Thursday, May 31, 2012

Week 8 Report: Still Sloppy but Winning Week

The Tigers continued to look like a sloppy team with no direction this week, but they did manage to go 4-3.  The week started with a three-game sweep of the Twins in Minnesota and ended with a lackluster 1-3 series at Fenway.  The Bengals have now dropped into third place five games behind the White Sox.

The story line has remained the same for much of the season.  The pitching has been pretty good with the Tigers near the top of  the American League in the fielding independent pitching statistics - K/BB, FIP, xFIP, SIERA.  Even the bullpen has settled in nicely as of late.  Unfortunately, they are 11th in the league in run prevention due to epically bad fielding. 

The offense has been a disappointment all year, but there have been some positive signs recently.  After struggling somewhat in the early part of the season, the two big boys - Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder - combined to bat .458 for the week.  Everything revolves around those two sluggers, so they'll need consistent production from them if they are going to turn it around.  Defensively, Fielder has been a disaster and really belongs at designated hitter.  Unfortunately they have a few hitters in that position and, of course, Victor Martinez will also be back eventually. 

Austin Jackson is still not back from his side injury, but they barely missed him this past week as speedy Quintin Berry injected some life into a dying team batting .333 with a .395 OBP and three stolen bases.  He will surely remain on the roster when Jackson returns and should get regular playing time as long as he keeps getting on base.  Look for him to steal at bats from Delmon Young versus right-handed starters.  I don't know if Berry has the arm to play right, but should be able to handle left field.  He has 82 lifetime games there in the minors.

The worst news  of the week was Doug Fister going back on the disabled list due to his side not yet being healed fully.  That is tough news given that rookie southpaw Drew Smyly has come back to earth posting a 6.53 ERA and allowing six homers in his last four starts.  The Tigers will definitely need a completely healthy Fister if they are going to make a strong run this summer.

Finally, the inevitable happened as badly slumping Ryan Raburn was demoted to Triple-A Toledo in an attempt to get his bat going.  Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth are now sharing the second base job which should help their defense.  I suspect Raburn will be back fairly quickly if he heats up in minor league action.   



 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ryan Raburn Optioned to Toledo

The Tigers announced tonight that second baseman/ outfielder Ryan Raburn has been optioned to Triple-A Toledo.  The streaky Raburn batted a meager .146/.209/.211 for Detroit over the first two months of the season as manager Jim Leyland gave him every opportunity to heat up.  Monday's game where he batted second and struck out three times looking versus the Red Sox was apparently the last straw.

Raburn has had a habit of starting slow and then tearing it up late in the season.  The Tigers are, of course, hoping the same thing happens this season and they are sending him to Toledo to try to get him going.  He had stints with the MudHens each year from 2007-2010 and each time responded well with an OPS above .900.  With the tigers offense continuing to sputter this year, there is a chance he could get a recall fairly quickly if he gets hot. 

There was no mention of a corresponding move to take Raburn's place on the roster.  There are not any terribly exciting options down on the farm, at least ones that would seem ready for the majors. They could use a right-handed bat on the bench, so my wild guess is that they'll give big Brad Eldred another shot.

 The fact that they sent Raburn down now rather than waiting for  Austin Jackson to come off the disabled list suggests that there could be some kind of trade in place.  However, I wouldn't expect any difference makers to be available this early in the season.

For now, it will be Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth sharing the second base job. They should be able to top Raburn's current offensive line and provide more defense, but neither is a permanent solution to their keystone problem.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Using RE24 to Evaluate Relievers

In a recent post, I used the RE24 statistic to measure batting contribution including situational hitting.  The statistic is appealing because it gives batters more credit for hits with runners on base than for hits with the bases empty.  This concept can also be applied to pitchers, relievers in particular.

Statistical evaluation of relievers is difficult for a couple of reasons:
  1. They pitch so few innings that their statistics can be influenced heavily by a couple of really bad outings.
  2. Their actual value depends on game situations more than any other player (this problem will be addressed here)
Using ERA to evaluate relievers is problematic because relievers often make appearances with runners on base and give up other pitcher's runs. So a pitcher could have a low ERA without actually being that effective. FIP ERA which is based on walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed rather than runs allowed is better but it still does not consider the game environments in which a reliever pitched.

The RE24 metric estimates the number of runs a pitcher saved or cost his team based on his numbers of singles, doubles and all other events allowed including outs.  It also considers the situations in which these events happened.  For example, if Tigers southpaw Phil Coke enters a game with two men on base and nobody out and retires the side he will get more credit than if he comes in with the bases empty.  Coke gets more points in the first scenario because there was greater potential for run scoring.  Thus, Coke saves the Tigers more runs if he frequently pitches well with runners on base than if he always starts an appearance with the bases empty.

The American League RE24 leaders among relievers are shown in Table 1 below.  Oakland Athletics right hander Ryan Cook leads the league with a RE24 of 11.87.  This means that he has saved the Athletics an estimated 12 runs compared to an average pitcher with the same number of outs. This is not too surprising since his ERA is 0.00. 

Table 1: AL RE24 Leaders Among Relievers

Pitcher
Team
RE24
Cook
Oak
11.87
Ogando
Tex
11.05
Atchison
Bos
10.44
Strop
Bal
9.63
Ross
Tex
8.97
Wade
NY
8.68
Johnson
Bal
8.29
Uehara
Tex
8.16
Duensing
Min
8.06
Pestano
Cle
7.70
 Data source: FanGraphs.com

There are no Tigers in the top ten, but lefty Duane Below is 16th in the AL at 6.12.  Other Tigers relievers with 10 or more innings are listed in Table 2.  Below, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke have all saved the team runs and Jose Valverde has been league average.  The now departed Colin Balester cost the the team an estimated 6 runs.  

Table 2: RE24 for Tigers Relievers

Pitcher
RE24
Below
6.12
Benoit
3.95
Dotel
3.77
Coke
1.20
Valverde
0.01
Balester
-6.23
Data source: FanGraphs.com

Friday, May 25, 2012

Week 7 Report: Tigers Offense Inefficient in May

After getting swept by the Indians this week, the Tigers have reached the low point of their campaign.  They have gone 11-21 since the second week of the season and have fallen to third place, six games behind  first-place Cleveland.   If they do not get going pretty soon, the team which was supposed to run away with the division may find themselves double-digit games behind before summer officially begins.

The Tigers shortcomings this year have remained pretty much the same in recent weeks.  The offense has been surprisingly sluggish scoring just 4.2 runs per game which is only tenth in the American Lerague.  They are last in the league on almost every advanced fielding metric and their bullpen has been shaky.

The only bright spot has been a starting rotation which leads the league in strikeout/walk ratio, XFIP and SIERA.  Unfortunately, this one strong point has been masked by the team's awful defense and inconsistent bullpen.  The result is that they are in the bottom half of the league in overall run prevention.

I was going to write a post about how the fielding has helped to ruin the good work of the starters, but I'll save that for another time.  Today, I want to address a different issue which many Detroit fans are talking about: the inability of the offense to score base runners.  In the Cleveland series alone, the Tigers left 30 runners on base.  You would think with all those base runners that the Tigers would have scored more than six runs.  

The Cleveland series was just three games though and fans have been talking about the inefficiency of the Tigers offense for a while.  Is this a real problem or is it one of those things that frustrated fans of losing teams just talk about?  One way to investigate this is to compare the Tigers actual runs scored (R) to the Runs Created (RC).

The RC statistic (called wRC on FanGraphs) tells us how many runs a team should have scored based on their numbers of singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks and other offensive events including outs made.  Table 1 below shows that most teams have a relatively small differential between runs and RC (R-RC). The Blue Jays have the largest gap with 215 runs scored versus 192 RC.  The 23-point or 12% run differential  is due largely to the Blue Jays .818 OPS with runners in scoring position (against only .718 overall).

What about the Tigers?  They have 186 RC on the season.  If they were not making the most of their hits, walks and extra base hits, you would expect them to have fewer runs than RC.  Instead they have the same number of runs scored as RC.  So, they have scored exactly as many runs as you would have expected given their offensive events.


Table 1: Runs Versus Runs Created for American League Teams

Team
R
RC
R-RC
%
Texas
242
245
-3
-1
Boston
236
230
6
3
Toronto
215
192
23
12
Baltimore
208
206
2
1
New York
200
220
-20
-9
Tampa Bay
197
207
-10
-5
Chicago
193
192
1
1
Cleveland
190
200
-10
-5
Detroit
186
186
0
0
Seattle
176
156
20
13
Minnesota
172
174
-2
-1
Kansas City
171
180
-9
-5
Los Angeles
165
167
-2
-1
Oakland
153
142
11
8

Let's take this analysis one step further by looking at monthly splits.  In April, the Tigers scored 94 runs versus 85 RC.  So, rather than wasting base runners, they actually scored nine more runs than they should have given their raw offensive performance.  On the other hand, They have 92 runs scored in May versus 101 RC.  Thus, they have scored nine fewer runs than expected this month.

The conclusion is that the fans perception of wasted base runners has been correct in May.  The good news though is that they showed in April that they are capable of making the most of their opportunities.  So, their trouble this month is probably a fluke that will soon correct itself.

Of course, inefficient offense and lack of timely hitting is not the only weakness this team need to correct.  The bigger issue is that the simply aren't getting enough hits or extra base hits to produce runs regardless of timing.    

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Using RE24 to Account for Situational Hitting

Many fans complain that statistics like on base percentage, slugging average and OPS don't address situational hitting.  For example, if Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera singles with a runner on third base to drive in a run, he gets the same credit as he would for a single with the bases empty.  Some will argue that this is not fair because he contributes more to his team in the former scenario than the latter.  In this post, I will introduce a statistic which accounts for a hitter's performance  in different circumstances.

Traditional fans like to address situational hitting with Runs Batted In, but that is a team dependent statistic.  A player has more or less opportunity to drive in runs depending on who is batting in front of him.  Thus, a player gets acknowledged for driving home runs, but does not get penalized for failing to drive home runs.  So, the RBI count is not an adequate measure of situational hitting.

Other fans point to batting average with runners in scoring position, but that is based on a limited number of plate appearances.  It also doesn't consider the number of outs, the specific base runners (e.g. bases loaded versus second base only) or the type of hit (single, double, triple or home run).  Additionally, it ignores a player's performance when no runners are in scoring position. 

What we want is a statistic which gives a player credit for everything he does including situational hitting.  Batting Runs Batting Runs Above Average by the 24 Base/Out States (RE24) - found at FanGraphs - does just that.  The RE24 statistic is also sometimes referred to as "Value Added".  This metric will give a player credit for his singles, doubles, and all other events, and gives him extra credit for hits occurring with runners on base.  It even gives him points for a scenario which most other metrics ignore - moving a runner over with a ground out.

In the past, I have discussed just plain Batting Runs  (see the bottom section of the linked article).  Batting Runs is an estimate of how many runs a player contributed to his team beyond what an average hitter would have contributed in his place.   RE24 is similar to Batting Runs except that it uses base/out states in the calculation.  An example of a base/out state is "runners at first and third and one out".  There are 24 possible base/out states and RE24 takes all of them into consideration.

In the calculation of Batting Runs, a double with the bases loaded and two outs counts the same (0.770 runs) as a double with the bases empty and no outs.  Conversely, RE24 counts the bases loaded double more than the bases empty double (2.544 versus 0.632) because it does more to increase the expected runs scored in the inning.

RE24 for one at bat is the difference between run expectancy at the beginning and end of a play.  For example, suppose Cabrera bats with a runner on first and one out. In that situation, we would expect 0.556 runs to score by the end of the inning.  Assume that Cabrera then doubles, putting runners on second and third with one out. In that situation, we would expect 1.447 runs to score by the end of the inning. Therefore, Cabrera's double is worth 0.891 runs.

Summing RE24 over all of a batter’s plate appearances yields his season total RE24. For
example, Cabrera has a RE24 of 11.5 this year.  So, by that measure, he has contributed about 12 runs above what an average batter would have been expected to contribute given the same opportunities. This is a little higher than his 7.2 Batting Runs, which means that Cabrera has been especially good in situations with high run expectancy and has contributed more to his team’s runs than Batting Runs indicates.  Indeed, we can estimate that he has contributed an extra 4.3 runs with his situational hitting.


Table 1 below shows us the American League leaders by RE24.  Other columns in the table include Plate Appearances (PA), Batting Runs (BatRuns) and the difference between RE24 and Batting Runs (RE24-BatRuns).  Not surprisingly, the RE24 leader is Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton at 23.7.  Four Tigers appear in the top 20 including Cabrera (7th), Austin Jackson (13th), Andy Dirks (17th) and Prince Fielder (20th).   


Table 1: AL RE24 Leaders

Player
Team
PA
RE24
BatRuns
RE24-BatRuns
Josh Hamilton
Rangers
167
23.7
25.3
-1.6
Adam Dunn
White Sox
177
17.3
13.8
3.5
David Ortiz
Red Sox
170
16.5
16.1
0.4
Josh Willingham
Twins
154
16.1
14.3
1.8
Paul Konerko
White Sox
161
13.8
17.6
-3.8
Edwin Encarnacion
Blue Jays
175
13.7
10.8
2.9
Miguel Cabrera
Tigers
176
11.5
7.2
4.3
Carlos Santana
Indians
170
11.2
5.2
6.0
Mark Trumbo
Angels
119
11.1
12.2
-1.1
Adam Jones
Orioles
180
10.7
14.7
-4.0
Kelly Johnson
Blue Jays
177
10.2
6.7
3.5
Asdrubal Cabrera
Indians
157
10.1
10.4
-0.3
Austin Jackson
Tigers
159
9.3
13.7
-4.4
Matt Joyce
Rays
145
7.9
10.1
-2.2
Raul Ibanez
Yankees
118
7.5
6.0
1.5
Kyle Seager
Mariners
143
7.2
3.8
3.4
Andy Dirks
Tigers
103
7.0
9.2
-2.2
Joe Mauer
Twins
167
7.0
3.9
3.1
Billy Butler
Royals
167
6.8
8.2
-1.4
Prince Fielder
Tigers
172
6.6
7.0
-0.4
 Data Source: FanGraphs.com


A complete list of Tigers can be found in Table 2.   A closer look at this table shows that  Jackson leads the team with 13.7 Batting Runs.  However, he has not done as well in high leverage opportunities as he has in normal at bats.  The -4.4 in the final column shows that he has contributed an estimated -4.4 runs less than his Batting Runs indicate.  Cabrera, on the other other hand, has done better in high leverage at bats and thus moves ahead of Jackson when we account for that with RE24.     


Table 2: Tigers By RE24


Player
PA
RE24
BatRuns
RE24-BatRuns
Miguel Cabrera
176
11.5
7.2
4.3
Austin Jackson
159
9.3
13.7
-4.4
Andy Dirks
103
7.0
9.2
-2.2
Prince Fielder
172
6.6
7.0
-0.4
Jhonny Peralta
139
-0.4
-0.2
-0.2
Gerald Laird
36
-1.2
0.3
-1.5
Delmon Young
134
-2.4
-2.5
0.1
Don Kelly
58
-3.2
-3.4
0.2
Ramon Santiago
67
-3.9
-4.4
0.5
Alex Avila
125
-6.2
-1.4
-4.8
Brennan Boesch
163
-6.5
-4.0
-2.5
Ryan Raburn
120
-11.2
-10.6
-0.6
Data Source: FanGraphs.com
 

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