Saturday, May 30, 2015

Speed Not Helping Tigers On Bases

After years of mostly sluggish defense and station to station baserunning, the Tigers have made a strong effort to improve their team speed and athleticism.  Since 2013, they have added shortstop Jose Iglesias, second baseman Ian Kinsler, and outfielders Yoenis Cespedes, Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose.  The changes have helped them go from near the bottom the American League defensively in 2013 (-66 Defensive Runs Saved) and 2014 (-65) to above average in 2015 (+11). The added speed has not, however, translated into success on the bases.

At first glance, it may appear that the Tigers are a good baserunning team.  After all, they do lead the American League with 44 stolen bases including 12 for Davis and 8 for Gose.  However, they also lead the league with 20 caught stealing and their resulting 69% stolen base percentage is only league average.  What does this mean in terms of runs?  The wSB statistic at FanGraphs estimates that they have gained only a fraction of a run (0.2) compared to an average team through base stealing.  

The more obvious event which is causing the Tigers to make outs on the bases in grounding into double plays.  They lead the American League with 54 GIDPs, 10 more than the Red Sox who are the next closest team. The wGDP measure estimates that the Tigers have cost themselves a league-worst 4.2 runs on double plays.

Grounding into double plays is not all base running of course, but you would think a speedy team would be able to avoid double plays better than a slow team.  First baseman Miguel Cabrera (8), catcher James McCann (7) and third baseman Nick Castellanos (7) have hit into the most double plays but speedsters like Cespedes (6) and Iglesias (4) have not been immune.

Other base running events include taking extra bases on hits, advancing on ground balls and fly balls and avoiding pickoffs and other outs on the bases.  Numbers at Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs suggest that the Tigers have not been particularly good at any of those things.  The UBR measure at FanGraphs estimates that the Tigers have cost themselves 2.7 runs on the bases beyond stolen bases attempts and double plays.

Summing all the numbers - wSB, wGDP, UBR - the Tigers are an estimated 7 runs below average (BsR=-6.7) which places them ahead of only the White Sox (-12.1).  The Tigers best baserunners according to this number are Kinsler (2.2) and Davis (1.3).  The worst are Castellanos (-3.7) and Victor Martinez (-2.3).

There is no doubt the Tigers have more speed on the team than they have had in a while.  This is helping them defensively, but not offensively.  We can guess that they are being over aggressive or just not very smart on the bases.  As you can tell from the magnitude of the numbers, it's not a huge problem.  Sub-par base running hurts a team less than poor hitting or fielding.  It's an area where they should be doing better though and it's something to watch in coming weeks.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tigers Bullpen Doing Fine So Far

In a recent post, I used the RE24 statistic to measure batting contribution including situational hitting.  The statistic is appealing because it gives batters more credit for hits with runners on base than for hits with the bases empty.  This concept can also be applied to pitchers, relievers in particular.

Statistical evaluation of relievers is difficult for a couple of reasons:
  1. They pitch so few innings that their statistics can be influenced heavily by a couple of really bad outings.
  2. Their actual value depends on game situations more than any other player (this problem will be addressed here)
Using ERA to evaluate relievers is problematic because relievers often make appearances with runners on base and give up other pitcher's runs. So, a pitcher could have a low ERA without actually being that effective. FIP which is based on walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed rather than runs allowed is better but it still does not consider the game environments in which a reliever pitched.

The RE24 metric estimates the number of runs a pitcher saved or cost his team based on his numbers of singles, doubles and all other events allowed including outs.  It also considers the situations in which these events happened.  For example, if Tigers southpaw Tom Gorzellany enters a game with two men on base and nobody out and retires the side he will get more credit than if he comes in with the bases empty.  Gorzellany gets more points in the first scenario because there was greater potential for run scoring.  Thus, Gorzellany saves the Tigers more runs if he frequently pitches well with runners on base than if he always starts an appearance with the bases empty.

The RE24 for all American League teams is shown in Table 1 below.  The Tigers have an RE24 of -17.9 which says that their bullpen has saved them an estimated 18 runs compared to an average staff with the same number of outs. The interpretation is a little misleading because the average also includes starters.  However, all bullpens are compared to that same average, so the ranks are telling and only the Royals (35.9) and Astros (23.6) have been better than the Tigers.  

Table 1: AL Team RE24, May 24, 2015
Team
RE24
Royals
35.9
Astros
23.6
Tigers
17.9
Rays
7.3
White Sox
4.2
Angels
3.0
Twins
3.0
Blue Jays
-0.5
Yankees
-1.0
Red Sox
-1.1
Orioles
-4.0
Indians
-7.7
Rangers
-8.6
Mariners
-11.6
Athletics
-22.5
Data source: FanGraphs.com

The American League RE24 leaders among relievers are shown in Table 2 below.  Astros right hander Will Harris heads the list at 11.1 followed by Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays (9.9).  The Tigers have two pitchers in the top 15 - closer Joakim Soria (6.8) and middle man Alex Wilson (6.0).

Table 2: AL RE24 Leaders, May 24, 2015
Name
Team
RE24
Will Harris
Astros
11.1
Roberto Osuna
Blue Jays
9.9
Wade Davis
Royals
8.8
Dellin Betances
Yankees
7.4
Brandon Gomes
Rays
6.9
Joakim Soria
Tigers
6.8
Glen Perkins
Twins
6.6
Andrew Miller
Yankees
6.3
David Robertson
White Sox
6.2
Alex Wilson
Tigers
6.0
A.J. Ramos
Marlins
6.0
Shawn Tolleson
Rangers
5.9
Brad Boxberger
Rays
5.8
Zach Duke
White Sox
5.7
Data source: FanGraphs.com

Table 3 shows the performance rest of the Tigers in terms of RE24 including Gorzellany (3.5) and left hander Blaine Hardy (2.4).   The only current Tigers relievers below zero are Joba Chamberlain (-0.2) and Al Alburquerque (-0.7) and they are no where near the bottom of the league.

Table3: Tigers RE24, May 24, 2015
Player
RE24
Joakim Soria
6.8
Alex Wilson
6.0
Tom Gorzelanny
3.5
Blaine Hardy
2.4
Angel Nesbitt
0.7
Joba Chamberlain
-0.2
Al Alburquerque
-0.7
Data source: FanGraphs.com

Can the Tigers bullpen keep up their surprising third place ranking?  Without much dominant stuff on the staff, it will not be easy.  Their 3.65 FIP is good enough for 5th in the league, but their strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine innings is second worst only to the Twins.  The fact that the starting staff leads the league with 6.2 innings per start has helped limit the exposure of what was supposed to be a leaky pen.  With Anibal Sanchez struggling and Kyle Lobstein now on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, it is questionable how long that will last.

Still, it's hard not to be happy with the bullpen performance so far.  This was a group which many predicted would be close to the bottom of the league.  They will likely need re-enforcements soon and  hopefully rehabbing flame thrower Bruce Rondon will be one of them.  They might not need as much help as originally thought though.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Inefficient Tigers Offense

Many Tigers fans have been complaining that the Tigers are leaving way too many men on base  and not scoring nearly as many runs as they should.  That is something fans talk about every year and it's usually not true.  This year, however, the masses seem to be correct.  The Tigers currently lead the American League with a .774 OPS but are only sixth with 4.4 runs per game.  So, something seems amiss both by observation and by the numbers.

Entering today's action, the Tigers lead the American League with 216 Runs Created.  Simply stated, this means that a typical team with a .280/.346/.428 batting line a quarter of the way through the season would be expected to have 216 runs scored.  The Tigers have only scored 190 runs which is 26 (or a whopping 12%) short of where they should be.  Table 1 below shows that no team in the league has a bigger negative differential between Runs and Runs Created (RC). 

Table 1: Differences In Runs and Runs Created for AL Teams, May 22, 2015
Team
Runs
RC
Diff.
Detroit
190
216
-26
Toronto
226
209
17
Kansas City
207
205
2
Oakland
187
191
-4
New York
188
190
1
Cleveland
179
188
-9
Houston
189
178
11
Texas
176
178
-2
Tampa Bay
170
176
-6
Baltimore
180
173
7
Boston
162
169
-7
Seattle
156
165
-9
Minnesota
185
159
26
Los Angeles
163
143
20
Chicago
143
143
2
Data source: Fan Graphs.com

A quick look at basic situational statistics begins to explain what is happening.  The Tigers lead the league with a .289 batting average with base empty, but are sixth in the AL batting .270 with runners on base.  As Neil Weinberg of TigsTown points out, they are particularly bad in one specific situations - runner at first base only:
...the Tigers are horrible with men on first base only. You’re probably thinking that’s a weird thing, and you’re right. The Tigers have a .704 OPS in 273 PA with a man on first only. In every other situation (1258 PA), they have a .780 OPS. 
Another way to look at situational hitting is with the RE24 statistic.  Statistics like on base percentage, slugging average and OPS don't address situational hitting. Traditional fans like to use Runs Batted In, but that is a team dependent statistic.  A player has more or less opportunity to drive in runs depending on who is batting in front of him.

Other fans point to batting average with runners in scoring position, but that is based on a limited number of plate appearances.  It also doesn't consider the number of outs, the specific base runners (e.g. bases loaded versus second base only) or the type of hit (single, double, triple or home run).  It also ignores a player's performance when no runners are in scoring position.  

What we want is a statistic which gives a player credit for everything he does including situational hitting.  Batting RunsBatting Runs Above Average by the 24 Base/Out States (RE24) - found at FanGraphs - does just that.   In the past, I have discussed just plain Batting Runs  (see the bottom section of the linked article).  Batting Runs (RAA) is an estimate of how many runs a player contributed to his team beyond what an average hitter would have contributed in his place.   RE24 is similar to RAA except that it uses base/out states in the calculation.  An example of a base/out state is "runners at first and third and one out".  There are 24 possible base/out states and RE24 takes all of them into consideration. 

In the calculation of Batting Runs, a double with the bases loaded and two outs counts the same (0.770 runs) as a double with the bases empty and no outs. On the other hand, RE24 counts the bases loaded double more than the bases empty double (2.544 versus 0.632) because it does more to increase the expected runs scored in the inning.

RE24 for one at bat is the difference between run expectancy at the beginning and end of a play.  For example, suppose JD Martinez bats with a runner on first and one out. In that situation, we would expect 0.556 runs to score by the end of the inning.  Assume that Martinez then doubles, putting runners on second and third with one out. In that situation, we would expect 1.447 runs to score by the end of the inning. Therefore, Martinez's double is worth 0.891 runs.

Summing RE24 over all of a batter’s plate appearances yields his season total RE24. For
example, Martinez has a RE24 of  -2.8 this year.  So, by this measure, he has contributed about 3 runs below what an average batter would have been expected to contribute given the same opportunities. This is quite a bit lower than his 6.4 Batting Runs, which means that Martinez has not been very good in situations with high run expectancy.  We can estimate that he has contributed 9 fewer runs than RAA indicates. 

Table 2 below shows the differential between RE24 and RAA for all Tigers regulars.  Most of the Tigers have negative differentials indicating their situational hitting has been poor.  The worst offenders have been Martinez and Nick Castellanos (-7).  The only Tiger with a positive differential so far is catcher Alex Avila at +2.  

Table 2: Differences In Batting Runs and Runs Created for AL Teams, May 22, 2015
Player
RAA
RE24
RE24-RAA
Cabrera
19
15
-4
J. Martinez
6
-3
-9
Gose
5
6
-1
Cespedes
5
5
0
Kinsler
4
4
0
Iglesias
4
1
-3
Davis
3
2
-1
McCann
2
-2
-4
Avila
0
2
2
Castellanos
-2
-9
-7
V. Martinez
-7
-8
-2
Data source: Fan Graphs.com

 So, it;'s true that the Tigers are not scoring as many runs as they should.  This is something that should even out over the course of the season though, especially since much of the problem lies in one random situation (runner on first only) as Weinberg found.  If they remain at the top of the league in OPS and wOBA, you can expect them to start scoring more as the season progresses.  

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