Saturday, April 13, 2013

Small-Balling Tigers

If it looks to you like the Tigers are manufacturing runs more than slugging in the early going, you are seeing things correctly.  A line-up regarded as an offensive juggernaut by many currently leads the American League in batting average at .306 with six hitters batting over .300.  However, they have managed a slugging average of only .399 which is currently 11th in the league. 

The high-contact lower-power offense becomes even more evident when you break down the hits.  The Tigers lead the league with 92 singles, but are 13th in home runs (6), last in doubles (12) and 14th in total extra-base hits (20).  The only Tiger with more than four extra base hits is Prince Fielder with seven.

The Tigers also lead the league with an 86% contact rate. In other words, the make contact with 86% of the pitches at which they swing.  The result is a league-low strikeout rate of 14.5%.  So, they are certainly putting the ball in play, although not with enough loft to produce a lot of long hits.

When most of a team's hits are singles, they generally need some speed to score runs.  Speed is not a trait that comes to mind when we think of the Tigers, but they are running the bases well.  In fact, they are tied for fourth in the AL in Base Running Runs, a statistic at FanGraphs which attempts to measure runs created by base running.  This number goes beyond stolen bases looking at things such as going to first to third on singles and moving up on ground balls and fly balls.  The Tigers have 0.7 Base Running Runs which says that they are 0.7 runs better than average.  That is good for fourth in the league.

Additionally, the Tigers are not killing so many rallies with double plays this year.  After leading the league in grounding into double plays last season, they are in the middle of the pack with eight GIDP so far in 2013.  And they are getting runs home with productive outs too - second in the league with five sacrifice flies.    

So, we are not seeing a lot of three-run homers and explosive innings from the Tigers, but they are manufacturing enough runs with slap hitting and smart base running to score 5.1 runs per game.  That is more than a half run better than the league average of 4.5 (As a reminder that it's early in the season, the Athletics are first with 6.4 RPG and the Angels last with 3.5.) 

Will the Tigers small-balling ways continue as the season progresses?  It won't stay this extreme, but they really are more of a contact-hitting team than a power plant.  Last year, they finished third in batting average and 10th in homers and the important new pieces - Torii Hunter, Omar Infante and Victor Martinez - are likely to add more to batting average than home-run rate.

The Tigers will likely slug more doubles and homers as the summer heats up and they should be among the highest run scoring teams in the AL, but don't expect a powerhouse.  This team was built to lead the league in batting average rather than home runs which makes some sense given their home park.  Thus, we will probably see a lot of manufacturing in Detroit this summer.


  1. Great article and good points. I for one despise the Tigers' offensive roster, as I have in ever year of my life. I don't think the people who run this team have any clue what they are doing. They have no concept of formulating an efficiency strategy to create an efficient scoring team and are just making "random guesses" as to what seems to make sense with their inside-the-box approach.

    For me it's a pretty miserable experience to watch this offense day in and day out.

  2. An oddity about this team was that after the first Seattle game there was no one hitting in the 200s. Peralta was ranked 9th and was hitting .319. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Avila at 10th at .195. Probably 85 to 90% off all batters end up hitting in the 200s, but a couple of weeks into it the Tigers had hitters in the 000s, 100s, 300s, and even the 400s, but no one in the 200s. Of course, more than an anomaly, it also reflects a team where every one is not performing as expected. Fortunately, there were a lot of players over performing.

  3. The result is a league-low strikeout rate of 14.5%. So, they are certainly putting the ball in play, although not with enough loft to produce a lot of long hits.



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