Tiger Myth Busting

With the Tigers losing, people are looking for reasons why. Everybody knows the offense has been horrible, and there must be some reason for the slump. There has been a lot of speculation. Some of it makes sense on the surface, but when you actually look, it just does prove to not be true. So we here at the DTW look to debunk some recent Tiger mythology.

Myth 1: The offensive slide is evidence of Placido Polanco’s importance in the lineup

This one has been especially popular. Because the Tigers strike out so much and are a bunch of free swingers the Tigers need Polanco’s bat in the lineup. He’s the guy you hit and run with and will always work the count and put the ball in play.

The truth is that Placido Polanco hadn’t been that good offensively when he got injured. Polanco is good at avoiding strike outs, and he has a good batting average. He was batting 294 at the time of his injury. But he’d only worked 15 walks and had a very meager 359 slugging percentage. So one could argue he hadn’t been that important to the offense up to that point in the season.

But because of his total contributions he was certainly an adequate player and the best option at 2nd. So how did the Tigers backfill? They went with Omar Infante and Neifi Perez. Now Perez has been awful, but Infante has been excellent. In total, the 2nd base position has hit .301/.337/.430. The Tigers have received more production from that postion without Polanco than they were receiving with him.

Furthermore, the Tigers offense had only averaged 3 runs a game for the 7 games leading up to the injury. The funk had already begun.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to get Polanco back. He’s a better bet to produce over the long haul, especially if Perez is in the equation. But Polanco’s absence has not hurt the offense.

Myth 2: Bonderman always fades at the end of the season

Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t won since July. He collapsed after the All Star game last year and this is his M.O.

There’s really no getting around the fact that Bonderrman hasn’t won since July, and he did get hurt the second half of last year – thus leading to a bad end of the season. But this isn’t a career trend.

I will choose not to look at 2003. You can knock me for it if you want, but that whole season was a mess for everyone, he was 20, and it was his first full season.

In 2004 Bonderman was bad in July and August. On August 18th, 2004 he was shellacked for 6 runs before being lifted in the 4th inning. It left many, myself included, wondering if he should spend some time in Toledo. But in his next outing he threw a complete game shut out, striking out 14 White Sox. From that point on he made 8 starts compiling a 2.33 ERA while he fanned 9.3 per 9 innings. Instead of a 2nd half fade it was a 2nd half resurgence.

In 2005 Bonderman began experiencing elbow pain midway through the season. This was compounded when he took a line drive off his forearm. After that he only made 3 starts, 1 of which was good and 2 in which he was pounded. His 2005 post All Star Break ERA was 5.31. Certainly not good by any means.

Now in 2006 Bonderman hasn’t won since July 24th, a streak that has reached 9 starts. But he hasn’t been bad in all of those efforts. Three of his first 4 starts in that string were quality starts culminating in the Curt Schilling duel in which Placido Polanco was injured. In his last 5 starts though he has simply been miserable compiling a 7.27 ERA despite striking out 9.7 batters per 9 innings.

Bonderman is in a bad stretch, but the stretch isn’t as long as you might believe. Also, he doesn’t always fade in the 2nd half as evidenced by his 2004 season. He has to get better, and do it quickly. But we saw a similar stretch from Kenny Rogers (coincidentally while Bonderman was at his best) that he has since recovered from. Maybe the real issue is that Bonderman can’t pitch without Polanco? (I kid of course)

3. The Tigers players were a bunch of overachievers in the first 4 months

The Tiger players just aren’t that good and they were all playing over their heads. Now they’re making up for it.

If the pitching had tanked I wouldn’t consider this a myth, but the pitching hasn’t been the problem since August 8th. The team’s problem has been scoring runs. Take a look at what the offensive players did pre August 8th and post August 8th.

		Post Aug 8			Pre Aug 8		
Player		BA	OBA	SPct	BA	OBA	SPct
Monroe 		.220	.296	.417	.276	.311	.507
Ordonez 	.286	.328	.413	.298	.347	.476
Rodriguez 	.248	.273	.325	.307	.333	.449
Granderson 	.197	.248	.325	.279	.363	.440
Casey*		.236	.277	.311	.277	.343	.477
Inge 		.252	.325	.408	.245	.304	.470
Guillen 	.327	.398	.554	.306	.388	.509
Young 		.222	.253	.333	.270	.321	.460
Infante 	.343	.370	.529	.263	.308	.376
Thames 		.182	.229	.470	.273	.346	.587

*Sean Casey was compared to Chris Shelton pre 8/8

Prior to August 8th the bulk of the team was playing within a range that you would expect based on career numbers. Marcus Thames was playing more and better than expected, but his performance was in line with several years of AAA performance. Carlos Guillen looked to be replicating his 2004 “career year” season, but he’s actually performed even better during the skid.

The Tiger hitters didn’t overachieve during the first half and this isn’t some return to form. They are just tanking collectively.

4. The Tigers have already been eliminated from the playoffs

Okay, so this one might not really count but it seems to be a prevailing thought. This team is slumping badly and it goes without saying that if they don’t play better they will be stuck home in October. But they are still in 1st place, even if their grasp is more tenuous than at any point this season.

I know it is hard to see the team playing better. But think back to April and who would have forseen the team going 76-36 to start the season. This team suddenly went into a slump and they could just as suddenly break out of it. I have no idea what will happen the rest of the season, but I’m going to wait until they actually are eliminated before throwing in the towel.

21 Comments

  1. Eric Jackson

    September 14, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    I still disagree with the first one. Polanco has not being around has hurt and it has hurt with his RISP stats. Lately they have had numerous games where they have gotten on base and not been able to advance runners or bad them in even when there is one or two outs.

    His RISP stats are .374/.404/.440
    His RISP stats w/ 2 outs are .343/.378/.457

    Thats a total of 91 at bats. Additionally his stats with runners on is higher than his overall stats at: .307/.347/.391

    So I still conclude that his absence has really hurt the team.

  2. Kyle J

    September 14, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Good stuff. The fact that the pitching has continued to be so good is why I’m still optimistic about their chances down the stretch and into the playoffs.

  3. Cameron in Singapore

    September 14, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    Excellent arguments, Bilfer.

  4. Lee Panas

    September 14, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    Great job Billfer. I was going to write something about the Polanco myth but I was busy tonight and I’m going on vacation tomorrow. The isolated power and home runs have both dropped more than 20%, the walks about 15% and the batting average about 12% during the slump. Those are the reasons they are not scoring runs.
    Polanco would not have helped them with power or walks and as you pointed out the 2B position has kept up the batting average. I’ll also add that Polanco leads the team in GIDP so he kills runners as well as he advances them. They might miss him a little but his absence is not a big factor.

  5. Nick

    September 15, 2006 at 8:31 am

    Eric, how many runs could that amount to over a month of baseball? You’re talking 20 AB or so, and assuming Polanco continued to hit .340 and .370 in those situations (though him hitting closer to .300 is the most likely scenario) you are talking about 7 hits or so. One guys ability to hit with runners in scoring position (especially when that one guy can’t hit at any other time) isn’t the reason the offense has tanked. Though the decision to give Perez AB’s instead of Infante during Polanco’s absense has been a factor in the offensive slide.

    The fact is, according to the chart above, only Infante and Guillen have hit the ball well since August 8th. When you run 7 holes in the lineup (the highest OBP outside of those two looks to be Ordonez’ .328) you aren’t going to score many runs. And replacing one of the two decent hitters with a (arguably) slightly better hitter isn’t going to have an appreciable impact.

    Judging by the OBPs listed above, it seems likely that the reason it seems like we struggle to move runners along and drive them in is the fact that we have so few guys on base (and failures are magnified when you have few opportunites).

  6. Gil

    September 15, 2006 at 10:15 am

    Excellent piece. It would be nice to get this sort of analysis from the mainstream sources (newspapers, radio, etc) in Detroit.

  7. Chris Y.

    September 15, 2006 at 11:13 am

    Good work. Especially like the offensive comparisons. In watching them fade, there has clearly been a lack of offensive production and what has been there has often not been timely (except maybe the Indians series awhile back) — good to see it put into numbers.

    I especially agree with your last sentence, but the heartache makes it tough to watch.

  8. jim-mt

    September 15, 2006 at 11:18 am

    The offensive problems are over–Nefei is coming around-he drove one deep to left last game-the ss had to go back about 20 yards to catch it.

  9. Coach Jim

    September 15, 2006 at 11:41 am

    When Polanco comes back (gee, I hope he comes back) I would like to see Casey replaced with Shelton, thereby restoring the complete lineup that was producing much of the season. Pudge needs to bat 3rd. It is an INTANGIBLE chemistry.

    All these numbers aren’t the REASON for the slump, they are by-products of the slump. For most of the year the Tigers had a certain MAGIC. That magic is now gone and it seems the Twins got it.

    As we said a few days ago, Bonderman is still throwing 96 with a biting slider, he’s just getting hit now. Forget the papers that say he’s getting beat because he doesn’t have a changeup. He didn’t have a changeup when he was 11-4 either. Likewise Verlander has been getting hit since he missed one start (to save his arm?). Watching his last game it was interesting to see fastballs at 90-97. When did he start throwing a 90mph fastball?

  10. billfer

    September 15, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    But Verlander has thrown 3 very strong games since then also. He hasn’t had a continued funk like Bonderman’s last 5 starts. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his arm, but I’m worried about the effects of his 126 pitch outing.

  11. Kurt

    September 15, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    I’m going to thread the needle on this one. Bilfer is right that Placi was not the magic bullet. His injury did not cause the slump. The slump began before his injury. His being back won’t cause matters unless it’s due to intangibles. A lot has been bantered around with analysts about his taking pitches and being a contact guy and being a bat that makes the rest of the lineup better, but I don’t know if the stats really stand behind that.

    On the other hand, when I looked at stats in July, Placi was one the guy you wanted at bat when a runner was in scoring position, moreso than anyone except possibly Magglio (at the time). And we have seen a lot of runners left in scoring position over the past month. But I don’t know how often it’s a problem that would have been fixed with Placi in the 2-hole. It seems like it’s the batters in the meat of the order that have been blowing things. I don’t have stats to back that up, but I believe it’s accurate. But as a team, the Tigers just haven’t had a lot of players get on base. It might add a win or two, which is much needed.

    So I say, yes, we need Placi back. But the other eight batters shouldn’t be that affected by his at-bats, they got into this problem on their own.

  12. Big Al

    September 15, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Nice rebuttal to all of the knee-jerk opining that has been swirling around the Tigers, Billfer. Not that I haven’t done a little of the knee-jerking myself…

  13. TM

    September 15, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    Great post, Bilfer! I’ll be there with my family tonight to see if Bonderman can finally get a win. Seeing that it’s game one of a series, it will likely be some sort of come-from-behind win. Let’s just hope they can actually follow up this weekend and win a series!

  14. Coach Jim

    September 15, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    If Bondo pitches a complete game (actually 8-1/3) tonight he will pass the 200 IP mark. Remember he’s only 23. We keep talking about protecting Verlander’s arm, but he’s the same age as Bonderman.

    I took a quick look back to see the last 23-year-old to pitch at least 200 inning for the Tigers and came up with Dan Petry in 1982. By the time he was 28 he was hurt and never the same.

  15. Kyle J

    September 15, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    Couple notes from the current WPA stats:

    1) Polanco has a negative total for the year, which I don’t think is indicative of a player who’s been crucial to a team’s winning record. As other’s have stated, he’s a great player–but it’s hard to argue he’s the lynchpin to the Tigers’ success.

    2) Robertson now has the highest total WPA among the starting pitchers. He really has been the unsung hero this year.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/winss.....eason=2006

  16. Chris J

    September 15, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    Coach Jim, protecting arms isn’t about pitch counts or innings pitched or , age it’s how you arrive to that number. Verlander needs to be eased off of because he’s never had a workload nearly this large. Bonderman has experience with this kind of workload and therefore his arm is used to it.

  17. Eric Jackson

    September 15, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    for those who didn’t notice, tigers picked up stairs

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.c.....index.html

  18. Kyle J

    September 15, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Can Stairs be included on the postseason roster as a replacement for a injured player? Or is it too late in the season?

  19. Josh

    September 15, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    I like the post and am willing to concede your points, but the question remains that something is going very wrong and has been for a month and a half. I am curious what, exactly, people think the problem actually is if the points above are granted as false?

  20. Kyle J

    September 15, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    Knobler says Stairs isn’t eligible for the postseason.

    http://www.mlive.com/tigers/we.....tml#183941

    I guess he should have some usefulness as a pinch hitter against right-handers for the remainder of the regular season. Right now, the only player we have close to a legitimate pinch hitter off the bench is Shelton, and Leyland appears to have no confidence in him whatsoever.

  21. Nick G

    September 15, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    Great post, nice comments. I’m starting to enjoy this place again. That’s no myth!