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.