Hodge Podge

If I’d have had time yesterday morning, I was going to write about how the Tigers looked tired and ragged. The result of a week and a half and 3 straight series on the road. Fortunately, I didn’t have time to write because I would have looked like an idiot as Detroit tied the club record for hits in a game. There’s already been a ton written about the game, so I don’t really have anything new to add.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much of anything to comment on the Tigers today. Apparently the well is dry. Maybe after heading down to the game tonight, I will be reinvigorated.

The Tigers come home for 3 against the Orioles, and 4 against the Royals. There’s been no announcement yet, but I think Dmitri Young will be activated for tonight’s game. The Orioles have lost their last 7 games and are really struggling. In their most recent series they were outscored by the Yankees 41-17. Hopefully the Tigers can build upon yesterday’s surge, and continue to beat up the O’s pitching.

One other thing to keep in mind, is that tonight’s game will be cold. Will Jason Johnson’s blister flare up again? With Tiger starters only going 5 innings each of the last two games, the bullpen could be a little thin.

Oh, and one more thing…Go Pistons!


Major League Baseball Rule Book 7.09 (g):

If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner

And from section 7.08(b):

Any runner is out when_He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball; A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not. If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out.

In last night’s game against the Royals, the umpires followed the letter of the rulebook and called the play accordingly. The rules make no provision for whether or not there would be a play at first base. It’s pretty cut and dry, no wiggle room at all. It appeared that Guillen intentionally tried to break up the double play. However, players intentionally try to break up double plays all the time by barreling into second base. If you are going to hold to the letter of the rule book, shouldn’t all these cases be automatic double plays? Then again, shouldn’t a letter high fastball down the middle be a strike?

So why isn’t this play called on at least half the the ground ball double plays? Because often times it ends up being inconsequential. Either the runner at first ends up being out easily, or there isn’t really a play on the runner at first in the first place. Essentially, the umpire uses judgement to determine if the interference will have an impact on the end result, and this is what happened last night

So now let’s apply this to last nights game:
1. Did Guillen attempt to interfere with the double play? Yes
2. Did Guillen actually interfere, or hinder Relaford’s ability to throw to first? It didn’t look like it
3. Would Pudge have been out if Guillen hadn’t attempted to interfere with the throw? No. Relaford was even quoted as saying so.

Now being a Tiger fan, I’m certainly biased. I wanted the win, and the loss left a sour taste. I’ll just be curious the next time a player makes a hard slide into second, with the intent of breaking up the double play, so see if the batter is called out.

Tigers avoid sweep

Typically a title like this would follow when a team wins the third game after dropping the first two. However, this weekend the Tigers had a chance to sweep, and it got away from them. Jeremy Bonderman, while not dominating was effective in allowing only three runs. He scattered 9 hits and 3 walks but benefitted from 3 double plays. Bonderman threw 114 pitches, which is about his limit (hopefully).

Freddy Garcia also pitched well, but he wasn’t dominating either. He only allowed only 5 hits, but he went to a full count on 10 different hitters. Similar to the Oakland game against Hudson, the Tigers squandered several scoring opportunities. This time, I think Trammell is at least partially to blame.

While Trammell isn’t the one on the field making plays (or failing to make the plays), he is the one making the calls. Twice today, he called for sacrifice bunts. In the second inning, the Tigers got Higginson on via a walk, and Monroe followed with a single. So the Tigers had runners on first and second with nobody out, in the second inning of a scoreless game. Carlos Pena was then called on to bunt. This was the second inning! Garcia was having trouble with his command, and Trammell was playing for a run with a poor bunter at bat.

In the eighth inning with the Tigers behind by two runs they once again got the first two men on base. This brought up clean-up hitter Bobby Higginson. Bobby Higginson, who in the series up to that point had reached base in 8 of 12 plate apperances. Higginson was called on to bunt, and he failed. With the winning run at the plate, and six outs remaining Trammell was willing to sacrifice his cleanup hitter to get the tying run to second base.

I like Alan Trammell as a player. I like him as a teacher. I like how he kept the clubhouse together last year despite everything going on. However, he failed to put his players in a position to suceed in this game.

Quick Hits
-I dumped the tables in the page layout and I’m now using CSS. I tested in IE, Netscape, Mozilla, and Opera on a PC. However, I haven’t done any Mac testing, and the browsers I used were all newer. My CSS validated, so I hope it’s okay. Please let me know if anybody runs into any problems
-After touting Omar Infante he’s gone 0 for 8 with 4 strikeouts.
-In 26 plate apperances with runners in scoring position Greg Norton has 0 hits and 8 strike outs. He has walked 7 times though.

Infante growing up

This is going to be a pretty uncharacteristic post for me in that it is a mostly subjective analysis of a player. Watching Omar Infante for the last two weeks is like watching a completely different player than last year. In 2003 Infante looked severly overmatched, and the popular knock is that he appeared to drift. Watching his at-bats this year I see a confident hitter with a great command of the strike zone. Going into Friday night’s game he was hitting .288/.387/.519.

He has increased his walk rate from .075 BB/PA to .145 BB/PA. What’s particularly impressive about the walk rate is that it’s coming from the number 9 spot in the order. A spot that typically doens’t get pitched around. Looking at #9 hitters with at least 50 plate apperances, Infante leads by a sizable margin with Chris Gomez second at .086. Even beyond the walk rate, just watching his at-bats he’s not just not swinging at bad pitches. He’s also laying off strikes that he doesn’t like early in the count, and waiting for pitches he can handle. He’s averaging 4.10 pitches per plate appearance. While 62 PA’s is a pretty small sample size, if he continues to use this type of approach it should be a very successful season for him.

So what happened to Omar for this turn around to occur? Afterall, he struggled mightily last year with Detroit and Toledo. In AAA his OPS was just .596! Then in Infante went to Venezuela for winter ball and he had a strong season. Another possible explanation is the influence of fellow Venezuelan Carlos Guillen serving as a mentor. The third possiblity is that at 22, it just started to click for Omar.

Quick Hits
-I’m working on moving from the old table flavored design to a CSS layout. Things won’t really look that much different, but I hear this is a good thing to do.
-The Hardball Times, one of my favorite sources of cool and unusual stats has a blog posting (no permalink) about pitchers with the largest strike out percentage. Nate Robertson leads the AL striking out 26.3% of non-intentional walk batters faced.
-Even though the Mariners are struggling, the quality of Mariner blogs is very high. Given that we’re playing the M’s, here are two of my favotites, Mariner’s Wheelhouse and Mariner’s Musings.

Are the Tigers a 4 seed or a 10 seed?

ESPN.com is listing RPI and strength of schedule ratings for the majors on their standings page. The Tigers rank 6th overall (2nd in the AL) due in large part to their strength of schedule. Which once again brings up the question, “How good are the Tigers?”

With the win last night, they have climbed back to a .500 record. They are 4.5 games behind the Twins, 2.5 games behind the White Sox, and a game ahead of Cleveland. As it relates to SOS, the Tigers have played more games (17) against the AL West then their division counterparts. The White Sox and Royals have yet to play them, and the Twins are 6-6. The White Sox have played 6 games against the lowly Devil Rays and 5 games against the struggling Royals. The only poor team the Tigers have played are the Mariners (1-2). I’m not saying the Tigers are better than the White Sox, just that they’ve faced a stiffer test so far.

As for the Twins, they just keep winning, despite not really outscoring their opponents. Their expected pythagorean wins are 20. The Tigers expected pythagorean wins are 19. On the season the Tigers are 3-3 against the Twins. However, the Tigers run production is exceeding what their offensive events would predict due to clutch hitting with runners in scoring position. The Tigers have scored 210 runs, but their runs created (OBP*Total Bases) is actually only 191. Given the sustainability of clutch hitting, the Tigers should regress back towards their expected runs over the course of the season.

So are the Tigers as good as the Twins and White Sox? Probably not, but looking at their play so far this year, they aren’t as far behind as I would have thought. Given the fact we are almost a quarter of the way into the season, and the Tigers are still in contention in the AL Central, I am thrilled with the performance of this team.

The oops, maybe I should reconsider that department
Item 1: Alex Sanchez. Frequent readers know that I haven’t really been a proponent of Sanchez’s. His baserunning mistakes, his misplays in the outfield, and his refusal to take walks were my main ammo. However, the guy is hitting .347 with a .365 on base percentage. He still does all that stuff I don’t like (well, he did take 2 walks last night), and his 7 caught stealings should really reduce the effectiveness of his OBA, but the guy is damn entertaining.

Item 2: Greg Norton vs. Eric Munson: On a regualr basis I question why Norton is playing and Munson is sitting. Well, with Norton’s hits last night his average has surged to .172 while Munson’s dropped below .200. While I think Trammell’s use of Munson may have contributed to his slump, the gap is closing.

Quick Hits
-The Tigers will be on ESPN2 tonight. This is the 3rd time the Tigers have been picked up nationally this year. Tomorrow afternoon’s game will be on Fox Sports Net.
-Finally, this quote from Buck Showalter about Brandon Inge will end today’s post: “”He must be one of the most valuable players in the game today. He’s a catcher who can play center field and anywhere on the infield. I think he has the best release of any catcher in the American League.”

How should closer’s be utilized

Baseball Prospectus (premium) has an article abouthow the save statistic, and not game situations dictates the usage of closers. They use the Tigers as an example of this:

One way to chip at that is to compare the situations in which closers are being used, as opposed to their teammates. For example, the Tigers have Ugueth Urbina closing and Jamie Walker pitching in many of the high-leverage non-save situations. This year, Urbina has six saves, Walker none. Without even getting into the issue of which pitcher is actually better, look at how each has been deployed this season. Walker has inherited 12 baserunners, Urbina just three. Walker has been brought into games in which the tying or go-ahead run was at bat, on base or in the on-deck circle seven times; Urbina, eight times. Walker’s first batter has been in the top four lineup spots 12 times, Urbina’s eight times.


That’s what the closercentric bullpen gives us: lesser pitchers being used against better hitters in higher-leverage situations. Just yesterday, the Tigers let Esteban Yan pitch to the heart of the Rangers’ lineup up 3-1 in the eighth, then brought Urbina in to face the 6-7-8 hitters with that same lead in the ninth.

Now I don’t post this to be critical of Trammell, and if you read the rest of Sheehan’s article he’s not picking on the Tigers either. He’s just using them as a point of illustration. Sheehan’s main point is that the closer isn’t necessarily the best pitcher in the bullpen, and that managers use the closer position as a crutch. No one will question using Urbina in the 9th of a close game, so it’s an easy decision.

Trammell is definitely an old school manager, who subscribes to old school theories, and I don’t expect him to change anytime soon. But thinking back to the debacle in Texas, when the bullpen was faltering, why not bring in your closer in the 5th inning to stop the bleeding, instead of recently called up Craig Dingman. I know that Urbina actually lost the game later, and Dingman did end the inning. However, was Dingman really the best option at that point?

I must admit that it didn’t occur to me to put in Urbina in the 5th inning either, but it makes sense. If you get those outs in the 5th inning, then maybe the outs in the 9th inning aren’t as important.

Tiger Win Shares

The Hardball Times have compiled and posted 2004 Win Shares. For those unfamiliar with Win Shares, it essentially calculates a players value based on his performance in batting, pitching, and fielding. Players are then given an appropriate portion of a teams wins, such that 3 win shares equals one win. (This article does a good job of describing win shares if you want to know more)

Looking at the Tigers’ Win Shares, three newcomers top the list. Pudge has 9, and Carlos Guillen and Rondell White are tied with 7. Essentially, these three guys have accounted for 8 of the Tigers 16 (as of 5/14 when these were calculated) wins.

Next on the list of Tigers is uber utility player Brandon Inge who has 5 so far this year. Last year Brandon had 5 win shares all season. What’s more, all 5 WS last year were from fielding. This year he has contributed 4 win shares from batting.

As for how the Tigers stack up compared to the rest of the league, the three new guys all rank in the top 10 in the AL. Pudge leads all catchers. Jorge Posada is second among catchers with 6. Guillen is second behind only Michael Young at shortstop. Interestingly enough, Miguel Tejada (5) and Rich Aurilia (2), who were the Tigers first 2 choices at short, have the same number of WS combined as Guillen. Rondell White is tied for 2nd among outfielders with Magglio Ordonez and Vlad Guerrero.

As for the pitchers, well…Up until this last week, pitching was inconsistent at best. As such, the pitching staff has only contributed 11.3 of the 48 team win shares. Maroth, Jamie Walker, and Ugueth Urbina lead the hurlers with 2 WS apiece.

Tigers Streaking

Random Thoughts while watching Detrot’s dominant pitching:

-The Tigers have won consecutive games for the first time in awhile. The Tigers last winning streak was April 23rd and 24th when they took the first two games of a series against Cleveland. Before that, their only other win streak was the 4-0 start to the season

-Esteban Yan picked up his 2nd four-inning save of the season. Yan struck out 4 while retiring all 12 batters he faced. The Tigers now have 3 four inning saves on the season (Robertson picked one up in Toronto).

-Gary Knotts was streaky for the Tigers last year. Fortunately he was “on” tonight. He only allowed 2 hits over five innings of work while striking out 5

-After the debacle last Saturday, the Tigers were allowing 6.33 runs per game through the first 30 games. After a week of pitching dominance, their per game average has dropped by over half a run to 5.77 through 35 games.

-In limited duty this year, Omar Infante has a .381 OBA. He has walked 7 times in his first 42 plate appearances. In 244 plate apperances last year he had 18 walks.

-Eric Munson sat again despite the fact the Tigers were facing a right handed starter. Munson has only started 4 of the last 10 games (and in one of those starts he only garnered 2 AB’s).

Trammell has made comments that the team is playing to win, and they can’t afford the patience that they showed last year. I can respect that line of thinking. What I can’t understand is how that line of thinking supports having Greg Norton in the lineup in Munson’s place. Norton’s bat continues to be more anemic than Munson’s. So it must be Norton’s superior defense right? Well, Munson’s zone rating is .671 (which isn’t good). Norton’s ZR at 3B is .619. Yes, Munson has made more errors, but Norton isn’t getting to as many balls.

If Tram wants to start Inge who is fielding solid and swinging the stick well, that’s fine. Just don’t bench Munson in the name of trying to win and replace hime with Greg Norton.

Power Outage

Jeremy Bonderman and Steve Colyer teamed up to pitch a great game on Wednesday. Bonderman gave the pen a rest and pitched 7 innings while only allowing two runs. He scattered 4 hits and 5 walks (ouch). Colyer came in and collected the final 6 outs. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the Tigers bats couldn’t do anything against Rich Harden. For the second straight game the Tiger hitters failed to collect an extra base hit. Their last extra base hit was in the 8th inning of Sunday’s game. Which means it’s been 25 innings.

Quick hits:
…Fernando Vina was placed on the 15 day disabled list with a hamstring problem. Infante will get the bulk of the playing time at second, and Guillen will probably move up into the two-spot in the order. Offensively the Tigers won’t be giving up much without Vina. Defensively, they will probably miss his ability to turn the pivot. However, this could be a great opportunity for Infante to prove himself. He’ll be able to play regularly, and he’ll team with Guillen in the middle of the diamond.

Jason Smith will take Vina’s place on the roster. To add him to the 40 man, Lino Urdaneta was placed on the 60 day DL.

…Also, news out of Erie isn’t good for Rob Henkel. It looks like he’ll be shut down for the season with shoulder surgery.

…David Espinosa has made Baseball America’s Prospect Hot Sheet for his hot start.

…Juan Tejada hit his third homer in two nights for Erie. He leads the Seawolves with 9.

A fine night at the park, even though they lost

I had the pleasure of attending last night’s game. No, I didn’t stay for the whole thing. I made it through 12 and a half innings before calling it a night. It was a beautiful night to be at a game, and the Tigers put up a good effort. In particular the bullpen really stepped up. While they’ve been a frequent target of mine for poor performance. As a group they did a tremendous job last night. Most impressive was Steve Colyer, who has struggled mightily this year.

Sanchez was his usual frustrating self. I loved the bunt hits, and getting all the way to third in the first inning. He also made some nice plays tracking down balls over his head. However, why in the 5th inning did he stop running between 2nd and 3rd? Being at the game, I didn’t get to see replays or hear analysis. Just a mind boggling play, which is what I expect from Sanchez.

Knotts to get start
Not surprisingly, the Tigers didn’t elect to stick with a 4 man rotation. (I’d be surprised if they even considered it) Instead, Gary Knotts will get the start on Friday. Knotts biggest problem last year was consistency. At times he’d look great, other times miserable. Trammell hasn’t committed to keeping him in the rotation, so Knotts will be making a pitch to make another start.

New Hitting Approach in Erie

The Tigers AA affiliate has taken a more aggressive (mini-reg required) hitting approach. The suprising result is that they are also drawing more walks.

“They say hunt the fastball and be more aggressive early in the count because the pitcher wants to get ahead of you,” infielder Jack Hannahan said. “But at the same time you have to be selective and get a pitch you can drive. I think we’ve been really good with being selective while at the same time aggressive. We’re always ready to hit the fastball early, and if it’s not there, then take it.”

Also, apparently this is new for the Tiger farm system:

The new approach is a departure from what the Tigers have pushed throughout their minor-league system in the past, when they wanted hitters to work deep into counts.

Tiger Prospect Watch-Pitching Edition

Last Friday I took a brief look at how some of the system’s top position prospects were performing. After the debacle on Saturday, it only seems appropriate to try and find some pitching hope. This list is in no ways comprehensive, and I’ll try to focus more on “prospects” so don’t expect to read about Pat Ahearne. So, in no particular order:

Franklyn German: German is off to a strong start at Toledo. On the season he’s made 12 apperance and pitched 13 1/3 innings. He has 15 strikeouts against 5 walks. That’s a few more walks than I’d like to see given his past control issues. The good news is he’s only allowed one run.

Rob Henkel: Henkel has only managed three starts this year due to shoulder soreness. He may need to go on the disabled list again. When not injured, he hasn’t been dominating. He’s had 10K’s, 8BB’s and 14 hits in 15 1/3 innings.

Kenny Baugh: Baugh is off to a strong start. Despite being 1-3 he has a 3.86 ERA. Most impressive is his 27/6 strike out to walk ratio in 28 innings. Last year Baugh was trying to regain arm strengh. Hopefully he is back to pre-surgery form. These numbers are very encouraging and it’s a possibility he will spend some time with the Tigers this year.

Wil Ledezma and Matt Roney: I’m not sure if they are prospects or not anymore because they’ve already spent a full season in the majors. However, both are pitching well for Erie. Both have 3 wins and an ERAs in the low 3’s. Ledezma has 29 strikeouts, but also 12 walks in 31 innings of work. Roney is 22/6 in 26 innings.

Felix Sanchez: Acquired for Jon Connolly, Sanchez was rocked in his first outing. With only 3 relief apperances, there isn’t much to say at this point.

Kyle Sleeth: After a rough debut, Sleeth has been pitching the way everybody thought/hoped he would. For the season he has 34 K’s and 8 walks in 38 innings. His ERA is 2.84. He gave up 4 earned runs in his first start, and only 8 over the next 5 starts. If he can stay healthy, he will move up quickly.

Joel Zumaya: Zumaya has had some struggles. He’s still striking guys out (27 in 32 innings). However control has been a problem and he’s walked 19.

Humberto Sanchez Sanchez’s numbers are almost identical to Sleeth’s, but they’re better. Thirty-four K’s and eight walks are identical to Sleeth. Sanchez has allowed two more hits than Sleeth. However, he’s allowed 3 fewer homers. Oh, and he doesn’t turn 21 until the end of the month.