahead of second place Joe Mauer's 32.1%.  His .511 BABIP is 26 percent higher than his nearest competitor  - Franklin Gutierrez at .405.  Both of those marks are unprecedented over a full season.  Even Ty Cobb didn't come close to a .500 BABIP.  So, unless Jackson is the greatest hitter in the history of the game, we can expect those rates to decline dramatically and his batting average will drop with it.

Another indicator that his batting average can not be sustained is his high strikeout rate.  With 36 strikeouts in 29 games, Jackson is second in the league to Adam Lind (37).  Combining a high batting average with a high strikeout rate is no easy task for obvious reasons.  The good news is that his strikeout rate has gone down dramatically over the last ten games.  After whiffing 32 times in his first 19 games, Jackson has gone down on strikes just four times in his last 10 games.  The real Jackson probably falls between those two extremes but his improvement in recent games may be a sign that he is making adjustments that will help him avoid a massive rookie slump later in the season.

Beyond his batting average, Jackson has also showed some gap power.   His 13 extra base hits are third on the team to Miguel Cabrera (18) and Brandon Inge (14). He also has six stolen bases in seven attempts.  By all accounts, his defense in center field has been excellent, probably even better than advertised.  He's still not likely to hit anywhere close to .370 but a .300 batting average and .350 on base percentage are well within reach.  Combining his shrinking strikeout rate with everything else he does and Jackson is now looking more like a Rookie of the Year than a flash in the pan.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Ernie Harwell Passes Away at 92

I was on the way home from a 5K race tonight when I turned on my satellite radio to XM 175 and heard a familiar reassuring voice. It was Ernie Harwell doing a broadcast and for a brief moment I thought I was listening to today's game. It was no different from about 2,000 other times I flipped on the radio to hear a Tigers game. It took a few seconds for me to realize that Ernie has not been doing Tigers games for eight years and that this was just a clip from an old broadcast. It finally occurred to me that Mr. Harwell had passed away and that this was part of a news broadcast announcing his death.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts but I became a Tigers fan at the age five in 1968 when they won the World Series. Every other kid in the neighborhood was a Red Sox fan but even at that early age I was a contrarian. I needed my own team. I chose the Tigers and have stayed with them to this day. In a time before the internet, cable TV and all the other modern devices, Harwell was my primary link to the Tigers. All throughout my childhood and college years and beyond, I battled radio static to hear him broadcast the games.

I have had many favorite players over the years - Willie Horton, Ron Leflore, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Curtis Granderson and so many others. None of them had more to do with me becoming the avid fan I am today than Ernie though. I wouldn't be the same fan I am today without him.  I am not alone, of course. Ernie was the connection to baseball for thousands of Tigers fans for 42 years.

Ernie was not only arguably the greatest broadcaster of all time but by all accounts he was a kind, humble gentleman, who was loved by all that came in touch with him.  Even at the end, with death staring him in the face, he spoke positively and humorously. In one interview last summer he talked about his plans now that he had so little time left:
"I'm not saying goodbye, I'm here," Ernie said on Friday with characteristic spunk. "I plan to live life to the fullest until it's over. In fact, I'm heading out to lunch in a few minutes, and I'm going to have some ice cream. Maybe even some macaroni."
The man who taught so many young fans about the Tigers and about baseball and about having a positive outlook was now teaching us how to deal with life's ultimate challenge.

Ernie lived a very fulfilling life of 92 years so there is no need to feel sorry for him.  He wouldn't allow it anyway.  Still, it's a sad day for us as we reflect on all the memories he gave us.  He will be missed a lot by so many.  Rest in Peace Mr. Harwell.

Sabermetric Links

Here are some sabermetric links around the web:

Al Yellon interviews Bill James at Bleed Cubbie Blue.

This is not groundbreaking information but I'm always looking for clear explanations and applications of statistical concepts. Michael Jong reminds us which types of hitters can get away with a lot of strikeouts and which ones can't at Marlin Maniac.

I'm a little late on this one but Mike Rogers talks about Tigers bullpen usage at Bless You Boys.

Ben Jedlovec discusses the Baseball Info Solutions Fielding System at ESPN Insider.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tigers Complete Outstanding Homestand

When the the Tigers were shut out 2-0 by Francisco Liriano and Jon Rauch on Tuesday night, they found themselves just one game about .500 and 3 1/2 behind the Minnesota Twins. On the following night, Max Scherzer - their most reliable early season starter - was knocked out in the fourth inning and the Tigers were down 6-1. With the enigmatic Dontrelle Willis going the nest day, it was not difficult for Tigers fans to envision a sweep at the hands of the Twins. Had that happened, the Tigers would have fallen under .500 and dropped to 5 1/2 games back. Only the most optimistic of Tigers fans could have predicted how the week would actually unfold.

The Tigers exploded for four runs in the bottom of the fourth and six runs in the sixth to turn a 6-1 deficit into a 11-6 victory on Wednesday night. Willis followed that up with his best performance of the season to date pitching shutout ball for six innings. Joel Zumaya and Jose Valverde completed the 3-0 shutout. That gave the Tigers a 2-1 series victory over the Twins and closed the gap to 1 1/2 games.

Next up was the Los Angeles Angels, always a tough opponent for the Tigers. They defeated the Angeles 10-6 on Friday night thanks to an 8-run outburst in the fourth inning and a 5 for 5 performance by Austin Jackson. On Saturday afternoon, they won 3-2 when Johnny Damon blasted a walk-off home run. Also encouraging was a solid six innings from Jeremy Bonderman. Today, they completed a sweep of the Angels behind Justin Verlander's first dominant performance of the year.

I was out running in a race today and did not see much of the 5-1 victory. For more information on today's game check out Bill Ferris's Detroit Tigers Weblog, and Kurt Menching's Bless You Boys.

The 5-1 homestand leaves the Tigers at 16-10 andjust a half game behind the Twins in the American League central division. They now go to Minnesota for a three game series. The hopefully good news is that it will be their first series in new Target Field. Nobody in Detroit is sad to see the end of the Metrodome.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Walk-Off Homer for Damon

Last night, Johnny Damon had a single, double and triple and scored two runs in the Tigers 10-6 victory over the Angels. However, his performance was overshadowed by Austin Jackson's five hits and the first career homers by Scott Sizemore and Brennan Boesch. Damon made sure he would not be forgotten today. With the scored tied at two and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Damon belted a solo blast which just barely cleared the fence in right field. The game winning homer came on a two ball no strike count versus Angels reliever Scot Shields.

Damon earlier had a single and a double. He also cut down a runner at the plate in the sixth inning. He is now batting .344 and his .439 on-base percentage is good for third in the league.

Jeremy Bonderman pitched a solid six innings today allowing 10 hits but just one run. He had good control and walked no Angels batters. He also helped himself by making a nice play on a line drive off the bat of Brandon Wood with a man on second and nobody out in the third. He made the catch and threw to second to complete a double play.

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