Saturday, April 30, 2011

Great Pitching Wasted in Another Walk-off Loss

The Indians walked off for the second straight night beating the Tigers 3-2 in 13 innings.  Tonight, Orlando Cabrera won it with a bases loaded hit to deep center field in the bottom of the 13th off Tigers reliever Brayan Villereal. What made the loss especially tough was that Ryan Raburn almost put the Tigers ahead in the top of the 13th when he just missed a home run on a mammoth fly ball to center.

I'm not going to rant and rave about how the offense failed again or how closer Jose Valverde was not seen for the second straight night or any other strategic moves. The Tigers are in a really bad stretch right now, so you're almost expecting a loss in a tight game like this. Instead I'll focus on the positive pitching performances.  The Tigers raked up 17 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings tonight and they did it in style.  

It's hard to say which performance I liked better - Rick Porcello's seven strong innings or Al Alburquerque's dominant three.  I'll start with Porcello.  For the second straight start, Rick got them out on grounders and strikeouts.  He used his sinking fastball to retire 10 Indians on ground balls including a double play.  That is not unusual for him though. 

What was even better was Porcello's seven strikeouts which gave him a career high 13 over the last two games.  Unlike the previous game when he used a variety of pitches to get strike threes, six of his punchouts today came on his sinker. He now has 7 strikeouts per nine innings which is way up from his career rate of 4.7.  That is the single most encouraging thing going on with the Tigers staff right now. 

After Porcello left the game, Alburquerque followed with three absolutely electric innings.  He used his unhittable slider to set down nine Indians in a row, six on strikeouts.  Alburquerque now has 16 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.  That comes out to a mind-boggling 19.6 K per nine innings.
Did the Tigers finally pick up one of those cheap journeyman relievers who suddenly catches fire?  So far so good.

Unfortunately the pitching was wasted and the Tigers have lost five in a row to finish April at 12-15 and 6 1/2 games behind the Indians.  The only good news is that the White Sox and Twins are playing even worse than the Tigers and both are 9 games out of first.  It's been a strange month indeed. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Same Old Line-up for Tigers

The Tigers are a opening a three-game series versus the first place Cleveland Indians tonight.  I won't call three games this early in the season a crucial series, but the Tigers are already 4 1/2 games behind the Indians.  Cleveland is not a great team by any means but the Tigers don't want to dig too much of a hole, no matter how early it may be. 

Max Scherzer (31 IP, 3.19 ERA, 30/13 K/BB) starts for the Bengals and Jeanmar Gomez (7 1/3 IP, 7.36 ERA, 4/3 K/BB goes for the Indians.  It certainly looks like a favorable match-up for the Tigers, especially since Scherzer is on a roll having given up only five runs in his last four starts. 

The bad news is that Jim Leyland continues to roll out the same ineffective line-up:

Jackson cf
Rhymes 2b
Ordonez dh
Cabrera 1b
Boesch rf
Raburn lf
Peralta ss
Avila c
Inge 3b

Once again, the skipper has three batters - Austin Jackson, Will Rhymes and Magglio Ordonez - batting under .200 in front of Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters in the game.  Of the three, only Rhymes at .308 has an OBP above .250.   Cabrera hasn't been getting many RBIs with this arrangement. How long do they have to fail before Leyland tries something different? 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tigers Sweep White Sox

Tigers fans were frustrated after a mediocre first three weeks of the season.  They were down on an offense that was struggling to get on base and couldn't get the runners home when they did reach base.  Even on a four and three road trip in Oakland and Seattle, it seemed like half of their runs were due to sloppy defense.  And if felt like the other half came against relief pitchers who couldn't get the ball over the plate.

Fans were also down on the Tigers inconsistent pitching and unsatisfactory defense.  They were down on Jim Dombrowski for putting together what was starting to look like a shallow roster and on Jim Leyland for his puzzling line-ups.  It looked like a long season ahead. 

Three days later, the Tigers have finished a three-game sweep where they outscored the White Sox 21-3.  The Tigers received a solid performance by Justin Verlander and a 9-3 win on Friday night.  Yesterday, Brad Penny surprised us with a seven inning one hitter as the Tigers routed the Sox 9-0.  Impatient fans are now willing to let Penny get another start or two before his release.  Today, Max Scherzer shut out the Chicagoans for eight innings and the Tigers won 3-0.

The offense was encouraging this weekend as well.  A badly slumping Austin Jackson reached base six times on five hits and a walk.  The struggling Ryan Raburn played two more games at second base without incident and contributed five hits for seven RBIs in three games.  Brennan Boesch continued his strong hitting going four for nine and drawing his tenth walk.  Hot hitting Alex Avila clubbed six more hits, three for extra bases, to raise his OPS to .976.

The sweep leaves the Tigers just 1 1/2 games behind the first place Indians, 2 1/2 ahead of the Twins and 4 ahead of the White Sox.  All is well again for the Tigers fans and the summer looks bright.  A three-game sweep versus the hated White Sox changes things.  Doesn't it? 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Offense Down Across MLB

If you have noticed a lot of low batting averages in baseball this April, you are not imagining things.  As of the end of yesterday's games, the MLB batting average is .251.  If that keeps up for the whole season, it would be the lowest MLB batting average since 1972 (.244).  In other words, it would be the lowest batting average of the designated hitter era.  The table below shows that batting average reached as high as .271 in 1999 and was still as high as .268 as recently as 2007.  So, batting averages have dropped more than six percent in just four years.

Some may be thinking that April is cold and rainy and not very good for hitters, so let's compare this April to last April.  The MLB batting average in April, 2010 was .256 (compared to .257 overall), so .251 is low even for April. 

It's interesting that batting average is as low as it's been in forty years but, but everyone knows it's important to look Beyond Batting Average.  The ultimate team offensive measure is, of course, runs scored.  Teams have scored an average of 4.32 runs per game in 2010 which is the lowest number since 1992 (4.12 RPG).  Runs per game reached as high as 5.14 in 2000 and was still 4.80 in 2007.  Thus, we have seen a drop of 10% in offense in just four years and 16% since the height of the "homerun derby" era.  The historical trend in runs scored is shown in the table below.

Looking just at April, we see that runs per game has dropped from 4.57 in April, 2010.  So, there has been a more than 5% drop from last year to this year.

There are a few potential reasons for the decreased offense over the last few years. The most obvious one is steroids testing, but it's not the only one and perhaps not even the biggest one.  After all, steroids help pitchers as well as hitters.

If not steroids then what?  Baseball typically sees a surge in offense whenever there is expansion. There were two teams added in 1993 and two more in 1998, so one would have expected a big jump in offense even without the alleged increases in steroid use.  

Finally, we seem to be going through an era of extraordinary power pitching.  In fact,figure 3 below shows that batters are striking out at a greater rate this year (7.08 K per game) than ever before.

Whether this year is going to mark another significant drop in offense remains to be seen, but the balance of the game is definitely shifting from hitters towards the pitchers pitchers in a big way.   

Data for this article were obtained from Baseball-Reference and ESPN.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tigers Solve Buehrle in 9-3 Win

It was a miserable night at Comerica Park. All the elements of April weather were in effect - cold, rain, wind and fog - and it looked for a while like there might not be a game. After a quick 10 minute delay at the start, the tarp came off and the game was completed without further
interruption.  This turned out to be a very good thing for the Tigers and their fans.

It was an intriguing matchup between the fireballing right-hander Justin Verlander and the soft-tossing lefty Mark Buehrle.  At first glance, it was one that looked like it should favor the Tigers, but history told a different story.  Buehrle came in with a record of 16-8, a 3.01 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 209 lifetime innings versus the Tigers.  That is ace-like in comparison to his 3.85 ERA and 1.28 WHIP against all teams (including the Tigers).  Justin Verlander, on the other hand had gone 7-9 with a 4.55 ERAand 19 homers in 128 1/3 innings versus the Pale Hose.

Tonight was a different story.  The Tigers hit Buehrle hard, scoring two in the second and two more in the third to take a 4-0 lead they would never relinquish.  At that point, Tigers fans were hoping the game could get through the top of the fifth and become official before the rain got worse.  In all, the Tigers scored six runs on nine hits - including five for extra bases - versus the veteran southpaw.

On the other side, Verlander was very sharp for the most part dominating White Sox hitters not named Carlos Quentin.  Quentin crushed a pair of homers in the fourth and seventh innings.  Paul Konerko also homered in the seventh but that was a bizarre wind blown fly ball off the left field foul pole.  Konerko himself stood at homeplate in disbelief that the ball blew back into fair territory.  The three solo shots accounted for all the runs versus Verlander who allowed just four hits and no walks to go with eight strikeouts in seven innings.

Second Baseman Ryan Raburn

Tigers second baseman Ryan Raburn had a homer, single and four RBI in tonight's game.  It's nice to have a second baseman with some power.  He is apparently the new keystone platoon partner for Will Rhymes.  How often Raburn will play versus right-handers reamains to be seen, but it figures to be frequent while Victor Martinez is on the disabled list.  Of course, what seems logical is not necesarily what will happen.  The temptation to use Donnie Kelly is always there for Jim Leyland.  

Avila And Wells Can Play Too 

Catcher Alex Avila continued to impress, this time belting two doubles versus the lefty Buehrle.  After a rough first week that had some fans begging for more of Martinez behind the plate, Avila has caught fire and is batting .292/.370/.563 overall.  Another young player, Casper Wells, added two singles and two RBI.  He should continue to get regular playing in the outfield in Martinez's absence.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Positive Game for Porcello

It was an eventful day for the Tigers.  Ryan Perry returned from from the disabled list.  Enrique Gonzalez was out-righted to make room.  Ryan Raburn played another game at second base and homered in the first inning.  The Tigers then hung on to beat the Mariners 3-2 to finish with a 4-3 west coast trip.

The biggest development of the day though was Rick Porcello's performance. It's been a battle for the young right-hander this year.  He began the season with two awful games.  His third game versus the Athletics last week was a little better but not great.  Today, he had his best start of the year and there were quite a few positives to take away from it.

Porcello used his sinker to keep the ball on the ground today and produced a 10/4 ground ball/ fly ball ratio.  He typically does that when he's going well, but today he had more than that.  He had his velocity back today as his four-seam fastball averaged 90.5 after being below 90 in a couple of earlier games (Brooks Baseball).  In fact, he had all his pitches working pretty well in allowing one run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Rick's control was excellent as he walked just one batter.  That was a relief to Jim Leyland who watched his staff issue 11 walks in last night's disaster.  Perhaps the most encouraging part of his performance was his six strikeouts, all of them swinging.  He used a variety of pitches to do it - two fastballs, one slider and three change-ups.   

The development of Porcello may be the single most important thing the Tigers need to stay in the central division race this year.  It's been a bumpy ride so far, but today's performance gives us reason to hope.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Raburn Playing Second Base Tonight

Every day, there seems to be a little surprise in Jim Leyland's starting line-up.  Tonight there is a pretty big surprise - Ryan Raburn is playing second base.  The Tigers are desperate for some offense and, while he is struggling at the plate (.229/.283/.396), Raburn has been more productive than Will Rhymes (.222/.286/.222).  So, the move makes sense on that basis.

But Ryan Raburn at second base?  After watching him stumble around the outfield, do we really want to see him at second base? Before you panic, remember that he was moved from third base to second in the minors because the Tigers thought he was more suited to the position.  He was eventually moved to the outfield, but he is adequate at second and has played 55 games at the position in the majors.  That includes 18 games last year and they were fairly uneventful - just one error.  He's not a permanent solution to the second base problem, but he should be OK for the short-term.  Also, Rhymes is only an average fielder, so it's not like they are losing a strong defender in the process.  

If nothing else, Leyland is showing some creativity in this move.  Here is the rest of the line-up:

Jackson cf
Raburn 2b
Ordonez rf
Cabrera 1b
Martinez dh
Boesch rf
Peralta ss
Avila c
Inge 3b. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Switching Jackson and Rhymes Not the Answer

Despite some explosive hitting by first baseman Miguel Cabrera and encouraging starts from youngsters Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch, the Tigers are struggling to score runs this April.  After scoring 4.6 runs per game in 2010, the Tigers have scored only 4.1 runs per game so far this year.  They are 8th in the American League in runs per game, 8th in batting average (.240), 9th in on base percentage and 7th in slugging (.392).

There are a number of players not carrying their weight in the early going.  Victor Martinez, who was signed to a four-year deal to beef up the middle of the line-up, is off to a slow start.  Magglio Ordonez has been in and out of the line-up with a sore ankle and hasn't hit when he has played.  However, these guys have track records which suggest they'll do better soon.  Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn have not been very productive, but we expect them to be hot and cold.

A bigger concern is the top of the line-up where sophomores Austin Jackson and Will Rhymes are not setting the table for the big hitters in the middle.  Jackson is batting .175 with 19 strikeouts in 57 at bats and has an OBP of just .281.  Rhymes is hitting .222 with a .286 OBP and has no extra base hits.  It is very early, but the problem with these two is that we can't be too confident that they'll snap out of it.

Jackson batted .293 and reached base at a .345 pace in his rookie campaign.  However, much of that was fueled by a .396 Batting Average on Balls in Play and a 24% line drive, numbers which most analysts agreed were unsustainable.  Almost all statistical projections saw his batting average taking a big hit this year.  He won't bat .175 all year, but he may not bat much higher than .250.  If that's the case, then it won't be enough for a man who hits for little power and has a modest walk rate. Sure, he's young and athletic and has the potential to improve, but they need him to produce this year too.    

Rhymes has never been a top prospect but impressed Jim Leyland with a .304 batting average in the 54 games in 2010.  He was rewarded with the starting second base job this spring, in part, because he out played Scott Sizemore in limited playing time last year.  Many analysts feel that Rhymes captured lightning in a bottle last year though and the fear is that he won't repeat his performance over a full season. Rhymes makes good contact, but it's very weak contact.  Thus, he has to bat .300 on a consistent basis in order to be a valuable major league regular.  You never want to count out a man who has played above expectations his whole life, but the odds are against him again. 

Today, Leyland switched their positions in the line-up putting Rhymes at lead off and Jackson at number two.  It appears to be a desperate attempt to spark the offense at the top of the order, but it's not likely to help. Jackson looks like a mess at the plate right now and it's going to take more than a move to the two hole to fix his swing and timing.  Similarly, I don't see the advantage of Rhymes leading off.  I think they both need more than a psychological push. 

What happens if Jackson doesn't hit this year?  AJax is going to be given a fairly long leash because he is a spectacular center fielder defensively. I can see him being dropped to the ninth spot in the line-up, but I doubt he'll be removed from the line-up any time soon.  They don't have a replacement that can field quite like him and the other center field options - Casper Wells and Clete Thomas - have their own problems making contact.  There is always Donnie Kelly, but Kelly as an every day player is something most of us don't want to think about.

Rhymes is in a tougher spot because his second base defense is only average and won't carry a weak bat.  I think if he doesn't hit by early May, he'll be replaced by Sizemore.  Sizemore struggled both offensively and defensively in his rookie campaign in 2010, but he was likely slowed by a bad ankle.  There is also a feeling among some that he pressed during his time in the majors.  If that's the case, he'll need to get over that but he seems to be pushing for another opportunity.  He's batting .387 with a .472 OBP for Toledo and we'll probably see him soon if Rhymes doesn't turn it around quickly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ordonez and Jackson Back in Line-up

Magglio Ordonez is back in the line-up tonight after missing four games with pain and fluid in his ankle.  He'll be batting third versus Oakland Athletics left-hander Dallas Braden.  I'n not sure whether or not Magglio's return is good news.  On one hand, they have been scuffling offensively and could use another big bat.  On the other hand, he is batting .208 with one extra base hit in 24 at bats and just hasn't looked right.  It could be just an early slump, but if his health is affecting his hitting, I'd rather they put him on the disabled list until he is totally healthy

Also returning to the line-up after a day off is center fielder Austin Jackson.  He is currently batting an anemic .184 with strikeouts in 33% of his at bats.  Most analysts projected a regression from Jackson .293 batting average last season, but nobody expected him to bat below the Mendoza Line. 

Last year, Jackson had a spectacular .396 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) thanks to a 24% line drive rate (LD%) on batted balls and 12% infield hit rate on ground balls.  Most felt he would not be able to sustain his BABIP and LD%, but now he is putting up numbers (.250 BABIP and 7%  LD% ) which are unsustainable on the low side.  The moral of the story other than "it's too early" is that he'll need to cut down is strikeouts in order to maintain a consistetly high batting average.  So far, there are no signs of that happening.

The question is what do the Tigers do if AJax his is batting .250 with no power and a ridiculous K rate in another couple of weeks?  Would they possibly send him down to the minors to work on his swing?  That seems unlikely since they need his glove.  However, I would have to think that they would move him down to the bottom of the order at some point. 

The rest of tonight's lineup looks like this:

Jackson CF
Raburn LF
Ordonez DH
Cabrera 1B
Martinez C
Peralta SS
Boesch RF
Inge 3B
Santiago 2B

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Winning Streak

It took a pair of walk-off wins to do it, but the Tigers finally have their first two-game winning streak of the year.  Today, Brandon Inge blasted a homer in the bottom of the ninth versus Rangers reliever Darren Oliver to give the Tigers a 3-2 victory.  It was the seventh walk-off home run of Inge's career, which is a Comerica Park record. 

The Tigers got strong pitching from starter Max Scherzer, who allowed just two runs and had seven strikeouts in 6 innings pitched.  Rookie Brayan Villareal followed with two impressive shutout innings.  Villa appears to be emerging as the seventh inning pitcher setting up Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.  Yesterday, he came in to get the final out of the seventh inning.  

Closers and Tie Games

Closer usage played an important role for the second straight game.  Jim Leyland brought Valverde into a tie game in the ninth inning both yesterday and today.  In each case, he held the Rangers scoreless and the Tigers won it in the bottom of the inning.  That seems like a better way to use your top reliever than waiting for a game where you have a three run lead in the ninth. 

On the other hand, Rangers manager Ron Washington failed to use closer Neftali Feliz in a tie game.  He was waiting for the Rangers to take the lead before bringing in his stopper.  Of course, there is no way of knowing what would have happened if Feliz had been brought into the game in the ninth.  Still, it seems to me that there are fewer higher leverage situations than a tie game.  Bill James has always said that a tie game in the late innings is the ideal spot to insert your best reliever and it makes a lot of sense.

Alburquerque Added

The Tigers have promoted reliever Al Alburquerque from Toledo to help with middle relief.  The Tigers signed Alberto to a major league contract during the off-season, but he struggled with his control in spring training and did not make the initial 25-man roster.  He was off to a good start for the MudHens pitching four shutout innings with eight strikeouts and only one walk.  If nothing else, he has a great name! They optioned Robbie Weinhardt to Toledo to make room for Alburquerque on the roster.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Panic Subsides in Detroit

Miguel Cabrera's walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Tigers a 5-4 victory over the red hot Rangers today and helped ease the concerns of Tigers fans everywhere.  The 3-7 start was causing fans to envision another season like 2008, a campaign that quickly went down the drain after starting with so much promise.  Not only have the Tigers been losing, but they have been playing poorly in all phases of the game - pitching, fielding, hitting and base running.

Today gave us some reason for hope.  After two misearable starts, Brad Penny turned in a solid performance against the hard hitting Rangers allowing three runs in 6 2/3 innings.  It was not a dominant performance by any means, but it was the type of game many of us were expecting from the veteran right-hander on a regular basis.

As for fielding, it was a well played game by the Tigers overall.  Ryan Raburn, in particular, made up for some recent shoddy outfield play by reaching over the fence to Rob Michael Young of a three-run homer in the third. 

Raburn also produced with the bat getting two hits, two runs and an RBI.  He also worked his way to a two-out walk to load the bases in the ninth setting up Cabrera's game winner.  Another positive development was slumping Austin Jackson leading off the game with a triple and scoring the Tigers first run.  He later walked to help contribute to the ninth inning run. 

Magglio Ordonez hurting

One of the biggest concerns for the Tigers right now is the health of Magglio Ordonez.  He is still not healed after missing the second half of last season with a broken ankle.  He has pain and fluid in his ankle and will miss a few games.  It sounds to me like it could be an going problem throughout the season.  Losing the bat of a hitter that can hit for an .850 OPS does not help the Tigers. 

There is also the potential that the ankle will continue to affect his hitting (he's batting .208 with just one extra base hit) and that Jim Leyland will allow him to try to play through it.  The good news is that it's not happening this week.  Hopefully, they will rest him until he is near full strength again.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Unpleasant Thoughts About Bruce Chen and Game Eight

Royals starter Bruce Chen has been pitching in the majors since 1998 and he's been through just about everything.  Before coming to Kansas City, he pitched for the Braves, Phillies, Mets, Expos, Reds, Astros, Red Sox, Orioles and Rangers.  He has also pitched for 14 minor league teams. He has been a starter.  He has been a reliever.  He's had injuries.  He's had Tommy John surgery.  He has been mediocre for the most part and sometimes he's just plain  bad.  He keeps finding a job though because everybody needs a left-handed pitcher.

It seems like every couple of years, the soft-tossing southpaw emerges to pitch a few good games.  Desperate for a fifth or sixth starter, you add him to your fantasy team only to see him disappear for the next two years.  Today, he decided that one of those strong games would be against the Tigers - six shutout innings, three hits, seven strikeouts. As it turned out, five Royals pitchers combined to beat the Tigers 3-1. 

Good Start for Phil Coke

The one positive that came out of this game was Phil Coke pitching 6 2/3 innings in his first start of the year.  He struggled in the second inning giving up two runs on two walks and two singles.  However, Jim Leyland came out to the mound and talked to him for about 15 seconds.  I don't know what the skipper said, but the Tigers left-hander proceeded to retire the next 13 batters.  He allowed two runs on three hits and four walks and had seven strikeouts.  It was an encouraging game from one of the Tigers bigger question marks.

The Kid from Worcester, MA 

Another KC lefty - Tim Collins - caught my attention in the eighth.  I did not know that the Royals had an undrafted 5-7 hurler with a funky delivery from Worcester, Massachusetts (which is not far from me).  It's hard to root against someone like that, but I did anyway.

I was pleased to see the Tigers load the bases in the eighth against Collins thanks to two very tough at bats from pinch hitter Brennan Boesch (yes, he actually went to three and two and fouled off a bunch of pitches) and Will Rhymes.  In years past, Tigers fans would have loved seeing Magglio Ordonez in this spot.  Unfortunately, he hasn't really gotten untracked yet so so you could sense what was going to happen next.  He popped up on the first pitch to end the inning.

Austin Jackson

Speaking about not getting untracked, last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up Austin Jackson is really having trouble in the early going.  He is batting .176 with 13 strikeouts in 34 at bats.  Not only that, but he looks totally over matched up at the plate.  He struck out a lot last year, but hit the ball hard when he did make contact.  This year, he's been hitting a lot of weak infield pops and shallow flies.  They need his stellar center field defense, but one has to wonder how long he'll stay in the lead off spot if he continues to struggle.


Friday, April 08, 2011

Tigers Win Home Opener

It was a big day in Detroit today as one of the largest crowds in Comerica Park history watched the Tigers beat the Royals 5-2 in the home opener.  For those of us living outside of Detroit, it was just another Tigers game, but we enjoyed the result.  I worked at home today and, with the late start, was able to keep an eye or an ear on the TV.

The Tigers faithful found a new hero in the first inning when newly acquired Victor Martinez crushed a bases clearing double off the center field wall to put the Tigers up three to nothing.  The importance of Martinez batting behind Cabrera in the line-up is already being seen as Cabrera, who led the league with 32 intentional walks last year, has not been walked on purpose once yet this year.  Three-run doubles do not hurt either.   

The Tigers would not need any more runs thanks to some solid pitching by starter Max Scherzer.  After a dubious spring and a rough first regular season outing, Scherzer allowed just one run on seven hits in six innings today.  It wasn't one of his dominant shutdown performances like those of last year's second half, but it was good to see a relatively clean outing from the Tigers righthander.  

Rookie Brayan Villareal, who allowed the second Royals run, and southpaw Dan Schlereth pitched the seventh.  They got through the seventh today a lot better than they did yesterday, but it's looking like the bridge between the starters and setup man Joaquin Benoit is going to be a precarious one this year.  Benoit and closer Jose Valverde preserved the victory with a scoreless inning apiece.

The Royals are a team the Tigers should be able to beat most of the time, but they've been a thorn in the side of the Tigers the last few years.  The Bengals had an embarrassing 26-28 record versus Kansas City between 2008-2010.  That's something that needs to change this year and today was a good start.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Game Six Line-up

Tonight's line-up makes it look like we are back in spring training.  Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta are out.  Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago are in.  And why is Kelly batting before Raburn?  (Now watch Kelly go four for four)

Jackson CF
Rhymes 2B
Boesch RF
Cabrera 1B
Martinez DH
Kelly 3B
Raburn LF
Avila C
Santiago 2B

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Verlander and Avila Beat Orioles

After a sluggish start to the season, the Tigers needed a good pitching performance tonight.  They got one from Justin Verlander, who held the Orioles to three runs in eight innings.  The Tigers' ace allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out nine.

Another Tigers who needed a big night was Alex Avila who had been struggling both offensively and defensively in the early going.  Many impatient fans were calling for him to be temporarily benched or even sent to Toledo for further seasoning.  He broke out in a big way tonight with a homer, double, single and five RBI.  I guess he'll stay in Detroit a little bit longer.

A couple of other slow starting Tigers also came through tonight.  Victor Martinez had a homer, double and single and Magglio Ordonez chipped in with two hits. Those are two guys that need to do a lot of hitting this year if the Tigers are going to go anywhere.

Raburn Not Starting   

We were told all winter that Ryan Raburn would be the Tigers regular starting left fielder this year.  We should have known better.   This year, he has been yanked from the starting role already without even suffering a slump.  So far, it's looking like a platoon with the left-handed Brennan Boesch getting the majority of playing time.

Perhaps, Leyland is hoping Boesch gets the hot hand like he did last year in the first half. After a four hit day on Sunday, he has one hit in seven at bats versus the Orioles.  He'll need to hit more consistently this year because Raburn and Casper Wells are waiting for their opportunities. 

Tomorrow Night

In the rubber game of the series tomorrow night, it will be Brad Penny pitching for the Tigers versus Chris Tillman.  Penny needs to bounce back from a shelling by the Yankees in his first Tiger start.  Tillman, on the other hand, pitched six scoreless and hitless innings versus the Rays in his first start of the year.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Best Books for Learning Sabermetrics

I frequently see people asking the following question on message boards and blogs: "What are the best books to read for learning sabermetrics?"  My first reaction, of course, is to mention my book Beyond Batting Average.    However, there are many other books and I will cover some of my favorites here. All of the books on this list helped me in learning sabermetrics or in writing my own book. I'm sure that I'm leaving out some good books. I am only including books which I have read and which come immediately to mind. Feel free to add any of your favorites in the comments. Also note that the books below are in no particular order.

Beyond Batting Average: by Lee Panas

This is a sabermetrics primer with clear explanations and lots of example.  After reading this book, you'll be able to understand and participate in just about any sabermetrics discussion on the internet. Tom Tango recently called it a "must read" for anyone wanting to learn advanced baseball statistics.  It serves as a stepping stone to some of the books listed below.  It can be purchased as either a paperback book or an e-book,

The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin

The Book is a big favorite of sabers all over the internet and beyond.  I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in applying advanced statistics to baseball management and strategy.  Their analysis is as thorough as I've seen anywhere. It's a bit complex though, so if you are new to sabermetrics, it probably shouldn't be your first book.

Bridging the Statistical Gap by Eric Seidman

This is a good introductory sabermetrics book.  It's unique in that Eric teaches you how to develop your own sabermetrics statistics and analyses.  It's very easy to read and entertaining enough to hold the attention of the less mathematically inclined.

The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz

I deliberately put the internet writers on the top of the list but if I was making a list of my favorite baseball books (not just sabermetrics books), this would be near the top.  It's not a primer with a lot of formulas, but rather a history of data collection and statistical analysis in baseball. He brings to life all the people behind the numbers from the 19th century to modern times.  

The Bill James Baseball Abstracts by Bill James

No list of sabermetrics books would be complete without the Bill James Abstracts.  If you can get a hold of these books written in the 70s and 80s, it is the best sabermetrics reading you'll find anywhere.  James is brilliant and entertaining and the Abstracts are a must read.  Unfortunately, they out of print and hard to find. You can find some of them at the link above.  These are the books which turned me and thousands of others on to sabermetrics. 

The New Bill James Historical Abstract by Bill James

If you can't find or afford the Bill James Baseball Abstracts, the next best thing is his Historical Abstract.  He covers the entire history of baseball through sabermetrics and ranks all the players.  It's never just about numbers with James though.  It's a fascinating book with interesting stories throughout.  

The Hidden Game of Baseball by Pete Palmer and John Thorn

The Hidden Game is an introduction to the linear weights system which is so popular among analysts today.  Palmer wrote this book at the same time Bill James was writing his famous Baseball Abstracts.  He is not as well know as James, but is extremely influential to many of the sabers who are developing the field today.  It's an old book, but still relevant and highly recommended. 

Baseball Between the Numbers by Baseball Prospectus (edited by Jonah Keri)

This book is a collection of essays written by the baseball prospectus team in 2006.  It covers every aspect of sabermetrics from evaluation to management to strategy.  Several bloggers and messageboard posters have told me that this was the book that got them into sabermetrics. 

Moneyball by Michael Lewis
For those who are not mathematically oriented but want to start understanding sabermetrics, this book is a good start.  It's more about baseball management than sabermetrics, but it's the most widely read book on the list.  Lewis is an excellent writer, who helped popularize sabermetrics in the mainstream by telling a fascinating story about Billy Beane's management of the Athletics.    

Understanding Sabermetrics: An Introduction to the Science of Baseball Statistics by Gabriel Costa, Michael Huber and John Saccoman

This is another good sabermetrics primer.  It's very easy to read and is a solid first sabermetrics book.  It's somewhat similar to Beyond Batting Average, but it doesn't include a lot of the newer statistics which you see on the internet.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Tigers Win First Game

It was home run derby in New Yankee Stadium today.  The Yankees won the derby four home runs to three, but the Tigers won the game 10-7 to avoid the series sweep.  Miguel Cabrera hit a pair of two-run homers and Brennan Boesch added another to help the Tigers overcome a poor start from Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, who pitched poorly throughout spring training, was tagged for four homers and six runs in just five innings.  He got the win which gives us another example why pitcher wins is such a flawed statistic.  On the positive side, the potentially dynamic duo of joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde combined for two scoreless innings to preserve the Tigers victory.

Yankee Stadium Fences are too Shallow 

None of the Tigers home runs were cheap today, but there have been a lot of bombs hit in New Yankee Stadium since it opened in 2009.  The fences are shallow to the point where I think the stadium favors hitters too much.  This is especially true of left-handed hitters who eagerly eye the the porch in right field.  According to the Bill James Handbook, it has been 41% easier for lefties to hit home runs in Yankee Stadium compared to the average park over the last two years.  It has been 34% easier for all hitters to hit a homer in Yankee Stadium.  Both figures exceed those of the notoriously hitter friendly Coors Field (28% for LHB, 21% overall).

I feel a little uncomfortable watching a Yankee Stadium game because I get the sense that it's just too easy to hit home runs there.  I don't think it's good for the game and I'm growing to dislike the park.  It's hard to believe that the enormously successful and generally conservative Yankees deliberately intended to build a park which throws off the balance of the game this much.  I suspect that we'll see some kind of redesign at some point especially if they continue to have trouble signing free agent starting pitchers.

The Line-up

The Tigers line-up today raised a few questions.  First Magglio Ordonez was benched due to a sore ankle, the same one which was surgically repaired last year.  This leads one to wonder how healthy he will be and how many games he'll miss this year.

Will Rhymes and Alex Avila also sat out today's game as Jim Leyland said they were "pressing."  I think when Leyland says young players are pressing, it means he is disappointed with their play.  This could be an indication that there will be a short leash for young players who don't perform. 

Brennan Boesch was the designated hitter today and took Ordonez's third spot in the order.  It looked like a questionable move initially but Boesch went four for four and drove home four runs.  He'll likely stay in the line-up tomorrow.  The question is whether he'll replace Raburn or Ordonez or whether he'll DH while Avila sits another day.  Raburn got two hits of his own, so neither player is making Leyland's decision an easy one.  Ultimately, I think a lot of things are unsettled and we are going to see a lot of different line-ups this April.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Tigers Sloppy in Loss to Yankees

I got to watch my first Tigers game in six months today and they looked the same way they did when I saw them late last season.  They lost 10-6 to the Yankees in an ugly performance on the Fox Network Game of the Week.  The only good thing is that Fox carried the game in the Boston area instead of blacking it out as they usually do.  Other than that, it was a lackluster performance by the Tigers all around.

Penny Gets Off to Slow Start

Brad Penny was awful in his first start as a Tiger allowing 8 runs in 4 1/3 innings.  He put the Tigers in a hole by giving up three runs in each of the first two innings.  There is really nothing positive to take away from this one.  He simply had nothing.  Jeremy Bonderman and Armando Galarraga could have done better than that.  Just remember, it's only one start against a very powerful line-up

Sloppy Defense

Penny was not helped by his teammates.  My biggest concern about the Tigers this year is middle infield defense and today's performance did nothing to alleviate my worries. In the very first inning, Will Rhymes and Jhonny Peralta both had balls go off their gloves for singles.  They were not easy plays but they were plays that infielders with better range might have made.  I've been harping on this a lot already, but it is difficult for ground ball pitchers like Penny and Rick Porcello to overcome poor infield range.

The Tigers defensive problems weren't limited to range though.  In the second inning, Peralta attempted to throw out the speedy Brett Gardner at third on a fielder's choice rather than get the sure out at first.  It was a very close play and I won't call it a terrible decision, but it was a questionable one.  You can't give the Yankees extra outs like that.  In the same inning, Rhymes fired the ball over Miguel Cabrera's head attempting to nab Alex Rodriguez at first on a line drive double play.  Later in the game, even the sure fielding Austin Jackson got into the act by misplaying an easy fly to center.

The Offense

Jackson did a little bit of everything today.  Along with the error, he struck out out twice (giving him five in two games) and hit into a rare double play.  On the positive side he did hit his first homer of the year in the third inning and later drew a walk.  Walks and homers are two things I'm hoping we'll see more of from him this year.  He also needs to strike out less but that's not working out so far.

Another bright spot was Victor Martinez getting two hits including his first Tigers homer.  I'm predicting a big year for the veteran catcher/DH.  Brandon Inge also had his second two hit game of the season.

The Line-up

One curious move by Jim Leyland today was to insert Brennan Boesch as the left fielder against the right-handed AJ Burnett.  Now, I knew that Raburn was not really going to be a full-time starter this year no matter how many times the Tigers said he would be.  Still, it was disappointing to see him on the bench after just one game.  I don't think it's going to be a full platoon.  I expect Raburn to get the majority of left field starts, but he might not start as often as his loyal supporters hope.  Boesch went one for four with two strikeouts.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Best Month Ever

According to StatCounter, Tiger Tales had 7,655 unique visitors in March, which was the highest monthly total in my seven years of blogging.  That's not a huge number.  Some blogs get more than that every day, but it's still good to see that I'm reaching a little bit wider audience.  I haven't done anything different lately, but have gotten a boost from links posted at bigger sites like MLive (Ian Casselberry) and Bless You Boys (Kurt Mensching).  That combined with the fact that baseball interest generally peaks at this time of year has created a record amount of traffic.  Thanks to everyone who takes the time read my blog.    


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