Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tigers Set to Acquire Fister from Mariners in Six-Player Deal

According to multiple national reports, the Tigers are apparently set to acquire starting pitcher Doug Fister and reliever David Pauley from the Mariners for lefty Charlie Furbush, outfielder Casper Wells third baseman Francisco Martinez and a player to be named later.  The centerpiece of the deal for the Tigers is Fister who will join the starting rotation.  The Tigers are giving up a lot in return, but will be able to hold onto prized prospects pitcher Jacob Turner and third baseman Nick Castellanos.

The right-handed Fister has a 3.33 ERA and 89/32 K/BB ratio with just 7 homers allowed in 146 innings for the Mariners this year.  Although he is a giant at six-foot-eight, Fister does not strike out a lot of batters - just 5.2 per nine innings for his career.  He has thrived by avoiding walks (1.9 per 9 IP) and home runs (0.7 per 9 IP).

The biggest red flag with Fister is his home/road split.  He has a 3.42 career ERA at Safeco versus 4.40 on the road.  Still, I keep going back to his low walk rate which is something that will play well in any park.  

One statistic you can ignore even more than usual is Fister's won/loss record.  How does a pitcher go 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA?  Is it because he doesn't know how to win?  It probably has more to do with the fact the Mariners have scored two runs or fewer in 16 of his 21 starts.  He can expect a lot better run support with the Tigers. 

Pauley has made a successful conversion from starter to reliever in 2011 posting a 2.15 ERA in 39 appearances.  The soft-tossing right-hander is not as stellar as his ERA indicates.  He has a decent 34/16 K/BB ratio, but has probably been somewhat fortunate in limiting hits and homers.

He has allowed just 23% of batted balls in play to land safely this year compared to 29% for his career.  He also has had just 4% of his fly balls go for homers versus 10% for his career.  He is not likely to keep up either of those 2011 rates.

Despite their limitations, both Fister and Pauley should be solid additions to the Tigers staff.  Fister should be a clear upgrade over others who have pitched in the fifth slot this year.  That's not to say he is a "fifth starter".  Ideally, he will be their fourth best pitcher but he's replacing the other fifth starters. Pauley should be a capable middle reliever which is something the Tigers desperately need.  

It's a risky deal no doubt.  The biggest fear is that the 20-year-old Martinez could blossom into a star.  He has a long way to go though and chances are it will never happen.  The Tigers trying to win now and you need to give up something to get useful pitchers.  So, I think it's a fair deal for both sides.

Tigers May be Getting Close on Deal for Fister

Jerry Crasnick and others are reporting that the Tigers are making progress on a deal with the Mariners.  The Tigers would be getting starting pitcher Doug Fister and perhaps a reliever.  Danny Knobler thinks that the Tigers would have to include left-hander Charlie Furbush as part of the deal.

Since the Mariners need offense, I will speculate that Andy Dirks or Casper Wells might also be involved.  What reliever might the Tigers receive? Maybe David Pauley but again that's just speculation.

The other big news of the morning is that Jacob Turner has been recalled from Erie to start today's game.  He will probably just get one start, especially if they complete a deal for Fister or somebody else.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tigers Talking with Mariners About Fister

The most solid Tigers rumor of the afternoon has them talking to the Mariners about Doug Fister and a reliever.  The right-handed Fister has a 3.33 ERA and 89/32 K/BB rate in 146 innings for the Mariners this year.  You might expect a 6 foot 8 pitcher to get a lot of strikeouts but Fister has struck out just over 5 batters per nine innings in his career.

What Fister does do is limit walks (1.9 BB / 9 IP for his career) and home runs (0.7 HR / 9 IP).  He no doubt benefits from pitching in pitcher-friendly Safeco field, but his control is certainly impressive.

Jon Morosi reported that the Tigers are not interested in closer Brandon League, but rather a middle reliever. That could be David Pauley, although a soft-tossing right-handeder does not seem like Dave Dombrowski's kind of pitcher.

I imagine the Tigers would have to give up Andy Oliver plus a mid-ranged prospect or two to make this happen. The Mariners need offense though, so perhaps they would be interested in someone like Casper Wells or Andy Dirks. 

Tigers Still in the Running for Jimenez

According to Danny Knobler, the Tigers are still in the running for Colorado Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.  Jimenez, who may be the best pitcher known to be on the market, has a 4.20 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 122 innings this year. He has had trouble pitching in hitter friendly Coors field where he has a 5.55 ERA compared to 2.83 on the road.  So, one would think he should benefit from moving to a new park.    

Jiminez is a ground ball pitcher who is among the top ten MLB pitchers in ground ball rate (51.%) and homers per nine innings (0.52) since 2008.  He also has a healthy 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings over that period.  On the downside, he has poor control walking 3.9 batters per nine innings.  Overall though, he would be a substantial upgrade to a staff giving them a potentially lethal 1-2-3 of Justin Verlander, Jimenez and Max Scherzer for the stretch drive and hopefully the playoffs.

Part of what makes Jimenez attractive is a very team-friendly contract through 2014. He is making just $2.8 million this year and is owed $4.2 million in 2012 with team options of $5.75 million in 2013 and 8 million in 2014.  So, why would the Rockies want to trade someone like that?  Do they know something about his health which we don't?  Should we be worried about his drop in fastball velocity from 96.1 MPH last year to 93.4 MPH this year?

Assuming he is healthy, Jimenez is going to cost a lot in terms of prospects.  That puts the Tigers at a disadvantage since they don't have a deep farm system.  They would almost certainly have to give up prized right-hander Jacob Turner and others such as third baseman Nick Castellanos.  Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski has shown in the past that he is not afraid to trade his top prospects in the right deal.

There has also been talk about trading Rick Porcello as part of a package for Jimenez, but that doesn't make a lot sense for the Tigers.  While Jimenez would probably be an upgrade over Porcello, it would still leave the Tigers without a viable fifth starter.

It doesn't seem likely that the Tigers will be able to get Jimenez given their thin farm system and given that the Red Sox and Yankees are also interested.  So, the Tigers have backup plans.  The best one is Hiroki Kuroda, who has a 3.11 ERA and 7.0/2.4 K/BB ratio for the Dodgers this year. 

Kuroda becomes a free agent after the year and would be less costly in terms of prospects. One obstacle is his no trade clause.  It seems logical that he would waive it for two months to play for a contender, but he has not indicated yet that he would do so.  Of course, the Red Sox and Yankees also want him.

Other possibilities include the oft-injured Eric Bedard, Doug Fister, Jeremy Guthrie, Aaron Harang, Jason Marquis, Brett Myers, Jeff Niemann and Wandy Rodriguez.  Once you get past the top pitchers, proven ability versus American League teams becomes more important.  Thus, Fister Guthrie and Niemann seem like better bets than some of the others.  Bedard's injury history will scare teams away as well.

There is no guarantee, but it sounds like the Tigers are determined to add a starter by the deadline.  It should be an interesting weekend. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inge Designated for Assignment

After ten years with the Tigers, Brandon Inge has been designated for assignment to make room for the newly acquired Wilson Betemit on the 25-man roster.  If he clears waivers (a pretty safe assumption), he said he will accept an assignment to Toledo.

The Tigers signed the slowly declining Inge to a questionable two-year $11million deal after last season and they will still be on the hook for most of that.  Even Inge's biggest doubters could not have imagined how far he would fall this year.  He was batting .177 with one homer in 239 plate appearances and showing no signs of snapping out of it.  What's worse is that his once stellar fielding had reached the point where it was no longer an asset.

Inge is one of the few players who lives in the Detroit area year round and has been quite active in the community.  He has also been one of the most popular Tigers locally consistently getting loud cheers and being voted player of the game by television audiences on a regular basis.  His popularity is probably part of the reason why the Tigers were willing to roll the dice on a two-year deal.

As much as local fans liked him though, he has long been the most controversial Tiger in the internet community.  Inge infuriated fans with his long slumps, his strikeouts and his complaining about being replaced at catcher by Pudge Rodriguez and at third by Miguel Cabrera.  It turned out that he was right about the third base decision.  Cabrera at first and Inge at third was a much better idea and that was arranged later.

At times, the complaining about Inge got to be too much.  It felt as if fans had such a personal dislike for the man that they refused to acknowledge the things he did well. He was called a bum, a replacement level player and worse on many occasions.

In reality, Inge's career performance fell somewhere between the adoration of some local fans and the hatred of certain internet fans.  Inge was certainly never a star and could be maddening at times, but he was a decent regular between 2004-2010.  During his prime he was one of the best defensive third basemen in the game and had enough power to club 27 home runs on two occasions.  He was significantly above the statistical replacement level each year during that period.  This year he actually was performing below replacement level and has now been appropriately replaced. 

If he never plays another game as a Tiger, he'll be remembered for many things - check-swing strike threes, great defensive plays, walk-off homers, strange statements to the press, community service, etc.  It's funny because if you look at his record, he should have been the most innocuous player since Tom Brookens.  Instead, he has been the most polarized.

Tigers Acquire Wilson Betemit

The Tigers have acquired infielder Wilson Betemit from the Royals in exchange for two minor leaguers - left-handed pitcher Antonio Cruz and catcher Julio Rodriguez.  The switch-hitting Betemit has played all four infield positions during his nine-year MLB career, but has been used most frequently as a third baseman.  He will most likely get the bulk of at bats at third base for the Tigers in place of the struggling Brandon Inge.  

The 29-year-old Betemit batted .281/.341/.409 for the Royals this year which is not far from his lifetime line of .268/.335/.443.  He hits better from the left side than the right side (.809 OPS versus .683 OPS for his career).  Regardless, his .750 OPS this year is a clear upgrade over Brandon Inge (.484) and Donald Kelly (.631). 

Defensively all indications point to him being a poor third baseman.  Taking the average of his advanced defensive metrics (DRS, UZR, Total Zone) over the past two years yields a composite rating of -7 runs below the average third baseman.  Moreover, Royals fans rated him as below average in every phase of defense in the Fan Scouting Report. So, Betemit improves the Tigers offense at the expense of an already weak defense.

Under normal circumstances, I would consider Betemit to be an insignificant acquisition.  However, Inge has been so bad this year, that I see Betemit as a clear upgrade.  While I don't like to see yet another sub-par defender added to the Tigers starting line-up, the offensive boost he'll bring should outweigh his defensive liability. 

Since Cruz and Rodriguez are marginal prospects who are not likely to amount to much, there is little downside to this move.  It is a good move for the Tigers.  Now, they need to add a starting pitcher.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Alburquerque Nearly Un-hittable

It is well documented that Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque is striking out batters at an incredible clip.  With 47 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings, he leads the American League with 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings.  If he keeps up that pace, he will have one of the top ten strikeout rates in the history of baseball.

His 2.74 ERA is a little less impressive, but we know that ERA is not a good statistic for relief pitchers.  One reason is because relievers often enter games with runners on base and give up another pitcher's runs.  Conversely, they may leave games with runners on base and get charged for runs that scored due to hits allowed by other relievers.

One alternative to ERA is the Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) statistic.  FIP  estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be based on fielding independent statistics - walks, hit batsmen, strikeouts and home runs.  FIP is independent of fielders and also the performance of other relievers.  Alburquerque currently has a very low 2.22 FIP because of his astronomical strikeout rate and because he has yet to allow a homer.

Weighted Component ERA (WERC) is another ERA estimator which adds hits to everything that FIP includes.  Thus, it estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be based on walks, hit batsmen, strikeouts, home runs and hits.  Why might WERC be useful for relief pitchers?  There is growing evidence that relievers (especially very good ones) have more control over the results of batted balls than starters.  The phenomenon has been studied by Lewie Pollis of Wahoo Blues and Dave Studenmund at The Hardball Times among others.  It has been found that at least some relievers tend to allow fewer hits on batted balls throughout their careers than most starters.

One theory is that relievers only have to pitch to a few batters per game and can throw their best stuff on every pitch, whereas starters need to pace themselves throughout the game.  Therefore, relievers may be able to induce weaker contact than starters.  With this in mind, it might make sense to include hits in the evaluation of relievers even if it has been shown that most starters have limited control over batted balls.  Thus, WERC might be a good alternative to FIP in evaluating relievers.


Because he has allowed just 4.6 hits per nine innings to go with his large number of strikeouts and zero homers, Alburquerque's WERC is even lower than his FIP.  In fact, he leads the American League with a 1.66 WERC.  The AL league leaders with 25 or more appearances in 2011 are listed in the table below. 

Table 1: AL Reliever WERC Leaders as of July 17, 2011


Player
Team
G
IP
Base Runs/9 IP
WERC
Al Alburquerque
DET
28
29.2
1.79
1.66
Scott Downs*
LAA
35
31.0
1.81
1.69
David Pauley
SEA
35
48.1
1.94
1.81
Daniel Bard
BOS
44
46.1
2.02
1.88
Koji Uehara
BAL
40
44.0
2.19
2.04
Jesse Crain
CHW
41
41.2
2.32
2.16
Glen Perkins*
MIN
37
35.2
2.38
2.22
Mariano Rivera
NYY
37
35.0
2.43
2.26
Kyle Farnsworth
TBR
41
38.0
2.44
2.26
Joe Smith
CLE
37
34.2
2.47
2.30
Grant Balfour
OAK
37
36.2
2.51
2.34
David Robertson
NYY
39
36.1
2.55
2.37
Vinnie Pestano
CLE
39
35.1
2.70
2.51
Marc Rzepczynski*
TOR
41
37.0
2.72
2.53
Chris Perez
CLE
37
34.1
2.74
2.55
Juan Cruz
TBR
38
34.0
2.74
2.55
Brandon League
SEA
40
37.2
2.75
2.56
Matt Albers
BOS
31
38.0
2.77
2.58
Sergio Santos
CHW
36
42.0
2.82
2.63
Jordan Walden
LAA
40
39.0
2.88
2.68


Other Tiger relievers are listed in Table 2 below.  Set-up man Joaquin Benoit (3.48) and closer Jose Valverde (3.51) trail the Amazing Al by a wide margin.  Now, one thing that WERC does not do is take into account the game situation in which relievers pitch, but that's a topic for another post.  For now, I'll just say that Alburquerque has been close to un-hittable when he has pitched.

Table 2: Tigers Reliever WERC Leaders as of July 17, 2011


Player
G
IP
Base Runs/9 IP
WERC
Al Alburquerque
28
29.2
1.79
1.66
Joaquin Benoit
40
35.0
3.74
3.48
Jose Valverde
44
41.2
3.77
3.51
Daniel Schlereth*
29
25.2
5.57
5.18
Ryan Perry
20
22.1
5.64
5.25

The raw data used to create the statistics in this post was extracted from Baseball-Reference.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tigers Starters Getting Hit Hard

In previous posts, we saw how well Justin Verlander ranks among American League starters on various statistics - Weighted On Base Average Against (wOBAA), Base Runs Above Average (RAA) and Weighted Component ERA (WERC).  Unfortunately, the rest of the staff has not fared well at all.

Table 1 shows that all Tigers starters not named Verlander have wOBAA's above .330.  How bad is that? Consider that the average wOBAA for AL starters with 50 or more innings is .316. 

Table 1: wOBAA for Tigers Starters (as of July 10)

Player
Team
IP
wOBAA
Justin Verlander
DET
151.0
.242
Phil Coke*
DET
79.1
.331
Rick Porcello
DET
96.0
.342
Brad Penny
DET
110.0
.345
Max Scherzer
DET
111.1
.354

Table 2 illuatrates that all Tigers starters other than Verlander are below average in Base Runs Above Average (RAA).  Max Scherzer has been particularly bad based on this measure with 12 runs below average.  This means that he has cost the Tigers an estimated 12 runs compared to the average starter with 111 innings.  He ranks 67th among 73 starters with 50 or more innings pitched. Rick Porcello and Brad Penny rank almost as low as they are tied for 58th in the league at -6 RAA

Table 2: Base Runs Above Average for Tigers Starters(as of July 10)

Player
Team
IP
Base Runs
RAA
Justin Verlander
DET
151.0
39
33
Phil Coke*
DET
79.1
39
-1
Brad Penny
DET
110.0
58
-6
Rick Porcello
DET
96.0
52
-6
Max Scherzer
DET
111.1
64
-12

Finally, Table 3 tells us that the Tigers #2 through #5 starters are all above 4.00 on WERC. The league average for starters with 50 or more innings pitched is 3.73.  For what it's worth, Charlie Furbush has a 5.05 WERC in 29 innings. 

Table 3: WERC for Tigers Starters (as of July 10)

Player
Team
IP
Base Runs/9 IP
WERC
Justin Verlander
DET
151.0
2.32
2.16
Phil Coke*
DET
79.1
4.41
4.11
Brad Penny
DET
110.0
4.76
4.42
Rick Porcello
DET
96.0
4.85
4.51
Max Scherzer
DET
111.1
5.21
4.85

Are the Tigers starters really this bad?  Scherzer and Porcello are probably not as awful as their aggregate statistics suggest.  A look at Scherzer's game log shows that he has allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of his 19 starts.  The problem is that when he's bad, he's really bad.  He has allowed five or more runs seven times. Porcello's season has been similar - 9 games of 2 or fewer runs and  six of five or more runs.  So, they have at least given the Tigers a good chance to win in more than half their starts.  However, they have been hit hard too often and they need to reduce the beatings in the second half.

The raw data used to create the statistics in this post was extracted from Baseball-Reference.

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