Nate’s Great, and here’s why…

While Brandon Inge and Omar Infante are getting lots of credit for being pleasant surprises, and Carlos Guillen and Pudge have received accolades for exceeding expectations, Nate Robertson may be the biggest surprise of all. With the exception of two bad outings against Anaheim, Nate has been a very solid performer-especially for a guy that was even in the rotation at the start of the year.

I’ve talked before about defense independent pitching, which looks at the stats that a pitcher has direct control over (strike outs, walks, and home runs). Early in the season Robertson was striking out better than a batter an inning. He’s slipped in that regard, but he’s also allowing fewer walks and fewer home runs. Even still, he is exceeding his fielding indepent pitching ERA which in the past I’ve attributed to luck. His actual ERA is 3.81 and his FIP ERA is 4.09. In Nate’s case the difference comes down to pop-outs.

The folks at Hardball Times have been tracking the types of hits that pitchers have allowed. The types of balls in play that a pitcher allows have an impact on the fieldability of balls. This table shows the league averages for the different types of balls in play (for the full article click here):

Type             Percent     Out%       HR%
Groundballs 45% 72% 0%
OF Flyballs 30% 75% 12%
Line Drives 19% 26% 2%
IF Flyballs 6% 97% 0%

Not surprisingly, line drives are most likely to be hits, and infield flys are most likely to be outs. Now let’s take a look at Nate Robertson’s hits allowed and the league averages (here’s a link to all the stats)

           ERA    FIP    DER   LD%   G/F  IF/Fly   K/9  BB/9  HR/9   
AL League 4.50 4.50 .691 .178 1.20 .159 6.3 3.4 1.1
Robertson 3.81 4.09 .750 .156 1.36 .356 7.9 3.7 0.9

Nate has had much better defense behind him than the league average (DER is defense efficiency ratio and it represents the percentage of balls in play that are turned into outs). But the reason has the defense had been better at generating outs is that Nate isn’t allowing a lot of line drives, and because more than a third of the fly balls he allows never leave the infield. Nate’s ability to induce fieldable balls, combined with his defense independent performance have helped provide Nate with the 14th best ERA in the AL.

Other Notes:
-Maybe Dmitri’s home run last night will help settle him down a little bit. Young has always been an agressive hitter, but he’s swinging at just about everything that they’re throwing to him. Last night he saw 14 pitches in 6 at-bats, and he swung at 10 of them. In Sunday’s game, if you take out the intentional walk, he swung at 14 of the 19 pitches thrown to him.

-Franklyn German’s failure last night will make it harder for Detroit to let go of Urbina. While I think German got squeezed on the walk to Blake, he had no control when he allowed the homer to Broussard.

-Tom Gage reported today that Fernando Vina isn’t close to returning which means Infante will get to continue and establish himself as part of the next Tiger’s core. He managed to reach base twice leading off last night, but he also looked bad striking out his first to trips up and swinging at the first pitch late in the game with Monroe on second.

Line up Line up

With Alex Sanchez day to day Alan Trammell needed to slot someone else in the leadoff spot on Sunday. In a surprise move, he put Infante at the top of the order, and he responded going 3-5 and scoring a run. It led me to take a look at how the various spots in the Tigers line up have performed.

The table below shows the OPS that the Tigers have gotten from each spot in the line up, and how they rank in the AL.

Batter	 OPS    AL Rank
1 .726 12
2 .828 6
3 .953 2
4 .810 7
5 .621 14
6 .759 7
7 .740 7
8 .859 1
9 .767 1

What jumps out is that the Tigers despite being average or better in spots 2,3, and 4 are exceptionally weak at leadoff and the number 5 spot. Also, the bottom of the order has done pretty well, but more on that in a minute.

In the leadoff spot Alex Sanchez has had the bulk of the at bats. While his .322 batting average is impressive, his .336 on base average and 11 caught stealings are now. I’ll even ignore Sanchez’s .386 slugging percentage because I’m more worried about OBA at the top of the order than power. What is really telling, is that in 61 games Sanchez has only scored 39 runs despite having solid production in the next 3 lineup spots. On the other hand, Tiger leadoff hitters other than Sanchez have scored 14 runs in 13 games. In addition, Sanchez is only seeing 3.04 pitches per plate apperance. Compare that to Omar Infante who typically sees 4.11. Simply put, Sanchez should not be in the top of the lineup.

Now the 5th spot has been exceptionally bad. There has been significantly less production from that spot in the lineup that any other. The 5th spot does have a .301 OBA which is actually impressive considering the position is only batting .219. The 5th spot has been shared almost evenly by Carlos Pena, Craig Monroe, Rondell White, and Bobby Higginson. White is the only one to hit for any power (.443 slg) and Higginson is the only one to get on base at a decent rate (.424).

The good news is that Omar Infante and Brandon Inge (with some of Munson’s power thrown in) have made the bottom two spots in the order the strongest in the American League.

So what should Trammell do to make the lineup more productive? While you could move Guillen to the 5th spot to generate more production, it would just weaken the another part of the lineup. Until one of Munson/Pena/Monroe/Thames develop into a consistent hitter, or White goes on another tear, it’s just moving around struggling players. In the meantime, I would bat Higginson 5th. He does a pretty good job of not making outs, so despite a lack of power, he won’t be a rally killer.

The Garcia trade, and what it means for the Tigers

The White Sox acquired Freddy Garcia for a couple of high level prospects and young catcher Miguel Olivo. The White Sox are close enough that they can take a win now approach, and due to impending free agency they pretty much have to. As the Twins Geek points out:

The White Sox best hitter, Magglio Ordonez, and (arguably) best starting pitcher, Esteban Loaiza, are both free agents after this year. Impact players Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle, are under contract for a couple more years, but start getting very expensive at the same time. And Frank Thomas isn’t getting any younger. The White Sox are fast approaching a time when they’ll need to rebuild their core group of players, in the same way that the Twins will soon need to.

So the time to win is now. The White Sox are just a game behind the Twins. They have an offense that can mash, seemingly have stabilized their bullpen, and just filled the biggest hole in their starting rotation. That shouldn’t just make them a serious contender for the AL Central. It should make them a serious contender for the AL pennant.

So this trade raises the bar in the AL Central. Expect the Twins to follow suit and try to bolster their club for this year as well. So if the Twins and White Sox are going to club it out for the AL Central, where does that leave the other teams? We know Kansas City is in rebuilding mode. The Indians are playing very well right now and have a solid, young, affordable team. I don’t know if they will join the fray this year, or just play it out and see what happens next year.

That leaves the Tigers, who still haven’t decided if they are going to buy/sell/hold. Despite the fact that the Tigers are only 6 games out, I think the distance from the White Sox has just grown significantly. While that may preclude them from being buyers, I don’t think that necessarily means they are sellers. If this season was about building credibility, then they are well on their way. Trading off contributing players would send the wrong message to the current team as well as the fans. That’s why, unless the Tigers are offered packages that include players who could play in the majors within the next year (like an outfield bat or decent relief pitching) I think they should hold off on any trades for the time being.

And then what happens next year? If the White Sox don’t make the playoffs this year, I’d imagine they’ll have a hard time signing all those free agents, and they’ve given up some of their top prospects. This could open the door for Cleveland and Detroit to be legitimate contenders next year (depending on what happens in the offseason).

That being said, as Jeff pointed out in the comments to a previous post, Jason Johnson has been mentioned as backup plan for the Yankees in the event they didn’t get Garcia. Keep in mind that the Tigers will be playing in New York next week, and it wouldn’t shock me if Johnson didn’t make the subsequent trip to Minnesota.

Weekend Recap: A gem, walk-offs, and a 4 game winning streak

Just when the Tigers look defeated, beat up, and destined for a fight for last place, they put together a nice little string of games. The Tigers followed a five game losing streak with a win on get-away day from KC and a sweep of the Diamondbacks.

It started Friday night when the Tigers scratched out a 2-1 win in a pitcher’s duel. Jason Johnson pitched 8 innings of one hit ball. He only allowed one walk to go along with 6 K’s and made it through 24 outs on only 86 pitches. Johnson’s game score was 80 which places it in one of the top 20 AL games pitched this year. It was surprising that Tram went with Urbina in the 9th since Johnson had been so dominant and efficient. However, in going back and looking at some numbers, I think Trammell made the right move. Johnson breaks down tremendously after 90 pitches. This year after pitch 90, opponents are hitting .400/.441/.550 against Johnson. Because the Tigers were protecting a one run lead, it made sense to turn it over to the closer. Urbina fanned the first two before Steve Finley took Bobby Higginson to the wall for the final out.

Eric Munson won Saturday’s game with a dramatic walk-off homer into the camera stand in straightaway centerfield. The tremendous blast was measured at 457 feet, the longest in Comerica’s history. With Brandon Inge and Greg Norton on the DL, Munson is now the starting 3B again and hopefully this will be the beginning of good things for him.

However, Saturday’s game also featured Jeremy Bonderman trying to once again figure things out. And once again, it was an uneven performance from Jeremy. The 7 K’s in 7 innings were great, but the 5 walks were troubling. Also, he seemed to get rattled when the defense repeatedly broke down around him. Trammell stuck with Bonderman, even though he was struggling. Bonderman threw 118 pitches, his longest outing of the season. Following Bonderman’s last long outing (114 pitches on May 23rd) he combined for 5 1/3 innings and 14 runs in his subsequent 2 starts. It will be interesting to see what happens in Bonderman’s next start which will be in the thin air of Colorado.

Sunday had more drama as Carlos Pena finished the game with a 2-2 pitch that cleared the fence in right for a walk-off grand slam. And for the third time in as many days, the Tigers won a close one. The real story in this game was the bullpen. Danny Patterson came in with the bases loaded and no outs and closed the door inducing a double play and a pop out. This year the expected run value of an inning with the bases loaded and no outs is 2.26 runs. Essentially Patterson helped save the team 2.26 runs. Patterson was followed up by Jamie Walker who pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings. In fact, Walker and Patterson combined to get 12 outs on 39 pitches.

Maroth has now given up a homer in his last 5 starts. Maroth’s big struggle last year was the long ball as he allowed 34 in 193 innings. He’s improved this year to 13 dingers in 100 innings. While he hasn’t pitched bad in his last few starts, he hasn’t pitched particularly well either. With the expception of Sunday’s game, he has pitched well enough to keep his team in the game. Which, as a middle to back of the rotation guy, that is about what you’d expect.

I know that decisions always look better after a win, but I thought Trammell had a fine series managing. While I thought he stuck with Bonderman a little too long on Saturday, I understood his apprhension about turing to the bullpen. Though I questioned pulling Johnson at the time on Friday, in looking at the numbers it actually made sense. Plus, his use of the bullpen on Sunday (keeping Walker in longer than normal) I thought was another strong move. My favorite move of the weekend was when he decided not to have Higginson sacrifice Infante to 3rd in the 9th inning. You may remember a similar situation in Seattle earlier this year where he asked Higginson to sacrifice runners over late in a game that backfired. At least he’s learning from his mistakes.

A pending roster logjam

As everybody know by now (I guess I have to start writing on the weekends so it’s not old news on Monday) Brandon Inge was placed on the 15 day DL with a broken finger. It’s disappointing for Tiger fans, as well as Inge because he’s been playing so well this season at so many key positions. Compounding this bad news is the fact that Alex Sanchez is day to day with a tight hamstring. So in one weekend the Tigers lost their top 2 centerfielders, there starting third basemen, and their backup catcher.

Mike DiFelice took Brandon’s spot on the big league roster, and to clear room on the 40 man roster, Nate Cornejo was moved to the 60 day DL.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Between July 3rd and July 12th the Tigers will have 5 players eligible to come off the disabled list. Greg Norton is able to be activated on July 3rd. I haven’t heard much about Norton’s injury or how’s it is progressing so I don’t know whether or not he’ll be ready.

Next up is Cornejo who despite being recently moved to the 60 day DL, will be eligible to be activated on July 5th. Cornejo has thrown some simulated games and appears to be finally progressing. I imagine the Tigers will take full advantage of the ability to assign Cornejo to a 30 day rehab assignment to find out if he can find the “stuff” that he had last year. I’d imagine that we would see Cornejo in late July or early August. He is probably destined for a bullpen role unless the Tigers deal Jason Johnson, or another of the starters falters or is injured. A 40 man roster spot would need to be cleared for Cornejo, and if it were up to me, that spot would be Levine’s (assuming that Cornejo isn’t awful on his rehab assignment).

Rule 5 pick Chris Shelton is in the midst of a rehab assignment at Toledo (where he’s hitting .429 in 8 games) and his 20 day assignment will be up on July 8th. If Inge is healing as expected, Mike DiFelice will probably be DFA’d to make room for Shelton. The Tigers would then rely on Shelton/Munson as the back up catchers for the last 4 games before the All Star break with the expectation that Brandon Inge would be able to rejoin the team following the break.

Last is Fernando Vina, who like Inge is eligible to come of the DL on July 12th. Whenever Vina is healed and able to return, a spot on the 40 man roster will need to be cleared. Jason Smith will most likely be sent to the minors, but I’m not sure who the Tigers would DFA/release at that point.

Self serving post

No baseball news here today. I thought I would just advertise the fact that my house if up for sale. If you’re in the market for a great starter home in the Madison Heights/Royal Oak area, send me an email. It’s a 1040 sq. ft. brick ranch, 3 bedrooms and 1.5 baths with two finished rooms in the basement. The roof, furnace, central air, and hot water heater have all been replaced since 1997. Hardwood floors throughout, and the kitchen was updated in 2002.

You will now be returned to your regularly scheduled Tiger blogging.

Johnson to NY? Ugie to the Giants?

As Jeff pointed out in the comments to yesterday’s Guillen post, the Yankees are interested in Jason Johnson as a back up plan if they don’t get Freddy Garcia.

Also, Peter Gammons is speculating on the possibility of a Ugueth Urbina/Mike Maroth package going to San Francisco.

San Francisco trades right-handed pitcher Matt Cain and infielder Lance Niekro to Detroit for closer Ugueth Urbina and starting pitcher Mike Maroth. For the Giants, the future is now. For the Tigers, two years from now to have Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Kyle Sleeth and Cain for the rotation will get them a lot closer to where they want to be rather than shooting for .500 in 2004.

Thames to try and fix what’s wrong in right

First up, the Tigers called up Marcus Thames from Toledo. Thames got his first start for the Tigs last night. Thames had been absolutely crushing the ball in Toledo and deserved the promotion.

Thames can hopefully provide some pop to the Tiger’s right field which has been pretty abysmal this year. Bobby Higginson and Monroe have played the bulk of the games out there and have combined to hit .231/.327/.337 with two home runs. Aside from Bobby’s .373 OBA there isn’t a decent stat to be found from that position. In fact, the Tigers’ RF OPS is .664 is last in the AL. In front of the Tigers are the Blue Jays at .674, and the next worst performance from that position is the Royals at .730.

It also should send a message to Craig Monroe who is struggling defensively and hasn’t had the offensive power he had last year. Monroe’s batting average is up considerably, his OBA is up modestly, but his slugging percentage is down dramatically.

To make room for Thames on the 25 man roster, Greg Norton was placed on the DL retroactive to June 18th with a knee injury. To make room on the 40 man roster, the Tigers shifted Fernando Vina from the 15 day DL to the 60 day DL.

Tigers to sign Guillen

Danny Knobler reported yesterday that the Tigers were close on a deal with Carlos Guillen. Now, John Lowe is saying the announcement could come today.

Both reporters are indicating the deal will be three years and in the neighborhood of $4-5 million a season. My guess is that there will be incentives tied to Guillen’s ability to stay health as well.

The money and length of the contract definitely sound fair. The best part of this deal is that the Tigers were able to sign the best hitting shortstop in baseball, without having to overpay for a change. A newcomer has actually liked playing for the Tigers, and wants to stay here.

Now the big question is will this remain a great signing three years from now, or is this another Damion Easley contract? Again, I think it depends on Guillen’s health. Guillen is in his prime year right now (generally age 27-29. However, because his performance this year has so far exceeded his career performance, the chances of him putting up another year this good are probably slim. That doesn’t mean that he can’t still be a great player in the future.

His OPS+ (which is OPS normalized for the league where an average player is 100) the last three years were 88, 98, and 102 so he has shown steady improvement. Moving similarly were his runs created per 27 outs (essentially how many runs would a team of 9 Carlos Guillen’s score in a game) over the last three years: 4.03, 4.45, 4.83.

Also working in his factor, is that he has escaped the Mariner’s medical staff, which has been criticized for failing to diagnose Guillen’s tuberculosis.

In conclucsion, this is a great signing for Detroit. They get the guy they want for 3 more years, without having to overpay to keep him. And even if Guillen can’t repeat his performance from this year, he can still slip quite a bit and be a big contributor to this team.

Bullpen notes: As many of you probably saw, Franklyn German has joined the team and replaced Steve Colyer. German was pitching great at Toledo and earned the promotion. Colyer was pitching pretty poorly and earned the demotion. But was he the most deserving?

Colyer has been bad, no quesiton about it. Baseball Prospectus has him ranked as the 5th worst reliever in all of baseball based on adjusted runs prevented. However Colyer has shown some times when can be pretty good.

Al Levine on the other hand is the 6th worst reliever in all of baseball. He’s just ahead of Colyer with -11.6 to -11.9 adjusted runs prevented. However, Levine hasn’t really shown any times when he’s decent. Colyer’s K/9 is 8.3 while Levine’s is 4.5 and they have identical WHIPs at 1.85.

I’m not so much questioning why Colyer was sent down, but why Levine wasn’t sent down as well.

Writer’s Block

I have to say, I’m really struggling. I’ve tried 3 times to sit down and write an intelligent post this week, and I have nothing to show for it. As a result, you’re stuck with more disjointed thoughts.

-Congratulations to the Pistons. What a great performance by a great team. As I watched the celebrations and the jubilation from the fans, I can’t help but wonder what Detroit will be like when the Tigers bring home a World Series championship

-Kyle Sleeth has been promoted to Double A Erie. He’ll join Wil Ledezma, Kenny Baugh, and Preston Larrison in what is an impressive rotation at Erie. If the Tigers do become buyers at the trade deadline, these are the guys of value the Tigers will be moving.

-The Tiger bullpen continues to be shaky at best. Steve Colyer has had the hardest time, and Al Levine isn’t far behind. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Adjusted Runs Prevented, the Tigers bullpen has allowed 14.2 more runs than an average bullpen. Colyer and Levine have allowed 20 more runs than league average relievers. Craig Dingman, despite a rough time yesterday is still leading the team by preventing 8 more runs than would be expected.

-Congrats to Gary Knotts as the first Tiger pitcher to get a hit in interleague play

-ESPN.com ran a couple insider articles about Tigers’ this week. Rob Neyer wrote about Jeremy Bonderman and thinks that he should still be in the minors. Jerry Crasnick wrote a story about Alex Sanchez and the art of the bunt. His conclusion is the same as many Tiger fans. Sanchez’s game is flawed, but he’s very entertaining.

Catching up

As you can see by the lack of activity around here, I’ve been pretty busy. Between sick kids, a trip to NY, and a bunch of household duties I just haven’t had a lot of time to blog, much less watch the Tigers. So I’m going to cop out and do bullet-style stuff. Hopefully I can get some more in depth analysis up later this week.

-In case you hadn’t looked at the league leaders lately, that’s the Tiger’s Ivan Rodriguez leading the charge for the batting title. True his lead is pretty slim (.00023), but his performance has well exceeded my expectations. I also think Tram has tried to do a decent job of keeping Pudge fresh. He’s caught 48 games so far, and is on pace to catch 125 for the season.

-Rondell White is having a tough month. For June he is hitting .200/.300/.286. Perhaps playing in 46 of the first 48 games has worn him down. The main knock against White has been his durabilty, and he may be getting a little fatigued. With the return of Young to the lineup he is getting more opportunities to rest. On the other hand, he may just be in a little slump, and for the year his numbers are still impressive .294/.372/.480.

-Nate Robertson’s strikeout rate is falling from it’s lofty levels, but he’s still been effective. He has strung together 5 consecutive quality starts. Nate’s K/9 for his last 5 outings is 5.61, which is pretty typical. He’s staying effective because he’s walking fewer hitters as well. In his first 9 apperances, his BB/9 was 5.10 but in his last 5 it’s been 2.14. Because he’s walking fewer guys, he’s been able to stay in games longer without increasing his pitch count. Robertson has gone 6 2/3 or more in each of his last 3 outings. This seems to conform with the Bob Cluck approach of not nibbling too much, and let guys put the ball in play. I don’t mind that approach for some of the softer throwers that don’t have typical strike out stuff. Robertson on the other hand has shown an ability to strike guys out, and I think it would be a mistake to discourage that part of his game.

-While I have been critical of Trammell on several of his coaching decisions, he does deserve to be recognized for his care with the starting pitchers. Here are the maximum pitch counts for his starters this year: Maroth-117, Bonderman-114, Knotts-112, Johnson-111, Robertson-110. Typically Tram’s starters throw between 95 and 110 pitches. Also, in the case of Knotts and Robertson, it took a several apperances before they were allowed a full workload. There first few starts were capped at 75 pitches.

-And school is finally getting out. Attendance for the weekend series with the Marlins was 93,042.

Tigers select Justin Verlander

With their first pick, the second overall the Tigers selected Justin Verlander. Verlander is 6-4 180lbs and can throw in the high 90’s. He has issues with his control, but a powerful arm nonetheless. Here is a story by BA about Verlander back in March.