Note: I screwed up the table at the bottom the first time I posted this, and as a result my conclusions were screwed up. I have since revised these numbers. Thanks to Nate for pointing this out.
Here is the fourth installment of my Tigers’ previews. Part 4 will tackle the offense, and if your interested Part 1 covered starting pitching, Part 2 covered the bullpen, and Part 3 covered the defense.
The majority of the excitement the Tigers generated this year revolved around improving the offense. Improving the offense from last year isn’t a difficult task. The Tigers historically poor offense generated only 591 runs last year which was 108 fewer then the next worst team (Cleveland). The offensive ineptitude forced Trammell to rely on heavy doses of sacrifice bunts and hit-and-runs to try and salvage the few baserunners that they had.
There were a couple bright spots offensively. Dmitri Young earned an All Star spot by hitting .297/.372/.537 with 29 homers. Craig Monroe also proved he could hit lefties and had 23 dingers in his rookie year. Fellow rookie Eric Munson chipped in 18 homers in 99 games before getting injured and missing the end of the season. Aside from that, it was pretty much all bad.
For the purpose of projections, I will be using Bill James Runs Created (RC). Runs created has numerous formulas, but for the sake of simplicity I will be using is OBP*Total Bases. This correlates well with the actual runs a team scores. As a point of illustration, last year the Tigers had 2050 total bases and a .300 OBP for RC=615. The actual Tigers scored 591, or a variance of about 4%.
Another measure I will use is RC27 or Runs Created per 27 outs. To calculate this, take RC and divide by the number of outs (AB-H+Sac’s+GIDP+CS) and multiply by 27 (the number of outs in a 9 inning game). To use Carlos Pena as an example: Pena had 356 outs and 65 RC for RC27=4.9. This means that a team made up of 9 Carlos Penas would score 4.9 runs per game.
Following are position by position projections. It is a bit lengthy, so if you just want to scroll to the bottom I sum it all up with a table and equate it to wins.
No position was worse offensively for the Tigers last year than catcher. Brandon Inge, AJ Hinch, and Matt Walbeck combined for 41 runs created. Fortunately, the Tigers brought in the best offensive catcher in the game in Pudge Rodriguez. Rodriguez posted 88 runs created last year in 144 games. While Rodgriguez’s RC 27 took a dip from 6.77 in 2001 and 6.97 in 2002 down to 6.10 last year, it is still a huge upgrade. Essentially, the Tigers have more than doubled their offensive production from the catcher position. Even assuming that Pudge’s production drops a little bit, it is safe to assume that the total catcher runs created would still be in the 85-90 range. Net Effect +45
This is the make or break year for Carlos Pena’s status as a prospect. He had okay numbers last year, just not what you expect from a first basemen. However, he is still cheap, and better than a “replacement level player.” Also, his RC27 numbers have shown improvement from 4.75 in 2002 to 4.92 last year.
The position as a whole had 81 runs created. Pena accounted for 65 of those runs in 128 games. The bulk of the remaining games were played by Kevin Witt and Shane Halter. This year Chris Shelton and Dmitri Young will most likely pick up the remaing games.
Looking to this year, I’m hoping that Pena can get to 75 RC through improvement, and by playing in more games (say 140). That leaves 22 games for Young/Shelton which should be an offensive improvment over Witt/Halter. Projecting the subs to add 16 RC (which is what they contributed last year, albeit in more games) than the position will generate 91 runs created. Net Effect +6
The season started with Ramon Santiago, and ended with Warren Morris. Santiago was horrible with 14 RC in 53 games at second. Morris was decent with 40 RC in 89 games. Shane Halter picked up the bulk of the remaining games and contributed 12 RC. The position as a whole generated 66 RC.
The Tigers decided to improve second base and offered Fernando Vina $6 million over 2 years. Vina’s production seems to be on the decline the last 3 years, even taking into account his inury shortened season last year. His RC27 numbers since 2001 are 5.17, 3.68, and 3.52. In contrast, Morris RC27 last year was 4.04. Essentially the Tigers could have saved 2.5 million a year for comparable production. (I know that Vina has a rep as a better defender, plus he probably helped get White/Johnson/Pudge as well but this article is about offense).
With Vina’s RC27 numbers of about 3.55 that would equate to 64 RC over the course of a full season. Whoever ends up being the backup probably would perform at about the same rate, so the projection will stay at 64RC. Net Effect -2
Eric Munson gave people reason to have hope last year. Despite a .240 batting average, he had decent plate discipline and walked enough to post a .312 OBP. While the numbers aren’t great, it showed enough that with modest improvement he could become valuable at a traditionally weak hitting position. His RC in 99 games last year was 43 and his RC27 was 4.64. Barring injury, he should be able to play 130 or so games next year which could translate to 67 RC.
He was backed up primarily by Shane Halter last year, with Dmitri Young and Danny Klassen also seeing time. Young and Klassen combined for 14 RC in 29 games. I’d anticipate a similar number of games and similar production from the backups. The position netted 64 RC last year, and I project it for 81 RC this year. Net Effect +17
Ramon Santiago and Omar Infante covered most of the games at short last year and they were both really bad. The OPS for the position was a scant .565 and they only produced 40 RBI total. Shortstop was easily the second worst offensive position on the team behind catcher generating only 43 RC. Well, the Tigers swapped Santiago for Carlos Guillen in one of Dombrowski’s shrewdest moves while running the Tigers.
Guillen’s RC27 for the last years are 4.03, 4.45, and 4.83. Those are numbers definitely moving in the right direction, and are approximately double the production of Santi-fante. If Guillen’s numbers keep moving up as they have been, a RC27 of 5.0 is possible. If he can stay health for 145 games that would work out to 81 RC. If Infante (or some equally bad) ends up backing up for the other 17 games, it is reasonable to expect an additional 4 runs created. If both conditions hold true the Tigers could generate 85 runs created from the shortstop position. Net Effect +42
Last year Craig Monroe and Dmitri Young took the majority of starts in left field, and not surprsingly, it was the team’s most productive position. Monroe, Young, Witt, Ben Petrick combined for 86 runs created. This year it will be manned by the frequently injured Rondell White. White had 78 runs created last year, and 5.7 RC27 splitting time with Kansas City and San Diego. He was healthy enough to play 137 games. Since 1995 White has averaged 117 games played. Also, with the exception of one year (2002) his RC27 has been greater than 5.7. Unfortunately the one year he was awful was his only full year in the AL, let’s hope it was a Yankee thing and not an American League thing.
If White can get his 5.8 RC27 and play 117 games, that would approximate to 75 runs created. Craig Monroe would probably fill in the bulk of the remaining 35 games. Monroe’s RC27 last year was 4.3, and over 35 games that would generate approximately 17 additional runs created. Net Effect +7
The Tigers tried a multitude of players here last year including Andres Torres, Sir Eugene Kingsale, Ben Petrick, Hiram Bocachia, and even Higginson for a game. They eventually settled on Alex Sanchez. Sanchez is fast, really fast, and can hit for a decent average. However, he has no plate discipline so his speed doesn’t help him nearly as much as it should. Regardless, he is slated to be the starter again this year.
Centerfield had 63 runs created last year, with Sanchez having 43 himself in 99 games. Reports from spring training indicate that he’s been trying to get smarter. I’ll assume this only translates into a slightly better walk rate and predict him at 4.0 RC27 (3.9 last year). If he plays 140 games, that would be approximately 62 runs created.
As for Sanchez’s backup, the Tigers are currently holding auditions. The smart move would be to use Monroe. However, Infante and Inge are also possibilities. Of course the decision between Monroe or Inge/Infante will have an affect on projecting the production for the remaining 22 games. Monroe could be expected to have 10.5 runs created, and Inge/Infante would be expected to have 6 runs created, so we’ll split the difference and call it 8. Net Effect +7
The Tigers are banking on Bobby Higginson returning to his 2000 form, or at least perform closer to he did in 2000 than he did in 2003. Higgy has battled nagging injuries for the last few years, and it has hampered his production. Despite the injury he played 117 games in right and produced 51 runs created. Unfortunately, his RC 27 has been dropping for 4 years. Since 2000 his numbers are 7.6, 5.7, 5.0, and 3.8 last year. It would be great if Higgy could get back in the 5’s, but the trend doesn’t look like that will happen. He will have better protection in the lineup, and if he is healthier this season he could get back to 5.0, but 4.7 seems more realistic to me. If he can play 135 games that works out to 71 runs created.
Again, Monroe will probably be the primary backup and for 27 games he would be expected to add 13 runs created. The Tigers rightfielders had 74 runs created last year, and it is reasonable to expect 84 this year. Net effect +10
Dmitri Young will be the primary designated hitter. He may see some time in the outfield and the corner spots, but he will have this spot in the lineup for at least 125 games. Last year his RC27 was 7.1 and over 125 games that would be 98 runs created. That may be a bit generous because prior to last year, Young’s RC27 was typically in the low to mid 6’s. I’m not going to bite on the fact that this was a fluke last year, and hope that he will be able to replicate it given the additional protection in the lineup.
The remaining games could be filled by a variety of players, including Chris Shelton and Pudge. I’m just going to guess on a RC 27 of 4.0 (probably low) for the composite of the substitutes. Over 37 games that is an additional 17 runs created.
Last year the DH spot had 85 runs created. Net Effect +30
Adding it up
According to my projections, I would anticipate the Tigers will score approximately 165 runs more than last year. I fully acknowledge that these projections could be way off. I had to make a lot of assumptions about how players performance will change, as well as projecting player’s health.
Even if the Tigers get 165 runs better next year, they would still be last or next to last in runs scored. It’s quite possible that there could be an additional “halo” effect where all the players will benefit from being in the context of a better lineup. If this happens the players to benefit the most would be Pena, Munson, and Higgy. Also, there could be an additional “regression to the mean” since the Tigers were just so awful last year. Conversely, these projections rely on the main position players staying healthy all season, and performing as expected. If they underperform or are injured frequently I could have easily overestimated the runs scored.
So how many games will they win?
How does all this analysis equate to wins? Well, I tried to pick stats for predicting that would lend themselves to something that could be translated or equated to runs scored or allowed. From the offense, I expect the Tigers to score 768 runs. The pitching staff I expect to surrender 828 runs. I also expect the defense to be marginally better (7 runs), but that helps to support my pitching staff projection.
The Pythagorean theorem looks at the runs a team scores, and the runs they allow and estimates a winning percentage. It’s not exact, but it comes pretty darn close. If you don’t believe me check this out and compare ExW-L to the actual W-L. The pythagorean theorem equation is: runs scored^2/(runs scored^2 + runs allowed^2). Using my projections of 768 runs scored, and 828 runs allowed, that works out to a winning percentage of .462, or 75 wins.
Seventy-five wins seems a bit lofty to me. My gut would have picked the high sixties as reasonable, and Vegas has the over/under at 67. However, the offense should be significantly improved so the runs scored seems plausible. It’s the pitching staff where I think I may have been overly optimistic. Regardless, 75 is the number I came up with so I’ll stick with it.
Postscript: When I first posted this table, I predicted the increase in runs to be 99, and the corresponding winning percentage to be .418 (68 wins). Nate pointed out in the comments that I had a typo in my table. I put in -2 runs as the projection. My actual projection was 64, with a net effect of -2. Sorry about the confusion.