Thursday, December 30, 2010

Catcher Defense - Part 4

Today, I'm going to finish my series on catcher defense.  The first three parts of the series can be found at the links below:

Catcher Defense - Part 1

Catcher Defense - Part 2

Catcher Defense - Part 3

In Part 3, I quantified catcher defense using the CatchRuns statistic.  This included components for stopping the running game, pitch blocking and avoiding throwing and fielding errors.  Sean Smith uses a similar method with the following differences:

1. He adjusts for handedness of pitchers.
2. He uses SB per inning and CS per inning instead of CS%
3. He uses different linear weights: -0.20 for SB, +0.47 for CS, -.275 for WP/PB.TE/FE.

Smith's results are included on Baseball-Reference under catcher runs above average (Rctch).

Another option is Fan Scouting Runs (FSR) developed by Tom Tango.  Hundreds of fans including some of you completed Tango's scouting report based on their observation of fielders.  Tango has now converted the results to runs.   

Because there is some disagreement between defensive measures, I have been computing averages across measures instead of relying on just one measure.  In this case, I'll take the weighted average (WtAvg) of CatchRuns Rctch and FSR.  I'd rather rely more on the two computed measures, so I'll give CatchRuns a weight of .4, Rctch .4 and FS .2.  I'll use Victor Martinez as an example:

CatchRuns -5
Rctch -6
FSR -8

WtAvg = 0.4 x CatchRuns + 0.4 x Rctch + 0.2 x FSR = 0.4 x -5 + 0.4 x -6 + 0.2 x -8 = -6

According to the weighted average, Martinez cost his team 6 runs compared to the average catcher.  The results for other catchers are show in Table 1 below.  Yadier Molina was the top catcher by any method and his weighted average was +16.  The bottom three catchers were Ryan Doumit, Bengie Molina and Jorge Posada at -10.

Table 1 - Weighted Average of Catching Stats, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Catcher Defense - Part 3

Today, I'll do part 3 of my series on catcher defense.  The first two parts of the series can be found at the links below:

Catcher Defense - Part 1

Catcher Defense - Part 2

In Part 2, I looked at metrics for stopping the running game, blocking pitches and avoiding errors.  In this installment, I'll combine all of these measures into one and try to determine how many runs each catcher saves or costs his team.  My method is not a new one, but rather a variation of what others have already done.  Others include Sean Smith, Justin Inaz and Matt Klaasen.  In fact, Matt has already done this for 2010 and his numbers are very similar to mine.  I'll add that Mike Rogers has also used a similar method evaluating catchers from 2002-2009.

There are a couple reasons why I'm going to basically repeat what others have done.  First, I want to lay out the whole method for those who haven't seen it.  I'm also going to add to it in a future post, so I want it to be clear what I'm doing.

First, we need the following statistics for each catcher: Innings (Inn), stolen bases attempted (SBA), caught stealing (CS), wild pitches (WP), passed balls (PB), throwing errors (TE) and fielding errors (FE). The numbers for Victor Martinez are:

Inn = 904
SBA = 126
CS = 27
WP = 37
PB = 4
FE = 1
TE = 5

Then we need to calculate four league rates:

CS Percentage = Lg CSRate= CS/SBA = .2762
WP plus PB per inning = Lg WPPBRate = (WP + PB)/Inn = .0452
TE per inning = Lg TERate = TE/Inn = .0055
FE per inning = Lg FERate = FE/Inn = .0016

Now, we can use the above numbers as the basis of the calculation of runs cost/saved by Martinez.

We know that runners attempted to steal on Martinez 126 times in 2010.  Based  on the .2762 Lg CSRate, we would expect the average catcher to throw out 126 x .2762 = 34.8 runners in 126 opportunities.  Martinez threw out 27 runners attempting to steal, so his caught stealing rate above/below average (CS+) was -7.8.

Based on linear weights, the average caught stealing is worth 0.63 runs (0.44 for the CS plus 0.19 for the SB not achieved).  So, caught stealing runs above average (CSRuns) can be computed by multiplying CS+ by 0.63.  For example, Martinez had -7.8 x 0.63 = -4.9 CSRuns.  This means he cost his team about five runs more than what would be expected from the average catcher given the same opportunities. 

Similar calculations can be done for WP and PB.  Martinez caught 904 innings in 2010.  Based on the .0452 Lg WPPB rate, we would expect the average catcher to allow .0452 x 904 = 40.9 WP and PB in 904 innings.  Martinez allowed 41 WP and PB, so his WP plus PB above/below average (WPPB+) was +0.1.

Based on linear weights, a WP or PB costs -0.28 runs.  Thus, WP plus PB runs above/below average (WPPBRuns) is equal to WPPB+ x -0.28.  Martinez had 0.1 x -0.28 = -.03 WPPBRuns in 2010.  So, he cost his team .03 runs more than expected in preventing WP and PB.  Of course, that is essentially no runs, but I left the decimal in there in order to illustrate the calculation.

Catcher throwing error runs (TERuns) are calculated the same way as WPPBRuns.  A catcher throwing error typically occurs when a catcher attempts to either throw a runner out stealing or pick off a base runner.  Since the result is often similar to a WP or PB, we can use the same linear weight for TE as we do for WP and PB (-0.28).

Catcher fielding error runs (FERuns) are calculated the same as WPPBRuns and TERuns except that a different linear weight is used.  A catcher fielding error generally has a similar effect to errors used by other fielders (about a half run), so we can use -0.50 instead of -0.28.  Martinez had 0 TERuns and 0.2 FERuns.

(Note that the linear weights I used for errors are different from what others have used.  There doesn't seem to be a consensus and I really am not sure whether my weights are better or worse than others.  It turns out that catcher errors are so infrequent that the choice of linear weights rarely makes much of a difference in the final result)  

Finally, all of the above run values can be combined to arrive at catcher runs saved above/below average (CatchRuns):

CatchRuns = CSRuns + WPPBRuns + TERuns + FERuns

For Martinez, that is -4.9 = 0.0 + 0.0 + 0.2 = -4.7.  So, by this method, Martinez cost the Red Sox 4.7 runs more than the average catcher.

The statistics for all catchers with at least 500 innings in 2010 are shown in the table below. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was number one with 14.9 runs saved.  His brother Benjie was at the bottom (-13.5).  Alex Avila finished at -1.2.

The raw data for this article were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.com

Table 1: Catcher Runs Saved/Cost in 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Catcher Defense - Part 2

In an earlier post, I touched upon the difficulty of measuring pitcher handling by catchers.  Numerous Studies have been done regarding this issue, but none have shown conclusively that pitcher handling is a skill that can be repeated from one year to the next.  This is perplexing because so many people inside the game insist that pitcher handling is very important and that some catchers are significantly better at it than others. One possible solution is John Dewan's catcher earned run saved statistic described in my previous post.  However, that measure is a work in progress and is limited by small sample sizes for pitcher/catcher duos.

Other catcher duties are easier to quantify than pitcher handling because they are somewhat independent of pitchers.  This includes throwing out base runners, preventing passed balls and wild pitches and avoiding throwing and fielding errors.  Pitchers do have some influence over these rates.  For example, a catcher who frequently catches a knuckleball pitcher will probably have a high number of wild pitches and passed balls. 

Also, since left-handed pitchers are typically better at holding baserunners than right-handed pitchers, a backstop catching a heavily left-handed staff will tend to have better success preventing steals.  Still, the relative frequencies of stolen bases, caught stealing, wild pitches, passed balls and errors tend to be fairly consistent from year to year for many catchers, suggesting that these measures probably represent real skills.

Two statistics that measure the ability of catchers to control the running game are stolen bases attempted per nine innings (SBA/9) and caught stealing percentage (CS%).  Victor Martinez had a 1.25 SBA/9 catching for the Red Sox last year.  This means that, base runners attempted to steal 1.25 bases per full game when Martinez was catching.  That was substantially worse than the league median of 0.80  The only catcher who was worse was Jason Kendall of the Royals (1.26).The best was Rod Barajas (0.46) who split time with the Mets and Dodgers. 

Martinez had a CS% of 21% meaning that he threw out 21 percent of base runners attempting to steal.  This was less than the MLB median of 29%, but he was far from the worst.   Chris Snyder of the Diamondbacks and Pirates threw out only 9%.  The Cardinals' Yadier Molina was the best at 49%.

Pitch blocking can be measured by wild pitches and passed balls per nine innings (WPPB/9).  Wild pitches are included in the calculation, as it is often difficult to distinguish between wild pitches and passed balls and it is possible that official scorers give some catchers or pitchers the benefit of the doubt based on reputation. 

Martinez's 0.41 WPPB/9 was right at the MLB median.  Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was the best (0.16) and Angels backstop Jeff Mathis (0.73) was the worst. 

Finally throwing errors per nine innings (TE/9) and fielding errors (FE/9) per nine innings are used to measure error prevention by catchers.  Martinez had .05 TE/9 and 0.01 FE/9, which was close to the MLB median in both cases.  Catcher errors are infrequent and some made no throwing errors or no fielding errors.  Russell Martin of the Dodgers had the worst TE/9 (0.10) and Adam Moore of the Marlins the worst FE/9 (0.05). 

How did Alex Avila rank?

SBA/9 = 0.75 (slightly better than the median)
CS% = 32% (slightly better than median)
WPPB/9 = 0.56 (worse than median)
TE/9 = 0.02 (better than median)
FE9 = 0.01 (better than median)


In a future post, I will combine all of the above metrics into one number representing a catchers overall performance beyond the elusive pitch handling skill.

The raw data for this article were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.com.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Catcher Defense - Part 1

The catching position is the most difficult to quantify defensively.  Instead of the physical range characteristics cited for infielders and outfielders in earlier posts, the handling of pitchers is believed my many insiders to be the most important skill of any catcher.  By pitcher handling, I mean studying opposing batters, game calling, understanding pitcher abilities and tendencies, helping the pitchers maintain focus and other duties unique to the catching position.  These things are hard to measure because it's difficult to know how much of good or bad pitching is due to the pitcher and how much is due to the catcher. 

Bill James attempted to measure pitcher handling when he created the catcher ERA (CERA) statistic in the 1980's.  CERA is simply the ERA of a team's pitching staff when a given catcher is behind the plate.  The idea is that pitching staffs should have lower ERAS when a superior defender is catching. 

A limitation of CERA is that different pitcher/catcher combinations do not accumulate enough innings over the course of a season for it to be considered reliable.  Another concern is that it can be biased by which pitcher the catcher's catch.  For example, if a catcher was the personal catcher for the team's best pitcher, his CERA would be artificially deflated by the quality of the pitcher, instead of his own skill. 

To address the bias issue of CERA, John Dewan introduced the earned runs saved statistic in The Fielding Bible - Volume II.  Simply stated earned runs saved is the number of earned runs that a catcher saves his pitching staff.  For example, Mike Mussina, had the the following statistics pitching for the Yankees in 2008:

IP 200 1/3
ER 75
ERA 3.37

Jose Molina caught 190 1/3 of Mussina's innings and the Mussina/Molina combination posted the following numbers:

IP 190 1/3
ER 68
ERA 3.22

Now, suppose Mussina actually had an ERA of 3.37 (his ERA for the season) in the 190 1/3 innings that Molina caught.  In that case, the Mussina/Molina duo would have allowed 71.3 earned runs.  Subtracting the 68 actual runs allowed by the battery from the 71.3 yields 3.3 earned runs saved for Molina in games pitched by Mussina.  Summing Molina's earned runs saved for all the pitchers he caught yields 31 earned runs saved for the season.  Using the same technique, Brandon Inge cost his staff 37 runs (-37) in 2008.

Because it adjusts for quality of pitchers (based on their ERA for the season), earned runs saved is less biased than CERA.  However, it is still limited by small sample sizes for pitcher/catcher combinations.  Thus, Dewan arrives at a more conservative estimate by regressing to the mean:

(1)  He multiplies earned runs saved by .33 (31 x .33 = 12.2).  He admits that the .33 is arbitrary.  The idea is to give credit to Molina for saving runs without relying too heavily on an extreme number produced by small samples. 

(2) He further regresses to the mean based on the number of innings caught.  The more innings a catcher catches, the more credit he gets for his earned runs saved.  A full season is roughly 1,440 innings.  Molina caught 737 innings which is roughly half a season.  So he regresses by half ( 12.2 x .5 = 6.1)

Dewan also adjusts for ballpark.  In Molina's case, he ended up with 5 adjusted earned runs saved for the season. The adjusted earned runs saved can be found at Baseball-Reference (under RerC).  The 2010 leaders and trailers are shown in Tables 1 and 2 respectively. 

Table 1: Catcher Adjusted Earned Runs Saved Leaders for 2010



Table 2: Catcher Adjusted Earned Runs Saved Trailers for 2010


According to these numbers, new Tigers catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez cost the Red Sox pitchers 5 runs with his pitcher handling in 2010.  Alex Avila cost the Tigers staff 2 runs last year.  Gerald Laird saved the Tigers 2 runs.  

Other facets of catcher defense beyond pitcher handling will be explored in a later post. 







   

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tigers Roster Taking Shape

The Tigers are probably not done shaping their roster this off season.  They may still add another starting pitcher, another outfielder or even a second baseman.  With the holidays fast approaching though, it probably won't happen soon.  So, let's take a look at the possible opening day 25-man roster.  First, the starting line-up:

CF Austin Jackson
LF Ryan Raburn
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Brandon Inge
2B Scott Sizemore
C Alex Avila

The biggest question is second base. If Carlos Guillen is healthy, he would probably play second base and bat second with Raburn moving to the sixth spot and everyone behind him moving down a spot. If Will Rhymes wins the job, he would also probably bat second.

The bench would look like this:

Ramon Santiago IF
Don Kelly UT
Casper Wells OF
Clete Thomas OF

Some might be wondering why I left Brennan Boesch off the bench, but I think they'd rather have him starting in the minors than sitting on the bench.  They will need a right-handed batter to effectively platoon with Avila.  Against RHP, Avila will be the catcher, Martinez the  designated hitter and Ordonez the right fielder.  Against LHP, it will be Martinez behind the plate, Ordonez at DH and somebody else in RF.  Right now, I'm guessing that somebody will be Wells.

If Guillen is the starting second baseman, he'll need days off, so they would probably carry an extra infielder.  In that Case, Sizemore might back up Guillen and Kelly or Thomas would be out.

Barring another acquisition, there is not much question about the starting staff:

Justin Verlander
Max Scherzer
Rick Porcello
Phil Coke
Armando Galarraga

I do expect them to make a move, although probably not a big one.  Brad Penny? It's also possible that Andy Oliver wins a job with a strong spring, but he probably needs more seasoning.

The bullpen:

Jose Valverde
Joaquin Benoit
Ryan Perry
Joel Zumaya
Brad Thomas
Daniel Schlereth
Alberto Alburquerque

The twelfth spot is really up for grabs. I'm saying Alburquerque because I like his name, but it could just as easily be John Bale, Chris Oxspring or any number of other names.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beyond Batting Average Makes Baseball America Top Ten



I recently learned that my book Beyond Batting Average has made Baseball America's list of  best baseball books of 2010.  It ranked number 10, so that makes it the Jose Ortega of baseball books.  I am very grateful to book reviewer James Bailey for taking the time to read my book and for including it on the list.  I really didn't expect it to make any top book lists, so this is a pleasant surprise.  It was the only self-published book included in the ranking:
Not all of these titles were big budget releases, for sure. In fact, we found a spot at No. 10 for Lee Panas' self-published guide to sabermetric statistics, the bookshelf's version of a non-drafted free agent who makes it to the big leagues.  
His write up of the book includes the following blurbs:
For fans who want to learn more about new sabermetric statistics, Lee Panas' "Beyond Batting Average" is a great resource that can easily be followed by any student of the game.
and
What the book does particularly well is explain complicated concepts in simple terms. 
It is available at Amazon, Lulu and Banes & Noble.

Ordonez Returns for Another Year

The Tigers and Magglio Ordonez have agreed to a one year $10 million dollar contract for 2011.  There was never too much doubt about his returning to the Tigers, but there was some question as to how many years it would take.  I'm happy that he's back because I believe he has another year in his tank.  However, I'm glad they did not have to give more than one year to a 37-year outfielder coming off a broken ankle.

 There were other teams who reportedly offered two year deals, but Ordonez wanted to remain a Tiger.  He has enjoyed his time with the Tigers and likely feels comfortable with the heavy Venezuelan presence on the team.  Miguel Cabrera, Armando Galarraga, Carlos Guillen, Victor Martinez and Ordonez are all from Venezuela. 

Ordonez will be the Tigers primary right fielder, but will also likely see a lot of time at designated hitter when Martinez is catching.  Alex Avila will catch and Martinez DH versus right-handers.  Martinez will catch and perhaps Ordonez will DH versus left-handers.  If that's the case, the Tigers will need a right-handed bat to play right-field on those days.  With Ryan Raburn already penciled into left field, Casper Wells would be the leading candidate for the backup role.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What is wOBA?

A few years ago, Tom Tango introduced the Weighted-On-Base-Average (wOBA) statistic in The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball.  Not long after that, wOBA was added to the FanGraphs statistics database.  The wOBA measure hasn't become as popular as On Base Plus Slugging (OPS), but it is no longer an obscure statistic used only by hardcore stat guys.  It has gotten to the point where I'm seeing people insert wOBA into casual messageboard conversations.  It even showed up in a recent  ESPN article written by the statistically savvy Mark Simon.  

Despite its growing popularity, I think a lot of people don't really have a good grasp of what wOBA is or how it works.  So, I'm going to talk about it here.  The wOBA statistic is like an on-base-percentage (OBP), except that it gives appropriate weights to different events.  As you know, the OBP calculation counts every event where a batter reaches base (walk single, double, etc) the same.  In contrast, wOBA gives a hitter more credit for a hit than a walk and more credit for doubles, triples and home runs than singles.  The result is a rate statistic which measures a players total batting contribution.

One of the great things about wOBA is that it is scaled to behave like OBP.  So, we know that .380 or better is very good, .340 is about average for a starting player and under .300 is poor.  The top wOBA for the Tigers last year was Miguel Cabrera at .429.  We know that an OBP of .429 would be outstanding.  A wOBA of .429 is equally outstanding, but it measures Cabrera's overall batting contribution rather than just his ability to get on base.  Gerald Laird, on the other hand, had a wOBA of .256.  We know that a .256 OBP is horrible and a .256 wOBA is equally horrible.

Why not OPS?   

Why can't we just use OPS?   The problem with OPS is that OBP contributes about 80% more to run scoring than slugging average (SLG).  Since OBP and SLG carry equal weight in the OPS formula, this means that OPS undervalues OBP relative to SLG.  Since wOBA weights events more appropriately, it is a better reflection of a player's total batting contribution.  OPS is a decent measure of a player's overall batting performance and we don't need to abandon it entirely, but wOBA is a better alternative when we want to be more precise.

The Math

If you just wanted to know what wOBA is and why we use it, then you can stop here.  If you want to understand the mathematics behind it, then read on.  It gets a little involved but any statistic named after a song on Sesame Street ("Monster in the Mirror") can not be too intimidating.  Please note that in the interests of simplicity, I'm going to show you a slightly different calculation than that used on FanGraphs.  The results will be close enough though.

The wOBA metric is based on the linear weights system first introduced in the Hidden Game of Baseball by Pete Palmer and John Thorn in 1984.  In this system, weights are assigned to each batting event based on the statistical probability that the event contributes to a run. 
Based on the results of thousands of games, we know that the average 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
outs (AB-H) -0.27

Based on these weights, we can calculate Batting Runs (BR), a statistic created by Pete Palmer:

BR = 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 - 0.29 x Outs

Cabrera had 58 BR in 2010.  This means that he contributed 58 runs above what an average batter would have been expected to contribute given the same number of outs.  BR gives a player credit for playing time, so the BR leaders each year are not only good hitters, but also hitters with a lot of plate appearances.  This is not a bad thing, but sometimes we want a rate statistic which puts players on equal footing regardless of playing time.

In order, to create a rate statistic, we need to consider the weight or run value of each event relative to the weight for an out.  For example, the run value of a single is 0.47 and the run value of an out is -0.27, so a single is worth 0.47 + 0.27 = .74 more than an out.  If we add 0.27 to each run value, we get a new set of weights:

1B 0.74
2B 1.04
3B 1.31
HR 1.77
BB 0.58
IBB 0.44
HBP 0.60

We now have a new formula:

Run Rate = (0.74 x 1B + 1.04 x 2B + 1.31 x 3B + 1.77 x HR + 0.58 x BB + 0.44 x IBB + 0.60 x HBP)/PA

The MLB average run rate was about .265 in 2010.  We could stop there, but in order to be on the same scale as OBP we want the league average to be about .325.  .325 is 23% higher than .265, so we multiply all of our weights by 1.23 and arrive at the following formula:

wOBA= (0.91 x 1B + 1.28 x 2B + 1.61 x 3B + 2.18 x HR + 0.71 x BB + 0.54 x IBB + 0.74 x HBP)/PA

*PA = Plate Appearances

Note that FanGraphs excludes intentional walks from wOBA because they are usually issued in very specific situations and some feel as if they have as much to do with game situation as with player value.  FanGraphs also includes stolen bases (a weight of approximately 0.25) and caught stealing (0.52) in their formula.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Get Ready for Your Draft with Graphical Player 2011




If you are looking get on an early start to your fantasy baseball draft preparation, the annual Graphical Player 2011 book is now ready.  Edited by John Burnson, it is full of unique statistics, graphs and player profiles.  It also includes draft rankings and dollar values, extensive coverage of top minor league players and much more.  

Beyond the statistical history and projections, I find the written player profiles to be particularly useful. They emphasize the likely roles and playing time for every player expected to play on a Major League Roster in 2011.  I wrote the player profiles for the Tigers.  Other bloggers wrote profiles for the teams they cover.

Last year's book sold out pretty quickly, so you might want to take a look.  You can see some sample pages here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Boras Wants Multi-year Deal for Ordonez

The Tigers would still like to bring back outfielder Magglio Ordonez, but they aren't the only ones interested.  He has recently been linked to the Red Sox and Rangers among other teams.  There is still some question as to whether he is fully recovered from a broken ankle suffered last summer.  Scott Boras insists that his client is 100% healthy, but nobody believes anything that Boras says.  So, several teams including the Tigers watched him workout in Florida today.  There is no word on how he looked.

Ordonez has said a couple of times this off-season that he would like to return to the Tigers, but money, of course, is always an issue.  Boras is asking for at least a two year contract at $10 million per year.  Two years is a lot for an outfielder who will be 37-years-old before opening day, especially one coming off a serious ankle injury.  I can see the Tigers going two years, but any more than that seems crazy for any team.

There are still other outfield options available on the market, most notably left fielder Carl Crawford.  Crawford will probably command more in terms of both years and dollars than the Tigers care to invest.  So, they are also exploring trades for outfielders such as Josh Willingham of the Nationals and Ryan Ludwick of the Padres.  We touched upon Willingham yesterday

Ludwick posted an impressive .966 OPS in 2008 with the Cardinals before dropping to .775 in 2009 and .743 in 2010.  It should be noted however that he had an OPS of .825 with the Cardinals last year before being shipped to the Padres.  San Diego's Petco Park is easily the least friendly park in the majors for batters.  Ludwick is also an average to above average defender. 

As I've said before, I see Detroit as Ordonez's ultimate destination, but there are no guarantees.  Things are moving slowly and it doesn't appear as if a move will be made with either Ordonez or an alternative until Crawford signs.       

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tigers Searching for Outfielder

There is not much activity from the Tigers at the winter meetings so far, but there have been a few rumors:

Jon Morosi says that the Tigers are one of several teams interested in Josh Willingham of the Nationals.  The 31-year-old Willingham is a right-handed batter with a .841 OPS, but is not a strong defender.  The cost, in terms of players, is reportedly high. 

According to Jerry Crasnick, The Mets, Tigers and other teams have looked into to Fred Lewis, a left-handed batting outfielder recently non-tendered by the Giants.  The soon to be thirty-year-old Lewis has a lifetime OPS of .766 and can play all three outfield positions.  I assume the Tigers see him as a fourth outfielder rather than a starter.

Jayson Stark reports that the Tigers still have interest in free agent left fielder Carl Crawford but think it's is unlikely that they'll get him:
how about the Tigers? They have definite interest. And they have definite Ilitch family dollars to spend.

But they've already committed $89.25 million this winter to Victor Martinez, Joaquin Benoit, Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta. And they already have one player on the payroll who's working on an eight-year contract -- Miguel Cabrera (who is three years into an eight-year, $152.3 million extension). So can the Tigers venture into this neighborhood? Hard to say, but not likely.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have reportedly pulled out of the Crawford sweepstakes and are expressing interest in Magglio Ordonez.  I still expect him to sign with the Tigers eventually though.    

Monday, December 06, 2010

Tigers Looking for Pitching

It's been a relatively quiet first day at the winter meeting so far with the biggest move being the Orioles acquiring third baseman Mark Reynolds from the Diamondbacks for pitchers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio.  The word on the Tigers is that they are pursuing pitchers, but nothing seems imminent.

Steve Kornacki of MLive reported on Twitter that the Tigers are searching for a number five starter.  With Armando Galarraga always on shakey ground and young southpaw Andy Oliver probably needing more time in the minors, it makes sense that they would want to add some depth.  The Tigers are known to have interest in former White Sox right-hander Brandon McCarthy.  They could also make a trade similar to the Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson swap in 2008.  One possibility might be Rays righty James Shields, who is coming off a down year, but has had a good deal of success in the past.

Earlier Jason Beck reported that the Tigers were talking to lefty specialist Ron Mahay.  The 40-year old Mahay wouldn't give them a lot of innings but has been outstanding facing left-handed batters.  With Phil Coke joining the rotation next year, they could use a reliable southpaw for the late innings.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Werth Signs with Nationals



Moments after writing that Jayson Werth wouldn't be signed until Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford signed, I saw that Werth signed a 7 year $126 million  dollar deal with the Washington Nationals.  When I first saw the contract amount on Twitter, I was worried that the Tigers had gone nuts.  So, I'm glad it was the Nationals instead.  Anything over five years would have been more than I wanted to see.  And even five years would have been pushing it for an outfielder who will be 32 next year. Apparently agent Scott Boras has still got it.

Werth's contract will certanly up the ante for Carl Crawford and maybe Magglio Ordonez as well.  I still think they Tigers will get Ordonez, but it could end up being a longer deal than most of us want.  I'm really hoping he doesn't get more than two years from the Tigers.

What will the Tigers do at the Winter Meetings?

The long anticipated winter meetings open up on Monday and will go through Thursday.  The Tigers have made a lot of noise at these meetings in recent years.  In 2007, they acquired Miguel Cabrera in a blockbuster deal with the Marlins.  Last year, they received Phil Coke, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth in exchange for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson in a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Yankees. If that wasn't enough, Kurt has a complete list of  moves which Dave Dombrowski has orchestrated at the meetings since taking over as the Tigers general manager in 2002. 

This year, the Tigers have already done a lot of their off-season work re-signing third baseman Brandon Inge and shortstop Jhonny Peralta and adding free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit and catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez.  They are still looking to sign a corner outfielder and perhaps some pitching help.

The most likely corner outfield candidate is Magglio Ordonez.  In fact, I would be quite surprised if he were not re-signed.  However, they are still linked to former Phillies slugger Jayson Werth along with the Red Sox and a few other teams.  Could they sign both? It's possible, but I don't expect it.  I think they are ready to give Ryan Raburn a shot at the left field job and they also continue to look at Brennan Boesch and Casper Wells.

I'm not confident that they'll be able to make a final decision on the corner outfielder acquisition during the meetings though.  Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and he is never in a hurry.  I don't think Ordonez or Werth will be signed until pitcher Cliff Lee and outfielder Carl Crawford sign.  The Tigers have already stated they won't be signing Lee and haven't been connected to Crawford for a while.

What else might they do at the meetings?  I think they'll look to acquire a pitcher.  Right-hander Carl Pavano would be an interesting possibility, but I can't see them surrendering another draft pick to get him. They are more likely to sign a project pitcher coming off an injury.  They are rumored to be interested in Brandon McCarthy, who has been pitching well in the Venezuelan Winter League.  Other possibilities might include Jeff Francis and Brandon Webb.

There is always a chance they could make a trade.  The Tampa Bay Rays have enough pitching depth where they might be willing to part with James Shields.  The Tigers don't have a lot of attractive trading chips beyond right-hander Jacob Turner and lefty Andy Oliver though and they would probably want to hold onto them unless they got a bigger prize.

Could they get involved in the Zach Greinke talks?  I think that would involve Turner and Rick Porcello which again might be more than they are willing to give up for two years of Greinke.  Plus, it's not common for teams to make such big deals within their division.

They could also try to add a left-handed reliever beyond recent acquisition John Bale. I don't see them going after a top reliever like Scott Downs which would mean giving up a draft pick.  However, they might sign someone like Joe Beimel, Tim Byrdak or J.C. Romero.  And I know none of those names are very exciting.

Unless things move fast with other teams on the free agent front, I don't see the Tigers making the big move for a corner outfielder just yet.  I believe we'll have to wait for Lee and Crawford to sign first.  Dombrowski has been known to surprise us though, so let the speculating begin.  There is still time for you to make your guess and win a book in the Prediction Thread.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Pitching Percentiles

Many fans like the traditional statistic Earned Run Average (ERA) because they are so familiar with its values.  They know that an ERA under 3.00 is very goodf for a starting pitcher and than an ERA over 5.00 is poor.  One difficulty many fans have when they are introduced to a new measure is that they don't know what values of that measure are good and bad.  When they hear about pitcher ground ball percentage (GB%) for the first time, it might sound like a good concept.  However, if they hear that their favorite pitcher has a GB% of 50%, they might not know how that compares to other pitchers.

One of the most popular features of my book Beyond Batting Average is a series of simple percentile charts which help give fans an idea as to which values of a statistic are good and bad by comparing them to a familiar statistic like ERA.   The table below shows the percentiles for  some of the less traditional pitching statistics and puts them next to the equivalent percentiles for ERA.  This makes it easier for fans to grasp some of the newer statistics.  The chart includes all MLB starting pitchers with 15 or more games started in 2010.

One can see from the table that the 75th percentile for ERA was 3.50.  This means that 75 percent of starting pitchers had an ERA under 3.50 and 25% over 3.50.  A pitcher with 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings (k9) would also be at the 75th percentile.  So, we can say that a k9 of 7.8 is as good as an ERA of 3.50.  Similarly, a k9 of 4.8 would be bad because it's equivalent to a 5.40 ERA (10th percentile).

The statistics in the chart can be found on FanGraphs.com. They are defined as follows:

ERA = Earned Run Average
WHIP = Walks Plus Hits Per Innings Pitched
K9= Strikeouts per nine innings
BB9 = Bases on Balls per nine innings
K/BB = Strikeout to Walk Ratio
GB%= Ground Ball Percentage
BABIP= Batting Average on Balls in Play


A similar table showing how batting statistics compare to batting average was included in an earlier post. 


Table 1: Pitching Percentiles for Starters, 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

Tigers Sign John Bale

Dave Dombrowski has mentioned a couple of times this off-season that the Tigers had interest in acquiring a left-handed reliever and today they got one. They have signed John Bale to a minor league contract. John Who? The 36-year old Bale has pitched in seven seasons for four MLB teams and last appeared in the majors as a Royal in 2009. He spent last season with the Hiroshima Carps of the Japanese Central League.

In 173 2/3 innings as a starter an reliever, he has a 4.66 ERA, 4.02 FIP and 148/75 K/BB. On the positive side, he has a lifetime OPS against of .647 facing left-handed batters.

He is not likely to play a major role on the Tigers, but adds depth. He will surely be invited to spring training and will be used as a left-handed specialist if he makes the team. He will compete for a spot on the roster with fellow lefties Daniel Schlereth and Brad Thomas

Prediction Contest: Winter Meetings Edition



I have another copy of Beyond Batting Average to give away, but first I want to remind the last winner (KGB) to give me his address so I can send him the book.  If anyone knows KGB, please let him know that he needs to e-mail me at TIGER337 (at) COMCAST (dot) net.

Now, for the new contest.  The winter meetings will be held from December 6-9.  There are two questions, the second one being a tie breaker:

(1) What move will the Tigers make during the meetings which affects their 40 man roster.  It could be a trade , free agent signing or release. The person who most accurately guesses the player or players involved in the move will win a book.  

(2) Since the Tigers may not make a move or two people might correctly guess the same move, there is a tie breaker question: What will be the first move made by another team?

If there is still a tie based on the two questions, then the first person who guessed correctly on (1) and (2) wins.

Please put your predictions in the comments section below by Sunday night.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Who will Play Second for Tigers?

Most of us have assumed that the Tigers second baseman in 2011 will be one of two sophomores - Wil Rhymes or Scott Sizemore.  However, there are apparently two other internal candidates in the mix.  Jim Leyland stated yesterday that veteran Carlos Guillen is still very much in the picture:
 If you get Carlos Guillen close to what he was, particularly offensive, he can be a big key at that position. He's going to be involved in that mix for sure.

It's not a surprise that Guillen would be a strong candidate for the position if healthy.  It's probably more of a surprise that someone thinks Guillen might be healthy.  Guillen is coming off micro-fracture surgery on his knee and it's not known whether he'll be ready at the beginning of the season. He is apparently progressing well, but how long can you count on him to stay healthy even if recovers from his knee problem?

The other possibility for second base which has not been discussed much is Danny Worth. The light-hitting Worth batted .255 with a .295 OBP for the Tigers last year, but is the best defender among the keystone competitors. He seems to be a better fit for a utility role though and can play all three infield positions. 

Wil Rhymes is the fan favorite, not only because he connects with them through social network sites, but because he performed well during his call-up at the end of the season.  He batted .304/.350/.414 in 54 games and fielded his position competently.  His minor league record suggests he might have a hard time repeating that success though. He is also not suited to a utility role since he is considered a second baseman only.  I did like what I saw from him last year and I'm not going to write him off.  He was surprise though and is still considered a long shot.

Sizemore struggled both offensively and defensively last year, but was never fully healthy.  He entered the season coming off an ankle injury and later hurt his hip.  He batted just .211 in 33 games for the Tigers, but looked better in September.  He batted .298/.378/.473 for Triple-A Toledo last season.  In 2009, he had a combined .889 OPS for Toledo and Double-A Erie.

If Guillen is healthy, he'll likely get the first crack at second base. I'm very skeptical that hat he can stay off the disabled list for long though.  My guess is that Sizemore ends up getting the most time at second base among the four contenders. 

Tigers Still Interested in Werth

Even with the signing of catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez, the Tigers are apparently still willing to pursue another expensive free agent hitter.  According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the Tigers are interested in signing slugging outfielder Jayson Werth:
The Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers are seen as the most serious suitors for free agent outfielder Jayson Werth, according to major-league sources.
It won't be easy to outbid the Red Sox (who are the favorite to land him) and Phillies, but the Tigers have had success dealing with Werth's agent Scott Boras in the past.

Werth has batted .279/.376/.523 over the past three years.  He also has had 91.2 Batting Runs which ranks second among MLB right fielders during that period.   He is considered a better than average fielder with the numbers to back it up

One concern about Werth is that he has done his best hitting in cozy Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia.  Since 2008, he has a .920 OPS at home and .859 on the road.  Another potential issue is the switch from the NL to the AL, although his .919 career OPS in 314 PA alleviates that fear. 

The biggest worry for me would be his rumored desire for a six-year-deal.  That's too much for an outfielder, who is going to be 32 years old next May.  If that's the case, then I'd prefer the Tigers sign Magglio Ordonez to a much shorter-term deal.  In all likelihood, nothing is going to happen with Ordonez until Werth is signed and Werth isn't going to sign until left fielder Carl Crawford signs.  So, it may take a while before this all shakes out.    

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