Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scherzer Dominant Since Recall

After getting shelled in four consecutive starts and seeing his ERA balloon to 7.29, Max Scherzer was sent to triple-A Toledo after his May 14 start to work on his mechanics.  He pitched two games for the MudHens and apparently learned a lot.  He returned to the Tigers with a bang on May 30. In that game, he struckout a career high 14 batters in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. 

 

In 17 starts since his recall – essentially half a season – the twenty-six-year-old right-hander has compiled a 2.20 ERA in 110 2/3 innings.  As seen is Table 1, this ranks him fourth in the American League over that period.  

 

Table 1 – AL ERA Leaders, May 30 – August 28

 

Pitcher ERA
Buchholz, Bos 1.88
Hernandez, Sea 1.90
Cahill, Oak 2.17
Scherzer, Det 2.20
Sabathia, NY 2.32
Wilson, Tex 2.72
Floyd, Chi 2.74
Morrow, Tor 3.09
Lester, Bos 3.11
Lee, Sea/Tex 3.27

 

Max has been striking out batters at a rate of 9.4 per nine innings (K/9) since May 30, which ranks him fifth in the league (Table 2).   This is nothing new for Scherzer, who had 9.5 k/9 in 226 1/3 innings prior to 2010.  Teammate Justin Verlander is also among the leaders with 8.7 K/9 since May 30.     

 

Table 2 – AL K/9 IP Leaders, May 30 – August 28

 

Pitcher K/9
Morrow, Tor 10.3
Liriano, Min 10.2
Weaver, LA 9.8
Price, TB 9.6
Scherzer, Det 9.4
Lewis, Tex 9.0
Verlander, Det 8.7
Hernandez, Sea 8.6
Matsuzaka, Bos 8.4
Greinke, KC 8.1

 

One area where Scherzer still struggles at times is control.  He has walked 3.5 batters per nine innings since May 30 and also for the season.  This has made it difficult for him to consistently pitch deep into games.  He pitched six or more innings in just nine of his first 19 starts.  In his last six starts, however, he has pitched 6+ innings each time and 7+ innings four times.  He has walked just 12 batters in 41 1/3 innings during that span.

 

Beyond control, the one other thing Scherzer needs to prove is that he can pitch strong for 200 innings a season.  He has pitched 152 2/3 innings this year and made it through 170 1/3 innings in 2009.  He has certainly been dominant over the past 17 starts though and showing no signs of fatigue.

 

Statistics  for this article were abstracted from BaseballMusings.com Day-by-Day Database

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

2010 Fan Scouting Report

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Team Defense Costing Tigers Games in 2010

I think most readers of this blog understand the problems with using fielding percentage as a measure of individual or team defense, but I still see a lot of people using it in various places (e.g. television broadcasts and message boards).  So, I’ll review its limitations before moving on to better measures.  First, fielding percentage is the proportion of a team’s total chances (putouts, assists and errors) which result in either a putout or an assist.  The Tigers currently have a .982 fielding percentage which means they have avoided errors on 98.2% of their chances.  That ranks them 19th in the majors. 

One issue with fielding percentage is that error totals can be influenced by the subjectivity of official scorers.  An official scorer might occasionally give the home team’s fielders and hitters the benefit of the doubt by awarding hits on plays that might be called errors by another scorer.  Over the course of a season, this could influence a team’s fielding percentage.

Even if we assume that there is no scorer bias and that all scorers judge plays the same way, fielding percentage is still fundamentally flawed.  The problem is that it only penalizes fielders for errors made and does not charge them for balls that they can not reach.  It tells us nothing about the amount of ground covered by players and does not consider the difficulty of plays made or not made.

When Bill James introduced the defensive efficiency ratio (DER) statistic in the 1978 Baseball Abstract, it was the first time team defense had been formerly quantified in terms of range instead of errors.  DER is the proportion of batted balls in play, not including home runs, which are converted to outs by a team’s fielders.  For example, the Tigers have a .688 DER this year which means they have turned 68.8% of balls in play into outs. 

The Tigers are 19th in the majors in DER which matches the fielding percentage rank.  However, some teams rank quite differently on the two statistics.  The Oakland Athletics, for example, are first in DER, but only 13th in fielding percentage.  On the other hand, The Astros rank 29th in DER but 14th in fielding percentage.  So, the Athletics are a much better fielding team than the Astros, but fielding percentage makes them look like equals.

DER is limited because it does not consider factors such as types of batted balls allowed by the team’s pitchers (e.g. ground balls, fly balls), location of batted balls, how hard the ball was hit, handedness of pitcher and batter, and home ballpark.  The Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) statistic introduced by Mitchel Lichtman in 2003 further refines the measurement of fielding by considering all those factors.  The Tigers have a UZR of +8.5 which means they have saved 8.5 runs compared to what you’d expect from the average team.  

The Tigers rank 10th in MLB in UZR, but that’s a little deceptive as UZR does not include pitchers and the the Tigers pitchers have not fielded very well this year.  A similar statistic which does include pitchers is Defensive Runs Saved or DRS (John Dewan, The Fielding Bible – Volume II).  The Tigers have a DRS of +2 with places them 19th in the majors.  The Tigers pitchers have a combined DRS of –14 which means they cost their team 14 runs versus what you’d expect from an average team.  Poor fielding by pitchers is why the Tigers ranks worse on DRS than UZR.

The Tigers ranked 9th in DER, 8th in UZR and 7th in DRS in 2009.  So, their fielding is clearly not as good this year as it was last year.  Their DRS in 2009 was +40, so, according to that measure, Tigers fielders have cost their team 38 more runs this year over last year.  Since, 10 extra runs is worth approximately one win, we can say that their defense is four wins worse this year. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Offense is Down but Strikeouts Rising

Yesterday, we saw that run scoring in Major League Baseball has sharply decreased since 2000 and that runs per game in the American League has returned to early 1990s levels.  Today, we’ll explore trends in statistics that contribute to runs scoring.  For the sake of simplicity, we will consider Major League Baseball as a whole, rather than divide into leagues.
 
As shown in Figure 1, the Home runs per game in MLB have dropped from a peak of 1.17 in 2000 to 0.95 in 2010, a decreased of 19%.  That is a significant drop in ten years and the result is a more balanced game.  The home run rate in 2010 was the lowest since 0.89 in 1993. 

image

Batting average (Figure 2) has also been on the decline, but not as dramatically as home runs.  The .259 batting average in 2010 is about 4% lower than the .270 mark in 2000.  The last time the MLB batting average was below .260 was in 1992 when batters hit a combined .256.      

image

In Figure 3, we see that bases on balls don’t have the same trend as homers and batting average.  After soaring to 3.68 in 1999 and 3.75 in 2000, walks per game have remained fairly steady between 2001-2010.  It’s possible that the spike in 1999-2000 was an over reaction to the high homer totals in those years.    

 image

The most interesting trend shows up in Figure 4.   While batting average and homeruns have been going down, strikeouts have been increasing.  In fact, the 6.97 strikeouts per game in 2010 is the highest rate in history.  Strikeouts have been generally rising since 1978 when there were 4.77 per game.  That 46% increase between 1978-2010 is huge.  I think it shows the ever growing emphasis on power hitting and power pitching.  You would think that as homers become more scarce, we would see more of a contact approach to both pitching and hitting but this hasn’t happened for four decades.  
  
image

Saturday, August 21, 2010

AL Offense Returns to Early 1990s

You probably noticed that the Tigers are not scoring a lot of runs in 2010.  Indeed, they are averaging just 4.34 runs per game (RPG).  However, there are a lot of teams not scoring runs this year.  A total of five teams in the American League have scored fewer runs than the Tigers and the league average is only 4.47 RPG.  That is down 7.3% from 2009 when the league averaged 4.82 runs.

While there is year to year variation, the chart below shows that there has been a general downward trend in run scoring over the past decade.  AL offense is down 10.0% from from 2006 (4.97 RPG) and 15.7% from the height of the home run derby era in 2000 (5.30 RPG). 

Offense is also declining in the National League but not by quite as much.  There have been 4.36 runs per game in the NL this year which is not much different from the 4.43 RPG in 2009.  Over time, run production in the senior circuit is down 8.4% since 2006 (4.76 RPG) and 12.8% since 2000 (5.00 RPG). 
 
image

The reason for the sharper decline in AL could just be random variation,  In other words, it could just be a down year for offense in the AL.  It will take a couple more years to see if the offensive output of the two leagues has really become that close.  If it is a real trend, one explanation might be that AL teams are trying to keep up with the The Yankees by emphasizing defense, which has become cheaper than offense in recent years.
  
Regardless of any differences between the leagues, it is clear that the we have come a long way since the crazy offense of ten years ago.  In fact, fewer runs have scored in 2010 than any year since 1992 (4.32 RPG in the AL and 3.88 in the NL).  What we have today is a more balanced game between run scoring and run prevention than we had in 2000.  I believe this makes for a more entertaining game with a greater variety of teams and types of players. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Another Gem by Galarraga Versus Indians.

Armando Galarraga faced the Indians tonight for the first time since his famous imperfect game on June 2.  He started off right where he left off retiring the first 14 batters he faced. That made it 42 straight Indians set down by Galarraga.  After Brandon Inge made an outstanding play on a smash to the left side to retire Shelley Duncan for out number 14, you had to start wondering whether this might be another special night for Armando.  The streak came to an end though when Jayson Nix hit a double just off the outstretched glove of Don Kelly in deep left. 

Galarraga was outstanding in pitching seven scoreless innings. In fact it was one of his best games of his career.  He allowed just three hits, walked nobody and tied a career high with eight strikeouts.  Was it something that Alex Avila said?   We'll never know what kind of an effect the dugout spat with Avila had on Galarraga but he He was certainly pitching into the zone more aggressively than he has in many past games.  Gerald Laird was the catcher in today's game by the way.

It was an easy win tonight, something that hasn't happened very often this year even when they were winning in the first half.   Donald Kelly had four hits and Brandon Inge and Austin Jackson three apiece to pace a 16 hit attack.  The only Tiger without a hit was Johnny Damon.

The Tigers are finally done with their long stretch of games versus the top teams in the league.  They failed miserably during that time.  Hopefully, they can now finish the season in somewhat respectable fashion against an easier schedule. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Streaking Tigers

On July 21-22, the Tigers beat the Rangers and Blue Jay's in consecutive games and were just two games behind the first place Chicago White Sox.  It took them more than three weeks to win back-to-back games again.  After beating the White Sox 3-2 on a two-run homer in the ninth by Alex Avila last night, the Tigers out slugged the Sox 13-8 this afternoon.   The wins leave the Tigers in third place 10 1/2 games behind the Twins.

It was a seesaw game today which saw the Tigers jump out to an early 5-1 lead, fall behind 7-5, and then come back to win it.  The weak hitting Tigers erupted for 16 hits including eight extra-base hits today.  Jhonny Peralta hit a pair of homers and Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Raburn had one apiece.  Johhny Damon also had a big day belting a double and a triple. 

Raburn heating up
 
Ryan Raburn has claimed the regular left field job with some hot hitting this month.  After a disappointing first half of the season, he has finally found his stroke.  Raburn has batted .327/.277/.694 in 14 games this month.  This is the second straight season he has hit well late in the season after a disappointing start.  The key may be that the injury to Magglio Ordonez has given Raburn more consistent playing time. 

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Looking Ahead to 2011

I generally don't like it when fans talk about the season being over in July or August.  It's particularly annoying when that sentiment is expressed when the team is two or three games out of first as the Tigers were until recently.  After all, things can turn around fast and unexpectedly in baseball.  I'm not one to ever give up while the Tigers are still mathematically in contention, but realistically they have little chance of getting back into the race this year. 
Now ten games behind the White Sox and 8 1/2 behind the second place Twins, it's time to start thinking about 2011 at least a little bit.

So, today, I'll take a position by position look at which players might be back next year.

Catcher

Gerald Laird has been very disappointing this year to say the least.  He is batting .185 with little power and even has defense has declined.  He is on the last year of his contract and I don't expect him back next year.  Alex Avila has also been a disappointment, although he might have been rushed in an effort to add a left-handed bat to the team.  I still think the Tigers view him as the catcher of the future though and he should be back next year.  They will likely get a veteran catcher to split time with Avila.

First base

There's much to talk about here.  Miguel Cabrera be back for at least the next five years

Second base

Right now, Carlos Guillen, Will Rhymes and Scott Sizemore are potential second basemen for 2011.  Sizemore has been slowed by injuries (ankle and hip) this year and has likely never been fully healthy all season.  He has hit well at triple-A but not in the majors.  Assuming they don't get a replacement outside the organization, Sizemore is probably the favorite to win the position next year, but he won't be guaranteed a starting job as he was last spring. 

Given his health history, they certainly can't count on Guillen to be the regular second baseman.  There is a chance they might eat the final year of his contract but I think he'll return as a designated hitter and back up second baseman.   Jim Leyland likes the scrappy Rhymes but I think his ultimate role will be backup infielder.

Third base

Brandon Inge is in the final year of his contract and Jhonny Peralta is in his final guaranteed year.  There is little chance that the Tigers will exercice Peralta's $ 7 million option.  They may try to bring him back at a reduced salary, but I think there is a better chance that they re-sign Inge.  Although his range has declined since he hurt his knees last year, Inge is still the superior fielder and there is not much difference between the two offensively. 

Shortstop

Peralta is playing shortstop at the moment, but is not a good defender at that position so I doubt he's a real option there for next year.  Danny Worth is a strong defender but I don't know if he'll hit well enough to be a regular.  The Tigers have long believed that Ramon Santiago does not have the durability to be a regular so, he'll continue as a backup and a very good one.  I suspect, they will push hard to obtain a shortstop in a trade.


Right field

Until recently, Brennan Boesch was once the most appealing option in right field but it's hard to know what to make of a player who hit like Vladimir Guerrero in the first half and a double-A hitter since the all-star break.  Whether or not he can make the adjustments down the stretch will determine whether he'll go into next season as a starting corner outfielder.  They certainly need a young left-handed hitter badly, so he'll be one of the players to watch the rest of the season.   

The injury to Magglio Ordonez means that his $15 million option for 2011 will not automatically vest.  They may try to sign him at a lower salary but, given that his agent is Scott Boras, that won't happen easily.  He'll probably be a late off-season signing and there is a good season the Tiger swill be heavily involved in that drama.  How hard they'll push may depend on Boesch.

Center field

Austin Jackson has been one of the few consistent bright spots this season and should be the starting center fielder for years to come.

Left field

Johnny Damon is finishing a one year deal and probably won't be a top priority in the off-season.  It's not that he has been bad, but he'll be 37 next year and the market for 37-year-old designated hitters is not strong.  I think the Tigers will try hard to obtain a left-handed corner outfielder from outside the organization.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Another Book Review

Self promotion is one of the necessary evils of a self published book, so I'm going to post another review of my book Beyond Batting Average.  This time, Charles Euchner, author of Nine Innings and other books was kind enough to say a few words.  Here is what he had to say:

Mathematicians see beauty and truth in numbers. They see an inner logic,  a simplicity that captures life's ineffable complexity. Baseball fans have always loved numbers too. As a kid -- before ESPN and regional sports networks -- I remember studying the box scores to recreate the previous day's games. (I wish box scores still abbreviated the long names of players like this: "Ystrzski.") But the PC and the Internet have brought baseball statistics to a sublime new height, which makes my youthful number-gazing seem as sophisticated as Hop On Pop. 

In Beyond Batting Average, Lee Panas brings baseball's bold new world of statistical analysis to life. He is comprehensive, clear, and even clever. He examines every aspect of the game -- hitting, pitching, fielding, special situations, team-building -- with fairness and enthusiasm. The task is not simple, because  statistics can lie as well as reveal hidden truths. Like other serious baseball people, Panas is on a mission, to find baseball's digital version of the Holy Grail. But he also understands that the game changes constantly, so that Grail will forever elude our reach. Change and constancy, of course, are two values we baseball fans embrace. 

Let's all get up and give Lee Panas a wave around the stadium (I know some purists loathe waves, but I love 'em) for his all-star effort.    
                
 --Charles Euchner, author, The Last Nine Innings

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Inge is Back

The Tigers have announced that Brandon Inge has returned to the team and that Danny Worth has been placed on the disabled list with a bruised left heel.  When Inge was hit by a pitch which broke his hand two weeks ago, the initial estimate from the team was that he would be out four to six weeks.  He's back two weeks earlier than the lower end of that estimate.  In the past, Inge has tried to play through injuries and it hurt the team.  The most prominent example was his trying to play through knee tendinitis the second half of last hear.  Let's hope he's ready this time.

With Inge back on third base, newly acquired Jhonny Peralta will take over the shortstop position.  Rookie Will Rhymes will remain at second base until Carlos Guillen (strained calf) returns next week.  Ramon Santiago will return to his familiar backup role. Inge, Peralta and Guillen are their best offensive options around the infield.  Inge will help their defense but Guillen and Peralta will open up holes in the middle of the infield. 

The pitcher who is likely to be hurt the most by poor infield defense is Rick Porcello (47.6% groundball rate).  Most of their starters - Jeremy Bonderman (41.5% ), Justin Verlander (39.7%), Armando Galarraga (39.4%) - and Max Scherzer (39.1%) - have been predominantly fly ball pitchers this year.  Still, no pitcher benefits from lack of range in the infield.  The hope is that Guillen and Peralta can make up for their defensive deficiencies with their offense.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

My day at Fenway

I went to the Tigers game at Fenway Park and it was a great day despite the outcome of the game.  First, I was interviewed before the game by Detroit Tigers broadcaster Dan Dickerson.  The interview was about my book Beyond Batting Average and baseball statistics in general.  It will be aired on Sunday's pre-game show (on WXYT in Detroit).  I think the interview went pretty well but I haven't heard it yet.  So, we'll see how it sounds.

I almost didn't make it.  First, there was a major delay on the subway.  Then, I was supposed to meet Dan at 2:00 but they wouldn't let fans in until 2:10.  I tried to tell Fenway security that I was supposed to be at an interview with the Tigers broadcaster at 2:00 but they either weren't buying it or didn't care.  Probably both.  I thought I was going to miss an opportunity I had been anticipating for a long time. 

Anyway, I finally got in the park and met Dan in the stands at about 2:20. I was a wreck at that point but Dan is the type of guy that puts you at ease right away.  So that helped a lot.  Still, I think I would have blanked out if I had not prepared so much ahead of time.

I also got a chance to meet Samara Pearlstein for the first time.  Many of you know her as the author of the great blog Roar of the Tigers.  She also did all the illustrations for my book.  I'm sure she will put up her usual photographs of the game and she even took a couple of me.  So, you will get to see my mustache for the first (and maybe last) time.  For one thing, it certainly isn't creating any good karma for the Tigers.

The best part of the actual viewing of the game was not surprisingly Miguel Cabrera.  He put on an awesome show in batting practice.  He even had the Red Sox fans cheering and he took a bow afterward.  He then hit a rocket in the first inning that cleared everything in left field.
Max Scherzer pitched a fine game as well.

Needless to say, the game did not end well.  Being surrounded by 30,000 hysterical Red Sox fans dancing and chanting "Papi Papi" for ten minutes after the game is an experience I would not wish on any Tigers fan!

Regardless, it was a good day at the ballpark.

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