Friday, October 29, 2010

Victor Martinez Makes Sense for Tigers

One of the strongest rumors of the Tigers off-season so far has been the possibility of signing catcher Victor Martinez.  Alex Avila is still regarded as the Tigers catcher of the future, but he posted an OPS of just .656 last year.  He finished strong, but there is no guarantee that he'll be ready to catch full-time for what will hopefully be a contending team next year.  If the Tigers do sign Martinez, I assume the plan would be for him to be the starting catcher for the next year or two, while they bring the 23-year-old Avila along slowly.  Then Martinez (now 31-years old) could serve more as a designated hitter in the remaining years of his contract. 

The switch-hitting Martinez has batted .302/.368/.486 over the last two years and his 48.2 batting runs during that period ranks second in the majors to Joe Mauer among catchers.  He has a career OPS of over .800 versus both left-handers and right-handers.  There is no doubt he is one of the premiere hitting catchers in baseball.

The main knock against Martinez is his throwing arm.  Runners ran wild on him as a catcher for the Red Sox last April as 24 of the first 25 attempting to steal against him were successful.  After making an adjustment in his footwork, he gunned down 26% of base stealers which is just below the major league average of 29%.  His career mark is 24%.  I won't get further into the complex issue of catcher defense at this time except to say that his passed ball and error rates have been acceptable.

Can the Tigers sign him? Their main competition may be the Red Sox, who reportedly offered him a two-year deal in September.  He wants more than that and the Tigers have not shied away from long-term deals to older impact free agents (e.g. Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez) in the past.  The other factor in the Tigers favor might be that he is Venezuelan.  It is possible that veteran Venezuelan Tigers such as Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen could help persuade him.

Martinez is one of the four most attractive position players available along with Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth and Adam Dunn.  Of those players, I believe Martinez would be the best bet to sign with the Tigers.  I also think he'd be a significant upgrade to the line-up at an important position.  The move would make a lot of sense.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peralta in Line for Two Year Deal?

Jon Morosi is speculating that the Tigers will decline Jhonny Peralta's $7.5 million option for 2011 and may instead sign him two a two-year deal for less money annually.  He would, of course be the Tigers starting shortstop if he does sign.  During his time with the Tigers, Peralta batted .253/.314/.396.  There was much talk about his being rejuvenated by coming to Detroit.  However, his Cleveland numbers were almost identical (.246/.308/.389).

Over the last three years, he has batted .260/.319/.414.  His 0.3 Batting Runs (wRAA) tell us that he has contributed 0.3 runs above the average player with the same number of outs.  In other wards, he has been about as average as you can get offensively.  Since most shortstops hit below average, being an average hitter is a good thing. The three-year figure includes his stronger 2008 season.  Over the last two years, he has -14.2 Batting Runs which is still pretty good for a shortstop. 

The concern is his defense.  Based on observation, he seems to make the routine plays, but lacks range.  The Table below presents three popular defensive metrics - Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Total Zone (TZ)  - for 2005-2010.  All of the figures are runs saved above the average shortstop.  The final column is the average of the three measures. The first four years are at shortstop only.  The 2009-2010 numbers include both shortstop and third base as he didn't have enough innings at shortstop for his shortstop-only number to be useful.

Table 2: Jhonny Peralta - Runs Saved Above Average, 2005-2010  


Peralta's defensive numbers have been below average for the most part, but not horribly below average except for 2006 where his average was -10.  If we can believe a mix of numbers from two different positions, he actually looks about average the last two years.  I'm more inclined to go with his earlier numbers which come from a lot of innings at the position he'll be playing.
So, I'll conclude that he's a little below average as a defender.

His combination of decent offense and below average defense make him an adequate option at shortstop.  With another adequate option at third and a question mark at second base, it makes me nervous to hear about a possible two-year deal for Peralta.  With more and more teams going with strong defense over offense at key up-the-middle positions, they may be putting their pitching staff at a disadvantage.  This is especially true of Rick Porcello who thrives on strong infield defense. Kurt Mensching expresses similar concerns.

So, I'm thinking I'd rather not see them lock up Peralta for two years.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

An Introduction to Revised Zone Rating Stats

I think that most of the readers of this blog have checked out the fielding statistics at FanGraphs from time to time.  Statistics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Plus/Minus or Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) give us an idea of a player’s overall fielding performance.  They are given as runs saved above what would be expected from the average player at the given position.  They are discussed in more detail in the fielding glossary.

You may have noticed two additional columns at FanGraphs labeled RZR and OOZ.  These are the Revised Zone Rating statistics developed by John Dewan, president of Baseball Info Solutions.  Dewan later developed the more detailed DRS metric.   The Revised Zone Rating system is comprised of the following measures:

  1. Balls in play within a fielder’s zone (BIZ)
  2. Plays made in the zone (Plays)
  3. Proportion of balls in zone converted into outs (RZR)
  4. Plays made outside the zone (OOZ)

A play is considered to be inside a positional zone if half the balls hit into that area are converted into outs by all the players in baseball at that position.  While the Revised Zone Rating system is less sophisticated and less accurate than UZR and DRS, it is useful because it separates the plays a player made inside his zone from the plays outside his zone.

Table 1 below shows how the distinction between in-zone and out-of-zone plays can be useful.  Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus converted 308 out of 377 (81.7%) of balls in his zone into outs in 2010.  Yunel Escobar who split time with the Braves and Blue Jays had a similar number of balls hit into his zone (367) but had a smaller RZR ( 79.8%).  Conversely, Andrus made fewer out-of-zone plays (46) than Escobar (72).  These data suggest that Andrus may have been the steadier fielder on balls hit in the shortstop zone but Escobar was perhaps better at making difficult plays.  

Table 1: Revised Zone Rating Statistics for Elvis Andrus and Yunel Escobar


BIZ Plays RZR OOZ
Elvis Andrus 377 308 0.817 46
Yunel Escobar 367 293 0.798 72

Table 2 presents some zone rating statisics for the few Tigers who played regularly throughout the year.  We can see, for example, that there 19 center fielders with roughly 100 or more games worth of innings.  Austin Jackson played 1,256 innings and had a revised zone rating of 92.9%.  That ranked him second in the majors behind Denard Span of the Twins.  Jackson also made a league leading 109 out-of-zone plays.  So, based on these measures, Jackson was outstanding on both relatively easy plays and more difficult plays. 

The biggest surprise on this table for me was that Inge ranked near the bottom of the league in makes plays outside his zone.  He did better on in-zone plays.

Table 2: Revised Zone Rating Statistics for Tigers in 2010

Pos Name N Inn RZR Rank OOZ Rank
1B Miguel Cabrera 22 1,285 0.748 15 37 12
3B Brandon Inge 19 1,226 0.733 10 30 17
CF Austin Jackson 19 1,256 0.929 2 109 1

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tigers Sign Inge for Two More Years

The Tigers have officially extended Brandon Inge's contract through 2012 with a team option for 2013.  So, he will continue to be the Tigers starting third basemen for at least the next two years.  Inge has batted .230/.314/.394 from 2008-2010 and we can probably expect a similar performance in the future.  That is not the kind of production you usually want from a third baseman, but his strength has always been his defense.

Inge is still a plus defender at the hot corner, but does not have the range he had in his prime.  Based on  three popular range metrics - Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Total Zone (TZ) - shown in the table below, he peaked in 2006-2007.  All of the figures are runs saved above the average third baseman.  The final column is the average of the three measures.  During 2006-2007, he was one of the elite third basemen in baseball.  For the past three years, he has been a little better than average.

Table 1: Brandon Inge - Runs Saved Above Average, 2006-2010  



He is going to be 34-years old next year, so further regression is likely in the near future. I won't say it's a great move but I don't think they had a lot of options. They have a lot of holes to fill and they won't be able to fill all of them. It will probably be easier to upgrade at designated hitter and corner outfield than in the infield.

Information for this post was gathered from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Contact Problems Killed Tigers on Road

One of the themes of the Tigers 2010 season was winning at home and losing on the road.  Their 52-29 home record was tied for second best in the American League.  Unfortunately, their 29-52 road record was tied for second worst.  In contrast the Central Division winning Minnesota Twins were 53-28 at home and 41-40 on the road.  So, the Tigers were only one game worse than the Twins at home but 12 games behind away from home.  If the Tigers could have played .500 ball outside of Comerica, they would have battled to the wire instead of dropping from reasonable contention weeks before the season ended. 

This is not a one year anomaly for the Tigers.  Table 1 below shows that they had a similar pattern in 2009 going 51-30 at Comerica and 35-47 in other parks.  What is the reason for this home/road disparity?  Most of the attention has focused on their inability to score on the road.  They scored 5.1 runs per game at Comerica and 4.2 runs per game on the road in 2010.  While hitting on the road has been a struggle, their pitching and defense has also failed them outside of Detroit ( 4.1 runs allowed per game at home versus  5.1 on the road).  They also had large disparities in both scoring and run prevention in 2009.

Table 1: Tigers Team Summary, 2009-2010



Looking more closely at their offense (Table 2), the Tigers did not differ much in home/away games in terms of power in 2010.  In fact, their isolated power was actually a little lower at home than on the road (.145 versus .149).  Home and away walk per game totals were also similar (3.4 versus 3.3).  The big culprits were batting average (.282 versus .255) and strikeouts per game (6.3 K/G versus 7.9 K/G).  They had the same a similar problem making contact in road games in 2009.


Table 2: Tigers Batting Summary, 2009-2010






Table 3 shows that their pitching/defense was also much better in Detroit (.695 OPS) than on the road (.770) in 2010.  Again, batting average was one of the main areas of disparity.  They had a .252 batting average against at Comerica and .274 in unfriendly parks.  They also walked fewer batters per game at home than on the road (3.0 versus 3.6). 

Table 3: Tigers Pitching Summary, 2009-2010




Why they had so much trouble getting hits and preventing hits outside of Comerica is anybody’s guess.  It could be that they lacked focus or that they were pressing too hard on the road.  If it were just one year, I would say it was a random thing.  Two years does not make a trend, but the disparity in batting average and batting average against was large enough both years to suggest that something might be going on.  It’s something to watch in the future.  If they start off 2011 not making contact or preventing contact on the road, it could be a sign of trouble. 

Home/Road splits were abstracted from ESPN

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Does Sabermetrics Need to be Marketed Better?

Will Carroll has been expressing his frustration with the sabermetrics community in a of couple of articles as of late.  The second article will not go down as his best work and it was surprisingly bitter and petty.  Many have responded including Tom Tango at the Book Blog, Carson Cistulli at FanGraphs, Josh Garoon at Baseball Time in Arlington and Minda Haas at Royal Blue.  They have done a good job critiquing his inaccuracies and unfair generalizations, so I won’t dwell on that. 

If you can get past all of the hyperbole though, Carroll does bring up up interesting points about the issue of communicating the world of sabermetrics to a broader audience.  Sabermetrics is a very difficult subject and its creators have not always done a great job explaining the ideas very clearly.  The sabermetrics community is coming up with new statistics seemingly every week and many, if not most, readers have been overwhelmed at times.  The main reason I wrote Beyond Batting average is to clear up much of the confusion for those that do have an interest in learning sabermetrics   

My book was not targeted to the mainstream, but rather a niche audience of knowledgeable fans with an interest in learning more about statistics.  Beyond Batting average has been pretty well received and I have been told that it is quite accessible.  I think I have achieved my goal of educating intelligent and curious readers.  If you have already decided that you want to learn more about sabermetrics, then my book is a good place to start. If you don’t have any interest in sabermetrics, then my book is probably not going to convert you into a believer. 

I believe Will Carroll is interested in engaging the second group.  He’d like us to teach sabermetrics to a more mainstream group of fans, who are not yet convinced that they need sabermetrics.  He points out that very few fans use even the most simple sabermetrics measures.  He believes that sabermetrics writers have not done a good job of making sabermetrics interesting to the average baseball fan and that we need to tell a more compelling story:

Moneyball told a good story and brought some advanced measures to a wider audience. In the shadow of that book, statheads lacked a Michael Lewis to carry their message, and worse, didn’t understand why the book was popular…Statheads need to “stop making sense” and start making strides.

He also uses Freakonmics as an example of a book which made a difficult subject – economics – more appealing to a wide audience.  He doesn’t think that we are doing that with sabermetrics.

I would argue that writers such as Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer have certainly made strides into the mainstream and many bloggers have also contributed..  If you have spent a lot of time reading and participating in various internet forums, you would know that interest and understanding of sabermetrics is at least ten times what is was five years ago.  Advanced statistics have also made it into the broadcasts of Dan Dickerson (Tigers), Vin Scully (Dodgers) and Chris Welsh (Reds) among others. 

Interest in sabermertrics is growing for sure, but Carroll is right that it’s not really part of the mainstream yet.  He claims that “99% of baseball fans still don’t use OPS, let alone a more advanced measure.”  Once you go beyond the internet and a few curious media people, there isn’t a great deal of enthusiasm for the field among baseball fans. 

Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and others say that they don’t care if the audience gets bigger.  They want to learn more about the game through statistics for the interest of themselves and their niche group of readers.  I certainly don’t want analysts of the caliber of Tango and Lichtman spending their time trying to entertain fans with stories

Personally, I don’t want us to dumb down sabermetrics to the point where they are no longer useful.  I didn’t like what happened to ESPN when the went from a television station for hardcore sports fans to an entertainment network for more casual fans.  That may not be a perfect analogy but I’m not interested in contributing to that kind of transformation. 

However, I do think that Carroll has a point.  If we are going to complain about the media’s lack of understanding and awareness of sabermetrics in Hall of Fame and awards voting, then we do probably need to make more progress in making sabermetrics accessible and interesting.  I think we've made strides, but there is more work to be done.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ex-Tigers Contributing in Playoffs.

The current Tigers are done with their season but there are quite a few former Tigers making an impact on the post-season this year.  Curtis Granderson leads all hitters with a .455 batting average collecting 5 hits in 11 at bats.  He has a double, a triple and three RBI.  Some Tigers faithful don't know whether to be happy for the former fan favorite or unhappy that he's helping the hated Yankees.  Personally, I'm glad to see him having success.  Another Yankee Marcus Thames is 2 for 7 with a homer and a double.

Another personal favorite Carlos Pena of the Rays didn't have a big season and is trying to make a splash in the playoffs prior to free agency.  Pena is 4 for 10 including a double, a triple and a homer.  He also has a post-season leading 4 RBI.

Cody Ross is helping the Giants going 4 for 14 with a homer, a double and 3 RBI.  He isn't the only ex-Tiger in San Francisco.  Ross, Omar Infante (4 hits), Aubrey Huff (4 hits), Andres Torres (2 hits) and Edgar Renteria (2 hits) have combined for 16 of the Giants 28 hits.

Other former Bengals seeing action in the playoffs so far include Placido Polano and Chad Durbin of the Phillies, Matt Joyce of the Rays and Kyle Farnsworth of the Braves.

Why can't the Tigers ever get guys like that?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Tigers Run Total in Line With Their Stats

Many Tigers fans anguished about the Tigers inability to drive home runs this year.  They batted a league leading .270 with the bases empty, but hit only .256 with runners in scoring position.  Batting average only explains a a portion of run scoring though.  The question is could they have scored more than 751 runs if they were more efficient with their hits, extra base hits and walks?

The Tigers finished 8th in the American League in runs and seventh in OPS.  So, based on OPS, it doesn’t appear that they should have ranked a lot better in runs than they did.  As I’ve explained before though, OPS does not do the best job of summarizing an offense.  First, it does not consider baserunning at all.  It also weights OBP and slugging equally when OBP contributes about 80% more to run scoring than slugging. 

Based on the results of thousands of games, we know that there are more accurate ways to weight offensive events.  According to linear weights theory, the average single single is worth 0.47 runs.  In other words, if one single is added to a team’s hit total in each game for 100 games, that team would be expected to add 47 runs to their season total.  Other events are weighted as follows:

1B 0.47
2B 0.77
3B 1.04
HR 1.40
BB 0.31
IBB 0.17
HBP 0.33
SB 0.20
CS -0.42
outs -.097

The formula for linear weights runs created (RC) looks like this:

RC = (0.47 x 1B + 0.77 x 2B + 1.04 x 3B + 1.40 x HR +0.31 x BB + 0.17 x IBB + 0.33 x HBP + 0.20 x SB – 0.42 x CS - .097 x (AB-H)

If you plug a team’s numbers of singles, doubles and everything else into the formula, you will arrive at an estimate of how may runs a team should have scored.  Table 1 below tells us that the Tigers should have scored 756 runs with their offense.  That is just five more runs than they actually scored.  So, they were a little inefficient with their offense but probably not as much as some fans suggested. 

Table 1: Runs Versus Runs Created for AL Teams, 2010



Team R RC R-RC % Diff
Rays 802 739 63 7.8
Angels 681 644 37 5.5
Yankees 859 833 26 3.0
Rangers 787 765 22 2.8
White Sox 752 731 21 2.8
Twins 781 769 12 1.6
Athletics 663 661 2 0.3
Blue Jays 755 759 -4 -0.5
Tigers 751 756 -5 -0.7
Indians 646 658 -12 -1.8
Red Sox 818 836 -18 -2.3
Royals 676 704 -28 -4.1
Mariners 513 542 -29 -5.6
Orioles 613 648 -35 -5.7


Five American League teams undershot their runs created by more than the Tigers did.   The least efficient team was the Orioles, who scored 35 runs fewer than expected.  Part of that was baserunning.  Beyond stolen bases and caught stealing, the Orioles were 7 runs below average on the bases (according to the Equivalent Baserunning stats at Baseball Prospectus).  A .661 OPS with runners in scoring position probably did not help either.

The most efficient team in the league was the Rays, who scored 63 more runs than expected.  They they helped themselves with an estimated 9 runs on the bases (other than SB and CS).  They also hit a lot better with runners in scoring position (.790 OPS) than with the bases empty (.699).  The National League results are shown in Table 2.  


Table 2: Runs Versus Runs Created for NL Teams, 2010


Team R RC R-RC % Diff
Astros 611 575 36 5.9
Padres 665 637 28 4.2
Dodgers 667 646 21 3.2
Marlins 719 702 17 2.4
Cardinals 736 719 17 2.3
Phillies 772 761 11 1.4
Braves 738 730 8 1.1
Cubs 685 679 6 0.9
Mets 656 651 5 0.8
Giants 697 695 2 0.3
Rockies 770 768 2 0.3
Reds 790 788 2 0.2
Nationals 655 661 -6 -0.9
Pirates 587 593 -6 -1.1
Diamondbacks 713 724 -11 -1.5
Brewers 750 773 -23 -3.1

I think the lesson to be learned here was that the Tigers did not have a major problem getting the most out of their offensive output.  Thus, they should not necessarily be looking to be more efficient next year.  Instead, they should aim to add more hits, walks and extra base hits.  If they can get players who do that, they’ll score more runs even if they don’t always get their hits “at the right time”.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Tigers Lose Their Close Game Magic

The 2009 Tigers barely outscored their opponents 745 to 743.  You would expect a team with such a small run differential to finish with 81 wins, but the Tigers managed to win 86 games.  The reason was because they had a record of 52-33 in games decided by just one or two runs.  At the time, I theorized  that they won so many close games, in part, because of Fernando Rodney’s high save conversion rate (37 for 38), seven walk-off wins and some luck.

This year, the Tigers had remarkably similar runs scored and runs allowed totals to 2009.  They outscored their opponents 751 to 743, but won just 81 games.  Pete Palmer – author of The Hidden Game of Baseball – estimated that a differential of ten runs is worth approximately one win.  In other words, adding ten runs to a team’s season total increases their expected wins (EW) by one and subtracting ten runs decreases their expected wins by one.   Palmer developed the following formula for expected wins based on that principle:

EW = games/2 + run differential/10

According to this formula, you would expect the Tigers to have 82 wins.  The results for other American League teams are shown in Table 1 below.  You can see that every team in the league finished within 4 wins of their expected wins.  So, the formula fit reality amazingly well in the American League this year.  This means that winning was largely a function of the obvious – scoring more runs and allowing fewer runs. 
   
Table 1: Wins and Expected Wins in AL in 2010


Team R RA W EW W-EW
Royals 676 845 67 64 3
Orioles 613 785 66 64 2
White Sox 752 704 88 86 2
Twins 781 671 94 92 2
Blue Jays 755 728 85 84 1
Angels 681 702 80 79 1
Red Sox 818 744 89 88 1
Rays 802 649 96 96 -0
Tigers 751 743 81 82 -1
Rangers 787 687 90 91 -1
Indians 646 752 69 70 -1
Mariners 513 698 61 63 -2
Yankees 859 693 95 98 -3
Athletics 663 626 81 85 -4

The results for the National League are shown in Table2.  The Houston Astros were the only team falling more than five wins from their expected wins.  They won seven more games than expected (76 versus 69).  The reason was because they lost a lot of blow outs.  They were 1-13 in games with margins of eight runs or more.  The Cardinals won five fewer games than expected (86 versus 91).  In their case, they were 24-7 in games decided by six or more runs. 

Table 2: Wins and Expected Wins in NL in 2010

Team R RA W EW W-EW
Astros 611 729 76 69 7
Pirates 587 866 57 53 4
Phillies 772 640 97 94 3
Cubs 685 767 75 73 2
Dodgers 667 692 80 79 2
Brewers 750 804 77 76 1
Padres 665 581 90 89 1
Giants 697 583 92 92 -0
Reds 790 685 91 92 -1
Braves 738 629 91 92 -1
Marlins 719 717 80 81 -1
Mets 656 652 79 81 -2
Nationals 655 742 69 72 -3
Rockies 770 717 83 86 -3
Diamondbacks 713 836 65 69 -4
Cardinals 736 641 86 91 -5

Getting back to the Tigers, why did they win five fewer games this year when their run differential was six runs more than it was in 2009?  The reason was because they had less success in close games.  After finishing 19 games above .500 in games decided by one or two runs last year, they were 33-38 this year.

It’s hard to blame their bullpen which was better than last’s year’s crew according to most statistics including ERA, FIP and WPA.  They also had their share of dramatic victories early in the season.  Some might attribute the difference in close game performance to poor managing or less desire to win, but I’m going guess that it was just a random thing. 

Data for this article were abstracted from FanGraphs.com.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Damon and Laird Out, Inge and Peralta Probably Staying

The tweets are coming in fast and furious from Jason Beck today as the Tigers get an early start to their hot stove season.  Here is the summary:

  • Johnny Damon was told that he will not be returning in 2011
  • Gerald Laird will also not be returning, probably by mutual agreement.
  • The Tigers will not exercise the $15 million option on Magglio Ordonez's contract.  They can still try to sign him at a lower salary.
  • The Tigers announced that they will probably not be re-signing Jeremy Bonderman.
  • Brandon Inge has been offered a multi-year deal by the Tigers.  For Dave Dombrowski to broadcast that publicly, I have to think that he'll be signing soon.
  • The Tigers want Jhonny Peralta back and are talking to his agent.  He should be their shortstop next year.  
  • Carlos Guillen will go into the season without a regular position. 
  • Phil Coke will join the starting rotation.

So, it appears that the Tigers infield is set for 2011 except to determine whether Scott Sizemore or Will Rhymes will be the second baseman.  The starting rotation is also pretty much set unless there is competition with Armando Galarraga for the fifth spot.  We can expect them to pursue, corner outfieders, DHs and relievers.

Coke Joins Rotation for Real

In the first big news of the Tigers "off-season", Jim Leyland announced that Phil Coke will join the starting rotation next year.  The 27-year-old southpaw will get his first start for the Tigers today  but that's because because none of their regular starters are available.  He is not expected to pitch more than two or three innings this time.  Next year, the plan is for him to be a full-time starter. 

Coke will be the sole lefty in the rotation behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.  Armando Galarraga is the leading contender for the fift spot.  The move indicates two things.  First, Jeremy Bonderman is not likely to be back next year which is not a surprise.  It also suggests that they probably won't pursue a starting pitcher during the off-season.  Instead, we can expect them to focus on hitters and relievers.    

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