Shelton up, Pena down

Team 1270 is reporting that Chris Shelton and Carlos Pena are trading places. Given Pena’s struggles (181/307/287) this season, this move had to be made. Shelton has been tearing up the International League (331/417/569) and the big question remains his glove. However, in the New York series it appeared that Pena’s offensive struggles may have been getting to him in the field as well.

I’m curious to see if the other Carlos’ – Carlos Guillen – injury situation influenced this move. The Tigers want to keep Guillen’s bat in the lineup so they have been DH’ing him. It only makes sense to have Shelton up here if he will get regular at-bats and the Tigers want to keep Dmitri Young in the lineup as well. If Guillen is DH’ing, that means one of the other two guys is playing first base with one guy on the bench. It seems to me that the Tigers don’t forsee Guillen DH’ing much in the near future which means either (a) with the warm weather his knee will be bothering him less, or (b) he’s in a lot of pain and won’t be playing at all for a week or so.

As for Pena, a minor league stint with regular at-bats should be more beneficial to him than getting spot duty on the major league roster. He’s a better hitter than he’s shown this year and at AAA he’ll get a chance to put things together.

The Pudge Weight Loss – again

Lynn Henning, who normally does a pretty good job covering the Tigers, wrote a piece in this weekend’s paper that requires a response. Basically the gist of the article is that Henning wants to talk to Pudge about his weight loss, and Rodriguez keeps blowing him off. Henning does a good job of never accusing Pudge of using steroids, but he made sure to mention steroids at the end of the aricle in saying

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

  • I had a great time last night hanging out with Brian, Rob, and Brian at Duggan’s last night. We covered a lot of topics including of course the Tigers, other Detroit sports, Detroit sports media, and blogging. It’s something that I’d definitely like to do again later in the season
  • Bobby Higginson underwent elbow surgery yesterday and is expected to miss 8-12 weeks. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bobby has played his last game as a Tiger. I could see a situation where in two months the Tigers want to send him on a rehab assignment to Toledo. I can also see Higginson refusing the assignment and end up being cut.
  • Tigers Talk has a Q&A with West Michigan Whitecap Brent Dlugach. Dlugach is off to a solid start hitting 280/335/420.
  • In other minor league notes, Joel Zumaya pitched 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball yesterday before being relieved after 123 pitches. He finished with 14 strikeouts, 4 walks, and a hit batsman.
  • After a week full of defensive miscues the Tigers have slipped to 5th in the AL in defensive efficiency. The team had been bouncing between 2nd and 3rd for the bulk of the season
  • If your a stathead, and if you’re reading this there is a decent chance you might be, Baseball Digest Daily posted an interview with Bill James.
  • The Tigers offense got as they were supposed to face Erik Bedard tonight. Bedard has a strained knee and so the Tigers will face Sidney Ponson tonight, and Hayden Penn will make his major league debut on Saturday.
  • On a final note, I’d like to wish everybody a safe and happy holiday weekend. I’d also like to salute all those who have died protecting our country and our freedoms.

    Also, a heartfelt thank you to any members of the military that may be reading this. I get some hits from various military domains and from middle-eastern timezones, so I imagine there are a few of you. So Thank You and God Bless.

Mapping Win Shares

Studes at Hardball Times runs a “Ten things I didn’t know last week” column that is always chockful of interesting stuff. This week’s column has a graph that I found fascinating called a treemap. Aside from the coolness of the techinque itself, Studes put it to good work illustrating Win Shares across the league. If you look below, you’ll see me ripping off his idea and doing it just for the Tigers.

Win Shares Treemap

The bigger the box, the bigger each player’s win shares total. Within each player box, you can see the extent that the contribution was batting, pitching, or defense.

Stuff that jumped out at me from this graph:

  • Brandon Inge is leading the team in win shares. Not bad for a guy who found himself with out a position last year
  • Look at just how little Pudge has contributed offensively. At least his defense has been outstanding
  • The Tigers best relievers by WS are Jamie Walker and Franklyn German
  • Count the starting pitchers. Bonderman, Maroth and Johnson all have substantial real estate. Nate Robertson is smaller on the grid. But where is Ledezma? He has now win shares to date.

One final note on this, there were a couple players with negative win shares. The treemap doesn’t deal well with negative values, so I set those to 0. Those players with negative components were Smith, Wilson, Ordonez, and Higginson. The changes are pretty minor, and I don’t think it diminshes the value of the graphical representation.

Also, the Win Shares data is through games of May 18th.

Getting the call

Barring a huge offensive game from Carlos Pena on Thursday night, I think that Chris Shelton will be starting for the Tigers on Friday night. After another two-run performance, the Tigers need to try and infuse some life into the lineup. The Tigers current first base tandem continued to struggle tonight with Dmitri Young and Carlos Pena combining for an 0-6 night. If I’m not mistaken I don’t believe either hitter managed to get a ball out of the infield.

The most telling sign is that Pena was pinch hit for in the 7th inning with Ramon Martinez. Now this isn’t meant to be a knock on Martinez – who came through with an RBI single following a 3 hit night – but there is a reason that he has been a back-up infielder the bulk of his career. If the Trammell and the Tigers have reached the point where they would turn to a back up middle infielder in a crucial situation rather than their starting first baseman, it’s probably time that the Tigers need a new starting first baseman.

Now do all the Tigers offensive woes fall on Pena’s head? Of course not. It just so happens that he is struggling more than anyone else, and his understudy has been tearing up the International League. Shelton is hitting 329/414/579 with 8 homers and 23 walks for Toledo.

The tricky thing is what happens if Shelton is called up? First the Tigers have to make room on the roster. This would probably involve moving either a bullpen arm or Jason Smith to the minors. The arm would probably be Chris Spurling or Doug Creek. Both have pitched well, and I’d be more inclined to demote Ginter. However, I don’t think Ginter has any options left (I really don’t know this, so if anybody has this information let me know). The Tigers may want to keep Smith just because of the question marks regarding Carlos Guillen’s knee. In fact, Guillen’s knee presents other problems as well. With Shelton on the club, he would probably get his at-bats as a DH or first baseman with Dmitri gettinig the other position. However, while the Tigers try and spell Guillen with games at DH, that means someone else is on the bench. It is tough to take Dmitri’s bat out of the lineup, even if he is struggling, and you want Shelton to get regular at-bats.

Now let’s assume that Shelton comes up and plays well. By well I mean he hits at a decent clip and doesn’t embarass himself in the field. Then what happens to Pena? Pena is a better player than what he’s shown this year, but he’s going to have a hard time working out of his slump on the bench (see Eric Munson – 2004). Pena would have no trade value, so do the Tigers just let him walk?

Scenario 2 is that Shelton comes up and struggles. At that point the Tigers haven’t really gained or lost anything. Shelton goes back to the minors while Pena gets another chance to figure things out.

By waiting until Friday to call up Shelton, they won’t make him make his first start in Yankee Stadium. Also, they’ll be facing a left hander, albeit a tough one, in Erik Bedard. In any case the Tigers need to make a move to try and jump start the offense. Turning to Toledo might just be their best shot at this point.

What the funk

With the Tigers’ recent inability to score runs, it’s beginnning to feel a lot like 2003. Not even counting tonight’s game in which they are being shutout in the 7th inning, the Tigers have failed to score more than 4 runs in 10 of their last 12 games. In those other two games, the Tigers managed 6 runs in each of them. Keep in mind though, that one of the 6 run “outbursts” was fueled by 3 errors and only two of the runs were earned. The other “offensive explosion” was against Texas and featured two runs being scored on a wild pitch. So even those two respectable games are a little deceiving.

Courtesy of the Day by Day Database here are some more numbers:

  • The Tigers have scored 37 runs over those 12 games and have been shut out twice
  • Tiger hitters have struck out 87 times over that stretch against only 41 walks
  • The batting average of .260 and OBA of .325 aren’t horrible. However, the Tigers have been burned by a lack of power. With only 6 homers the team has amassed a slugging percentage of .377.
  • Speaking of a lack of homers, up until Marcus Thames’ 8th inning homer tonight the Tigers had gone 51 innings without a homer. The last jack was by Dmitri Young on May 18th.
  • The Tigers two first basemen – Young and Carlos Pena – have combined to go 186/288/257. Is it any wonder that fans are clamoring for Chris Shelton?
  • Speedster Nook Logan has 10 strikeouts and one walk which has pretty much nullified his speed.

So what is a Tiger fan to do? Trammell has tried juggling the lineup, but it hasn’t had any effect. The good news is that there are many reasons to believe that the team is slumping as opposed to there being a fundamental problem. While Pena’s chances of becoming an All Star are pretty slim, he’s performing poorly even by his standards. Dmitri Young is also a better hitter than he has shown as of late. The biggest question marks are probably Omar Infante and Nook Logan. Infante’s history includes a horrific half season, and nearly a full season of decent play. Omar has struggled to find any sort of consistency this year, and it’s hard to say whether or not he is underperforming this year, or he overperformed last year. As for Logan, his speed makes him easily the most exciting player on the team. Unfortunately he strikes out too much and walks too infrequently to put that speed on display.

As for everyone who is frustrated that the Tigers offense has “wasted” a number of fine pitching performances, take solace in the fact that the pitchers came through when the offense needed them most. Despite averaging 3 runs a game, the pitching managed to keep the Tigers 6-6 through that 12 game stretch. It could have been much worse.

Get Together Update

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First, the bad news…due to the Wolverine Softball team’s run towards a championship, Ryan Sosin from Tigers Central won’t be joining us.

The good news is that we picked a place – Duggan’s in Royal Oak. The other good news is that the pitching matchup is Jeremy Bonderman versus Kevin Brown.

To recap, Brian Borawski (from Tigerblog) and I will be meeting up at Duggan’s at 7pm on May 26th to watch the Tigers take on the Yankees. If anyone is in the area and would like to join us to talk Tigers and enjoy some beverages and a Big Chief burger we’d love to see you.

All about efficiency

One of Jason Johnson’s biggest deficiencies the last few years is his ability to pitch late into games. Part of it may have been due to stamina – as he tends to struggle when he gets past the 90 pitch mark. Over the last 3 seasons his OPS against jumps to .899 for pitches 91-105, and 1.038 above the 105 pitch threshold. However, this was compounded by the fact it took him quite a few pitches to get out of each inning. The result is that the average JJ outing was only 5.9 innings each of the last two years. So far this year, Johnson is averaging 6.1 innings per start, which is a very small improvement. However, if you remove the start against Minnesota in which he lasted only a third of an inning, he is averaging 7.1 innings per start. This improvement comes from reducing his pitches per inning from 16.8 over his career, to 13.8 which is 5th best in the American League.

There are two ways to improve pitches per innings pitched. The first is to allow fewer baserunners. The fewer people you have to pitch to, the fewer pitches you have to throw. Johnson has lowered his WHIP from a career mark of 1.49 to 1.31.

The second way is to throw fewer pitches to each batter. That is where Johnson’s biggest improvement has come from. While his pitches per plate apperance has been dropping (4.03, 3.80, 3.78, 3.78, 3.67) over the last 5 years, it has dropped to 3.29 this year. That is good enough for second place in the American League behind only Carlos Silva. Part of the drop is due to the fact that Johnson’s BB/9 is down to 2.34 from a career average of 3.54. That’s the good news. The other reason his pitches are down is because he is striking out fewer batters with only 3.76 K/9 opposed to his career average of 5.86. That means more balls in play, which means more potential for hits. Johnson has done a good job of inducing ground balls, which has minimized this impact, but could prove ominous in the future.

On the other end of the efficiency spectrum is Wilfredo Ledezma. Ledezma is averaging 18.5 pitches per inning, which is the main reason that by the time the 5th inning is complete, Ledezma is at 100 pitches. Ledezma is using 4.04 pitches per batter, and his opponents have a .369 OBA which means he’s facing a lot of guys.

With respect to the OBA, it is reasonable to expect it to go down. Through games of 5.15, Ledezma is allowing line drives on only 8% of his balls in play. The league average is 17.2%. Also, in terms of fly balls he’s inducing a lot of infield flys with 28.3% of his flyballs being caught in the infield (the league average is 13.3%). So Ledezma is allowing a lot of fieldable balls, yet his defense is only converting 67.9% of balls in play into outs. That same defense is converting 71.0% into outs for the whole team. It looks like Ledezma may be partially the victim of some bad luck.

The bad luck however doesn’t effect the number of pitches per batter. In watching Ledezma, he looks to be struggling with a similar issue that Nate Robertson dealt with last year. He can get ahead of hitters, but fails to put them away. I’m not sure if it is a lack of a go-to pitch, or just trying to be too fine. Hopefully that is something that will improve with time and Bob Cluck’s tutelage.

Let’s get together…

Myself, Brian Borawski from TigerBlog, and Ryan Sosin from Tigerscentral will be meeting up on May 26th to watch the Tigers battle the Yankees – and you’re all invited.

This is just a very informal gathering to:
1. Watch the Tigers
2. Talk baseball with fellow Tiger fans
3. Maybe put a face with the writing.

This soiree will take place at a yet-to-be determined establishment, but it will probably be in the Greater Royal Oak area.

No RSVP is required, but if you think you might be interested in coming out, drop one of us an email or leave a comment so we have an idea of how much space to request.

We hope to see you out there!

The Gameday Experience

As a mini-season ticket holder for several seasons, I’ve attended my share of games at Comerica Park. Inevitably, I’ve started to warm up to the place. Either I’m getting used to it, or I’m just having more fun seeing a competitive team (well a competitive team wearing the home whites). However, there are several areas where the organization/park could improve.

First, when the Tigers built Comerica Park they bragged about having the largest scoreboard in the majors. I believe it’s been eclipsed since then, but it is still enormous. Because of it’s shear dimensions, I’m still surprised by how little information is provided.

There is a video board that shows stagnant images more than replays. I understand that they can’t show video once the pitcher is on the mound, and I also understand they don’t want to show up umpires. It seems that other than promotions in between innings, the only action the video board gets is a replay of Tiger home runs.

The other thing I’d really like to see more of is statistics. The first time a batter is up you will get the standard box score stats – AB, H, HR, RBI, BA. There is plenty of space left over so why not throw in some other measure of power, like extra base hits or slugging? As a sabremetrician type, I’d love to see on base percentage as well, or at least walks. In all fairness, the smaller scoreboard to the left does show some relevant splits for each hitter. The trouble is that scoreboard is obscured to a large portion of the stadium.

The other issue is specific to Friday night’s rain delay. One of my favorite things about Comerica, is the size of the concourses, and the fact that they are sheltered for the most part. Last Friday there was a torrential downpour that resulted in a two hour rain delay prior to the game being called. Being a Friday night, against a good team (the Angels) and with a great pitching matchup of Bonderman versus Colon there was a pretty sizable crowd on hand. Because of the concourse configuration a lot of people stuck around and enjoyed various concessions during the delay. At the same time, the Pistons were playing against the Pacers in the playoffs. Now the Tigers could have turned Comerica into the world’s largest sports bar and put the game on the concourse TVs, but they opted for showing an English D spinning ad nauseum.

Eventually we found some TVs in the Beer Hall area that were carrying the game, but why not put it on everywhere?

In all fairness I have to say that I have been impressed with ballpark operations so far this season. I haven’t had to battle long concession lines. Also, when I brought the wrong ticket to the game Friday night (I brought one for a future game) they were accomodating enough to reprint the correct ticket for me. I’m also appreciative of the fact that they went with an old fashioned doubleheader and gave up some signifcant gate. I just think they missed an opportunity to make a disappointing situation a lot more fun.

Game Thoughts
The Tigers managed to eek out an extra inning win against he Devil Rays last night. Jason Johnson was great again, as was the bullpen. But the offense continues to be frustrating. The Tigers got guys on base, and in scoring position but then left them stranded. As Baseball Musings pointed out yesterday, leaving guys on base isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the inability to score guys from third base was agonizing. Fortunately Brandon Inge continued to be an on base demon (a single, a double, and 3 walks in six plate appearances), and Ivan Rodriguez and Rondell White took care of business driving in the tying and winning runs.

Last night was also the debut of Nook as the annointed leadoff man. He responded by going 0 for 6. While I don’t see any reason to move Inge out of the leadoff spot, I don’t think this decision will have a dramatic effect. The sequencing of Logan/Inge/Pudge/Guillen isn’t changed. The only thing that is different is that Logan would get extra at-bats at the expense of some of the other guys. I think Trammell was mostly trying to shake up a lineup that isn’t scoring runs.

Missing Magglio?

With the exception of a 10 run outburst in Anaheim, the Tigers offense has been in a funk for several weeks. In their last 17 games they have only averaged 3.5 runs per game. Fortunately some strong pitching has kept them 8-9 over that span. What is commonly heard is that the Tigers are really missing Magglio Ordonez in the middle of the lineup. The truth is, they aren’t really missing him that much. In Ordonez’s place Nook Logan has provided nearly as much offensive punch as Magglio would have during that time period. And what Logan hasn’t been able to accomplish offensively has probably been offset by his play in centerfield (and Monroe’s move to rightfield).

If Ordonez hadn’t gone down with his injury, Craig Monroe would still be the starting centerfielder. Logan would have been relegated to pinch runner/defensive replacement/spot starter. As Ordonez’s replacement, Logan has amassed a .367/.387/.478 line with 4 stolen bases against 2 caught stealings. Lost in that stat line is some of the havoc that Logan has created on the basepaths – such as scoring from first on a wild pitch. His runs created/27 outs of 6.26 is third on the team behind only Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge.

While you can’t say with any sort of certainty what Ordonez would have done during the same time span, you can look at his career numbers as a proxy. Magglio’s career RC27 is 6.89, or a little more than half a run better than what Nook has been providing.

I’m not suggesting that Nook Logan is the hitter that Ordonez is. While Nook is tremendously exciting to watch, he’s probably playing a little over his head right now. My point is that because Logan has played so well, the Tigers haven’t really been that hurt by Ordonez’s injury.

Notes from this weekend

Jeremy Bonderman continues to look more and more like a staff ace and an All Star. The Tigers were clearly hurt more by the rain delay in the first game of the double header. Despite the fact the score was tied at the time, Bartolo Colon wasn’t close to having the same stuff that Bonderman had. Watching Bonderman is becoming an event, and at this rate games will start drawing 30,000+ just because he is starting.
-It was so refreshing to have an uneventful outing from the bullpen in game 2 on Saturday. In his 3 outings (small sample size alert) Ugueth Urbina has 5 strikeouts against one walk and one hit in converting all three saves. If Urbina continues to pitch like he has in the last week, what happens when Troy Percival is healthy?
-Tiger pitchers aren’t helping their own cause. With Jamie Walker’s and Nate Robertson’s errors this weekend, pitchers now have 6 of the teams 27 errors. While the rest of the defense has been very good (2nd in the AL in defensive efficiency), the pitchers haven’t held up their end of the deal.

Blogging News and Notes
-I’ve started to play with the TITLE tag in HTML. Basically, if you hover over certain text, a window will pop up with a description. I figured this would be effective for some of the less well known stats like RC27. In Firefox browswers words/phrases that have a description are underlined. Unfortunately IE doesn’t share the underlining functionality, but the description will still appear if you hover you mouse over the word. Let me know if you think this is helpful.

-Mario Impemba, play-by-play voice for Fox Sports has a blog over at MLBlogs.

-Detroit Free Press tech reporter Mike Wendland has a story about baseball blogs in today’s paper. DTW got a mention along with TigerBlog and View from the Cheap Seats. Thanks to Mike for the recognition, and welcome to anyone finding their way here for the first time.

Off Day Links

With the Tigers having an off day, I’ll keep this light.

Pudge’s Slump
Over his last ten games Ivan Rodriguez is 5 for 41. Using the Baseball Musings day-by-day database we can look and see if Pudge has ever had a streak this rough before. After dumping the data in Excel, it became pretty easy to see this is among the roughest streaks of his career. However it isn’t unprecedented. Just last year he had a period in August where he went 4 for 33. In 2003 he had a ten game stretch in which he went 4 for 32. In 1997 he had a 3 for 29 slump. Before that his worst stretch was a 4 for 35 stint in 1992 which was parter of a larger 9 for 64 downer.

What’s most troubling about this current slump is that he is striking out at a ridiculous rate. He has struck out 15 times in the last 10 games, more than any ten year stretch in his career.

I’m not too worried about this slump yet, and the Tigers have managed to get through it thanks to some strong pitching. I also don’t think the weight loss had anything to do with it. He was hitting perfectly fine earlier in the year. If it was related to weightloss he would have been struggling the whole season.

Big Show for the Big Cure

If you’ve got the time tomorrow, head out to Troy Lanes. Team 1270’s Art Regner and Doug Karsch are doing a radiothon to support prostate cancer research at the Henry Ford Vattikuti Urology Institute. They are doing great things with the treatment of prostate cancer at Henry Ford including a robotic prostatectomy that significantly reduces discomfort and recovery time.

It’s a great cause, and should be a lot of fun. If anybody is crazy enough to join me, I’ll be there from 4:30-5:30 in the morning.

Tiger Love
The United States of Baseball recently had an article promoting Tiger Fandom.