Monday, January 30, 2012

Detroit Tigers Top 20 Seasons: #2 1984

In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan.  So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history.  There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully.  Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important.  Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.  

While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically.  Sometimes, a non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements or because the team was unique in some way.  I wanted every decade to be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades, this was a challenge.  However, the Tigers have managed to put together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those seasons will also be included.   

The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.

If this was a series about the most dominant Tigers teams, the 1984 squad would finish on top.  Their 35-5 start was the best in baseball history and they went on to win the division, the playoffs and the World Series virtually unchallenged.  They also led the league in runs scored and fewest runs allowed in route to a franchise-best 104 wins.

So, why is this team not number one on the top twenty seasons list?  The reason is because they were so good that it was a season without drama.  After the fast start, fans just waited for the playoffs hoping there would not be an epic collapse.  There would be no collapse.  Instead, they led the AL east division from wire to wire and won by 15 games over the Blue Jays.  The post-season turned out to be as easy as the regular season.  In the end, this season is best remembered for the first forty games.

In 1983, the Tigers had gone 92-70 and finished in second place, six games behind the Orioles.  During the off-season, they made two major moves which put the finishing touch on an already strong roster.  First, they signed free agent first baseman Darrell Evans in December.  Then they obtained reliever Willie Hernandez and first baseman Dave Bergman in a three-team deal with the Phillies and Giants near the end of spring training.

The Hernandez acquisition would prove to be the bigger of the two deals. He emerged into the league's best closer winning nine games and saving 32 and posting a 1.92 ERA in 141 innings.  He earned a Cy Young and MVP Award for his efforts and was the last Tiger prior to Justin Verlander in 2011 to win either honor.

Hernandez had a lot of help.  It was not a team of superstars, but it was an extremely deep roster with absolutely no weaknesses.  They led the AL with a 3.49 ERA with a variety of weapons.  Right handers Jack Morris (109 ERA+ in 240 innings) and Dan Petry (121 ERA+ in 233 innings) led a strong starting rotation.  They also received solid contributions from Milt Wilcox,Juan Berenguer and Dave Rozema.  Beyond Hernandez in the bullpen, they had husky right-hander Aurelio Lopez (10 wins , 14 saves and a 134 ERA+ in 138 innings).

Offensively, Detroit led the league with 829 runs and 187 homers; yet no player had as many as 100 RBI or 100 runs scored.  It was a well-balanced team with four excellent two-way players up the middle - catcher Lance Parrish (33 homers), second baseman Lou Whitaker (112 OPS+), shortstop Alan Trammell (.314 BA and 135 OPS+) and center fielder Chester Lemon (134 OPS+).  It didn't stop there though.  Right fielder Kirk Gibson led the team with a 141 OPS+, no starter had an OPS+ under 98 and they had a seemingly endless bench. 

The Tigers went on to sweep a mediocre Royals team in three games in the playoffs.  In the World Series, they had little trouble with the Padres winning four games to one.  The only loss came in game two when light-hitting Kurt Bevacqua beat them with a three-run homer in the fifth inning.  It was the only bad thing I can remember happening that year. 

With the series tied at one, the Tigers went home and finished off the Padres with three wins in Tiger Stadium.  They eliminated the Padres with an 8-4 victory in game five, a contest best known for Gibson's three-run homer versus Goose Gossage in the eighth.

Many consider the 1984 squad to be the best Tigers team ever.  It was almost a perfect season, but it was too easy and too lacking in suspense to head the list of most memorable seasons. 

Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cabrera and Fielder Can be Best Tigers Duo Ever

Newly acquired first baseman Prince Fielder joins soon to be third baseman Miguel Cabrera to form what is probably the best offensive one-two punch in the majors.  It won't be the first dynamic duo in Tigers history though.  Fearsome twosomes such as Deadball stars Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford and Depression era greats Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg quickly come to mind.  So, I am going to rank the best Tigers hitting pairs in franchise history.

Hitting performance can be measured by Batting Runs (BR) which was discussed in an earlier post.  In Summary, Batting Runs is the estimated number of runs a player would contribute to an average team beyond what an average player would have contributed in his place.  For example, Cabrera had 71 Batting Runs in 2011.  So, he contributed 71 runs above what an average player would have been expected to contribute in the same number of outs.  The Batting Runs statistic is described in more detail towards the bottom of the linked article.

The table below lists all seasons where the Tigers had a pair of players combining for 80 or more Batting Runs.  To be certain that both players had great seasons, each was required to have 35+ Batting Runs.

Table: Top Tigers Batting Duos by Batting Runs

Year
Player 1
BR
Player 2
BR
Total
1961
Norm Cash
85
Rocky Colavito
51
136
1911
Ty Cobb
76
Sam Crawford
50
126
1917
Ty Cobb
75
Bobby Veach
41
116
1921
Ty Cobb
52
Harry Heilmann
60
112
1937
Charlie Gehringer
44
Hank Greenberg
67
111
1940
Hank Greenberg
64
Rudy York
42
106
1925
Ty Cobb
48
Harry Heilmann
55
103
1922
Ty Cobb
56
Harry Heilmann
46
102
1934
Charlie Gehringer
50
Hank Greenberg
49
99
1935
Charlie Gehringer
36
Hank Greenberg
62
98
1909
Ty Cobb
62
Sam Crawford
35
97
1913
Ty Cobb
52
Sam Crawford
36
88
1946
Roy Cullenbine
41
Hank Greenberg
43
84
1919
Ty Cobb
43
Bobby Veach
40
83
1914
Ty Cobb
42
Sam Crawford
39
81
1926
Harry Heilmann
42
Heinie Manush
38
80
Data Source: Baseball-Reference.com

The best combined Batting Runs total by two players in Tigers history was 136 by first baseman Norm Cash (85 BR) and outfielder Rocky Colavito (51) in 1961. The pairs appearing most frequently on the list were Cobb and Crawford (four times from 1909-1917), Cobb and under-rated slugger Harry Heilmann (three times from 1921-1925) and Gehringer and Greenberg (three times from 1934-1937).

Where might Cabrera and Fielder fit on this list in the future? They have already had three seasons where their combined totals would have made the table: 127 in 2011, 101 in 2009 and 96 in 2007.  In fact their 2011total would have been the second highest total ever for the Tigers.

Indeed, Detroi's new power duo has a good chance to be one of the best or perhaps the best hitting pair in franchise history.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Can Cabrera Play Third?

Everybody is talking about Miguel Cabrera's move to play third base with the acquisition of Prince Fielder.  I don't think anybody thinks he'll be an above average defender at third.  Most Tigers fans are optimistic that he'll be able to play the position at an acceptable level.  Most non-Tigers fans and analysts seem to be more skeptical.

Cabrera last played third base for the Tigers in 2008, but that didn't last very long.  Manager Jim Leyland moved Cabrera to third base and Carlos Guillen from first to third before the first month of the season was complete.  While Cabrera did not look good at third base, the swap was made as much because of Guillen's ineptness as first as Cabrera's problems at third.

Cabrera's only two full seasons at the hot corner came in 2006-2007 with the Marlins.  The results for those two seasons are shown in the table below.  The following advanced statistics are included:

Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR)
Sean Smith's Total Zone
John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)
Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA)

The value for each measure is the number of runs Cabrera cost his team defensively compared to the average third baseman.  If we average the four numbers together, we arrive at -7 in 2006 and -10 in 2007.  Given that he such an incredible hitter, we could certainly live with him giving up 7 to 10 runs defensively over the course of the season.  Jay Jaffe's recent article at Baseball Prospectus shows that the worst third basemen cost their teams as many as 20 or more runs a season.    

Table: Advanced Fielding Statistics for Cabrera at Third Base, 2006-2007


Statistic
2006
2007
Average
UZR
-3
-4
-4
Total Zone
-6
-11
-8
DRS
-9
-16
-12
FRAA
-10
-10
-10
Aggregate
-7
-10
-8

The question is can Cabrera still field at the same level?  He hasn't played third base full-time in five years and he is bigger and probably less mobile than he was as a Marlin. By most accounts, he has good hands and a strong throwing arm.  It is less certain that he has the lateral range to play the position.  With the steady but immobile Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, he won't get much help there.  There is also a question as to how well Cabrera will be able to handle bunts and you can sure he will be tested.

Perhaps even more important than his performance at third is his ability to stay healthy.  The Tigers can not afford to have him get hurt diving for balls or making unfamiliar movements on hard shots hit in his vicinity.  If he can play third regularly, then they will have solved a major positional problem with the alternative being a Brandon Inge/ Don Kelly platoon.  Moreover, his ability to play third would prevent a designated hitter/ first base logjam next year when Victor Martinez returns.

I'm less optimistic about the move than some fans as I think he'll be closer to -20 than -8.  However, I think he will be adequate enough to stay there most days.  I also envision him doing some DHing when a ground ball pitcher such as Rick Porcello is on the mound.  He also may play some first base with Prince Fielder serving as DH some games.  If all that happens, I think things will work out well for 2012.

The 2013 season is a different story because there would be less flexibility with Martinez back.  It's best to take one year at a time at this point though.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How many Wins Will Prince Fielder Add?

There have been a lot of emotional reactions around the internet to yesterday's shocking Prince Fielder signing.  Detroit fans, for the most part, are in love with the acquisition and do not seem to see any possible downside to the deal  On the other hand, many national fans and analysts are suggesting that the Tigers have made a mistake.  Most of their critique touches upon either the length of the deal or the move of Miguel Cabrera to third base or both.   Some of the opposing viewpoints have been listed at Bless You Boys.

So, who is right - the euphoric fans or the critical analysts?  If you have read my blog before, you probably guessed what I think - that the truth is in between the two extremes.  First, I am less concerned about contracts than most analysts.  Whether a contract is good or bad depends on so many different variables that you can't really answer the question with a formula.

In this case, some critics might not be understanding how Tigers owner Mike Illitch probably views the deal.  Illitch is 82 years old and wants to win a World Series badly and he wants it now.  I think this signing is a win now move more than a carefully calculated long-term deal.  I don't believe Illitch is concerned about what happens nine years from now or seven or even five.  For all we know, they might be under new ownership by 2016 and staging a gigantic fire sale. 

So, I think evaluation of the deal has to be made based on the early years of the contract.  In fact, there is so much uncertainty about whether Cabrera can handle the move to third and what happens next year when Victor Martinez returns, I am just going to look at 2012 for now.  What follows is my obligatory WAR analysis.

Last week, I tried to answer the question of how many games the Tigers would lose if Martinez was replaced by one of the lower priced free agents such as Johnny Damon.  I estimated that it was about two games.

This week's question is: How many wins do the Tigers gain in 2012 by adding Prince Fielder to replace Victor Martinez? This is not a simple matter of subtracting Martinez's expected WAR from Fielder's expected WAR.  There are moving parts which need to be considered - most notably Cabrera's shift to third.

What we need to do is compare the WAR totals of the old alignment (Cabrera at first,  Brandon Inge/ Don Kelly at third, Martinez at DH,) to the new set up (Fielder at first, Cabrera at third, some DH combo).  WAR Projections for the first group are as follows:

1B. Cabrera 7.0
3B. Inge/Kelly 0.5 (barely above replacement)
DH. Martinez 3.0
Total 10.5

Now, the second trio:

1B. Fielder 5.5
3B. Cabrera 6.5 (assuming about 20 runs below average defensively)
DH. Andy Dirks/ Ryan Raburn/ Don Kelly/ etc 1.5
Total 13.5

So, the Tigers gain three wins (13.5-10.5) by adding Fielder over Martinez.  Really? Just three wins? Yes, because Martinez is quite productive.  Also remember that three wins is actually a lot for team with playoff aspirations.

Fielder's three wins over Martinez and five to six wins over replacement does remind us though that one player generally does not make the huge difference that is traditionally believed.  Fielder is a tremendous acquisition, but he can only do so much.  A lot of things need to keep going right to assure another division title and hopefully a better post-season result - the pitching in particular.  But that's a topic for another post. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cabrera to Play Third Base?

According to the Detroit Free Press, Miguel Cabrera has said he will be playing third base.  I don't know how well that will work out and normally I would be against such a move.  However, they get so little offense out of Brandon Inge/ Don Kelly, it can't hurt to try it.  That will be quite an infield both offensively...and defensively.  Perhaps, they can move Cabrera to designated hitter when sinker baller Rick Porcello is on the mound.

Now, for another new line-up:

Jackson CF
Boesch RF
Cabrera 3B
Fielder 1B
Young DH
Avila C
Peralta SS
Dirks LF
Santiago 2B

The DH/LF combo is still a big question mark, but I imagine they'll be trying a few players in those spots with Delmon Young perhaps moving back and forth.  



    

Yes, The Tigers Really did Sign Prince Fielder

I just got out of long meeting at work, so I decided to quickly check a couple of things on the internet before I got back to my programming and statistics.  I looked at Twitter and saw a tweet about the Tigers signing Prince Fielder and figured that one of the Twitter imposters was messing around again.  Then I saw something from the reliable Jon Morosi and realized it was real. My first thought was that Fielder signed with the Tigers for one year so that he could test the free agent marked again next year.  Reading a little further, I was shocked to find out that the Tigers are signing him to a nine- year deal worth $214 million..  I've been following the Tigers for 44 years and I've never been this surprised by a move. I don't think anybody saw it coming at all.

I'm still digesting this and it's too early to do a thorough analysis, but needless to say the Tigers have found their replacement for the injured Victor Martinez.  Apparently, owner Mike Illitch has decided he is not going to worry about budgets and wants to win now at any cost.  The first obvious long-term question is what to do about the first base and designated hitter positions when Victor Martinez is ready to play in 2013.  I would imagine they would be trading Cabrera or Fielder at that point (Edit: This now seems unlikely with the move of Cabrera to third base) , but it's too early to think about.

For now, their 2012 line-up will probably look something like this:

Jackson CF
Boesch RF
Cabrera DH
Fielder 1B
Young LF
Avila C
Peralta SS
Santiago 2B
Inge 3B

Do I like the move? Well, there is a risk all the big contracts could put them in a bind if Illitch decides to slash the budget in the future. The move is so big and so unbelievable though that I have no choice but to love it as a fan.  It's obvioulsly great for this year.  I'll analyze the rest of it later.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Detroit Tigers Top 20 Seasons: #3 1935

In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan.  So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history.  There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully.  Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important.  Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.  

While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically.  Sometimes, a non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements or because the team was unique in some way.  I wanted every decade to be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades, this was a challenge.  However, the Tigers have managed to put together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those seasons will also be included.   

The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.

We are down to the final three seasons in the Top Twenty and each has a legitimate argument as the number one season.  The 1935 team was the Tigers first world champion.  It came during the Great Depression, a time where the city of Detroit needed positive things to happen anywhere they could get it.  On the field, it was a powerful team with the highest run differential in franchise history.  Finally, the season ended with a dramatic game-winning hit clinching the championship.

What keeps this team from the number one ranking was that they did not win quite enough.  They started slow (5-9 in April) and finished slow (12-14 in September).  They went 93-58 four games ahead of the second place Yankees, but that's not a lot of wins for a team with a run differential of 254.  The problem was they were 19-27 in one-run games, something that was surely a source of frustration for fans throughout the season.     

The Tigers had their typical 1930s offensive powerhouse leading the league with 919 runs scored.  First baseman Hank Greenberg batted .328 with a league leading 389 total bases and 170 RBI in route to the MVP award.  The 1934 MVP Mickey Cochrane batted .319/.452/.450 as a catcher/manager.  Second baseman Charlie Gehringer mechanically batted .330/.409/.502 with 123 runs scored.

Detroit also had a solid staff finishing second in the AL with a 3.82 ERA.  Tommy Bridges had 21 wins an ERA+ of 118 and a league-leading 163 strikeouts.  Schoolboy Rowe had a 112 ERA+ in 275 innings and led the league with six shutouts.

The Tigers went on to defeat the Cubs in six games in the World Series.  They may have had trouble in close games during the season, but they thrived in those situations during the series.  They won game three 6-5 on a 12th inning single by outfielder Jo Jo White.  They took game four 2-1 behind a complete game from right handed General Crowder.  This put them up three games to one in the series. 

After losing game five 3-1, the Tigers returned to Detroit for game six.  They entered the bottom of the ninth tied at three.  Cochrane singled with one out and moved up to second on a ground out by Gehringer.  Finally, outfielder Goose Goslin hit a game-winning single to right and the Tigers had their first world championship.  It was one of the greatest moments in the history of the Tigers.

Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Detroit Tigers Top 20 Seasons: #4 1945

In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan.  So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history.  There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully.  Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important.  Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.  

While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically.  Sometimes, a non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements or because the team was unique in some way.  I wanted every decade to be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades, this was a challenge.  However, the Tigers have managed to put together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those seasons will also be included.   

The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.

Hundreds of major league players would miss playing time (mostly from 1943-1945) as they served in World War II.  In 1945, the final year of the war, the Tigers won their second pennant thanks, in part, to the efforts of returning hero Hank Greenberg. After missing parts of five seasons due to the war, Hammerin' Hank blasted a dramatic game-winning grand slam on the final day of the season to beat the St. Louis Browns 6-3 and the Tigers clinched the pennant. 

The Tigers finished 88-65, a game and a half ahead of an eccentric Washington Senators team, featuring a starting rotation of four knuckle ballers.  The Tigers finished second in the league behind the Senators with a 2.99 ERA. Left-hander Hal Newhouser achieved the pitching triple crown with 25 wins, a 1.81 ERA and 212 strikeouts.  His efforts earned him a second consecutive MVP award.  The Tigers also received strong seasons from Dizzy Trout (113 ERA+ in 246 innings) and Al Benton (2.02 ERA in 192 innings).

The Tigers did not have the awesome offense of some earlier years, but they finished second in the league with 633 runs scored.  Despite a great deal of missed time, Greenberg showed little rust batting .312 with 35 extra base hits in 78 games.  Outfielder Roy Cullenbine led the league with 113 walks, had a .402 OBP and a 139 OPS+.  Steady Eddie Mayo finished second in the MVP voting after posting a 112 OPS+ as a second baseman. 

The Bengals faced the Chicago Cubs in the World Series and split the first four games. The Tigers went up three games to two with an 8-4 victory in game five as Greenberg pounded three doubles.  The Cubs proceeded to tie the series when third baseman Stan Hack doubled home the game-winning run in the bottom of the twelfth in game six.  The Tigers then scored five runs in the first inning of game seven and crushed the Cubs 9-3 to win the series.

The 1945 team was not a juggernaut, but it was Detroit's second championship and would be their last post-season appearance for two decades. 

Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org

Detroit Tigers Top 20 Seasons: #5 1934

In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan.  So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history.  There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully.  Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important.  Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.  

While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically.  Sometimes, a non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements or because the team was unique in some way.  I wanted every decade to be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades, this was a challenge.  However, the Tigers have managed to put together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those seasons will also be included.   

The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.

With the city of Detroit being hit especially hard by the great depression of the 1930s, fans turned to sports as a source of hope and good news.  The Tigers were not doing their part winning just 75 games and suffering their 24th consecutive season without a pennant in 1933.  Tigers owner Frank Navin attempted to jump start the team by acquiring two future Hall of Famers - catcher Mickey Cochrane (who would also be the manager) and outfielder Goose Goslin.  It worked out quite well.

The Tigers had arguably the best regular season in franchise history going 101-53 and finishing seven games ahead of the second-place Yankees.  Their .656 winning percentage and 957 runs scored are team records and their 250 run differential was second only to the 1935 squad.  After an ordinary 21-18 start, the Tigers went 80-35 from June through September to run away with the pennant.  This included a 14-game winning streak in August.

Their league leading offense finished more than 100 runs ahead of the second highest run-scoring team.  They didn't have great home run power but led the league in batting average (.300), on-base percentage (.376) and doubles (349).  Black Mike Cochrane led the team in the dugout and on the field and was the league MVP..  He batted .320/.411/.412 with a 117 OPS+ and was an excellent catcher.

Detroit had one of the best infields ever with first baseman Hank Greenberg, second baseman Charlie Gehringer, shortstop Billy Rogell and third baseman Marv Owen combining for 25 WAR. They also accumulated 462 RBI with all of them knocking in at least 96.  Gehringer led the league with 134 runs scored, finished second in batting (.356), OBP (.450) and doubles (50).  Greenberg batted .339 with an amazing 63 doubles and a 156 OPS+.

Unlike many of their previous teams, the Tigers had strong pitching to go with their productive offense.  They finished second in the league to the Yankees with a 4.06 ERA.  Schoolboy Rowe won 24 games, including 16 in a row and posted a 128 ERA+.  Tommy Bridges had a 120 ERA+ in 275 innings and finished second in the AL with 151 strikeouts.  Those two led a deep staff which included efficiently used swing men Eldon Auker and Firpo Marberry.

In the World Series, the Tigers faced the St. Louis Cardinals famous Gas House Gang, a cast of characters including pitching brothers Dizzy and Paul Dean, outfielder Duck Medwick and infielders Pepper Martin and Leo Durocher.  The two teams split the first four games of the series.  The Tigers took game five as Gehringer homered and Bridges out dueled Dizzy Dean.  The Tigers were up three games to two heading back to Detroit.

The Cardinals tied the series at three with a 4-3 win in game six.  Paul Dean helped his own cause with a go ahead single in the seventh.

The Cardinals then routed the Tigers 11-0 in game seven, a contest most remembered for an ugly incident.  It all started when Medwick slid unnecessarily hard into third baseman Owen.  The Tigers did not retaliate, but the fans did showering Medwick with garbage when he took his position in left field.  Medwick eventually had to be removed from the game, but the Cardinals were already well on their way to a world championship.

Game seven was a a rough ending to an otherwise outstanding season, but the Tigers would get another opportunity in 1935.    


Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org

Friday, January 20, 2012

Interview with Yankees Blogger

Mike D. who writes at the blog Yankees Fans Unite is interviewing bloggers of all major League teams as spring training approaches.  A couple of weeks ago, he asked me questions about the Tigers 2011 season, their current off-season and what to expect in 2012.  He's got my answers posted on his blog today.

This interview was done prior to the injury to Victor Martinez.  I gave my thoughts on that development in a recent post.  Basically, I think it's a tough loss for the Tigers, but not a devastating one.  They should still be favorites to win the division even if they don't replace him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Much do the Tigers Lose with the Martinez Injury?

David Berri, author of the Wages of Wins Journal, asked me today how many wins the Tigers are likely to lose due to the ACL injury keeping Victor Martinez out for the 2012 season.  This is not an easy question, but I'll keep it as simple as possible. 

According to Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, Martinez was worth about 3.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2011.  We could simply compare that to the WAR of the various free agent and trade options, but there are a couple of factors which make this question a little more interesting than that.  First, Martinez was used in 26 games as a catcher last year, something that Carlos Pena or Johnny Damon or whoever they might get won't be doing.

The second factor is situational hitting.  Martinez was extraordinary batting with runners on base last year, something he would not have been likely to repeat in 2012.  So, instead of calculating his 2011 WAR using Batting Runs, it might be more useful  to use RE24.  The RE24 statistic considers a players performance in various situations in determining his value.  For example, Martinez would get more credit for getting a double with runners on first and third than a double with the bases empty.  Inserting RE24 instead of Batting Runs adds about two wins bringing Martinez up to 5.0 WAR in 2011. 

Would Martinez have had a WAR of 5.0 again in 2012?  Probably not. He'd likely hit about as well overall (lower batting average, more homers).  However, he might lose a fraction of a win by not catching.  More importantly, we would not expect him to come anywhere close to his 2011 performance in situational hitting.  Even if he we think he would have hit a little better in clutch situations than other at bats in 2012, we would estimate that he would have had a WAR of about 3.0.

So, we have two questions: (1) How much will the Tigers lose going from Martinez in 2011 (5.0 WAR) to Player X in 2012?  (2) How much would they have lost going from Martinez's expected performance in 2012 (3.0 WAR) to Player X in 2012?

To answer question (1), we can assume that Martinez's 26 catching games would be picked up by Gerald Laird in 2012 and that his 119 DH games would be taken by Player X. Let's assume that Laird is a replacement level player this year as he has been the last couple of years.  Now, let's estimate what various replacements might do in 119 games:

Carlos Pena 2.3
Carlos Lee 1.8
Casey Kotchman 1.4
Derrek Lee 1.3
Alfonso Soriano 1.3
Johnny Damon 1.2

So, if they were to get Pena, the Tigers would lose 5.0 - 2.3 = 2.7 games from 2012.  If they acquired Damon, it would be 3.8 games.  Turning that into round numbers, they'd be losing about three or four games between 2011-2012.  That's a lot of games, but remember that they probably would have lost a couple of games even if they kept Martinez as he was not likely to keep up his amazing clutch hitting for another year.

To answer question (2) from above, we just need to replace Martinez with player X for 145 games. These are the new estimates:

Pena 2.6
C. Lee 2.1
Kotchman 1.7
D. Lee 1.5
Soriano 1.5
Damon 1.4

Based on the above numbers, The Tigers would lose 3.0 - 2.6 = 0.4 games by replacing Martinez with Pena and 1.6 games by replacing Martinez with Damon. In round numbers, that's one or two games. 

In conclusion, they may drop as many as four games from 2012 to 2011 with the injury to Martinez, but they were probably going to lose a couple of wins anyway due to his clutch hitting normalizing.  In the end, they probably lose two games max in 2012 with the loss of Martinez.

Of course, none of this takes into account the possible benefits of intangibles such as leadership and Martinez's effect on other batters.  However, I suspect those factors are overstated and there's no way to measure them anyway.

There's no doubt that losing Martinez hurts the Tigers chances in 2012.  Just based on the numbers though, the loss should not be a devastating blow to a team that won the AL Central by 15 games last year.  They should still be the favorites to take the division. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Victor Martinez Out for Season with Torn ACL

Tigers fans have been waiting all off-season for something big to happen, but this was not what we had in mind.  The Tigers announced today that designated Victor Martinez tore his ACL during workouts and will likely miss the entire 2012 season.  This is obviously a devastating blow to the Tigers, who already had holes to fill offensively. 

They will almost surely get a replacement outside the organization.  The first thought that comes to mind is free agent Prince Fielder, but that is highly unlikely.  He has said that he does not want to be a designated hitter and he is also probably too expensive for the Tigers.  So, I think we'll need to think about less exciting options. 

One possibility would be signing Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to play left field and moving Delmon Young to designated hitter.  I suspect that is the Tigers preferred plan, but a lot of teams are pursuing Cespedes. 

If not Cespedes, then there are number of free agent hitters available.  Possibilities include Johnny Damon, J.D. Drew and Carlos Pena. One good thing is that the Tigers probability have some flexibility financially since they will likely get half of Martinez's $13 million 2012 salary back through insurance.







Monday, January 16, 2012

Tigers Top 20 Seasons: #6 2006

In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan.  So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history.  There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully.  Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important.  Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.  

While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically.  Sometimes, a non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements or because the team was unique in some way.  I wanted every decade to be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades, this was a challenge.  However, the Tigers have managed to put together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those seasons will also be included.   

The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.

From 1994 through 2005, the Tigers had the worst stretch in franchise history.  Indeed, it was one of the worst for any organization ever.  They suffered 12 consecutive losing seasons including 109 loses in 1996, 106 in 2002 and an AL-record 119 in 2003.  They also went 19 seasons without a playoff appearance going back to 1988.  They began to make improvements after 2003, but were still 20 games below .500 and a team in turmoil in 2005.

After the 2005 season, the Tigers fired manager Alan Trammell and replaced him with Jim Leyland.  They also added two veteran pitchers - left-handed starter Kenny Rogers and closer Todd Jones.  Finally, they had two promising rookie pitchers Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya make the team out of spring training.

With a nice mix of veterans and youth, the Tigers shocked the baseball world moving into first place in May and staying there most of the summer.  On August 7, they were an amazing 76-36, 10 games up on the defending-champion White Sox and 10 1/2 ahead of the Twins.  It seemed to good to be true and it actually was.

 They went into a tailspin going 10-22 and their lead was down to two games over the Twins on September 10.  They managed to clinch their first playoff spot since 1987 with a victory over the Royals on September 24.  However, they could not win a division title, losing out to Minnesota after five straight losses to end the season.

The Tigers finished 95-67, a 24-game improvement over 2005.  After many many years of generally awful pitching, everything came together perfectly as they posted a league-best 3.84 ERA.  Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Roberston had their best seasons and Rogers solidified the staff  with both his pitching and leadership.  The big key though were the rapid rises of Verlander and Zumaya.  Verlander posted a 126 ERA+ in 186 innings and won the Rookie of the Year award.  Zumaya had a 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 83 innings. 

Detroit's offense was little better than average finishing fifth in runs scored.  Their hitting was led by shortstop Carlos Guillen (136 OPS+) and right fielder Magglio Ordonez (112 OPS+).  They also got good all around play from center fielder Curtis Granderson, catcher Pudge Rodriguez and third baseman Brandon Inge among others.

The Tigers went on to beat the heavily favored Yankees in the first round of the playoffs three games to one behind some fantastic pitching by Rogers, Bonderman and Zumaya.  They proceeded to sweep the Althletics in four games in the ALCS  outscoring them 22-9.  The climax came when Ordonez blasted a dramatic walkoff in game four to clinch the pennant.  It was one of the most memorable moments in Tigers history.

They were expected to beat the Cardinals (winners of just 83 games in the regular season) in the World Series, but it didn't go as planned. After a full week off, the Tigers appeared to be rusty as they could neither hit nor field.  In particular, their pitchers kept throwing wild to bases.  They lost the series four games to one, the only victory coming thanks to eight innings of scoreless pitching by Rogers in game 2.

The 53 game improvement from just three years earlier made it arguably the greatest turn around story in baseball history.  Despite the disappointing finish, 2006 was one of the best seasons to be a Tigers fan. 

Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tigers Top 20 Seasons: #7 1909

In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan.  So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history.  There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully.  Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important.  Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.  

While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically.  Sometimes, a non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements or because the team was unique in some way.  I wanted every decade to be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades, this was a challenge.  However, the Tigers have managed to put together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those seasons will also be included.   

The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.

The Tigers 1909 season was similar to their 1907 and 1908 seasons covered earlier in the Top 20 series.  For the third straight year, outfielders Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford dominated the American League, the Tigers won the pennant and then lost the World Series.  The 1909 season ranks the highest of the three as that team had the most wins and put up more of a fight in the World Series.

The 1909 squad went 98-54, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics.  For the third straight season, they led the league in runs scored with 666.  Cobb won the triple crown batting .371 with nine homers (all inside the park) and 107 RBI.  This overshadowed a another fantastic season by Crawford, who finished first in doubles (35) and second in slugging (.452) and RBI (97).  Shortstop Donie Bush also had a fine season finishing in the top three in OBP (.380) and runs (114).

Right-hander George Mullin led the league with 29 wins and posted a 114 ERA+ in 304 innings pitched.  The Tigers had a deep staff with starters Bill Donovan, Ed Killian, Ed Summers and Ed Willett all finishing with an ERA+ of 108 or better.

After winning just one game combined versus the Cubs in 1907 and 1908 World Series, the Bengals would face the Pirates in 1909.  The Tigers managed to split the first six games of the series on the strength of two wins by Mullin and some strong hitting by second baseman Jim Delahanty (.326 BA and four doubles for the series).  However, the Pirates won 8-0 in game seven when right hander Babe Adams notched his third victory of the series.

The three season-run of 1907-1909 has been the only one of its kind in Tigers history, but they would have to wait a quarter of a century before another World Series. 

Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org

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