Quick Updates

-In a move that suprised me, the Tigers sent Marcus Thames to minor league camp. This means that Nook Logan will be the back-up centerfielder. Most surprsingly, this means that Bobby Higginson has made the team. The Tigers may just be buying more time to try and deal him. Or, Trammell may just value his left hand bat and on base ability. He could also be used as a late inning defensive sub.

-The 11th pitcher has yet to be determined. What has been determined is that it won’t be Doug Creek. He was cut today as well. The candidates still in camp are Gary Knotts and Steve Colyer. I have to believe that it will be Knotts.
Update: Knotts and Colyer were placed on waivers. The last spot will go to someone the Tigers pick up off waivers, or one of the previously cut players. This last player will only be holding down the fort until Fernando Rodney comes off the DL (assuming that German has some degree of success).

MotownSports is back up and running for all of you needing a forum fix

-Baseball Prospectus has their AL predictions up in the free section. The Tigers are picked to finish 3rd in the AL Central. Nate Silver gave Jeremy Bonderman a 3rd place vote for AL Cy Young.

-The Tigers announced their Opening Day Festivities. Marvin Winans will sing the National Anthem and it will include a fly over by Selfridge jets.


Here’s some other stuff to read while I finish up the preview of the offense…

The big media outlets have started to release their predictions.

-CBS Sportsline’s panel has the Tigers finishing anywhere from 2nd to 4th in the AL Central. They also have several Tigers on the All AL Central Teams. Pudge, Maggs, and Guillen are first teamers while Infante and Percival are second teamers.

-The ESPN Baseball Tonight Crew has their video preview of the Central. Harold Reynolds likes the Indians to take the division while Kruk likes the Twins. Both mentioned the Tigers as greatly improved and in the mix.

What was refreshing about both of these previews is that the Tigers weren’t just automatically pegged for 4th place. When Baseball Tonight was talking about the AL Central, the 3 teams that were most talked about were the Twins, Indians, and Tigers – not the White Sox. Too many previews I’ve read this year just stick the Tigers in 4th, mostly out of habit. Now the Tigers could very well end up in 4th as I think the middle 3 teams (Sox, Indians, Tigers) are all pretty close.

The Rescue

The Free Press is running a three part story about the rescue of Ugueth Urbina’s mother. The first part is today, and details the actual kidnapping.

Ibis Guillen started dialing cell phone numbers. She left messages for her husband and others. The Tigers were heading to Tampa, having just finished a series at Kansas City. She hoped someone could tell Urbina in person. She left a vague but urgent message for him. He was the first to call back.

Ibis said gently: “I had a message that there’s something wrong going on with your mother.”

Then she told him all she knew. Afterward, Urbina said one thing: Book him a flight to Venezuela.

Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez, who often had invited Urbina and other Latin players to his Miami mansion, drove Urbina on the four-hour trip to south Florida with two other teammates: shortstop Carlos Guillen and second baseman Omar Infante, who both grew up in Venezuela and have family there.

They felt for Urbina, but could not help thinking of their families.

Roster Trimming
The back-up centerfield battle is down to two candidates. DeWayne Wise who is battling a bum wheel was sent to minor league camp. That leaves Alexis Gomez and Nook Logan in the running.
Update:Alexis Gomez was assigned to the minor league camp today. If the Tigers go with 11 pitchers, that most likely means that Thames and Logan will be the final two outfielders.

Previewing the Pen

Today I present Part II of my three part season preview. Last week I took a look at what the rotation should accomplish this year. Part II will focus on the bullpen (with the offense coming later this week).

No area of the team has undergone more change since last season, and no area needed it as much. Gone are Esteban Yan, Al Levine, Danny Patterson, and Roberto Novoa. Those four accounted for 220 of the bullpen’s 480 innings. Replacing them are Troy Percival, Kyle Farnsworth, a newly focused Franklyn German, and a cast of several. Fernando Rodney, coming back from Tommy John surgery, will join the fray once his shoulder stiffness heals. Other candidates to spend some time in a relief role this season are Gary Knotts, John Ennis, Andrew Good, Jason Grilli, and Mark Woodyard.

Here is what the pen did last year:

Ugueth Urbina
Urbina was solid in converting save opportunities, and he held opponents to a .194 batting average. However, his high walk rate led to some stressful 9th innings. He was still an effective pitcher, but he wasn’t dominant by any means. The bullpen collapsed without his presence in September when he left the team in the wake of his mother’s abduction. This year he will be moved to the set-up role. Assuming he is here for the full year, I would expect him to see about 70 innings of work. His ERA was higher than it had ever been in his career before, probably due in large part to his walks. What isn’t known is if he had control issues, or if he has turned into more of a nibbler. I’d guess that his runs allowed would drop slightly this year, but it probably won’t be below 4. Urbina Runs Allowed: 33

Troy Percival
There was a time several years ago when Troy Percival was one of the most dominant closers in the game. Unfortunately, injuries and age have sapped some of that dominance. Percival has seen his strike out rate drop 46% over the last 3 years. Opponents hit .230 off him last year, which is still impressive. However it pales in comparison to his career .186 mark.

The good news is that Percival closed 2004 strong. After the All Star break he posted a 1.67 ERA and a 3:1 strike out to walk ratio. If the second half is indicative of Percival’s ability then the Tigers will be in good shape. Add in the fact that he’s a flyball pitcher pitching in a homer un-friendly division, and it could amount to a solid season. The thing to watch is how much will he be able to pitch. The Tigers need to get 55 innings from him, a total he hasn’t hit since 2002. If he stays healthy, and pitches more inline with the 2nd half of 2004 then: Percival Runs Allowed: 26 Runs

Jamie Walker
Jamie Walker looks to be the sole left hander in the bullpen. Fortunately, Urbina and Gary Knotts had success against lefties last year as well. Walker wasn’t used as a LOOGY last year as he amassed 64 innings, due in large part because he was their most effective reliever. With the additions of Percival and Farnsworth, I’d anticipate that Walker’s innings would go down as he’s used more as a lefty specialist. While his innings will go down, his performance should improve as he is put in better situations. I see Walker pitching about 55 innings, and because he’ll be facing more left handed batters I see him allowing: Walker Runs Allowed: 21

Kyle Farnsworth
I have no idea what to project for Kyle Farnsworth. He’s been very good (2001, 2003) and he’s been awful (2002) at different points in his career. PECOTA puts him at 62 innings and a PERA of 4.20. I’ll stick with their ERA projection, but I’ll bump him up to 70 innings. Farnsworth Runs Allowed: 32

German, Rodney, etc.
And then there’s the rest of the bullpen. Franklyn German will break camp with the team. German has a history of doing great in the minors and spring training, only to lose sight of the plate in the majors. He’s out of options, so he’ll be given every chance to succeed this year. Fernando Rodney will begin the season on the disabled list but should join the team later in April. He has a tremendous change up and if he pitches like what is expected he will make Urbina expendable. Gary Knotts is another pitcher out of options. Rodney’s injury may give him a shot to break camp with the team. Barring further injuries, or severe struggles by Wil Ledezma I don’t see Knotts in the organization at the end of the season.

With Percival, Urbina, Walker, and Farnsworth picking up 250 innings, that leaves 220 innings for these last two bullpen spots. Without knowing how those last two spots will be manned, I’ll use replacement level rates (5.73) for those innings. I’m hoping that German and Rodney develop in to solid pitchers and are better than replacement level, however this will help to offset some of my more optimisitic predictions for Percival and Farnsworth. The Rest of the Pen: 140 Runs Allowed

In total that leaves the bullpen pitching 460 innings and allowing 251 runs. Last year they pitched 480 innings and allowed 280 runs. Combined with the improvement in the starting rotation, the Tigers should allow 59 fewer runs in 2005.

I know there are lots of reasons why this could be a big pile of hooey. These are just my educated guesses first of all. Second, injuries could undermine this. Third, my projections for Percival and Urbina are on the optimistic side to say the least. Fourth, the Tigers defense, which was poor last year, probably won’t be greatly improved this year which could hurt the pitching staff.


For those of you who have been looking for information on what happened to the MotownSports forum, MotownWebGuy posted this on the MLive Tigers Forum

Bert is correct. My hosting company was supposed to move to a new datacenter on Friday night, resulting in a limited shutdown of my server. Apparently the job was harder or bigger than they expected, and the downtime has streached from a few hours to a few days. The site will be back, it is just a matter of when. Lots of customers who have servers with this company are upset, including myself. I’ll be looking into other hosting options when this current fiasco is resolved.

Hope this clears up any confusion.

Also, I apologize for any incovenience you might have had the other night. My hosting company was migrating also. Apparently I received an email about it, but somehow missed it. After the site came back online, I wasn’t able to update. Finally, I can get new content up.

Bondermania…coming April 4th to Comerica Park

Today Alan Trammell reversed an earlier decision and announced Jeremy Bonderman would be the Opening Day starter. Jason Johnson had been named starter, but he has struggled with his control all spring. Meanwhile, Bonderman did his best to make Trammell change his mind by being quite dominant. Johnson will slide down to the third spot in an effort to balance the right handers in the rotation.

I like the way this rotation sets up from a bullpen-usage standpoint. Presumably, Mike Maroth will follow Bonderman, and Nate Robertson and Wil Ledezma will pitch 4th and 5th. Bondermann and Maroth are the top candidates to pitch late into games. Hopefully in their turns they’ll only be calling on two innings of support. On the other hand, Johnson loses effectiveness once he breaks the 90 pitch threshold. Even assuming that he starts to pitch better, he isn’t a real strong bet to make it out of the 6th inning frequently. Johnson’s bullpen load will be higher. Following Johnson will be Nate Robertson who should be able to amass 200 innings this season, and should be counted on to complete 6 innings so his bullpen usage would be moderate. At the bottom of the rotation is Ledezma who will be handled very delicately. He’s young, and due to injuries has only really pitched a full season one time. His bullpen usage will probably be relatively high. Luckily, the pen will then get a couple days to recover with Bonderman and Maroth starting the cycle again.

From a PR perspective, this move had to be made. I’m not an advocate of making moves to appease fans. I’m sure that wasn’t the motivation for Tram’s decision, but it is a benefit. Opening day in Detroit with the emerging ace on the mound should be electric. While it is quite a bit of pressure on the kid, he is facing the Royals lineup. If there was ever a team to work out jitters against, it would be KC. And, by all accounts he seems up to the challenge.

Roster Trimming
-The Tigers assigned Jason Grilli and John Ennis to minor league camp. Both will most likely be with Toledo. They also released Mike James which brings the total players in camp down to 32. They also told Dean Palmer he wouldn’t make the team, and Fernando Rodney’s stiff shoulder will likely land him on the DL. This pretty much locks up a spot for Gary Knotts. It also reduces the number of cuts to be made down to 5.

Steve Colyer is most certainly gone. After that, two of the following 5 outfielders will be heading north: Marcus Thames, Nook Logan, Dewayne Wise, Alexis Gomez, and Bobby Higginson.

Other Stuff:
-With less than a week to Opening Day, I’ll be getting posts up each day this week. I’ll be completing my previews of the bullpen and offense. I’m also aiming to get a pretty cool surprise up at the end of the week.
-Remember those cool charts about the defensive aptitude of the Tigers’ centerfielders? Well Baseball Musings now has charts available for every player, at every position, for every batted ball type. It is a great way to kill a couple of hours (if you’re into looking at graphs).

Batgirl to the Left of Me, Neyer to the Right…

All-baseball is rolling out their team-by-team predictions for the season. Yesterday was AL Central day and I had the honor of sharing web space with such baseball writing luminaries as Rob Neyer and Batgirl.

Right on my heels, Brian has his Tiger preview up at Hardball Times.

Here are several other previews/outlooks that have popped up on the net in recent weeks…
Roar of the Tigers
Batters Box
Baseball Think Factory
Fox Sports

Revivalist Notions

There is a cyber-roots movement to bring back two of baseball’s great, but nearly forgotten traditions – the bullpen car (via Blue Cats and Red Sox) and stirrups (via Baseball Musings). We can only hope that twi-night doubleheaders aren’t far behind.

The Bold are the Beautiful
Thanks for embracing the spirit of bold prediction day. There are a ton of great ones, but so far I think my favorites are:

Pudge will gun down Sanchez 3 times in one game.

In the year 2005, The Tigers will get into a brawl against the white sox after Bonderman brushes back Konerko, Inge will get a 6 game suspention for hogtying Konerko and wrestling him to the ground.

…and on a related note (though not so thrilled with the outcome of this one)…
The Tigers and Chi Sox with have no less than 3 brawls this year. Mags will get injured during one, thus voiding the remainder of his contract.

Bonderman will strike out 18 Twins in a game
Bonderman strikes out the side in the All-Star Game.

Urbina trade rumors
After his stint against the NY Mets yesterday, the Ugueth Urbina trade speculation is starting to clear up. It now appears that either he wants to be traded or he doesn’t.

The Bolder the Better

Have you ever had a gut feeling about something in sports, but it is so crazy and off the wall that you never voice it for fear of losing all credibility? These are the type of things you’d never bet money on, yet you pull for them out of hope or some sort of self validation. These are the types of things that you blurt out while finishing off your second 32oz beer at the game, only to hope your friends are too drunk to remember. These are the educated guesses that skip the “educated” part.

That’s what I want to do here. Give me that ridiculous prediction that you see in line for the Tigers this year. Leave your long shot predictions in the comments, and we’ll just try and have some fun. No mocking allowed! It can be about trades, breakthrough seasons, breakdown seasons, individual achievements, or team accomplishments. You won’t be thought less of (at least not by me). To start things off I’ll give you this:

Craig Monroe will start off the season crushing the ball and he will be competing in the Home Run Derby All Star Weekend.

Actually, this is a cheap stall tactic. I’m working on previewing the Tigers bullpen. Unfortunately, that’s tough to do when I only feel confident about three of the six guys manning the late innings. Between the Urbina trade rumors, the battle of the out-of-option crew (German, Colyer, and Knotts), and a strong looking Fernando Rodney the bullpen is still unsettled. Given all the uncertainty, I’m going to punt and buy some time.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Looking back
This past weekend ESPN Classic aired game 5 from the 1984 World Series. I must admit, that I haven’t seen footage of this game in years. I was 10 at the time this game was played, and was in my formative years as a baseball fan. Whitaker, Trammell, Gibson, Parrish, Evans, Lemon, and Herndon were the players that I grew up watching year in and year out. Despite not seeing these men on the field for a decade, watching them take the field in the replay brought me right back to my childhood. The way they moved and went about their business became instantly familiar.

It was Lou Whitaker waiting on a two-strike pitch and looking just as unfazed as if he were just stepping into the box for the initial delivery. It was Kirk Gibson’s raw intensity, not just on the home runs, but as he tagged up at first base and advanced on a fly ball to left. It was Lance Parrish just being bigger and more intimidating than anyone on the field It was Alan Trammell’s steely focus that never wavered until the final out. It was Sparky Anderson, hands in his back pockets, emphatically speaking words of encouragement on the bench. And it was Tiger Stadium, in all her glory. Her completely enclosed upper deck packed to the rims and draped with bunting. It was why I became a Tiger fan in the first place and why I just can’t wait for the day the fans of Detroit can experience that again.

Looking Forward
While the Tigers have fewer questions than in years past, there are still a lot of outstanding issues:

1. Does Urbina get traded?
There doesn’t appear to be a shortage of suitors. The Mets are apparently hot on his trail, but Dombrowski isn’t budging on the price. The Chicago Cubs who were also in the market for a closer are now even more motivated after Joe Borawski broke his arm.

2. Can Monroe man centerfield?
Even if he can’t, it won’t be for a lack of effort. He seems to be soaking up as much knowledge as he can from his coaching staff and other top flight centerfielders. He’s definitely holding up his end of the deal offensively as he hit his 4th and 5th homers of the spring today.

3. Who should start opening day, and does it matter?
Trammell is sticking to his initial plan to start Jason Johnson on Opening Day. Given Bonderman’s strong spring, and Johnson’s poor spring this move is already being second guessed. But really, does it matter? The Tigers will be playing Jose Lima and the Royals on Opening Day. You’d hope that any of the 5 starters could be sent out there and fare okay.

4. The Weather? The forecast for April 4th is 59, partly sunny with a chance of rain.

Monday Morning Grab Bag

Finishing Up the Centerfield Discussion…

Last week I took a look at the possible defensive impact in centerfield. Now it is time for the offensive impact. I used the projections from 3 different systems (PECTOA, ZiPS, and Bill James) to calculate “runs created.” I then adjusted the number to reflect a full season of 162 games. For the RC calculation I just used the shorthand of Total Bases times OBP. The James projections includes a RC calculation that is more robust than the TB*OBP mehtod. I included his numbers, as well as the shorthand for consistency (James are on the right).

PECOTA ZiPS Bill James
Monroe 94 89 101/99
Logan 61 55 58/62
Granderson 80 71 -

The gap between Logan and Monroe ranges from 33 to 43 runs. That seems like quite a bit for Logan to make up for defensively – even taking into account the resulting impact of sub par defense on the pitching staff. Even if you don’t trust the validity of any projection system, the gap is fairly consistent among the three.

Because Curtis Granderson is the heir apparent, I included his projections as well. Granderson grades out favorably. In fact, PECOTA has him in the top 5 centerfielders in projected Fielding Runs Above Average. I still think he needs seasoning, but it might not be long until he’s patrolling centerfield in Detroit.

I like the idea of trying Monroe in center. He did have a couple miscues yesterday in center, but he also seems verey coachable and eager to improve. A home/road platoon with Nook Logan isn’t a horrible idea either. If I were working for the Tigers and had piles of data at my disposal (and got paid for such endeavors), I’d look at the types of balls in play that each pitcher allows, as well as the tendencies of the teams I was playing against to make my recommendations. In any case, I’m just a humble blogger.

Tails from the web

I’ll have to pick up my Replacements column tomorow. Work is getting in the way. However, here are a couple of Tiger items from around the web…

Cranking the Win Shares

The Baseball Crank has calculated Established Win Share Levels for the AL Central. The Tigers rank 4th in the AL Central in EWSL. The Crank has this to say…

The Tigers, like an undersea mountain, look like they are about to peak without ever breaking sea level. This should be around a .500 team, especially if Bonderman has the big breakout season a lot of people are expecting from him. They’re also reportedly trying to deal Urbina for something of more immediate use than a second closer.

Over at Minor League Ball, John Sickels has finished his top 20 prospect lists. Unfortunately, the Tigers cupboard is more than bare and they rank only better than the Nationals.

The Replacements

As a welcome change for Tiger fans, the title of this post doesn’t indicate my annual team preview. Instead it refers to the Tigers’ centerfield situation. With Sanchez out of the picture, Craig Monroe and Nook Logan are the current Tigers being counted on to roam centerfield. I’ve argued for Craig Monroe (or Bobby Higginson) to get a shot in centerfield for awhile. I knew that Sanchez had horrible range in centerfield, and that Monroe and Higginson were pretty good corner outfielders. I figured that as good corner outfielders they would be at least comparable to a bad centerfielder. Throw in the fact that both, but Monroe especially, would be offensive upgrades and the net effect would be positive.

Fortunately, David Pinto at Baseball Musings has done extensive work on quantifying fielding through his Probabilistic Model of Range. I won’t explain it at this time because I’ve gone through it before and David has a much better explanation. Since David has pursued blogging for a living, he has developed charts to reflect the PMR data. He was kind enough to produce the following charts for me:

Alex Sanchez
Craig Monroe
Nook Logan

As a brief explanation, centerfield is highlighted. As you look to the left of center, you are looking at how fielders performed on balls hit toward left field. Move the other way and you see how they did on balls hit to right field.

The chart shows the percentage of balls that a player was able to catch compared to what they would be expected to catch. If you’re doing good, the black line is at or above the yellow line. One important point is that just because one player didn’t catch a flyball, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t caught by somebody else. For example, shortstops going deeper into center to catch a pop up or a right fielder taking everything in the gap.

As you can see with Alex Sanchez, he was consistently below expected no matter where the ball was hit. Nook Logan on the other hand was pretty good going toward left field, but wasn’t as good on the balls hit straight away. Craig Monroe seemed to struggle across the board.

For people like myself who were advocating that Monroe play center this chart is pretty discouraging. It is worth noting though, that there probably isn’t enough data for Monroe (and to a lesser extent Logan) to form strong conclusions. A typical season has about 4500 balls in play. Alex Sanchez was playing center for about 2100 of those balls while Nook was in for almost 1200. Monroe on the other hand was only in for 586. While 586 sounds like a lot, typically only about 9-10% of those balls are expected to be converted into outs by the centerfielder. In Monroe’s case you’re only looking at about 56-58 expected plays. Now when you further divide that by the different areas, you’re in a situation where one missed play could have a pretty substantial impact. However, one extra play would have as significant an impact to the positive as well and this just doesn’t show Monroe excelling in center.

These graphs still don’t quantify how many runs the Tigers stand to gain or lose with their various outfield options. However it is a great way to statistically view their range. Tomorrow I’ll attempt to quantify the offensive gains (or losses) that the Tigers might realize with Monroe and Logan.

A special thanks to David for the graphs. Seriously, go donate some money so he’ll keep doing cool stuff like this. He’s also working with Retrosheet data and has written code to allow you to view any player’s stats over any time period you specify.

The Sanchez Shakeout

Aside from the on-the-field benefits of Sanchez being released (less caught stealings, more direct routes to fly-balls, etc.) we also got to hear about some of the thought processes from the front office – and I like what they’re thinking.

Jason Beck of DetroitTigers.com had two articles with two pretty intersting quotes from Dombrowski. The first:

“The walks didn’t bother me as much as the lack of runs scored,” president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “So what does that mean? Maybe you’re making too many outs on the basepaths, stealing, not running as well as you should, not having the instincts at times that you would like to have. I know we’re in an era of on-base percentage, and I love it too, but runs scored to me is an even bigger stat than that. We wanted to improve upon that.”

Dombrowski is talking about efficiency. Yes, Sanchez’s 7 walks were miserable, but due to his batting average he managed a .335 OBA. While it’s not good enough for the leadoff position he was cast in, it wasn’t awful for a centerfielder making $350,000 last year. And Dombrowski is right, scoring runs is more important than OBA. I don’t think he’s talking about Sanchez’s personal “Runs” total, but what it meant for the team. Indirectly, I think he is referencing the on-base percentage as well because if you’re not on-base you can’t score.

And the second:

“His speed might not allow him to catch a couple balls that somebody else may,” Dombrowski said of Monroe, “but he’ll fundamentally play well. And if all of a sudden, you say there are a half-dozen balls that fall during the season that somebody else may have gotten, I will grant you that.

“But then you also may say, what other center fielder might hit 25 home runs and knock in 90 [runs], and does that justify those six balls being caught? Well, in my estimation, the answer is yes, because it’s a situation where you win more games that way.

Again, I like that Dombrowski is looking at the total run impact. While measuring Monroe’s offensive impact in terms of RBI may not be the best way, I’m confident that the Tigers probably used something a little more sophisticated in making their decision. Also, I’m not sure how Dombrowski quantified the run value of the balls that Monroe might miss, or more importantly figure how many balls he might not get to.

I don’t know the research that Dombrowski, Trammell and the front office employed. However I do appreciate the thought process.