Monday, July 23, 2012

Tigers Acquire Infante, Sanchez from Marlins

The Tigers have acquired infielder Omar Infante and right-handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins in exchange for three prospects and the competitive balance draft pick acquired last week.  The three prospects are right-handed starter Jacob Turner, catcher Rob Brantly and left-handed pitcher Brian Flynn.

Infante will take over at second base replacing the combination of Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn and Danny Worth.  Infante is batting .287/.312/.442 this year and .294/.329/.408 over the last three seasons.  He'll be a significant offensive upgrade over what the Tigers have been putting out there this season. Not only that, but he is an above average defender at second base which will strengthen their porous infield defense.  He is signed through the 2013 season.

Sanchez had a 3.94 ERA and 110/33 K/BB ratio in 121 innings for the Marlins this year.  Over the last three years , he has a 3.69 ERA with 8.2 strikeouts and 2.9 walks per nine innings.  His numbers might be a little less impressive in the American League, but he should be a big upgrade over Turner this year.  The downside is that Sanchez is a free agent after the season.

So, the Tigers have traded two of the best prospects, a decent prospect in Flynn and a draft pick for a half year of  Sanchez and one and a half years of Infante.  It's a heavy price to pay but that's what contending teams do. I like the deal because it significantly improves their chances of winning the division and succeeding in the playoffs this year and they still have their top prospect Nick Castellanos.

Update

The Tigers and Marlins actually swapped competitive balance draft picks in the deal.  So, the Tigers will now have a pick after the the first round instead of after the second round.  

Tigers Offense Explodes in July

After sweeping the White Sox in a three-game weekend series, the Tigers find themselves in first place for the first time since early May.  It's been a great stretch for a team that entered July two games under .500 and four games out of first place.  The Tigers have gone 14-4 for the month of July to up their overall record to 52-44.  There are plenty of reasons for their resurgence.  The starting pitching has been excellent, the bullpen has continued to be sharp and their fielding has been much cleaner.

The number one reason for the team's resurgence though may be a sizzling offense.  After a frustrating first three months where the vaunted line-up struggled to be league average, they have led the majors with 100 runs scored in July.  The second highest total is 97 by the surging Pirates.

The Tigers offensive explosion has been a team effort.  Sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have stepped up the pace, emerging star center fielder Austin Jackson has returned from the disabled list and complementary players like Brennan Boesch and Johnny Peralta have snapped out of early season slumps.  And we don't want to forget the surprising exploits of Quinton Berry.

Who has been most responsible for the major league leading run total this month? One simple way to look at it is with the Runs Participated In (RPI) statistic invented in the 1950s by Bob Creamer, an excellent and long-time writer who passed away last week. Creamer called it Runs Produced, but sabermetrician Tom Tango re-named it a couple of years ago.  It is calculated as

RPI = RBI + R - HR

The RPI statistic simply tells us the number of runs to which a player contributed with either a run or an RBI.  Most readers of this blog understand that Runs and RBI are not the best measures for player evaluation because they are so dependent on opportunity.  However, the question I'm trying to answer here is which players helped score the runs that did score regardless of whether they were actually the best hitters.

The Tigers RPI leaders for July are listed in Table 1 below.  Cabrera (29) and Fielder (24) are leading the charge which is how it was supposed to be. However, they are getting contributions all throughout the line-up something that had not been happening earlier in the year.  .   

Table 1: Tigers Runs Participated In Leaders in July 

Player
R
RBI
HR
RPI
Cabrera
19
17
7
29
Fielder
11
16
3
24
Jackson
14
10
2
22
Boesch
8
16
4
20
Peralta
11
9
2
18
Young
8
12
4
16
Berry
8
7
1
14
Avila
5
5
1
9
Data source: Baseball-Reference.com

For those who can not stomach the use of runs and RBI for any kind of analysis anymore, you could try Linear Weights Runs Created (wRC).  The wRC statistic tells us how many a runs a player should have contributed given his numbers of hits, walks, home runs and other offensive events.  Table 2 below shows that Cabrera and Fielder also lead this list and the other players follow in a similar order to Table 1.

Table 2: Tigers Runs Created Leaders in July

Player
wRC
Cabrera
20
Fielder
16
Boesch
13
Jackson
12
Peralta
10
Young
7
Berry
6
Avila
6
Data source: FanGraphs.com

Anyway you look at it, the Tigers offense is on fire this month and there are a lot of players contributing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rick Porcello Pitches Tigers into First

The Tigers moved into first place today for the first time since May 1 after beating the White Sox 7-1 behind eight strong innings from Rick Porcello.  Matched against Chicago ace left hander Chris Sale, Porcello responded with one of his best starts as a Tiger allowing just one run on five hits and no walks.  The only run came in the fifth on a seeing-eye single to the right side, a ground out and a bloop hit. 

Manager Jim Leyland gave Porcello a chance at his first career complete game, but he apparently tired in the ninth allowing hard-hit singles to the first two batters.  He left with nobody out in the ninth and received a standing ovation from 42,888 fans at Comerica Park.  The reliable Joaquin Benoit closed out the inning to preserve the victory.

It took the Tigers a while to get to Sale, but they touched him for a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth giving them a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish.  After the first two batters were retired, Gerald Laird and Danny Worth came through with singles and Austin Jackson scored both with a double.  Brennan Boesch then added a three-run homer to right in the sixth to make it 5-1.  Finally, Jackson capped it with a two-run single in the eighth. 

The Tigers are rumored to looking to acquire another starting pitcher by the July 31 trading deadline.  However, the last four games suggest they may not need one:
  • Wednesday - Doug Fister pitched eight innings giving up just one run on two hits with ten strikeouts versus a dangerous Angels line-up.
  • Thurday - Max Scherzer allowed just one run and recorded nine punch outs in seven innings against the Angels.
  • Friday - Justin Verlander surrendered just two runs in eight innings versus the then first-place White Sox.  
  • Today - Porcello's gem described above.
The Tigers will go for a sweep tomorrow afternoon when rookie Jacob Turner faces right hander Phil Humber.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tigers take Different Path to Get to Same Place as 2011

A lot has changed with the Tigers in a year.  Last year, Brandon Inge was playing third base, Victor Martinez was the designated hitter and Miguel Cabrera was manning first base.  Prince Fielder was a Brewer, Delmon Young a Twin and Doug Fister a Mariner. 

At this time last year, Austin Jackson had a .318  on-base percentage and just three home runs; Brennan Boesch was hitting .301with a .838 OPS; Johnny Peralta was batting .308 with 14 home runs.  On the pitching side, Brad Penny had the second best ERA among starters (4.50); Al Alburquerque had 47 strikeouts in 29 innings; Jose Valverde was a perfect 24 for 24 in save opportunities. 

Despite the differences between 2011 and 2012, the record after 93 games is the same.  On July 15, 2011, the Tigers were 49-44 and one game behind the Indians.  On July 20, 2012, the Tigers are 49-44 and one and a half games behind the White Sox.

They were also pretty similar in terms of runs scored and runs allowed checking in around league average in both categories in both years.  Last year, they scored 415 and allowed 429 (a negative 14 run differential).  This year, they have scored 424 and allowed 413 (a run differential of 11) .  So, they were a little luckier last year and a little better this year.    

Last year, they were in the middle of a three game series with the White Sox and had just lost the first game 8-2 in a rare pounding of Justin Verlander.  This year, of course they are starting a three-games series versus Chicago with Verlander on the mound.  Hopefully, tonight goes a little better than that. 

Then again, Tigers fans will be happy if the final regular season result is the same as last year when they went 46-23 in their last 69 games to finish with a record of 95-67 and a division title by 15 games. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tigers Receive Lottery Pick

The Tigers learned today that they have received an extra draft pick at the end of the second round of next year's first-year player draft.  They were one of 12 teams that received an additional pick after the first or second round.  This happened this afternoon via a draft lottery which is part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  It was designed to create more competitive balance by awarding picks to smaller market teams. 

Teams eligible for the lottery included the ten smallest market teams as well as teams in the 15 smallest markets who also received revenue sharing money this year.  The Tigers ended up in the lottery based on the second criteria.  Jonathan Mayo of MLB.COM describes the process in more detail. 

One interesting feature of these extra picks is that they can be traded during the season or next season.  They may not be traded during the off season.  So, this is the first time that MLB teams will be able to trade draft picks of any kind. The Tigers pick is the equivalent of a late second rounder/ early third rounder.  This can be used as either a trade chip right now or as a way to replenish their system next year if they trade away prospects before the deadline.  This is a nice bonus for the Tigers, one I was not anticipating before I heard yesterday that they would be in the lottery.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Austin Jackson's Historic Improvement

Center fielder Austin Jackson has gone through a remarkable transformation in the first half of 2012.  The Tigers lead-off hitter has improved by leaps and bounds over 2011 on just about every statistical measure.  He has raised is batting average from .249 to .323, his on-base percentage from .317 to .405 and his slugging percentage from .374 to .538.

Looking at Jackson's overall production, his Weighted On Base Average (explained here) has increased from .309 in 2011 to .400 in 2012, a 29% change over 2011.  If we use OPS instead, AJax has improved by an extraordinary 37% (.691 versus .943).

I wanted to see how Jackson's jump in OPS would rank among past hitters.  So, I looked into my database (provided by Baseball-Databank.org) to determine the biggest one year increases since 1901.  I limited my analysis to hitters with at least 400 plate appearances for the same team in two consecutive seasons.  Table 1 below shows that if Jackson can maintain his  improvement through the season, it would be the 20th biggest increase ever.


Table 1: All-Time Best One-Year Improvements in OPS

Player
Team
Year 1
OPS 1
Year 2
OPS 2
% change
Cito Gaston
SDN
1969
0.585
1970
0.907
55.1
Rico Petrocelli
BOS
1968
0.667
1969
0.992
48.8
Carl Furillo
BRO
1952
0.655
1953
0.973
48.6
Al Kaline
DET
1954
0.652
1955
0.967
48.3
Wayne Garrett
NYN
1969
0.558
1970
0.811
45.4
Dusty Baker
LAN
1976
0.605
1977
0.876
44.8
Jimmy Wynn
HOU
1971
0.596
1972
0.860
44.2
Roy Campanella
BRO
1954
0.686
1955
0.978
42.6
Adrian Beltre
LAN
2003
0.714
2004
1.017
42.4
Clay Dalrymple
PHI
1961
0.575
1962
0.809
40.7
Al Zarilla
SLA
1947
0.621
1948
0.871
40.3
Tim Wallach
LAN
1993
0.612
1994
0.859
40.2
Ray Powell
BSN
1920
0.595
1921
0.830
39.5
Darin Erstad
ANA
1999
0.683
2000
0.951
39.3
Al Cowens
KCA
1976
0.639
1977
0.885
38.6
Mike Mitchell
CIN
1908
0.585
1909
0.808
38.1
Horace Clarke
NYA
1968
0.512
1969
0.706
37.8
Richard Hidalgo
HOU
1999
0.748
2000
1.028
37.3
Mike Epstein
WS2
1968
0.704
1969
0.965
37.0
Austin Jackson
DET
2011
0.690
2012
0.943
36.7

Data Source: Baseball-Databank.org

The biggest step up in OPS was by Padres outfielder Cito Gaston, who raised his OPS from  .585 in 1969 to .907 in 1970, an incredible 55% improvement.  Unfortunately, Gaston fell back to .650 in 1971 and never approached an OPS of .800 again.  The biggest jump in the American League was by Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli who went from .667 in 1968 to .992 in 1969, a 49% change.  That one warrants an asterisk as 1969 was the year the pitchers mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches.

The biggest OPS improvements for Tigers players are shown in Table 2 below.  Jackson's 37% increase would be the second largest in team history to Hall of Famer Al Kaline.  Kaline went from .652 in 1954 to .967 in, a 48% change.  Unlike many of the players on Table 1, Kaline was able to maintain much of his improvement going forward (although 1954 may have been his best season).   


Table 2: Top Ten One-Year Improvements for Tigers

Player
Year 1
OPS 1
Year 2
OPS 2
% change
Al Kaline
1954
0.652
1955
0.967
48.3
Austin Jackson
2011
0.690
2012
0.943
36.7
Bobby Higginson
1995
0.721
1996
0.982
36.1
Harry Heilmann
1920
0.787
1921
1.051
33.5
Bill Freehan
1973
0.636
1974
0.840
32.1
Ralph Young
1919
0.562
1920
0.729
29.7
Bill Freehan
1966
0.646
1967
0.835
29.4
Sam Crawford
1910
0.756
1911
0.964
27.5
Alan Trammell
1989
0.648
1990
0.826
27.4
Norm Cash
1960
0.903
1961
1.148
27.1
Data Source: Baseball-Databank.org

Can Jackson keep it up for the whole season and into future seasons? His walk and strikeout rates are both significantly better than past seasons which is generally a very good sign.  His increase in power does not surprise scouts who had previously said he had the potential to hit more home runs.  His inflated .406 BABIP would suggest that he'll regress a bit by the end of the season, but much of his improvement seems legitimate.  At this point, it looks historic. 

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