Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tigers Get Two More Years of Santiago

Unable to find a starting job for starter money elsewhere, infielder Ramon Santiago has agreed to terms with the Tigers on a two-year deal.  Santiago finished the season in a platoon at second with infielder-outfielder Ryan Raburn and manager Jim Leyland says that is still the arrangement as of now:
“Santiago and Ryan Raburn will be playing second base as the club stands today,” Leyland said. “He will probably [also] get time at short.”
General Manager Dave Dombrowski had a similar response, but he stopped short of saying that it would remain that way to start the season.

I can't see the Tigers going into the season with Santiago/Raburn at second and Don Kelly/Brandon Inge at third base.  I'm expecting at least one of those platoons to replaced by a full-time player before the season starts.  Trade possiblities include infielders Martin Prado of the Braves and Macier Izturis of the Angels, both of whom can play second and third.  Free agent second baseman Kelly Johnson and third baseman Aramis Ramirez are also available.

All Eyes are on Yoenis Cespedes

The Tigers were one of many teams which scouted Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes in a recent showcase in the Dominican Republic.  Assistant general manager Al Avila says that a private scouting session for just the Tigers is also scheduled.  Cespedes is considered a five-tool talent and the Tigers are very intrigued, but so are many other teams, including big spenders such as the Yankees Red Sox. Phillies and Nationals.  One of the strongest suitors may be the Marlins, who would love to have a high profile Cuban playing in South Florida.

Cespedes defected from Cuba this summer and is currently living in the Dominican Republic where he is waiting to become a free agent. Major League Baseball is expected to declare him a free agent soon and the bidding should become intense.  He is expected to get a contract similar to another Cuban - Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman.  Chapman signed a six year deal worth $30 million in 2010. Based on the publicity and the teams involved, I get the sense that Chapman will get even more that, perhaps as much as $50 million.

The 26-year-old Cespedes batted .333/.424/.667 in Cuba in 2010-2011.  He and slugger Jose Abreu both hit 33 home runs to break a league record.  Since Cuba is probably comparable to low A ball in the United States, it is hard to know how that would translate into the majors.  The raw talent is unquestioned however.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus called the 6-0 215 pound Cespedes the "best all around player to come out of Cuba in a generation".  Goldstein also wrote that Cepedes is a "legitimate center fielder" with "plus power and speed".

Cespedes is not necessarily a pure hitter, but Mark Anderson of TigsTown and Baseball Prospect Nation reports that scouts believe he will hit well enough to take advantage of his immense power.  Anderson says that he has 60-70 power on the scouting scale, which means that he has the potential to hit 25-30 homers in the majors some day.

While power may be his ticket the majors, Cespedes can do more than hit home runs.  The Cuban sensation has a rare exciting power - speed combination and some are calling him a potential 30/30 candidate.  He also has the range and arm to play any of the three outfield positions.   Of course, we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves.  He's far from a sure thing, but you can see his athleticism and raw tools on this humorous but impressive Promotional Video.

If the Tigers were able to sign Cespedes, he would likely spend some time in the minors, but he'll be getting too much money to stay there very long.  It would probably be a matter of weeks rather than months.  He would not likely unseat Austin Jackson in center fielder, but could knock him out of the lead-off spot.  I could envision Cespedes at one of the corners with Brennan Boesch in the other corner.  Current left fielder Delmon Young would almost surely be traded in that scenario.

The Tigers will have a lot of competition in the pursuit of Cepedes and chances are they  won't get him, but he's an intriguing possibility to think about as the hot stove heats up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beyond Batting Average Update


With the holidays coming up, I wanted to give an update on my book Beyond Batting Average. You can buy it for 25% off at Lulu.com by entering the coupon code when you order the book: BUYMYBOOK305. This means you can get the e-book for $5.25 or the printed version for $10.50. The offer expires on December 14.


Beyond Batting Average was published in 2010 and I believe it is the most up-to-date and comprehensive sabermetrics primer available. It is accessible to fans who are trying to learn sabermetrics and would like a more organized and broader presentation of the subject than you'll typically find on the internet.  It serves as a good introduction to more advanced books such as The Book by Tom Tango, Mitchell Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin

Some of my favorite reviews of Beyond Batting Average are listed below:

Dan Dickerson (Detroit Tigers broadcaster)

I really love Beyond Batting Average - it makes the cut for the "suitcase" library that I take with me on the road...definitely a handy resource

James Bailey Baseball America's Top Ten Books of 2010 

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...
What the book does particularly well is explain complicated concepts in simple terms. 

Neil Paine (Baseball-Reference)

I have no doubt that you'll find it easy to keep up with the stats that Panas presents. I was also impressed with how comprehensively Panas covered each topic; on several occasions, he delved into metrics that even I would not have thought to include in the discussion. Simply put, after reading this, you will be able to converse about sabermetrics with pretty much anybody and hold your own.

Tom Tango (The Book Blog)

If you are a non-mathy guy, but want to understand sabermetrics better, then a huge thumbs up for this book. If you are pretty much comfortable with sabermetrics, but still not there yet (you haven’t run any of your own studies), then a regular thumbs up.

David Gassko (The Hardball Times)


There has not really been a comprehensive resource that explains all the sabermetric statistics you need to know in one simple package. Well, at least there wasn’t until Lee Panas published Beyond Batting Average. 

Dan Szymborski (Baseball Think Factory)


Panas hits all the basic issues quite well and seems to be very up-to-date on what measures are generally used by the statnoscenti of the internet, which is extremely helpful to people who want to jump in with both feet. The author is also very good at telling the reader where these stats can be found and has focused on stats that are readily accessible to the public.

Steve Slowinski (DRays Bay)

Lee's writing is clear and concise, but also quite engaging for a topic that can sometimes get quite nerdy and dull. If you're looking to learn more about sabermetrics and want a book to start you off on the right foot, this is a great book to look into. And even if you already know a good deal about sabermetrics, it's a really handy reference tool. I consider myself well versed in baseball statistics, but I learned a decent bit from the book and I'm sure that I'll be referring to it whenever I have questions over the course of the season. Thanks Lee, this is a keeper.

Justin Inaz (Beyond The BoxScore):

Lee Panas published a terrific sabermetric primer. It's extremely current, with great scope, and will be an awesome resource for those interested in learning more about sabermetrics--especially player valuation statistics. I'm linking to Tango's review of it, but you can find the book on Lulu. If I do my baseball class again next year, I'll probably assign Lee's book.

U.S. Patriot (Walk Like A Sabermerician)

Lee's straightforward approach and knowledge will make it a good resource for those who are just getting into sabermetrics.

Kurt Mensching (Bless You Boys)

With his book, Lee gives the reader a step-by-step guide through how stats were developed and how to best apply them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tigers Interested in Mark Buehrle

Lynn Henning has reported a few times this off-season that the Tigers are interested in former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle.  Tigers General manager has hinted that upgrading the infield and acquiring a leadoff hitter are bigger priorities than adding a starter.  However, you can never have enough pitching and they do not have an established fifth starter behind Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.  As it stands now, rookies such as Jacob Turner, Drew Smiley and Adam Wilk would compete for the spot and there's a good chance none of them are ready yet.  

The 32-year-old Buehrle is a model of consistency and durability.  In fact, he is the only major league pitcher to pitch 200 or more innings for 11 straight years.  He's been quite effective as well with a career ERA+ of 120 and he has been 100 (average) or better in 10 of 11 seasons.  He is not a strikeout pitcher (5.1 K per 9 innings) but has excellent control (2.0 BB per 9 innings). 

Some will point out that his DIPS statistics do not match his ERA.  His lifetime 4.11 WDIP (average of FIP, XFIP, tERA and SIERA) is higher than his 3.83 ERA.  If he did that for a year or two, you might guess that he was lucky.  There comes a point though where you need to trust ERA and 11 years is long past that point.  It seems that he does have a run prevention skill that goes beyond what his peripherals suggest.

The Tigers are certainly not the only team that might pursue the under-rated veteran.  He will be attractive to a lot of teams and will be costly.  Is he worth a large multi-year deal?  Given his past health history and the the fact that good pitchers don't tend to drop off as rapidly as hitters in the 30s, I'd say he's a better bet than someone like third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who is also on the Tigers radar.  Depending on how ridiculous the offers get, Buehrle could very well be worth it.

Chances are the Tigers will sign neither Buehrle or Ramirez, but it's starting to get interesting.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tigers interested in Aramis Ramirez

Jason Beck has confirmed an earlier report that the Tigers have inquired about former Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez, but he says there have been no negotiations as of yet.  I thought at the beginning of the off-season that the Tigers might have interest in Ramirez for for some good and not so good reasons.

Dave Dombrowski has said that he wouldn't be uncomfortable with a platoon of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge at third, but they could certainly use more offense at the position.  It would become even more of a need if they are unable to upgrade at second.  The right-handed batting Ramirez can hit for both average in power batting .306 with 26 homers and a .871 OPS in 2011.  Over the last three years, he has hit .286, averaged 22 homers and posted a .835 OPS.  

On the negative side, Ramirez is 33 years old and has been injury prone averaging just 118 games per year since 2009.  By all accounts, he also is a below average defender.  His advanced fielding statistics were not pretty in 2011(-9 Total Zone, -9 UZR and -12 DRS) and have been sub-par since 2008.   

Ramirez  would seem to be the type of the big name hitter that Mike Illitch earlier suggested he would like to see, yet would not approach the $20 million per year contract which the Tigers probably can't afford.  His shortcomings - lack of patience at the plate and poor defense at a corner - are ones which the Tigers have been willing to tolerate if the offensive production is sufficient.   

It would probably take at least a three-year deal at over $40 million to sign him.  If Illitch is willing to add that kind of money and still allow Dombrowski to make a couple of upgrades elsewhere, then it might not be an awful move.   However, if their payroll stays the same, it doesn't sound like a move that would work out well.    

Friday, November 25, 2011

Combining the DIPS Metrics into One

In an earlier post, I used the Based Runs Saved Above Average (BsRAA) statistic to estimate runs saved by pitchers based on statistical components - hits, walks, homers, total bases and outs.  As the above post describes, BsRAA removes timing of events out of the pitching equation.

For example, ERA rewards a pitcher for pitching well with runners on base and penalizes a pitcher for clustering lots of base runners in one inning.  BsRAA assumes that a pitcher does not have a lot of control over such sequencing of events and thus ignores them.  furthermore, unlike ERA, a starter's BsRAA is independent of how relief pitchers perform once he leaves the game.

One thing BsRAA does include which pitchers don't control by themselves is hits allowed.  In an article entitled “Pitchers and Defense: How much control do hurlers have?” published at
Baseball Prospectus in 2001, researcher Voros McCracken presented his Defense Independent
Pitching Statistics (DIPS) theory. The results of his study suggested that there is surprisingly
little difference among pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls put into the field of play and that hits allowed are not very meaningful in the evaluation of a pitcher.

Specifically, McCracken revealed that there is very little correlation between pitcher quality and the relative frequency of hits allowed on balls in play. He also showed that pitchers have much less control over hits allowed than they do over defense independent events like walks and strikeouts.

McCracken’s somewhat counter-intuitive conclusions were met with much skepticism, even in the sabermetric community. Tom Tippett, currently a statistician for the Boston Red Sox,  did an extensive study in 2003 which revealed that some pitchers such as Tom Glavine and Jamie Moyer have been consistently above average in terms of preventing hits on balls in play. Tippett also found that knuckleball pitchers, in general, had been particularly good at limiting hits. Two examples are Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro.

Mitchel Lichtman further challenged McCracken’s conclusions in a study of the impact of batted ball types on hits on balls in play in 2004. Lichtman found that pitchers had a good deal of control over how many ground balls and fly balls (in both the infield and outfield) they allowed and that ground balls were more likely to be hits than fly balls.

Analysts continue to explore the DIPS theory today. The most recent effort is being made by Mike Fast at Baseball Prospectus who is looking at differences in abilities of pitchers to avoid quality contact on batted balls

While there are still questions about how much control pitchers have over hits allowed, it is useful to have ways of estimating how well they perform on items they do control.  The most common DIPS statistic is Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (FIP) created by Tom Tango.  It estimates pitcher ERA based on BB, HBP, SO and HR, four events which are largely unaffected by fielders.

Pitchers have also shown varying degrees of control over the percentages of batted balls that result in ground balls (GB%), fly balls (FB%), pop ups (PO%) and line drives (LD%) allowed.  Thus, other statistics have been developed to incorporate batted ball data.  Because pitchers have more control over the number of fly balls allowed than home runs, David Studenmund  developed Expected FIP (xFIP)  which is based on BB, HBP, SO, fly balls allowed and the MLB HR/FB rate of about 11% .

Two other measures which include batted ball data are True Earned Run Average (tERA) created by Matthew Curruth and Graham MacAree and Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA) designed by Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman. The tERA statistic includes BB, HBP, SO, HR, GO%, FB%, PO%, LD%.  The SIERA metric uses BB, SO, GB%, FB% and PO%.  

None of above metrics - FIP, xFIP, tERA or SIERA - should be used to measure a pitcher's overall performance, but they are useful in evaluating how good a pitcher is at things he most controls independent of teammates.  Which DIPS measure is best depends on how complicated you want to get and how much you trust batted ball data.

I don't have a strong preference among the DIPS measures, so I'll compute the average of the four and call it Weighted DIPS  (WDIP).  Table 1 below shows WDIP for the top starters in the American League in 2011.  Not surprisingly, AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander was the leader at 3.05.  Doug Fister was eighth at 3.43 pitching for the Mariners and Tigers.

The final column incudes ERA for comparison with WDIP.  Verlander's WDIP was 0.65 higher than his ERA (2.40).  One reason was his success at pitching with runners on base as evidenced by his 80.3 Left On Base Percentage.  Another explanation was his very low Batting Average on Balls in Play (.236).  Reasons for this could be strong defensive support (not likely with the Tigers fielders), ability to induce weak contact on batted balls and perhaps the absence of lucky hits (bloopers and bleeders).   

Table 1: AL Weighted DIPS Leaders, 2011

Player
Team
IP
FIP
XFIP
TERA
SIERA
WDIP
ERA
Justin Verlander
DET
251.0
2.99
3.12
3.09
2.99
3.05
2.40
CC Sabathia
NYY
237.1
2.88
3.02
3.75
3.14
3.20
3.00
Dan Haren
LAA
238.1
2.98
3.29
3.21
3.34
3.21
3.17
Felix Hernandez
SEA
233.2
3.13
3.15
3.34
3.22
3.21
3.47
Brandon McCarthy
OAK
170.2
2.86
3.30
3.28
3.49
3.23
3.32
David Price
TBR
224.1
3.32
3.32
3.39
3.27
3.33
3.49
James Shields
TBR
249.1
3.42
3.25
3.47
3.29
3.36
2.82
Doug Fister
AL
216.1
3.02
3.61
3.40
3.67
3.43
2.83
Michael Pineda
SEA
171.0
3.42
3.53
3.42
3.36
3.43
3.74
C.J. Wilson
TEX
223.1
3.24
3.41
3.75
3.44
3.46
2.94

Data source: FanGraphs.com

WDIP is a rate statistic which does not credit pitchers for innings pitched.  We can convert it to a runs saved measure by adding innings pitched, earned runs and average ERA to the equation.  For example, Verlander had a 3.05 WDIP in 251 innings in 2011.  The league average ERA for AL starters was 4.23, so you would expect the average pitcher to allow 251*4.23/9 = 118 earned runs.  Verlander allowed 67, so he had 118 - 67 = 51 DIP Runs Saved (DIPRS).


Table two lists the AL pitchers with the most DIPRS in 2011.  As expected, Verlander was the leader with 51 followed by Angels ace Jered Weaver at 48.  Fister came in fourth at 34.

Table 2: AL DIPs Runs Saved Leaders, 2011

Player
Team
IP
WDIP
DIPRS
Justin Verlander
DET
251.0
3.05
51
Jered Weaver
LAA
235.2
3.47
48
James Shields
TBR
249.1
3.36
39
Doug Fister
AL
216.1
3.43
34
Ricky Romero
TOR
225.0
3.97
33
CC Sabathia
NYY
237.1
3.20
32
C.J. Wilson
TEX
223.1
3.46
32
Josh Beckett
BOS
193.0
3.60
29
Dan Haren
LAA
238.1
3.21
28
Jeremy Hellickson
TBR
189.0
4.61
27

Data source: FanGraphs.com

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