Friday, September 30, 2011

Tigers Line-up for Game One

The Tigers have announced their line-up for game one:

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

Not surprisingly, they have loaded their line-up with right-handed batters versus the southpaw CC Sabathia. The biggest surprise is Ryan Raburn batting seventh in front of Jhonny Peralta, but he is the hotter hitter at the moment.  Ramon Santiago and Wilson Betemit will likely replace Raburn and Brandon Inge when there is a right-handed starter.   

Playoff Predictions

Before the Rangers and Rays start their game this afternoon, I'll offer some predictions for postseason.  First, I think the playoffs are largely a crapshoot and trying to figure out what teams are going to benefit from particular match ups is almost impossible.  That being said, I honestly think the Tigers are the favorites to capture the American League pennant.  I'd probably say that anyway at this time of year, but this year I am stating it with my brain as well as my heart.I also think they can take the Phillies in the World Series (although that's where my heart comes more into play)

The Tigers finished with only the third best record in the league, but they are the hottest team in baseball going 29-9 since August 19.  They have a Cy Young probable in Justin Verlander and another pitcher - Doug Fister - who is on the roll of his life.  That is probably the best one-two among AL playoff teams at the moment and the top two can bring a team a long way in the playoffs.

They possess a dominant closer in Jose Valverde, a man who has not blown a save all year.  Regardless of I feel about the modern closer roll, they is really impressive.  His supporting cast of Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Al Albuquerque is also in good shape heading into postseason. 

Offensively, I'll put up their big four - Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta - against any team in baseball.  The rest of the line-up has also improved a lot since the first half.  The emergence of Ramon Santiago and the acquisition of Wilson Betemit have filled a couple of black holes at second and third.  Ryan Raburn has picked up the pace considerably and Delmon ( Don't call me "Dmitri") Young has filled in nicely for the injured Brennan Boesch.

If there is a big question mark going into the playoffs, it would be right handers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.  Those two have been in and out all year and at least one of them needs to be at his best in the playoffs.  Odds are one of them will.

Here are my picks:

Tigers over Yankees
Rays over Rangers
Phillies over Cardinals
Brewers over Diamondbacks

Tigers over Rays
Phillies over Brewers

Tigers over Phillies

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Miguel Cabrera Leads Tigers into Playoffs with Historic Season

Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has not received as much publicity this year as teammate Justin Verlander.  In fact, his season has gone relatively unnoticed nationally as he has not been mentioned prominently in many MVP discussions.  However, a look at his raw numbers reveals a truly great season.

The right-handed slugger led the league in batting average (.344), On-Base Percentage or OBP (.448) and doubles (48) and finished second in walks (108) and Slugging Average or SLG (.586).  The OBP title is particularly noteworthy as he has led the league in that category two straight seasons.  The only other Tiger to lead the league in OBP more than once was the legendary Ty Cobb, who accomplished that feat six times.

If you place emphasis on late-season performance, Cabrera's season becomes even more impressive.  From August 1 until the end of the season, Cabrera hit an amazing .408/.491/.648 making him a crucial cog in Detroit's late season surge.     

Is there one number which can sum up his season?  The most commonly used metric of overall batting is On Base Plus Slugging or OPS.  His 1.033 OPS was second in the league to Toronto's Jose Bautista (1.056).  The problem with OPS though is that it weights OBP as equal to SLG when OBP actually contributes about 80% more to run scoring than SLG.

A better measure of overall batting than OPS is Batting Runs or BtRuns, 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 (varies from year to year)

Adjustments can also be made to reflect the effect of the player's home park.

According to Baseball-Reference, Cabrera led the AL with 71 batting runs in 2011.  This means that he contributed an estimated 71 runs to the Tigers offense beyond what you would expect from an average hitter in the same number of plate appearances.  Bautista finished second with 67 and Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was a distant third with 51.  Based on that, you can make a strong case that Cabrera was the best hitter in the American League this year.  Last year, incidentally, he also led the league with 66 Batting runs with Josh Hamilton of the Rangers second at 52.

Not only did Cabrera have a great year compared to his contemporaries, but his season also ranks very highly among Tigers hitters all-time.  The table below shows that he had the fifth highest BtRuns total in the history of the franchise this year.  The all-time best was Norm Cash with 85 in 1961.  Cabrera's 2010 season ranked tenth on the team's all-time list.  Not surprisingly , Cobb appears six times in the top 15.

So, while Cabrera's season has not received a great deal of national media attention yet, it was a remarkable season both by this year's standards and historically. 

Table 1:  Tigers Single-season Batting Runs Leaders


Player
Year
BtRuns
Norm Cash
1961
85
Ty Cobb
1911
76
Ty Cobb
1917
75
Harry Heilmann
1923
74
Miguel Cabrera
2011
71
Ty Cobb
1915
70
Ty Cobb
1912
69
Hank Greenberg
1937
67
Ty Cobb
1910
66
Miguel Cabrera
2010
65
Hank Greenberg
1940
64
Harry Heilmann
1927
64
Ty Cobb
1909
62
Hank Greenberg
1935
62
Magglio Ordonez
2007
62

Source: Baseball-Reference

Playoff Matchups Decided After Incredible Night of Baseball

What a night of baseball! I can't remember having so much fun watching baseball games that didn't involve the Tigers.  The Tigers actually did play tonight beating the Indians 5-4 to finish the season 95-67.  Shortly thereafter, The Rangers beat the Angels 3-1 on a two-run homer by Mike Napoli in the ninth to clinch the second seed in the playoffs.  This means the Tigers will face the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.  Game one will be at Yankee Stadium Friday night at 8:37 with Justin Verlander facing CC Sabathia. 

The other American League match-up will be Tampa Bay versus the Rangers.  In one of the most amazing comebacks of all time, the Rays defeated the Yankees 8-7 on a walk-off homer by Evan Longoria in the twelfth inning.  The Rays were down 7-0 in the eighth but scored six in the bottom of the inning and eventually tied it on a pinch hit homer by Dan Johnson in the ninth.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox completed their historic collapse when Jonathan Pabelbon blew a save in the bottom of the ninth.  The Orioles won 4-3 on a walk-off single by Robert Andino.  The combination of the Ray win and the Red Sox loss gave the Rays the wildcard.  

Finally, the Braves completed their own epic collapse losing to the Phillies 4-3 in 13 innings.  Philadelphia scored a run in the ninth to tie the game and another in the 13th to win it.  The Cardinals earlier beat the Astros 8-0 and captured the wildcard when the Braves lost.  So, the two National League matchups are: Phillies versus Cardinals and Brewers versus Diamondbacks.

It was quite a night of baseball.  It's going to be hard for the playoffs to top this in terms of baseball drama. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fister Dominates Indians

The Tigers upped their record to 93-67 tonight by shutting out the Indians 14-0.  The story of the game was starting pitcher Doug Fister who absolutely dominated the Indians.  He allowed just three hits and walked nobody in eight scoreless innings.  His control was so superb that he went to only one three-ball count all night.  On top of his usual control, he also struck out nine Indians.  In has last 55 2/3 innings, he has done his best Cliff Lee imitation with a 0.65 ERA and an amazing 52/4 K/BB ratio. 

The often unlucky Fister received a generous amount of run support tonight. The Tigers scored as many runs for him tonight as the Mariners typically scored for him in a month.  Seattle scored 12 runs for the big right-hander in May, 10 in June and 7 in July.  Tonight, the Tigers scored 14 runs, including an eight-run explosion in the eighth. 

Red hot Miguel Cabrera led the 18-hit attack with three singles raising his league-leading batting average to .343.  He also took over the lead in on base percentage with a .448 mark.  Every other Tigers starter had two hits except Ramon Santiago, who had one. 

The win leaves the Tigers a half game behind the Rangers who play the Angels on the west coast tonight.  If the Tigers can catch the Rangers, they will get home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.   

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Statistical Titles on the Line

Most of the attention regarding individual Tigers achievements has been focused on ace starter Justin Verlander.  It's well known that he has a great chance to win the traditional pitching triple crown.  He leads in Wins with 24 (not really an individual category but one which is getting a lot of ink regardless) and strikeouts (250).  He also narrowly leads Angels right hander Jered Weaver in ERA 2.40 to 2.41, but Weaver has one game to go.  In addition, Verlander leads in games started (34), innings pitched (251) and WHIP (0.92).

Verlander is not the only one racking up great stats for the Tigers though.  Closer Jose Valverde leads with 47 saves without a blown save and 72 appearances.  I doubt that Valverde will come close to winning an MVP, but note that one of the most important stated qualifications for the MVP is "games played". 

There is a lot happening on the offensive side as well.  Miguel Cabrera raised his batting average to .341 today to take the lead in the race for the coveted batting title.  He has two competitors close on his heels as we enter the final three days of the season: Michael Young of the Rangers (.338) and Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox (.337).

The Tigers slugging first baseman is also just percentage points away from the lead in on base percentage.  You need to go four decimal places to determine that Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays leads him .4770 to .4766. 

As of yesterday, Bautista and Cabrera were tied at 67 in Batting Runs, one of my favorite statistical categories.  This means that both hitters have contributed an estimated 67 runs beyond what an average hitter would have contributed in the same number of plate appearances.  In my eyes, this makes Cabrera a solid MVP candidate.

Another category which may get Cabrera some MVP votes is games played.  He is currently tied with Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki with 158 games played.  As mentioned above, games played is a MVP criterion which is clearly presented to voters.

In a somewhat less significant category, Cabrera is tied for second with 46 doubles, one behind Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur.  Along the same lines, Austin Jackson leads the league with 11 triples.  Peter Bourjos of the Angels and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees are tied for second with 10.

The most important thing to follow over the last few days is whether the Tigers can beat out the Rangers for home field advantage.  However, the individual races listed above will be of interest as well. 

Statistics for this post were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Walk-Off Win for Tigers

It's getting to the point where Tigers fans expect a walk-off win and we predict who will knock in the game winner each night.  You could have guessed anyone tonight, because it took three innings to happen.  If you picked Victor Martinez, you were the winner.  He drilled a hit just inside the third base line and into the left field corner scoring pinch runner Danny Worth with the game-winning-run in the eleventh inning.  Brandon Inge's lead-off walk and Miguel Cabrera's one-out single set up the winning hit.

The 4-3 win over the Orioles gives the Tigers a 28-16 record in one-run games, the best in the American League.  That's a big difference from 2010 when they went 16-26 in one-run games.  If they had played .500 ball in one-run games both years, they would have gone 86-76 last year and 85-72 this year.  So, one-run wins explains all but a 1 1/2 game disparity between the two years. 

Rick Porcello pitched his usual high-hit game allowing nine safeties in seven innings, but he limited the damage to just three runs.  Thankfully, he allowed just one extra base hit, a run-scoring double by Vladimir Guerrero in the first inning. 

The bullpen took over in the eighth.  The playoff-ready Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde cruised through the eighth, ninth and tenth innings allowing no runs and one base runner between them.  The playoff-unready Ryan Perry allowed two base runners but managed to pitch a scoreless eleventh.

Tomorrow tonight, Justin Verlander will attempt to become baseball's first 25-game winner since Bob Welch won 27 for the Oakland Athletics in 1990.   

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tigers Reach 90 Wins

A lot of fans focus on post-season victories in evaluating the success of a franchise.  While I realize that the post-season is important, I think it's largely a crap shoot as  any team can win a short series.  I believe the regular season tells us more about how good a team really is and I've long considered 90 wins to be the bench mark of a strong regular season.  It will also get a team into the playoffs most years.  The Tigers reached 90 wins with a 6-3 victor over the Royals today.  It's the 19th time in franchise history the Tigers have won that many games.

The other 90-win seasons are shown in the table below.  Their best decades have been the 1960's (four 90 win seasons), 1980s (three) and 1900s (three).  They failed to win 90 games in a season in the 1990s, and 1920s. 

Table 1: Tigers 90-Win Seasons 


Year
W
L
2011
90
65
2006
95
67
1987
98
64
1984
104
58
1983
92
70
1971
91
71
1969
90
72
1968
103
59
1967
91
71
1961
101
61
1950
95
59
1946
92
62
1940
90
64
1935
93
58
1934
101
53
1915
100
54
1909
98
54
1908
90
63
1907
92
58

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Re-thinking the Pitching Triple Crown

It's well know that Justin Verlamder is closing in on the traditional pitching triple crown.  He is leading the American League in Wins, ERA and strikeouts.  The current leaders are shown below:

Wins
Verlander, DET 24
Sabathia, NY 19
Weaver, LA 18

ERA
Verlandr, DET2.29
Sabathia, NY 2.41
Beckett, BOS 2.50

Strikeouts
Verlander, DET 244
Sabathia, NY 224
Hernandez, SEA 220

Verlander is a lock to lead in both wins and strikeouts.  If he does fairly well in his final start, he'll also get the ERA title.  This is a great feat accomplished only 15 times in American League history, most recently by Johan Santana of the Twins in 2006.  The only Tiger before Verlander to lead the league in this statistical trio was Hal Newhouser in 1945.  Like the batters triple crown though, the pitching crown is comprised of a rather arbitrary set of metrics.

I think most readers of this blog understand the limitations of wins for pitchers.  It is very dependent on what your teammates do - the batters, the fielders and the relievers.  All you need to do is look at the win totals of two Tigers this year to see why it's a very suspect measure.  Few savvy fans would assert that Rick Porcello has outpitched Dout Fister in 2011, but Porcello has 14 wins and Fister has only 9.  The reason is because Porcello has received an average of about three more runs of support per game than Fister (5.9 versus 2.8).  Thus, I consider wins to be a team statistic rather than an individual statistic and it's not going to be part of my triple crown  

ERA is also influenced by other players beyond the pitcher, but pitchers are generally more responsible for their ERA than their wins.  So, I'll keep that in my triple crown with one change: I'll include Run Average (RA) instead of ERA.  RA is the same as ERA except that runs are used instead of earned runs.  There are a few problems with earned runs:
  • They are subject to potential official scorer bias.
     
  • There can be a situation where a pitcher pitches poorly and allows a bunch of runs in one inning, but doesn't get charged with any of them because of one fielding error (perhaps his own).
  • Earned run totals may be biased against ground ball pitchers because ground balls are more likely to result in errors than fly balls.
In the end, RA is cleaner and simpler bottom line results statistic than ERA.

My second triple crown number is simply innings pitched.  When a pitcher has a high innings pitched total, he saves his bullpen and assures that fewer innings are thrown by the team's inferior pitchers.  As such, innings should carry a lot of weight in any evaluation of starting pitchers 

My third statistic is strikeout/walk ratio (K/BB). Strikeouts are good, but they are even better if they are paired with good control.  Thus, I think K/BB is a better performance statistic than just strikeouts.

We could get more complex here, but I wanted to keep it simple.  To review, our three numbers are RA IP and K/BB which measure results, endurance and dominance respectively.

The leaders for these three metrics are shown below:

RA
Weaver, LA 2.45
Verlander, DET 2.51
Beckett, BOS 2.65

IP
Verlander, DET 244
Shields, TB 233
Hernadez, SEA 230
Sabathia, NY 230

K/BB
Haren, LA 6.00
McCarthy, OAK 4.64
Verlander, DET 4.36

You can see that Verlander only leads in innings pitched, but is still in the top three in all three. 

Historically, it has proven to be more difficult to win this new triple crown than the traditional one.  It is has been attained only four times in American League history: Walter Johnson in 1913 and 1915, Bob Feller in 1940 and Brett Saberhagen in 1989.  This makes it even rarer than the traditional hitters triple crown which has been achieved nine times.

Statistics for this post were gathered from Baseball-Reference.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tigers Win First Division Title Since 1987!

The Tigers capped a fantastic four-week stretch tonight by clinching their first division title since 1987.  Their 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics officially eliminated the Indians who earlier beat the twins.

With almost two weeks left in the season, this one came a lot earlier than the 1987 title.  That one came on the last day of the season completing the most thrilling pennant race of my lifetime.  Southpaw Frank Tanana pitched a complete game shutout to outduel Blue Jays starter Jimmy Key 1-0.  Outfielder Larry Herndon provided the only run with a solo homer.

Much like the 1987 clincher, this one featured an outstanding performance by a Tigers starter.  Doug Fister allowed just one run on three hits and no walks through eight innings. At one point, the tall slim righthander had retired 17 batters in a row. 

It's the kind of game we have come to expect from a pitcher who has had as much to do with the Tigers surge as anyone on the team.  In his last six starts, he has posted a tremendous 0.81 ERA and a 41/4 K/BB ratio in 44 2/3 innings.   Past mid-season acquisitions Woodie Fryman (1972) and Doyle Alexander (1987) also were keys to division titles, but they have nothing on this guy. 

Fister threw only 91 pitches and probably could have pitched the ninth, but manager Jim Leyland called upon his invincible closer to finish it off.  Jose Valverde gave up a lead-off double to Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp, but then proceeded to retire the side for his 45th save in 45 opportunities.

The Tigers offense came from the most improbable sources tonight, but the way things have been going for this team you can expect the unexpected.  They tied the game at one in the third inning when second baseman Ramon Santiago tripled and then scored on a single by right fielder Don Kelly.  Third baseman Wilson Betemit then tripled home Jhonny Peralta run in the sixth for the go ahead run.  Kelly added another in the seventh with a solo shot to right field. 

It shouldn't have taken this long for the Tigers to win a division title.  There's been a lot of frustration with disappointing teams and second half collapses.  The past failures just make this one so much sweeter though.

The American League Central finally belongs to the Tigers.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tigers Streak Finally Ends, Magic Number is One

The Tigers 12-game winning streak, their longest since 1934, came to an end tonight when they were defeated 6-1 by the Athletics in Oakland.  With the Indians losing to the Rangers tonight, the Tigers had a chance to clinch their first division title since 1987, but that will have to wait for another night. They did clinch a tie for first.

There's not much to say about the game itself.  Tigers starter Max Scherzer was not sharp tonight allowing five runs on seven hits and three homers in just five innings to a weak-hitting Athletics offense.  Meanwhile, Athletics starter Brandon McCarthy struck out eight Tigers and allowed just one run in seven innings.  The only Tigers run scored on a solo shot in the third inning by Delmon Young.   

They will try to win the division outright tomorrow night with Doug Fister on the mound versus Trevor Cahill. Let's hope it will be a Clinched Fister. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tigers Open at Home Versus Red Sox in 2012

Major League Baseball has released its 2012 schedule and the Tigers will open at home versus the Red Sox for three games beginning on April 5.  The six-game opening home stand also includes three games versus the Rays.  The Tigers end the season with a three game series at Kansas City on October 1-3.

The Tigers will play mostly against the National League Central in inter-league play.  For some reason they play the Pirates twice - once at Comerica and once at Pittsburgh.  They also go to Cincinnati and Chicago and play at home versus the Rockies and Cardinals. 

The tough part of their schedule is that the four inter-division opponents they play most often are traditionally playoff contenders - Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Texas.  They play three series versus each of those teams.  Meanwhile, they play just two series against Baltimore Oakland, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Toronto.  The complete schedule can be found here

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tigers Shock White Sox, Win 12th Straight

Lately, I have expected the Tigers to come back and win every game regardless of the score, but this one felt different. I was listening to the radio at work and wasn't to focused on the action, but it had the feel of one of those lazy weekday afternoon games where they just can't get it going.  They had a bare bones line-up with Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn on the bench.  They were losing 5-2 going into the ninth and it it looked like a sure loss.

Then it happened again.  With one-out in the ninth, Raburn clubbed a pinch-hit homer to left to make it 5-3.  Another pinch hitter, Magglio Ordonez, followed with a walk. Avila, yet another pinch hitter, then smashed a long two-run home run to center off of White Sox closer Sergio Santos to tie it at five. 

It looked like the game might slip away when reliever Phil Coke walked two batters in the bottom of the ninth.  Chicago catcher AJ Pierzynski then hit a rocket on a hop to second baseman Carlos Guillen at second.  Guillen bobbled it momentarily but turned it into an inning-ending doubleplay.  

Designated hitter Victor Martinez got things going in the tenth with a one-out double.  Guillen, who earlier homered, then put the Tigers ahead 6-5 with a single to center. Then it was time for Jose Valverde to close it out and he did so in dramatic fashion.  He struck out the side for his 44th consecutive save of 2011.

It was the 12th win in a row for a Tigers team that just won't lose  The last time they won that many games in succession was 77 years ago in 1934 when Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg and company terrorized the American League. 

In a year of amazing comebacks for the Tigers, this one was probably the most stunning of all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tigers Extend Streak to 11 Games

The Tigers shutout the White Sox 5-0 tonight to extend their winning streak to 11 games.  They are now tied for the fourth longest streak in franchise history.  The 1909 and 1934 teams, both pennant winners, had 14 game winning streaks.  The fourth-place 1927 team had a streak of 13 games.  The exact dates of the streaks are shown in the table below.


Table: Tigers Longest Winning Streaks

Year
Start Date
End     Date
Games
1934
July 31
August 14
14
1909
August 19
September 2
14
1927
August 10
August 22
13

Source: Baseball-Reference

Beyond the streak, the Tigers are now 21-4  which is tied for their most wins ever in 25 games.  The last time they did that was in 1984.  That team, of course, went on to go 35-5 to the start the season.  They won 104 regular-season games overall enroute to the most recent Tigers championship.

(Note: They were 21-3 with one tie in 1909)

An individual streak was also extended tonight.  Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to gain his 23rd win of the year and 11th in a row.  That is the longest Tigers individual winning streak since Jeremy Bonderman had 11in 2006.  Bobo Newsome won 13 in a row in 1940 and School Boy Rowe won 12 in succession in 1934.

The Tigers will go for win number 12 in a row tomorrow afternoon with Brad Penny on the mound.

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