Thursday, December 26, 2013

When Tigers Pitchers Allowed Ground Balls in 2013, Hits Happened

 Jose Iglesias is part of a Tigers infield that should allow fewer runs in 2014
(Photo Credit: USA Today)

Over the past couple of years, the Tigers have sacrificed infield defense for offense with an infield including slugging third baseman Miguel Cabrera, steady but immobile shortstop Jhonny Peralta and hefty first baseman Prince Fielder.  The results were predictably unsatisfactory with the Tigers infield leaving gaping holes allowing for ground balls to escape to the outfield.

Thanks to the retrosheet databases, it is possible to estimate just how much damage was done.  Table 1 below shows that there were 1,884 ground balls off the 2013 Tigers staff, 520 of which resulted in hits yielding a batting average of .276.  That was, by far, the highest batting average on ground balls in the majors which probably doesn't surprise anyone that watched Tigers defenders stumble around the infield last year.

Table 1: Batting Average on Ground Balls Versus Pitchers, 2013
Team
BIP
H
BA
LAN
2,019
449
.222
ATL
1,970
439
.223
CIN
1,863
418
.224
BAL
1,895
430
.227
COL
2,171
500
.230
PIT
2,281
528
.231
SDN
2,039
474
.232
SFN
1,830
429
.234
CHN
1,882
445
.236
TBA
1,884
447
.237
KCA
1,803
428
.237
OAK
1,670
397
.238
ARI
2,123
507
.239
NYN
2,034
492
.242
BOS
1,839
446
.243
SEA
1,910
464
.243
TEX
1,773
436
.246
SLN
2,080
514
.247
MIA
2,019
500
.248
MIL
1,988
494
.248
HOU
1,010
251
.249
MIN
2,084
519
.249
CLE
1,863
464
.249
WAS
1,957
496
.253
ANA
1,824
464
.254
TOR
1,988
512
.258
PHI
2,016
527
.261
NYA
1,932
508
.263
CHA
1,895
500
.264
DET
1,884
520
.276
The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet.

The major league batting average on ground balls was .243, so you would expect the average team to allow 458 hits on 1,884 ground balls.  Thus, the Tigers allowed an estimated 62 more hits on ground balls than an average infield given the same number of opportunities.  Since the average failure to convert a batted ball into an out costs about 0.75 runs, the Tigers infield was responsible for an estimated 47 extra runs which is substantial.

The lowest batting average on ground balls was .222 achieved by the Dodgers.  In comparison to Los Angeles, the Tigers allowed 102 extra hits on ground balls which translates into a whopping 76 runs further illustrating the value of a strong infield defense.

The Detroit hurlers most affected by the porous infield were probably Doug Fister and Rick Porcello, two of the more prolific ground ball pitchers in baseball.  Fister allowed  a .294 batting average on ground balls while Porcello surrendered hits at a .271 rate.  Other pitchers were not so reliant on ground balls, but were still hurt by high averages - Max Scherzer (.281) and Justin Verlander (.304). 

Interestingly, American League ERA leader Anibal Sanchez seemed unaffected posting a .243 average on grounders.  This may have been due to random luck or it could be that he induced weaker contact on grounders than other pitchers.  Unfortunately, data such as speed of batted balls are not yet available to the public.

Whether by design or circumstances or both, the Tigers have made moves to improve their infield defense heading into the 2014 season.  It actually started in late July with the acquisition of acrobatic shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox.  It was a surprise trade necessitated by the suspension of Peralta for most of the final two months.

This winter they traded Fielder to the Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, a deal that started a chain reaction of position shifts.  Cabrera will move to first base and rookie Nick Castellanos will go back to third after spending 2013 as a left fielder in Toledo.  This will likely result in defensive upgrades at both infield corners next year. 

The loss of Fielder is likely going to cost the Tigers runs offensively in 2014 versus 2013.  However, if the infield can manage to be merely average defensively, they can add four of five wins and more than offset any loss in production.

9 comments:

  1. WHAT EVER WORKS GET-ER-DONE.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This makes the Fielder trade look better--but the Fister trade look a lot worse. It will be interesting to see if Porcello has a breakout year now.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Here's what I expect:
    1B- No way to make up for the lost power
    Cabrera will be better than Fielder by a greater margin than what fielding metrics show, because of being able to field throws from team mates.

    2B- Infante showed better numbers in UZR, but Kinsler had the better DRS. Omar was slightly better in RZR, and the OOZ plays were even. No significant change in fielding, not much in hitting, but Kinsler is a more efficient base runner.

    SS- Peralta's power is a total loss. Defensively, Iglesias will get to more balls, but Peralta was one of the more efficient fielders in the league. The balls that got by Peralta that Iggy will field are almost all singles. There is some defensive upgrade, but not nearly enough to make up for the lost pop.

    3B- Castellanos was a work in progress when he was switched to the outfield a year and a half ago. Just 1.5 seasons in the minors at 3B, with an error rate of about 28 per 150 games. If he can even do what injured Cabrera did in 2013, that's a good start, as long as he improves with time on the job. I wouldn't count on an upgrade in his first season.

    I looked at the total RZR numbers for the Tiger infielders in 2013. Fielder, Infante, Peralta, Iglesias, and Cabrera fielded 916 of 1173 balls in the zone. That's more than just ground balls, obviously.

    I don't see where they are going to field an additional 62 ground balls, and those that are saved will mostly be singles killed by Iglesias. I just don't see that being nearly enough to offset the lost power of Fielder and Peralta. Very unscientific, but that's how I see it generally.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There are some unknowns and I don't know if they'll make 60 more plays either. When I converted RZR and OOZ to plays/runs, Peralta was close to average but Cabrera and Fielder were a combined -57 plays below average. So, that's consistent with this new analysis. As you said, Iglesias should be a pretty good upgrade and Cabrera should be a significant improvement over Fielder both on grounders and on receiving throws. Some of those 60 plays could be made at the receiving end too. The wildcard is Castellanos. A lot of people are assuming he'll be awful at third, but I've heard mixed reviews on him and he might surprise. Even if he's only as good as a healthy Cabrera, he'll be a significant upgrade over last year when Cabrera was -34 plays according to RZR.

    Offensively, they have lost power for sure. However, they had a very inefficient offense last year partly due to lack of speed (-20 base running runs). If they can be an average base running team, there is 20 runs there. Again, the wildcard is Castellanos who I think is just as much of an unknown offensively as defensively in his rookie year.

    Lots of things can happen of course, I'm thinking they could reasonably pick up 50 runs based on speed and defense which I think would be more than enough to offset the loss of power.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, Lee. We get a significant upgrade both on defense and offense simply because we can reasonably expect Miggy to have a bit more mobility than that beautiful Ernie Harwell statue out in left center field.

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    2. I agree that Castellanos is the wild card, both offensively and defensively. Cabrera was the worst fielding 3B in the league last year, partly because he was injured much of the second half, but the reason doesn't matter. Any improvement would be welcome, but I wouldn't expect Castellanos to be league average defensively in his rookie year, being away from the position for a year and a half.

      Looking at base running, the Tigers were league average in percentage of base runners scored. That's because they drove the runners in with base hits. They were dead last in the league in XBT, because of poor base running. Yet, Fielder and Cabrera led the team in the raw number of XBT, simply because they were on base more often. Both of them took more extra bases (more than one on a single, more than two on a double), than Kinsler or Davis. Kinsler's efficiency in taking the extra base was fantastic- 60% vs more like 33% for most Tiger base runners.

      What I'm getting at is that base running quantified can only improve if runners are getting on base. Better efficiency can help to make up the deficit, but that's a harder way to go about scoring runs than by getting extra base hits and moving runners with base hits. Those 20 runs are based on what last year's hitters did. They won't add 20 runs if the OBP in the lineup is down.

      One efficiency that isn't getting much ink is the potential of the left field platoon. I haven't seen anyone really dig into this yet. But check out Rajai Davis's splits, and then check out Dirks's splits from last year. Davis has consistently raked against LHP's. If there's going to be improvement from Dirks, it's almost certain to come against RHP's, giving the Tigers a very efficient platoon at that position, where they got very little production last year. That's a different topic, and you have to consider Davis adding less on the bases if he's the back end of a platoon, but since we're measuring improvement, I think the potential is there for a large boost.

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    3. I'm just a casual fan and haven't gotten beyond just the basic of advanced stats, but I want to add to the Castellanos discussion.

      Yes, he's been an outfielder for the last 1.5 years. But he was a left side infielder his entire life prior to the Fielder signing. Thus, I'd be surprised if he was anything short of ecstatic of his return to the infield. That enthusiasm and experience and the time he's currently spending with Coach Vizquel makes me believe that he'll be just fine. Quite frankly, I expect him to be an average MLB 3B very quickly.

      As for his bat, he's been a pretty consistent hitter with a knack for hitting the gaps and racking up the doubles. Add in 10-15 HR and they'll likely have a mini-VMart protecting VMart, who'll be protecting Miggy. Let's just hope he adjusts to MLB pitching as fast as he has adjusted to the pitching in each level of the minors.

      And I agree with your comments on the LF platoon. Definite overlooked "efficiency".

      Aterlay,
      DenverTiger

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    4. I'm fairly optimistic about Castellanos long term, but he didn't really tear up AA and AAA, so I'm not sure what to expect from him at the MLB level as a rookie. Players can develop fast at his age though, so I'm hopeful.

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  5. I definitely agree that hitting is a much easier way to score runs than base running. However, we can already guess that they will not hit quite as well, so they'll need to make up for it with base running as best they can. Davis will be the weak half of what could be a decent platoon, so that will limit his starts. However, that will free him to do a lot of pinch running where he will enter the game with a run-scoring opportunity. It's a team that might need a little more managing to maximize their production and I'm hoping Ausmus will have that kind of creativity.

    ReplyDelete

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