Monday, March 30, 2015

Ten Predictions for Tigers Batters in 2015

 Outfielder JD Martinez will be an important part of the Tigers offense in 2015.
(Photo credit: Associated Press)

The national media seems to be a little down on the Tigers this year and even Tigers fans are not as optimistic as they have been in past springs.  Is this pessimism justified?  I'll try to answer that by making some predictions for the 2015 season.  These are not mathematical projections, but rather a mix of science and intuition.  I'll start by offering ten predictions for Tigers batters: 

Alex Avila has taken a beating both physically on the field and verbally (or digitally) from fans the past couple of years.  While health problems (most notably concussions) are threatening to shorten his career, the Tigers backstop has still been a solid contributor the last couple of seasons producing average offense and strong defense for his position.  The presence of backup catcher James McCann should mean more rest and fewer at bats versus left-handed pitchers for Avila resulting in a .240/.340/.400 line.  McCann will get on base at a .320 clip batting mostly against lefties.

Miguel Cabrera will miss some time this year due to nagging injuries as the team becomes more cautious about his health, but he won't be playing with a broken foot.  He won't reclaim his MVP from Mike Trout, but expect another MVP caliber season where he'll bat .320/.380/.540 with 35 home runs. 

Ian Kinsler will recover from his uncharacteristic four percent walk rate in 2014 and get back to getting on base at a decent clip.  Look for a 270/.340/.400 line with 15 stolen bases.  He will continue to be an above average defender at age 31. 

Jose Iglesias will complete the best Tigers defensive double play combination since Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell.  Iglesias will not remind anyone of Trammell offensively batting .250 with no power, but the defensive wizard will do enough with his glove where we won't worry about his bat.  

Nick Castellanos will improve substantially at the plate batting .290 with 18 home runs with an especially good second half.  That will help him offset his third base defense which will still be among the worst in the majors. 

JD Martinez will prove that last year was not a fluke batting .290 batting average with 28 home runs.   He will be the second most productive hitter on the team.

Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis will survive the season playing center field and platooning in the lead-off spot.  They will combine for a .325 on-base percentage and 65 stolen bases.  Gose will be a significant improvement defensively over the departed Austin Jackson.
 
Yoenis Cespedes will have his best offensive season since his rookie year and his power and arm will make him a fan favorite.  I'll put him down for .270 with 26 home runs and a .785 OPS.  

Victor Martinez will start slow and finish strong, but will not come close to matching his fantastic  2014 season.  He will bat .300 with a .800 OPS in 135 games.

The Tigers will score 770 runs in 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fun Facts About Called Strikes

(Edited on 03/22/2015)
When reading the very good but complex recent article about pitch framing at Baseball Prospectus, I found myself wanting to step back and look more closely at the core of the measurement.  Before all the adjustments and the statistical modelling, it all starts with counting how many pitches are called for strikes as opposed to balls. 

So, I went to the retrosheet database for 2014 and analyzed all pitches that were called by umpires.  Any pitch that resulted in a swing was excluded.  There were 371,964 pitches called in Major League Baseball last year -  248,298 balls and 123,666 (or 33.2%) strikes.  The pitches are broken down by different splits such as home/away and ball/strike count in Table 1 below.  Here are some of the highlights:
  • The pitching team was more like to get a called strike at home (33.5%) than on the road (33.0%).  Could this be a home field advantage?  We would need to look at it more closely, but it's certainly possible. 
  • Not surprisingly, the most likely count in which to get a called strike was three balls and no strikes where pitchers know that most batters will be hesitant to swing (64.5%) were called strikes).  Conversely, only 8.3% of calls on no ball, two strike counts were strikes.
  • There was a higher percentage of strikes called in the first inning (34.7%) than any other inning.  The percentage remained high for the first three innings, perhaps because starting pitchers are sharpest early in the game and the first time through the order.  The proportion dropped below average in the middle innings, but rose to 34.2% in the ninth inning when closers came into the game.
  • Called strikes were more common with right-handed batters at the plate (33.5%) than left-handed batters (32.9%).  
  •  Pitchers/catchers got more strike calls when their team was ahead (34.1%) versus behind (32.1%).  Of course, we need to consider that they may have had leads because they were throwing strikes rather than the other way around.   
  •  More strikes were called when there were fewer outs - 34.8% with no outs, 32.8% with one out and 32.1 with two outs.
  • Pitches were called strikes more frequently with the bases empty (35.3) than any other base runner situation. Strikes were only called 25.6% of the time with a runner on third.

Table 1 -Called Strike Splits -MLB Totals, 2014


Split
% Called Strikes

(N=371,964)


Total
33.2


Site

Home
33.5
Away
33.0


Count

0-0
45.8
0-1
21.6
0-2
8.3
1-0
41.9
1-1
25.0
1-2
10.6
2-0
46.6
2-1
29.2
2-2
14.7
3-0
64.5
3-1
38.7
3-2
19.4


Inning

1
34.7
2
34.4
3
34.5
4
32.3
5
33.0
6
31.7
7
32.4
8
32.3
9
34.2
10+
31.8


Pitcher Hand

LHP
33.2
RHP
33.3


Batter Hand

LHB
32.9
RHB
33.5


Score

Behind
32.1
Tied
33.6
Ahead
34.1


Outs

0
34.8
1
32.8
2
32.1


Baserunners

Bases empty
35.3
1st
32.3
1st, 2nd
30.6
1st, 3rd
27.8
2nd
29.1
3rd
25.6
2nd, 3rd
25.9
1st, 2nd, 3rd
29.8

Data source: Retrosheet.org


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