Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tigers Staff Lacks Swing and Miss Pitchers of Past Years

Just two years ago, the Tigers had one of the most dominant pitching staffs in recent history. They racked up an astonishing 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) resulting in a major league record 1,428 strikeouts.  After finishing with a league average 7.7 strikeout rate last year, they have dropped to 6.5 K/9 this year which ranks 14th in the American League ahead of only the Twins.

In 2013, the Tigers had three starters - Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander - with over 200 strikeouts and at least 8.9 per nine innings.  It didn't stop there as they had five relievers with at least 9 K/9 including the amazing Al Alburquerque (12.9), Joaquin Benoit (9.8) and Drew Smyly (9.6).

The only healthy holdovers from that record breaking staff are Sanchez and Alburquerque.  Despite some rocky early-season outings, Sanchez is still getting his strikeouts (9.9 K/9).  Alburquerque, on the other hand, has lost between three and four MPH on his fastball compared to last April and has only 7.1 K/9.  Verlander is still with the team but is currently on the disabled list with a strained triceps muscle.

The new pitchers are not getting batters to swing and miss very often.  Right hander David Price has a respectable 8.0 K/9, but that is down from 9.5 last year.  The other starters are all near the bottom of the league - Shane Greene (4.0), Kyle Lobstein (4.9) and Alfredo Simon (5.2).  Moreover, the only reliever as high as 7.0 is Alburquerque.  Greene's low strikeout rate is particularly surprising as he was up to 9.1 in 2014.

Can they win without strikeouts?  In the 70s and 80s, staff aces often excelled with 6 K/9 as long as they had good control and kept the ball in the park.  In the current environment with depressed offenses and a stronger emphasis on defense more similar to the 80s than the so called steroid era., you would think that punch outs would become less important again.  So far, it hasn't happened as K's are still at an all-time high around baseball and most of baseball's top pitchers have rates north of 7.

There is some hope though.  The Orioles and Royals both finished in the bottom half of the league in strikeouts in 2014, yet finished third and fourth respectively in runs allowed.  One of the keys to those teams was strong defense.  The Orioles led the AL with +49  Defensive Runs Saved and the Royals were second with +40.

The Tigers defense might not be quite that good, but it has improved over in leaps and bounds over last year when they cost themselves 65 runs defensively.  With upgrades at shortstop, center field and left field and some improvement from Nick Castellanos at third, the Tigers may not be the best in the league, but the should be at least average (currently +4).  Thus, they are better equipped to survive without strikeouts than they were last year.

Data for this post were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net and FanGraphs.com.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shane Greene Intriguing Fantasy Owners

Article contributed by guest poster Jan Stevens

With the departure of Max Scherzer and the uncertainty of Justin Verlander, many people around baseball thought that the pitching rotation for the Detroit Tigers would take a big hit in 2015. Sure, they still had David Price as the ace, but after him, there were some question marks with holdover Anibal Sanchez coming off an injury and newcomers Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon in the back of the rotation. So far, Greene has impressed fantasy owners with a strong start for the Tigers.  It is still extremely early in the year, but he could help keep the Tigers in the driver’s seat in the American League Central.

By baseball standards, the 26-year-old Greene is a bit of a late bloomer. He was not highly regarded coming out of high school, and he even lost his college scholarship when he had to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. It took him five years in the minor leagues before he was finally given a chance to make his debut last year for the New York Yankees. He had decent numbers for New York last year, but he was still a very trade-able piece over the winter. Detroit was able to land the right-handed pitcher, and he started 2015 in the rotation.

Greene has only made two starts so far this year in the regular season, but he certainly made a pretty impressive impression on his new teammates. He threw 8 innings in each start for Detroit allowing only 8 baserunners in 16 innings. The only run he gave up was unearned, and most of all he was very confident on the mound the entire time. This is a bit of a shocker to some, as he was a mediocre minor league pitcher and still relatively raw at the highest level.

Despite numbers that didn’t exactly jump out to people in daily fantasy baseball last year, he showed potential with a 92-94 fastball, a plus slider and improving control.  He had a solid spring training, and it has carried over so far. There is a long season ahead, but the Detroit Tigers are feeling pretty happy about their low risk investment over the winter. If he can be a solid middle of the rotation guy, Detroit will be more than satisfied.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Perfect Season Ends, Undefeated Season Continues

The first four games were easy for the Tigers. They led from start to finish and there was never a feeling they were going to lose the game.  It was like watching the 1984 team that started out the season 35-5.  They were near perfect in every phase of the game - hitting, running, fielding, starting pitching and even the bullpen behaved itself.  Today was a different story.

It started out as pitcher's duel between two former Cy Young winners - David Price for the Tigers and Cory Kluber for the Indians.  The Tigers jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first and were still up 2-0 after 5 1/2 innings.  Then the roller coaster began.

David Price walked two batters in the bottom of the sixth, then made a throwing error on a ground ball which should have been an inning-ending double play.  Then he allowed a two run double to light-hitting reserve outfielder Jerry Sands.  The Indians were up 3-2.

The hottest hitting team in baseball would have none of that.  They came back with three runs in the top of the seventh on two-out singles by Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.  The Tigers were up 5-3.

But this is not your 1984 Tigers with Senor Smoke and Willie Hernandez shutting down any late-inning lead no matter how precarious. Two walks - one by right hander Al Alburquerque and the other by southpaw reliever Ian Krol set it up another Indian rally in the eighth.  The immortal Jerry Sands came through again with a two-run double off Krol.  The score was tied at 5-5 after eight.

While they are not the 1984 Tigers, the 2015 Tigers can really hit.  They torched Indians closer Cody Allen for four runs in the top of the ninth.  The big hits were a tie-breaking single by Kinsler and a two-run double by left fielder Yoenis Cespedes.  The final score was Tigers 9 and Indians 6.

Anthony Gose

Not to be forgotten in the late-game craziness was another impressive performance by speedy center fielder Anthony Gose.  He led off the game with a home run to right off Kluber and later made two outstanding catches - one on a dive and another on a ball which he ran down in the left field gap.  In four games, he has nine hits, including four for extra bases, in 20 at bats.  He is looking like he could be an excellent acquisition defensively and perhaps offensively.

The Streak

The win was the fifth in a row for the Tigers.  According to Baseball-Reference.com, this is only the ninth time the Tigers have started the season 5-0, the last time coming in 2006.  They have started out 6-0 only three times and went as far as 9-0 in 1984. Three of those eight previous fast starts resulted in American League Pennants - 1909, 1984 and 2006.  Seven of the teams ended with winning seasons with only the 1960 team finishing below .500 at 71-83.    

    

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Tigers Complete Massacre of Twins

The Tigers gave up their first run of the season today, but competed a three-game sweep with an easy 7-1 victory over the Twins.  The run scored in the seventh inning with the aid of an error by left fielder Yoenis Cespedes.  So, Tigers pitchers tossed 24 shutout innings to open the season setting a team record.  The run was unearned, so the Tigers still lead the majors with an 0.00 ERA.   

The only team to start a season with three shutouts was the 1963 Cardinals who got three complete game white washes from Ernie Broglio (who would be traded to the Cubs the following year for Lou Brock in one of baseball's most lopsided deals ever), Ray Washburn and Curt Simmons.  How did the Cardinals do that year?  They finished 93-69 which put them in second place behind the pennant winning Dodgers.  Interestingly, the Cardinals led the league in runs scored, but allowed more runs than the average team that year.

Getting back to today's game, new right hander Shane Greene cruised through eight innings allowing just four hits and one walk.  The 26-year-old Greene did well for the Yankees last year posting a 3.78 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning in 14 starts, but analysts fear that he pitched above his true talent based on his previous minor league record.  Today was an encouraging effort in his quest to prove he is for real.

Speaking of proving oneself for real, how about that JD Martinez?  He blasted another tremendous home run today, this one to the opposite field in right.  We all know how good he was last year - .315/ .358/.553 in 123 games.  Most projection systems see a major drop off for him this year, but statistical systems are always going to predict regression for a player after a breakout year.  Most players will indeed regress and systems are not designed to determine which breakouts are real.

Based on observation, much of Martinez's improvement seemed real last year.  His power was immense and he showed an ability to hit the ball to all fields.  It is still hard to believe he will be quite as good as was last year, but he is showing signs that he might actually be that good.  Imagine what it would be like to have a .900 OPS slugger batting behind Miguel Cabrera and the other Martinez for 155 games?  It's exciting to think about.

Anything seems possible after routing the Twins by a combined 22-1 score in the first three games of the season.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Perfect Season: Game 2

It seemed as if the Tigers season could not have gotten off to a better start than Monday's 4-0 victory over the Twins.  Today, it got even better with an 11-0 thrashing of the same Twins.  According to Baseball-Reference.com, this is the first time the Tigers have ever started a season withe two shutouts.  That's going back to 1901.  So, I guess it really does not get better than this unless they pitch a third straight shutout, something that has only been done by the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals.

The Tigers 15-hit attack was led by some unexpected heroes.  Light-hitting ninth place hitter Jose Iglesias led the way with four hits while speedy lead-off hitter Anthony Gose chipped in with three. The most remarkable thing about the offense may have been the bottom two hitters reaching base all five times they came to the plate.   Iglesias added a walk to his hit parade, eighth place hitter Alex Avila reached base four times on a hit and three walks scoring four times and pinch hitter James McCann also reached base on a single.

The pitching came from starter Anibal Sanchez - six strikeouts  and just three hits in 6 2/3 innings -and four relievers.  The final reliever was right hander Joakim Soria who retired the one batter to end the game.  Why did they bring in Soria to pitch to just one batter in an 11-0 game?  It could have been to get him some work or it could have been to get him accustomed to closing games...

Beacause the biggest news of the day was closer Joe Nathan going on the disabled list with a flexor muscle strain.  Manager Ausmus announced shortly after the game that Soria is the new closer.  That solves one big problem: Not having Nathan trying to close games. There is still the issue of lack of bullpen depth, but most of wanted Nathan out and Soria in, so that's a start.      

Monday, April 06, 2015

Perfect Opening Day For Tigers

Opening day in baseball should really be a national holiday, but it's OK.  I'm lucky enough to have a job where I can listen to a game while I work. Tigers radio broadcaster Dan Dickerson is good for that because he let's you know emphatically when something important is happening so you don't have to listen to every pitch.  Of course, on opening day, you listen to every pitch anyway and this game did not disappoint.

There was really no way this game was going to get me down anyway because it's so good to have baseball back again.  It could not have gone better.  The Tigers new ace - left-hander David Price - pitched 8 2/3 innings of shutout ball as Detroit blanked the Minnesota Twins  4-0 at Comerica Park.  For a while. it looked like Price would throw a Maddox - a complete game shutout in under 100 pitches, something the Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer would do routinely back in the 90s.  He had to leave have 101 pitches and settle for a combined shutout with closer Joe Nathan who fanned ex-Tiger Torii Hunter for the final out.

So, it was great that Price pitched so well and Nathan didn't blow the game or even make us uncomfortable, but everything else went right too.  JD Martinez tried to show that last year was not a fluke but crushing a 412 foot home run to center field in his first at bat in the second inning.  In the same inning, catcher Alex Avila blasted a home run...to left field, something he never did once all of last year. He had been working on hitting to the opposite all spring, so that was encouraging.

Jose Iglesias, the shortstop who supposedly can't hit, got two hits, stole two bases and provided his usual sharp defense.  New left fielder Yoenis Cespedes played like the hyped Cuban superstar the Tigers were scouting before he signed with the Athletics three years ago.  He crushed a double and a triple and made a home run saving catch above the wall in left.  

Pitching, power, speed, defense...It was just one game, but you could not have asked for a better start to the 2015 season.


2015 MLB Predictions

Here are my predictions for the 2015 season:

AL East
Toronto
Boston (wild card)
Tampa Bay
New York
Baltimore

AL Central
Deroit
Cleveland
Chicago
Kansas City
Minnesota

AL West
Los Angeles
Seattle (wild card)
Oakland
Houston
Texas

NL East
Washington
Miami
New York
Atlanta
Philadelphia

NL Central
St. Louis
Pittsburgh (wild card)
Cincinnati
Chicago
Milwaukee

NL West
Los Angeles
San Diego (wild Card)
San Francisco
Arizona
Colorado

The post-season is a big crap shoot, so there is no reason not to pick the Tigers.  They will beat the Cardinals in seven games.

MVP - Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen
Cy Young - Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer (just to be different)
Comeback - Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce
Rookie - Taijuan Walker, Jorge Soler
Breakout Player - Drew Hutchison, Gregory Polanco


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Herndon, Trammell Among Tigers' Best Opening Day Hitters

 Larry Herndon was an excellent opening day performer for the Tigers from 1982-1987
(Photo credit: Topps.com)
 
Instead of doing another opening day preview, I decided to look back at previous opening days.  With the help of the Retrosheet play-by-play database, I was able to summarize data from Tigers opening days from 1950-2014.  For the purpose of this post, opening day means first game of the season as opposed to first home game.  The Tigers opening day batting leaders are shown in Table 1 below.  Here are some of the highlights:
  • Hall of Famer Al Kaline played in more opening days (21) than any other Tiger.  He did not perform particularly well in those game though posting a .210/.333/.321 line.
  • Shortstop Alan Trammell led all Tigers with 19 hits and 9 extra base hits in 16 opening days. 
  •  Nine Tigers played in 10 or more opening days, the most recent being Brandon Inge.  Inge had a .934 OPS and his 8 RBI is third highest on the team.  
  • Outfielders Kirk Gibson and Dmitri Young each had three opening day home runs.  Young, of course, hit all three in the same game in 2005. 
  • The best opening day slugger might have been right-handed hitting Larry Herndon who had 11 hits, including six for extra bases in six openers.  He had at least one hit in every game from 1982-1987 and multiple hits in four games.  
  • The worst hitter might have been outfielder Jim Northrup with just three hits and a .346 OPS in nine openers. 
           Table 1: Detroit Tigers Opening Day Batting Leaders, 1950-2014


Statistic
First
Second
Third
G
Kaline 21
Whitaker 17
Trammell 16
H
Trammell 19
Kaline 17
Whitaker, Cash 12
HR
Gibson 3
Young 3
Many tied with 2
TB
Trammell 33
Kaline 26
Herndon 22
RBI
Trammell 10
Kaline 9
Inge 8
R
Trammell 13
Kaline 8
Whitaker 8
BA
Herndon .440
Boone .412
Easley .407
OBP
Boone .500
Herndon .481
Fryman .452
SLG
Herndon .880
Boone .765
Young .762
OPS
Herndon 1.361
Stanley 1.265
Young 1.126

              Data source: Retrosheet.org


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Ten Predictions for Tigers Pitchers in 2015


Right hander Joakim Soria will do his best to save the Tigers bullpen in 2015
(Photo credit: Julian H. Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press)

In a recent post, I gave 10 predictions for Tigers batters.  Now, I'll do the same for the pitchers:
  • David Price will establish himself as the ace of the Tigers staff with 230 innings pitched, 250 strikeouts and 3.05 ERA.  For those who still like pitcher wins as a statistic, I'll say 20. 
  • Anibal Sanchez will be healthy enough to pitch 180 innings, accumulate 190 punch outs and post a a 3.50 ERA.  
  • Justin Verlander will be better this year, but nowhere close to the old Cy Young version.  I'll guess 200 IP, 8 k's per nine innings and a 3.65 ERA.  He'll also be a prime target of criticism from fans and media.  
  • Shane Green will start out strong and then tire posting a 4.50 ERA in 150 innings.
  • Alfredo Simon will struggle with consistency in his return to the American League registering a 4.60 ERA in 165 innings. 
  • Kyle Lobstein will make 12 appearances starts as the Tigers 6th starter and put up a respectable 4.20 ERA.   
  • Joe Nathan will open as the closer, but will be released in May after three blow saves.  Joakim Soria will take over as the ninth inning guy and stabilize the bullpen with only two blown saves the rest of the way.  
  • Joba Chamberlain will be awful and Bruce Rondon will battle health and control issues.  Al Aburquerque will work his way into the set up role for a while with 70 K in 55 innings but will still struggle with control.  The good news is that this will force the Tigers to make a significant addition before the trade deadline.  Or maybe not good news if you don't want to see the Tigers trade away yet more prospects. 
  • Every bullpen has some booms and busts.  We've covered the disappointments.  One of the surprises will be Angel Nesbitt who will be impressive in middle relief.  
  • The entire staff will allow 690 runs.  That coupled with 770 runs scored will give the Tigers 89 wins and another Central Division title.

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