Monday, April 30, 2012

Team Defense Hurting Tigers

The Tigers have allowed 4.7 runs per game, which is the fourth highest total in the American League this April.  The first inclination is to blame the pitchers, but is it all their fault?  One of the main reasons the Tigers have allowed so many runs is that they have a .318 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), the second highest in the league.  The BABIP statistic can be confusing though because when you see a high batting average against a pitcher, it looks like the pitcher pitched poorly, which is not always the case.

Another way of stating the above is that about 32% of the balls in play with Tigers pitchers on the mound have fallen safely for hits and 68% have been converted into outs. The league medians are about 28.5% and 71.5%.  So, the Tigers are about 3.5% worse than the median team at converting batted balls into outs.  why are the Tigers so poor at converting batted balls into outs?  Is it the famous bad luck of BABIP?  It could be that but there are other possible reasons too.

One explanation for a high percentage of balls in play dropping for hits might be that the pitchers are getting hit hard.  If we look at the batted ball statistics at FanGraphs, we can get an idea of how hard.  About 20% of the balls in play against the Tigers have been line drives which is the third lowest total in the league.  Additionally, 13% have been infield flies, the third highest percentage.  So they have allowed few of the worst kind of batted balls and a lot of the best kind of batted balls for the pitching team.

The ground ball rate of the Tigers staff is 44% which is close to league median.  When they do allow fly balls, about 10.5% are hit for home runs, which is again near league average.  All of the above batted ball data suggest that the pitchers are not being hit especially hard.  

Another reason for a high number of balls dropping for hits might be poor defense.  Looking at three of the most popular advances fielding metrics, the tigers rank at the bottom of the league on all of them:

Total Zone -22
Defensive Runs Saves -19
Ultimate Zone Rating -12

The average of these three numbers is around -18.  So, we would estimate that the Tigers fielders have cost them 18 more runs than what would be expected of an average team.  It's a bit early to trust the precision of defensive stats, but the fact that they are last on all three is telling.  It's not particularly surprising if you've seen most of their games either.

The Tigers ERA of 4.27 is 10th in the league, but  that doesn't account for fielders not making plays.  If we look at statistics which only include what a pitcher can control without the help of fielders (strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, homers, batted ball percentages) we might get a better sense of how the pitchers are doing:

FIP 4.08 (8th)
xFIP 4.08 (7th)
SIERA 3.80  (6th)

So, the Tigers pitchers now look more middle of the pack than bottom of the pack.  Just looking at the starters it gets even better:

FIP 3.98 (6th)
xFIP 3.78 (4th)
SIERA 3.71 (4th)

So, the the starters appear to be doing pretty well as a group.  The bigger problem appears to be the defense.  Max Scherzer's stratospheric .442 BABIP is sure to drop, but the Tigers fielders as currently aligned appear to be hurting the staff quite a bit.

Book Review: Sparky and Me by Dan Ewald



The legendary Sparky Anderson was loved by fans of the Detroit Tigers during his 17-year tenure as manager of the club.  One of the great things about Mr. Anderson was that we always believed everything he told us, no matter how far fetched it may seem.  When he proclaimed that rookie pitcher Carl Willis would be the next Rollie Fingers and that Cuban defector Barbaro Garbey would be the next Roberto Clemente, we believed him.  Every year, when he'd make these outrageous predictions about young players, we trusted him.  They almost never came true, but we kept the faith.  As long as Sparky was in charge, we always felt that good things would happen.

Perhaps the reason we trusted Sparky so much was because he believed everything he said when he said it.  He was always able to see not only the potential of youth, but the good in everyone.  The players had faith in him too which is one of the reasons he had so much success as a manager.  They respected him for his knowledge of the game, but even more for the life lessons he taught them.  Former Tigers great and current Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said "Sparky cared about us as ball players, but more importantly as husbands and fathers and men.  Everything I do today, I owe to Sparky."

The person who knew Mr. Anderson better than anyone was long-time sports writer and Tigers Public Relations Director Dan Ewald.  Mr. Ewald talks about his friendship with Sparky in the soon to be released book Sparky and Me: My Friendship with Sparky Anderson and the Lessons He Shared About Baseball and Life.  The book is a series a stories which bring to light the charm, wit, wisdom and generosity of the immensely popular manager. 

If you are looking for a book about Anderson's career as a manager with lots of baseball stories, the book is not for you.  Although there are some baseball stories mixed in, it was not intended to be a book about baseball.    The book is more about Sparky as a person as told by Mr. Ewald, a wonderful story teller who makes you feel as if you are right there with them.  

A recurring theme is Anderson's kindness, not only to his peers and to his players, but to everyone whether it be fans, clubhouse attendants, golf course grounds keepers or supermarket cashiers.  Sparky loved people and was interested in everything they had to say.  His humanity, humility and generosity shines through in chapter after chapter.    

The book is about the relationship between two good friends, but the life lessons conveyed in the stories are for you.  Through Ewald, Sparky teaches us how to talk to people and treat them the right away.  You come away with the feeling that the world would be a better place if we could all be like Sparky.

As mentioned above, this is not really a baseball book.  However, If you want to learn more about Sparky, the man, I recommend this book.  If you were a big fan of Sparky as I was, then you should enjoy it.

Sparky and Me will be released on May 8, 2012.  You can pre-order it now at Amazon.com



Saturday, April 28, 2012

Smyly, Dirks Lead Tigers Over Yankees

The Tigers held on to beat the Yankees 7-5 today snapping a five-game losing streak.  It got a little uncomfortable at the end when closer Jose Valverde allowed three runs in the ninth inning, but Tigers fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when pinch hitter Eric Chavez's long fly to right landed in Don Kelly's glove to end the game.  The win moved the Tigers back in to a tie for first with the Indians. 

Rookie southpaw Drew Smyly pitched another excellent game holding the Yankees to one run on two hits while striking out seven over six innings.  In his last two games, Smyly has dominated the two most dangerous offenses in the American League, the other one being the Rangers.  In those games, he has allowed two runs on seven hits and struckout 14. 

The 22-year-old Smyly now leads the league with a 1.23 ERA and has a 22/8 K/BB ratio in 22 innings.  It looks like the Tigers have found their fifth starter.  Now, they just need to get their second starter healthy and their third and fourth starters to be more consistent.

The Tigers other man of the hour was left fielder Andy Dirks playing in place of Delmon Young, who has been placed on the restricted list while legal issues are sorted out.  Dirks put a charge into the Tigers offense with three-run homer to left off of Yankees starter Freddy Garcia.  He also made a couple of fine running catches, two plays which Young would surely not have been able to make.

The series finale will be tomorrow afternoon with Max Scherzer facing Yankees ace CC Sabathia. That is not a favorable match-up for the Bengals.    

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tigers After Three Weeks

After a strong first two weeks of the season, the third week was a disaster for the Tigers.  It wasn't so bad that they lost three out of four to a powerful Rangers team.  Getting swept by the lowly Mariners is another story.  Their record now stands at 10-9, but somehow they remain in a tie for first with the White Sox and Indians.

Offensively, the Tigers are 8th in the American League with 4.2 runs scored per game.  That's certainly disappointing and there is lots of blame to spread around, but the bulk of it belongs to three positions.  The Tigers are last in the league in Weighted On-Base Average at second base (.195) and left field (.249) and 12th in right field (.250). 

The culprits at second base are Brandon Inge (released on Thursday), Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago.  Raburn and Santiago will now split second base duties and are sure to improve offensively. 

Delmon Young has received the bulk of playing time in left and has not shown any signs of returning to his 2010 form.  After his incident this morning, his current status is in limbo.  Don Kelly is playing left field tonight, so don't expect any improvement offensively. Right fielder Brennan Boesch has not performed well at the plate or in the field, but we are bound to see an improvement sooner or later.

The Tigers are hoping to boost their offense in the short-term by inserting recently promoted Brad Eldred into the designated hitter slot on a regular basis.  He had an astounding 13 home runs and 23 extra base hits in 20 games for Toledo this year.  He won't keep that up obviously, but if he can carry his hot streak a little longer, it may help jump start the Tigers offense.

On the other side of the ball, the Tigers have allowed the 10th fewest runs in the league.  The statistics indicate that fielding has been a bigger problem than pitching.  They are currently 28th in baseball with a Defensive Efficiency Ratio of .661.  In other words, they have converted 66% of balls in play into outs versus a league average of 70%.  That shouldn't be a big surprised to those who have  watched most of the games and noticed how little ground they cover in Comerica Park and elsewhere.   

If you believe in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), their pitching has actually been quite good.  They are tied for second with a 3.58 FIP overall and are fourth in both starter's FIP (3.63) and relievers FIP (3.52). Justin Verlander and rookie Drew Smyly have been excellent, while Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been their usual inconsistent selves.  The good news is that Doug Fister threw off a mound without pain this week and should be back some time in early May.     

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brandon Inge Released

After a twelve-year career in Detroit, Brandon Inge was unconditionally released by the Tigers today.  When the Tigers moved Miguel Cabrera to third base upon the acquisition of first baseman Prince Fielder, Inge requested an opportunity to win the second base job.  The Tigers did give him an opportunity as the right-hand half of a platoon, but it quickly became clear that it wasn't going to work out.  Not only did he continue to struggle at the plate even against left handers, but he also did not adapt very well to his new position.

Throughout his career, Inge has been the most bipolar Tiger among internet fans.  Most fans either supported and defended him or they disliked everything about him. I was somewhere in between and never really understood the controversy.  I saw him as the Tom Brookens of the 21st Century, a player who probably would have been better cast as a role player, but maintained a regular job mostly as a third baseman.

Like any player, Inge had his strengths and weaknesses.  He was never a good contact hitter and holds the all-time Tigers career strikeout record.  He was, however, a strong defensive third baseman in his prime and had decent power.  The Tigers probably kept him a little longer than they should have, but that tends to happen with long-tenured players.  This situation never should have been the big deal that fans made it out to be.

With Inge out of the picture, Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago will split time at second base.  There was some thought that the Tigers might replace Inge with infielder Danny Worth, but the Tigers will go in a different direction.

Instead of recalling Worth, the Tigers will purchase the contract of first baseman/outfielder/designated hitter Brad Eldred.  The six-foot-six 270 pound right-handed batter is the ultimate journeyman having played with twelve teams in six different organizations since 2002.  He was not in the team's plans when the season started but he is off to a monster start at Triple-A Toledo.  He is batting .388 with 23 extra base hits and 13 home runs in 20 games!  The Tigers will likely hope to catch lightning in a bottle by platooning him with the left-handed Dirks until he cools down.

 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tigers Lose to Mariners, Fall Out of First

The Tigers were defeated 7-4 by the Mariners tonight in the opener of a three-game series at Comerica.  The loss dropped the slumping Tigers out of first place in the AL Central for at least a couple of hours.   The first place White Sox have a half game lead over both the Tigers and Indians pending the outcome of their game at Oakland tonight. 

The bad Scherzer showed up tonight throwing 103 pitches and allowing five runs on ten hits in just five innings against a generally sub-par Mariners line-up.  There were some weak hits in the early going versus Scherzer, but it was a disappointing start nevertheless.  It's looking as if Scherzer is always going to be a Jeckyl and Hyde pitcher.

The vaunted Tigers offense continues to under perform, but they did provide a couple of magnificent blasts tonight.  Catcher Alex Avila hit a monster 432-foot home run off Seattle southpaw Jason Vargas to the shrubs in straight-away center field in the fourth.  Third baseman Miguel Cabrera then hit a 400-foot laser into the left field stands in the fifth, also off Vargas.   

The biggest problem with the Tigers offense continues be the second base position.  Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago combined for two doubles in seven trips tonight to raise (yes, raise) their combined batting average from .096 to .111.  Perhaps, they would have benefitted from  ultimate exercise programs over the winter. Actually Inge, reportedly did participate in a strenuous program, but it is not doing him much good. 

Game two of the series does not look like a favorable match-up for the Tigers as rookie Adam Wilks faces Seattle ace Felix Hernandez. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tigers Get Squeezed by Rangers

The Tigers lost to the Rangers 3-2 today as the eventual winning run scored on a controversial squeeze play in the top of the 11th inning.  With the bases loaded and Tigers rookie right hander Thad Weber making his major league debut, Rangers third baseman laid down what appeared to be a perfect suicide squeeze scoring Nelson Cruz from third. The Tigers all looked confused on the play and Weber held onto the ball while everybody was safe.  At first, it appeared to be a rookie mistake but it turned out to be an umpire mistake as the ball had actually been fouled off Gonzalez's foot.  No further damage was done but the Rangers held on to win.

As frustrating as it was to see the Rangers score in that fashion, the fact is the Tigers did not play well in the series.  Detroit was outhit, out pitched, and outrun by a strong Rangers team and deserved to lose three of four.  The supposedly hard-hitting Tigers scored just 12 runs in 4 games as a team-wide offensive slump continued.  Starters Adam Wilk and Rick Porcello were shelled and their defense did not do them any favors. 

The one positive that came out of today's game was rookie Drew Smyly pitching another solid game against a tough Rangers line-up.  Smyly allowed a solo home run versus Texas slugger Josh Hamilton in the first, but not much else.  The young southpaw allowed just one run on five hits and two walks while striking out seven in six innings.  This was a big test for Smyly today and he passed it with flying colors.  It's beginning to look like the youngster could make an important contribution this season.

The Tigers don't face the Rangers again until June 24.  For now, they get a much needed day off (where their bullpen can rest) before hosting the Mariners in a three-game series at Comerica.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tigers Lose 10-4 in Ugly Start to Doubleheader

It was not alarming when rookie left hander Adam Wilk struggled versus a very dangerous Rangers line-up in the series opener on Thursday night.  However, a little better was expected from today's starter Rick Porcello, who was coming off two strong outings.  Instead, he allowed nine runs on ten hits in just one inning of work and saw his season ERA balloon to 6.32. 

There were a few lucky hits and some sloppy defense, but there were enough hard-hit balls to say it was a disastrous outing for Porcello.  He was throwing strikes, but serving up too many fat pitches.  I won't analyze it further than that.  We can only hope he gets back on track in his next start.

The primary source of poor defense mentioned above was Brandon Inge who looked like a third baseman trying to play second base for the first time.  He muffed a double play ball in the first inning on a poor decision and a bad throw and ended up getting nobody.  He also failed to convert two make-able plays on grounders which could have been handled by a good second baseman.  By good second baseman, I'm talking about someone like Ramon Santiago rather than Ryan Raburn.

I have been more willing than many others to see how Inge adjusts to a platoon role at second base. However, if he's not going to be a strong defender, there is no point in experimenting any further.  They already have a poor defensive right-handed second baseman who is not hitting.  At least, we can expect Raburn to provide some offense at some point.  Some fear that the Tigers will not release Inge no matter how poorly he plays.  Given that he was released just last year, I think that is an irrational worry though and that he's actually on a short leash.

On a positive note, Austin Jackson continued to display his early season power with his third homer.  It was his first hit of any kind in four games.  Additionally, Miguel Cabrera had three hits including his first home run in 10 games.  Hopefully, that's a sign he is ready to take off again. 

So, the Tigers have lost the first two games of the series 10-3 and 10-4 which is reminiscent of a similar blow out  in game six of last year's American League Championship Series.  Tonight, they will attempt to get back to their winning ways behind ace Justin Verlander.       

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Where the Tigers Stand After Two Weeks

After a sweep of the Royals at Kansas City, the Tigers are sitting in first place in the AL Central with a 9-3 record.  That is their best 12-game start since the 1984 championship season  (when they started 11-1).  The White Sox are 2 games back and the Indians 2 1/2 back as I write.

After a hot start in week one, the Tigers offense slowed down in week two including a 0 for 22 slump for slugging third baseman Miguel Cabrera.  He has since snapped out of it, but their pitching has carried them more than their hitting in recent games. 

For the season, the Tigers are fifth in the American League with 4.8 runs per game.  Despite going zero for eight in his last two games, center fielder Austin Jackson has been the team's leading hitter batting .333 with six extra base hits, eight walks and 11 runs scored in 12 games.  Other hot Tigers include Prince Fielder (.945 OPS) and Alex Avila (.879).

On the downside, Ryan Raburn is off to another horrendous start batting .081.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for him) the other second basemen - Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago - are not doing much better in limited action.  Right fielder Brennan Boesch has also been a disappointment with a .540 OPS.

Defensively, the Tigers are second in the league to the Rangers with just 3.3 runs allowed per game.  They are doing it without right hander Doug Fister who is still on the disabled list with a side injury.  Rookies Drew Smyly and Adam Wilk have filled in nicely so far and one or both could still play an important role upon Fister's return. 

Justin Verlander leads the league in innings pitched (25 1/3) and is tied for the league lead in pitching runs (6) and strikeouts (23).   Rick Porcello has looked sharp in his first two starts and Max Scherzer has recovered well after his shelling in game one.

The Tigers fielders lack range but have been fairly steady so far with just three errors and not as many bonehead plays as you might expect from a team clearly built on hitting more than fielding. It's too early for advanced fielding metrics, but their Defensive Efficiency Ratio of .695 is 18th in the majors.

Individually, Cabrera has looked better than expected at third base and as long as he stays fit, he should not be a big problem over there.  Inge has also proven to be adept defensively at his new second base position.  On the other hand, Boesch, Raburn and Delmon Young have all had their problems in the field.

Next up for the Tigers is a showdown with the west division leading Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. The Rangers have lost just two games so far, so it should be a very entertaining match-up.    

Monday, April 16, 2012

Remembering Brian Bluhm

It's hard to believe that it has been five years to the day since the Virginia Tech tragedy, which took the lives of 32 students and teachers, but the memory of Brian Bluhm is still strong in the Detroit Tigers online community. Motownsports and other online forums in which Brian participated still miss his insight and kindness as much as ever. Many have expressed the sentiment that the fateful day will forever impact the way they think about their lives.

One of Brian's favorite activities as a Tigers fan was to closely follow all the players in their minor league system. As a tribute to his dedication to Tigers prospects, the members of Motownsports collectively purchased memorial plaques and bricks to be placed in all the Tigers minor league parks. I have seen the brick at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, FL and hope to see the memorials at the other parks some day as well.

Brian would have loved the current Tigers team.  What he would have appreciated most though is players such as Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander, who were drafted by the Tigers and brought through their system.  He would have followed their progress through the minors more closely than any of us had and told us what to expect.  He would have been right too, but would never have boasted about it.

Most importantly, Brian was a friend. Most of us never met him in person but when you talked to Brian, you didn't talk to an anonymous online poster. You talked to a real person who was interested in what you had to say. One of the most encouraging things that could happen on any message board was to write a post and have Brian drop by and simply say "I agree". That simple phrase always felt good coming from him.

My thoughts are with Brian's family today.  Their loss will, of course, always be difficult for them.  All I can offer to them is the assurance that we will never forget him.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Porcello sharp in 5-2 Win Over White Sox

Last year, Tigers right hander Rick Porcello had trouble pitching deep into games.  He typically breezed along for for four or five innings and then he would lose it.  Going off of memory for the moment, his fastball velocity would often be under 90 MPHafter 50 pitches or so and then he'd get hit hard.  The chart below taken from Brooks Baseball shows that, in today's game, he was still firing his fastball at about 92 MPH at about the eighty-pitch mark.  That's a good sign.  The key will be whether he can continue to do that as the season goes along and the innings pile up. 

Figure 1: Rick Porcello's Pitch Speed by Pitch Number, 04/15/2012


Porcello's results were encouraging again today.  He allowed just one run on five hits, including a home run by Dayan Viciedo, in 7 2/3 innings.  He got most of his outs on 11 ground balls plus four strikeouts.  His control was superb as he walked nobody and has issued just one base on balls in his first two starts. 

Offensive support came from the unlikeliest of sources today.  Gerald Laird, who has caught both of Porcello's starts this year, blasted a homer, a double and a single as the Tigers topped the White Sox 5-2.  Delmon Young also had two hits today rising his on-base percentage to a robust .382.  That's higher than Miguel Cabrera at .350.  Yes, the early season numbers can be weird sometimes.

On the negative side, the Tigers bullpen continued to struggle, specifically closer Jose Valverde.  Papa Grande came into the game with a 5-1 lead in the ninth and proceeded to allow three hits and a run.  He managed to hang on and preserve a win (it was not a save situation), but he has not been impressive in the early going.

The win prevented a sweep at the hands of the White Sox and propelled the Tigers back into first place.  Next up is a three-game series versus the Royals in Kansas City.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's Not 1984

When the Tigers won their first four games, fans started dreaming about a 35-5 start and a wire-to-wire divisional title like 1984.  A few days later, the Tigers are out of first place and fans are back to reality.  After two lackluster performances at Chicago, resulting in 5-2 and 5-1 losses, the Tigers are now 5-3, and one half game behind the White Sox.

For the second straight day, the Tigers bats were silent today, this time against White Sox starter Gavin Floyd.  Detroit managed just three hits off Floyd in six innings and five overall.  Floyd did give the Tigers some opportunities with three walks and three hit batsmen, but they failed to capitalize going zero for four with runners in scoring position and hitting into three double plays.       

Lead-off hitter Austin Jackson continued to set the table with three more hits today and is now batting .433/.528/.700 on the young season.  The other offensive bright spot was right fielder Brennan Boesch hitting his first homer of the season to account for the only Tigers run.

Tigers rookie Adam Wilk pitched fairly well in his first major league start allowing just two runs on  three hits in five innings.  Unfortunately two of the hits were solo home runs.  The Tigers young southpaw had a strange and almost tragic finish to his outing.   While sitting in the dugout in the top of the sixth, he was hit in his pitching shoulder by a line drive off the bat of Prince Fielder.  I would bet that not two many pitchers have left their first major league start after getting hit in the shoulder by a teammates line drive.  fortunately, it's just a bruise and he is not expected to miss any time.

The Tigers bullpen was a problem again with Collin Balster and Daniel Schlereth allowing three runs in three innings.  You have to wonder how many more chances Schlereth will get before he ends up in Toledo.  He has not gotten the job done in any of his appearances so far this year.  He has given up runs in three out of his four games and in the other game he walked the only batter he faced.

The Tigers still should have a great season and are heavily favored to win the AL Central, but it may not be as easy we imagined.  We know it won't be wire to wire anyway.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thoughts on Tigers First Week

The Tigers are 5-1 after taking two series from teams expected to contend for post-season this year.  They could have easily been 3-3 if not for the Red Sox bullpen meltdown in the opening series, but those games are in the books and the Red Sox can't have them back.

The Tigers were expected to have an explosive offense this year and they didn't disappoint in the opening week.  They lead the majors with 6.7 runs per game and a .304 batting average and the American League with a .840 OPS.

The big sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are producing as expected, but the most pleasant development of the early season has been red hot Austin Jackson.  The Tigers center fielder has 10 hits and four extra base hits in 23 at bats plus five walks.  They aren't flukey hits either - he is scorching the ball.  It's way to early to reach conclusions, but if he is for real, he's going to be a dynamic lead-off man on top of a dangerous line-up.  He has already scored nine runs.  His new "no leg-kick" swing seems to be paying off.

It's also great to see Alex Avila come out of the gates strong.  Many are predicting him to regress this year, but so far there are no signs of it.  He has seven hits in 18 at bats including two homers, one of them a dramatic walk-off in game three.

Defensively, all eyes are on Cabrera at third base.  After a rough first game, he has looked pretty smooth at the hot corner.  If he is able to keep it up, that's going to plug a huge hole and prevent a situation where they have to figure out how to juggle Cabrera, Fielder and, at some point in the future, Victor Martinez.   

On the negative side, second baseman/ outfielder Ryan Raburn is batting just .105 and not looking too sharp defensively at second.  He could be quickly playing himself out of the starting line-up.  Delmon Young is undisciplined as usual swinging at everything that moves, but that is to be expected.  The disappointing part is he has not yet flashed the power he showed at the end of last year and in the playoffs.  He really needs to hit the long ball consistently if he is going be useful.

While the offense has been mostly awesome, the pitching has been a bit unsettled.  Justin Verlander has had two fantastic eight-inning performances before two adventurous ninth innings.  The first one was closer Jose Valverde's fault while Verlander is to blame for the second one.  Given that the Tigers ace typically struggles in April though, his start has been decidedly more encouraging than discouraging.  

Beyond Verlander, there are a few areas of concern, The enigmatic Max Scherzer was shelled in his first outing before getting bailed out by the offense.  Doug Fister was cruising along in his first start before straining a muscle in his side.  It's not known how many starts he will miss, but it could be a tough loss for the Tigers if it lingers on for a while.  Meanwhile , the bullpen has been generally shaky with Valverde the biggest source of anxiety so far.

One key pitcher who opened up about as well as could be expected is Rick Porcello.  The 23-year old right-hander allowed just one run on seven hits and a walk in seven innings on Tuesday.

All in all, Tigers fans have to pretty pleased with the start of the season as they find themselves with the best record in the league and two tough series out of the way. 


Clete Thomas Designated for Assignment

The Tigers announced yesterday that outfielder Clete Thomas has been designated for assignment in order to make room for pitcher Drew Smiley, who will start his first major league game today.   The Tigers now have ten days to trade or release or send Thomas to the minors.  If they want to keep him in the minors, they would first have to get him through waivers.

The 28-year old Thomas entered spring training with a chance to make the Tigers over 26-year old Andy Dirks.  Thomas had the advantage of being out of options and is a superior defender to Dirks.  However, he continued to have trouble making contact in spring training while Dirks had a fine spring. 

Given that they kept Thomas into the season, it seems that the Tigers are interested in keeping him.  However, with some teams looking for backup outfielders, it might be difficult for him to clear waivers.  From Thomas' viewpoint, I imagine it would be best for him to get a fresh start in another organization. 

The Jacksonville, Florida native has been in the Tigers organization since 2005 when he was drafted in the 6th round of the amateur draft.  Thomas played on the parent Tigers in 2008-2009 and had moderate success batting .253/.336/.391 in 443 plate appearances.  It's a limited sample, but there are only three current Tigers - Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder - with a higher lifetime OBP. 

Thomas has always been a favorite of mine, so I wish him luck wherever he ends up.  

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Tigers Sweep Red Sox on Another Walk-Off

The Tigers completed a sweep of the Boston Red Sox this Easter Sunday with an incredible 11-inning 13-12 win.  How do you capsulize a game like this in a few paragraphs?  You really can't.  With the type of line-up the Tigers have though, I don't think Tigers fans ever doubted that they could come back from two late multiple-run deficits to win it.

With the Tigers down 10-7 in the bottom of the ninth, you knew there was a chance with slugging Miguel Cabrera coming up third.  They just needed some base runners against Red Sox closer Alfredo Aceves.  Red hot Austin Jackson led off with a single, his fourth hit of the game.  Brennan Boesch followed with another single setting up Cabrera.  Cabrera then crushed one into the left-field stands to tie it at 10-10.  It was his third homer in two days.

The Red Sox then went up 12-10 in the top of the eleventh and brought in Mark Melancon to close it out.  Again, Tigers fans sensed it was not over with Cabrera and Prince Fielder coming up in the inning.  The two big boppers settled for singles this time to bring the potential game-winning run to the plate.  Delmon Young hit one hard to left center, but not far enough and was retired on a sacrifice fly, the second out of the inning.

Melancon then got two strikes on catcher Alex Avila, but couldn't put him away.  Instead, Avila blasted a walk-off home run just barely over the left-field fence.  The ball caromed back onto the field so quickly that it initially appeared to be in play, but the umpires called it a homer and the game was over.

I could dwell on Max Scherzer's awful performance (7 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks in 2 2/3 innings) here, but I'll save that analysis for later.  Scherzer has those types of games from time to time , but he picked the right day to be off today.

A 3-2 walk-off win on Thursday;  a 10-0 five home-run blow out on Saturday; an amazing walk-off win today; a sweep of the Red Sox.  Tigers fans could not have asked for a better way to start the season.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Tigers Hit Just as We Dreamed They Would



Image created by @LindsayBeavs 

When the Tigers signed hefty first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year $214 million contract back in January, it was like a dream for Tigers fans.  After recovering from the initial shock, we imagined games where the middle of the line-up would bludgeon opponents in ways never seen in Detroit.  Today Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and company gave us the type of performance we've been thinking about the past three months.

The Tigers mauled the Red Sox 10-0 on national television and before a sell-out crowd in Comerica.  Cabrera and Fielder electrified the hometown crowd with two home-runs apiece and catcher Alex Avila added another, all off Red Sox starter Josh Beckett.  Cabrera hit a monster home run deep to right field in the top of the first to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead they would never relinquish.  In the fifth inning, he added a controversial just over the yellow line blast which was initially ruled a ground-rule double, but was changed to a a home run after instant-replay review.

We've been accustomed to seeing Cabrera have big days in a Tiger uniform, but today we saw Fielder do damage for the first time.  Fielder hit an opposite field solo blast in the fourth inning and then pulled another solo shot in the fifth.  That's exactly what he is being paid to do and we will see a lot more of it.

Not wanting to be left out of the home run party, catcher Alex Avila drilled an opposite field bomb in the fourth.  He now has four hits including a double and a homer in first two games.  Who says Avila has to regress this year?

The only bad news on the day was that starting pitcher Doug Fister had to leave the game with two outs in the fourth inning due to a strained muscle in his left side.  He did not appear to be in intense pain, but there is no word on how much time he'll miss.  It doesn't sound serious, but side injuries can sometimes linger, so we'll just have to wait.

The bullpen was brilliant pitching 5 1/3 scoreless innings.  Southpaw Duane Below, who would not have made the team but for the injury to Luis Marte, was pushed into early action and retired the first six batters he faced before allowing his only base runner, a single by Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.  Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit handled the last three innings without incident.

The Tigers even made it through the game without any errors.  Particularly impressive was Cabrera who handled third base like he's been there all along making a diving catch of a line drive and fielding several other chances flawlessly.  It was encouraging to see after his opening day adventures.

Other than the Fister injury, this game was about as perfect as any Tigers fan could have imagined.  It's a long season, but today gave us the feeling it could be a really special year in Detroit.  

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tigers Win Dramatic Opener

There was greater anticipation among Tigers fans for this opening day than any in recent memory.  And for good reason.  This is the most talented Tigers team since the 1980's and everyone wanted to see the season get off on the right foot.  We were not disappointed.

Justin Verlander was brilliant commanding all his pitches in holding the Red Sox to just two hits and one walk in eight innings.  He threw 107 pitches which is not a lot for him (he averaged 116 per start last year), but Jim Leyland was not going to take any chances with his ace on a cool day in early April.  Remember, that Verlander does not generally start the season so well.  His lifetime ERA in April is 4.75 and even last year he was only at 3.75 prior to his no hitter versus the Blue Jays on May 7.  So, today's game was a good sign.  

While Verlander picked up where he left off last year, closer Jose Valverde did not.  After going through the entire 2011 season including the playoffs without a blown save, Valverde blew a two-run lead in the ninth today.  He allowed three hits including a game-tying triple by Ryan Sweeney extending the game another half inning.  It was Papa Grande's first blown save since September 2, 2010.  It was about time though as he's just not as good as his perfect record indicated last year.  He should still be a solid closer, but you can expect him to blow a few more this year. 

Austin Jackson bailed out Valverde with a walk-off single down the third base line with the bases loaded off Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves in the bottom of the ninth.  Earlier, Jackson led off the game for the Tigers with a single and then tripled and scored in the eighth.  Tigers had loaded the bases in the ninth on singles by Jhonny Peralta (his third hit) and Alex Avila (his second hit) and a hit by pitch to Ramon Santiago.  

New first baseman Prince Fielder celebrated his Tiger debut with a single in his first at bat and a sacrifice fly in the eighth.  He also made a couple of nifty scoops at first base saving shortstop Peralta a couple of errors. 

New third baseman Miguel Cabrera did not have it so good defensively.  He had only two plays, both coming in the sixth inning.  First, he fell down and tumbled catching a relatively easy pop up in foul ground.  Moments later he olayed a hard ground ball off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez for an error.  No harm was done as the Red Sox failed to score.  

All in all, it was entertaining start to a long season. I can hardly wait for game two.    



Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Inge to DL, Opening Day Roster Set

Update: It didn't take long for the "set roster" to change.  Luis Marte has been placed on the disabled list due to a hamstring injury and has been replaced by Duane Below. 

The Tigers announced this morning that they have placed Brandon Inge on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.  The opening day 25-man roster is now set, but two decisions will have to be made in the second week.  First, someone will have to be removed when pitcher Drew Smyly is recalled to make his first start on April 12.  Then another move will be necessary when Inge comes off the disabled list on April 14.  The current roster is shown below.

Pitchers
Justin Verlander
Doug Fister
Max Scherzer
Rick Porcello
Jose Valverde
Joaquin Benoit
Octavio Dotel
Phil Coke
Daniel Schlereth
Collin Balester
Luis Marte

Catchers
Alex Avila
Gerald Laird

Infielders
Prince Fielder
Ramon Santiago
Jhonny Peralta
Miguel Cabrera
Danny Worth

Outfielders
Delmon Young
Austin Jackson
Brennan Boesch
Ryan Raburn
Andy Dirks
Don Kelly
Clete Thomas

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Tigers Will Run Away from AL Central

As opening day approaches, I'm making predictions for each of the six divisions in MLB.   I have projected won/loss records, runs scored (RS), runs allowed (RA) and run differential (RS-RA) for each team.  I don't have a complex formula to determine the results.  I just looked at last year's final numbers and moved teams up and down according to how much I thought they would regress or improve from last year to this year.

In earlier posts, I predicted that the Tigers would score 795 runs and allow 680 runs.  That translates into a 93-69 record and an easy first place finish in the AL Central.  The Tigers have just about everything going for them including a dangerous offense, strong starting pitching and solid bullpen.  The only real weakness is a porous defense, but that won't prevent them from running away from a mediocre field in the central.


Projected AL Central Standings
Team
W
L
RS
RA
RS-RA
Detroit Tigers
93
69
795
680
115
Cleveland Indians
81
81
718
723
-5
Kansas City Royals
74
88
674
749
-75
Chicago White Sox
73
89
639
716
-77
Minnesota Twins
69
93
677
794
-117

Divisional Awards

MVP 
Miguel Cabrera, Det
Prince Fielder, Det
Carlos Santana, Cle

Cy Young
 Justin Verlander, Det
Doug Fister, Det
Justin Masterson, Cle

Breakout Players
Chris Sale, Chi
Jason Kipnis, Cle
Mike Moustakas, KC


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Smyly is 5th Starter, Villareal and Below Optioned

The Tigers told left hander Drew Smyly this morning that he will be the team's fifth starter.   Since they won't need a fifth starter until April 12 versus the Rays, Smyly will make one start at Triple-A Toledo before he is added to the roster.

The Tigers also announced that pitchers Duane Below and Brayan Villarreal have been optioned to Toledo.  This means that right hander Luis Marte go north as the final reliever.  So, the opening day pitching staff is set:

Justin Verlander
Doug Fister
Max Scherzer
Rick Porcello
Drew Smyly (added on April 12)

Jose Valverde
Joaquin Benoit
Octavio Dotel
Phil Coke
Daniel Schlereth
Collin Balester
Luis Marte

With Smyly opening the season in Toledo, the Tigers will carry an extra position player  for the first seven days.  Thus, they will drop one of four players - outfielders Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas and infielders Brandon Inge and Danny Worth.  There is no reason to have all of Inge, Worth and Ramon Santiago on the team even for one week, so I'm guessing either Inge or Worth is cut.  Inge is currently recovering from a strained groin, so they may delay any decision on him further by putting him on the disabled list.

All of the above means that both Dirks and Thomas will probably be on the team for the first week.  Assuming they keep Dirks beyond that, they will then have to make a decision on Thomas.  He is out of options and must clear waivers in order for the Tigers to keep him in the organization.  The thinking may be that it would be easier to get him through waivers after the season starts and other team's rosters are settled.   

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