Debunking and validating the week of crapitude

I should clarify that title right away. There’s no debunking the crapitude of the week for Detroit, but just some of the complaints and theories. Regardless, I present a statistical tour of the week that left Tigers fan confused, irritated, and pissed off.

The Tigers are too impatient

This one is partially true. The Tigers are in the upper half of team walks with 21, and none have been intentional so there is some element of patience. But 15 of those walks have come from the trio of Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, and Brandon Inge (yes, Inge).

As a whole the team is seeing 3.64 pitches per plate appearance when the league average is 3.75. Magglio Ordonez is really dragging down the average. If it seems like he’s swinging at a lot of first pitches, it’s because he is. He’s offered at the first pitch in 56% of his at bats which is well above the 36% he’s averaged in his career and part of the reason he’s only seen 2.6 pitches per PA. If there’s a silver lining it’s that he’s making contact with 89% of the pitches he’s offered at so he’s not being fooled badly.

The Tigers offense is suffering because Granderson is out

Curtis Granderson is my Tiger and Detroit is a better team when he’s playing. But center field the position and the lead-off spot in the order haven’t been major problems.

From the lead-off spot the Tigers have had a .407 OBP which is 5th best in the AL. Now every hit has been a single so the extra base power is missing but it’s not like the lead-off hitter isn’t creating opportunities for the rest of the order.

As for center field, they’ve had a .318 batting average from the position but it’s been an Alex Sanchez-ian .318 with little else. The .711 OPS is in the lower half of the AL. I’m not going to pretend it’s not an issue at all, but I’m confident it has little bearing on Polanco’s struggles and no bearing on Miguel Cabrera’s problems.

The Tigers have been unlucky

Again, elements of truth abound here. The Tigers have a slightly below average on base percentage, a below average rate of hitting ground balls, and yet they are tied for the league lead in grounding into double plays.

The offense is hitting .149 with runners in scoring position which just won’t continue to happen (the Yankees are actually at .146 if it makes anybody else feel better).

The Tigers FIP ERA (an ERA estimator using walks, strikeouts, and homers as the main inputs because those are the only elements the pitcher has complete control over) is 4.66 but their actual ERA is 5.30. Often you’ll see the disparity and it can be explained by variation in DER (Defensive efficiency ratio or the rate at which defenses convert balls in play into outs). But the Tigers DER of .706 is right at the league average. The problem is that Tigers pitchers have stranded a league low 62% of runners despite having a better than average line drive rate and better than average pop up rate.

That’s the bad luck part. But there is also a bad play component. Tigers pitchers are walking 4 batters per game which is 3rd worst. And they’re balancing it out by striking out 5.2 batters per game which is 3rd worst.

Jacque Jones has fanned in a third of his plate appearances and Pudge Rodriguez has struck out in a quarter of his. And then there are the base running errors which were sprinkled through out.

Bad Defense

This is no myth for the infield. Carlos Guillen has been extremely disappointing at first base. Miguel Cabrera doesn’t move well to his left. Placido Polanco hasn’t been quite as sure handed and everything seems to be a step away from everything. Revised Zone Rating has the Tigers infield at .689 which is dead last by a large margin. For every ten balls in the infield the Tigers are missing one more than an average team. That’s a couple plays a game and part of the reason why Tigers starters aren’t making it to the 7th inning.

But at least the outfield defense has been above average.

It’s a slump

Like any extended losing streak, this one can’t be pinned on any one thing. The team hasn’t played well. Things aren’t working out for them. They aren’t pitching particularly well. The hitting is awful and the defense has been poor. Throw in some questionable managerial calls and mounting pressure and it’s a recipe for failure.

The stats used here can be found at The Hardball Times, Baseball Reference, and


  1. Dave BW

    April 7, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Luck may actually be more of a factor than you’re giving credit for — the BABIP for most of the Tigers is unbelievably low. Cabrera, for instance, is sitting at .069, I believe. This is less true for the pitchers unfortunately (except for Grilli, who almost always gets screwed by BABIP)

  2. Vince in MN

    April 8, 2008 at 12:04 am

    What about the “They’re not living up to the hype” theory?

  3. Chris

    April 8, 2008 at 12:24 am

    After seeing these and other stats, I’m beginning to see that the most significant reason for this awful losing streak is the pitching– particularly our pathetic bullpen. None of the starters have pulled off any dominant performances, but the bullpen has not helped. They have allowed 88% of inherited baserunners to score and 100% of inherited baserunners from the starters. So situational relief pitching has been the worse than situational hitting.

    Sure the offense has been non-existent, but thats why you still need pitching to be able to take over the games during slumps. Colorado has scored only a paltry 12 runs in seven games and they have won two of those games, each by a score of 2-1.

  4. scotsw

    April 8, 2008 at 12:43 am

    The big trend I’ve noticed in the starting pitching is the big fall-off in the fourth/fifth inning. They have been doing great the first time through the order, but either the batters are figuring them out, or the arms aren’t ready for a full start… Maybe a problem that can be traced to spring training? I’m betting it’s something that improves after a couple turns through the rotation, but they just didn’t look like they were ready for prime time.

    As for the batters, go ahead and guess what the source of the problems are. But there has been no power, and the hits have all been spread out, so no big innings. It’s another symptom of the same issue: Not prepared coming out of Spring Training.

  5. David

    April 8, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Hasn’t Guillen actually done well at first for the most part?

    Saved an error from Robertson, made quite a few nice picks…?

    Yesterday he wasn’t great on the dropped ball and a ground ball that looked like he could have maybe snagged (possibly the runner was in his line of sight)

    And I mean there are some encouraging things to see.

    Brandon Inge’s D, patience and hitting
    Guillen and Clete’s hitting

    Kenny’s nice game where he looked very good

    Todd Jone’s two hitless innings (how often does that happen?)

    and Bobby Seay looking good

    and getting to watch Bautista light up the radar gun and see that he has good stuff

    at least 7/25 are doing well IMO

  6. Chris

    April 8, 2008 at 12:56 am

    Yes, I think when you are a team of loaded talent as the Tigers are, and you come out of spring training as flat as they have, it is quite obvious that they were unprepared. I wouldn’t know what they could have done in lakeland to be better off.

  7. ron

    April 8, 2008 at 1:57 am

    To me, it’s Leyland who has to step up and do some big time managing instead of waiting for the “creme to rise to the top”. Shake the bottle up and it will rise quicker. Whatever he does cannot be any worse than what is going on now.

  8. Mike R

    April 8, 2008 at 3:53 am

    It’s just A LOT of factors like Bill said. The team BABIP is .278, so it’s not overly unlucky but unlucky enough to be frustrating.

    I still hate the way Leyland mishandles the bullpen what feels like everyday and the fact that he’s going with the whole “Ivan Rodriguez leading off against LHP.” If that continues, I will be insanely pissed off.

    What’s the deal with Sheffield? Why not shelf him on the DL? And why is Cabrera playing in the cold of a night game in April with a bad quad? (more questionable decisions from Leyland who I just call “Hunches” moving forward because that’s his only logic — his hunches.)

    Still, I’m not pressing the panic button — just 6 games into the season and it’s not like the Indians are exactly on a tear (lost on a walk off grand slam as Joe Borowski looked TERRIBLE tonight and CC’s struggled as has Betancourt out of the chute) and really, does anyone think that the Royals (who I actually like in terms of how they’re turning things around) or the White Sox are going to run away and hide with this division? No, i don’t think anyone here thinks that at all.

    And honestly, if CC struggles and Carmona regresses like he should (a sinkerballer that doesn’t get the amount of K’s to lessen the luck of a sinkerballer), the Indians pitching suddenly doesn’t look that formidable and the division really becomes “who can slug the most,” and even with the struggles offensively through 6 games, I like our odds in that sort of race.

  9. billfer

    April 8, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Scotsw –

    You’re right about the pitching – at least that first time through the order. Verlander went over 100 pitches in his 2nd start and his velocity looked to be okay on the TV gun at least. But the drop off in Bonderman’s first start was very pronounced. In Robertson’s case it had taken him a lot of pitches just to get to that point. Not sure if the Tigers did anything differently this year in terms of stretching guys out.

    As for the hitters I don’t know whether or not it was a lack of prep coming out of Lakeland or more likely just a collective slump combined with bad luck.

  10. Pete G

    April 8, 2008 at 8:56 am

    No, Guillen has not looked good at first base. Despite what Joe Morgan said, first base is difficult to play. He needs more time to get used to the position. Right now his fundementals are not there. His timing on flips to the pitcher covering is off and is foot work is horrible. There have been instances where he has his right foot on the bag and his left foot is on the first base line when he takes a throw. He’s going to get run over and break his leg or something. He’s also taken throws and THEN looked for the bag. Why he let 2 balls get by him that Sean Casey would have had, on Sunday, is a mystery as well. Again, I’m sure more reps will help and he’s a great athlete, but right now he’s a defensive liability. Cabrera should be the first baseman.

  11. Andrew

    April 8, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Well, luck be a Tigers win tonight this afternoon 😉

  12. tiff

    April 8, 2008 at 9:28 am

    I would be more apt to blame the bullpen if we were giving them the lead with no runners on base. They haven’t blown an opportunity to “save” a game yet.

  13. Blake

    April 8, 2008 at 9:48 am

    An Alex Sanchez reference? Wonderful.

  14. Jeff

    April 8, 2008 at 10:08 am

    If there’s a silver lining it’s that he’s making contact with 89% of the pitches he’s offered at so he’s not being fooled badly.

    But it still gets back to what a hitter should be doing on a 0-0 count. Batting isn’t Pong. With two strikes you’ve got to protect the zone. With no strikes you should only be swinging if it’s a pitch you can drive. It’s better to risk taking a low and outside strike than it is to swing at it and tap a roller to the first baseman.

    If Maggs was hitting .400 with an .800 slugging percentage on first pitches, then, fine, go ahead. But he’s not, contact or no contact. A fine hitter like Ordonez (or Polanco) probably can make contact with most pitches around the plate, but he’s not going to be an effective hitter if he goes up there with an 0-2 protect the plate mentality from the get-go.

  15. greg

    April 8, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Watching Guillen play defense, the last 3 years, has been one of the most painful things to witness during my spectator career. At SS, he made Hanley Ramirez and Derek Jeter look like Ozzie Smith. At 1B, he makes Sean Casey look like a graceful swan. He was the White Sox secret weapon Sunday night, just like he was for the opposing team 20+ games last year. If official scoring had any credibility, it would charge 8 of the first Runs to Guillen, not Verlander. Verlander was pitching a gem and clearly became unraveled seeing Guillen botch routine plays. I think Johan would melt down having to deal with Guillen’s D behind him.

    Guillen singlehandedly blows, by a very conservative estimate, a dozen games every year, and that’s being kind, its probably more like 2 dozen. And no, his bat does not make up for it. Yet, he struts around like he’s a demigod. In reality, he has no business playing anything but DH

    Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening any time soon, but if they were to trade him, what joyous, glorious day that would be.

  16. Chris in Nashville

    April 8, 2008 at 11:21 am

    This team needs one good inning on offense, one win and they will take off. Mark it down, write it down, take a picture. You can’t extraploate trends one week into the season..I’m sorry, you just can’t.

    One of my good buddies, who is a Cardinals fan texted me Sunday Night and said…”remember this game when you are drinking champaigne in October”…call me crazy..but I still believe him!

  17. Mark in Chicago

    April 8, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    If it’s any consolation, most of baseball history did not include the Wild Card possibility, and in fact, until 1967 had only one division in each league and thus only two playoff teams total. So to say that teams starting 0-6 hardly ever make the playoffs is not really a good comparison since we aren’t accurately comparing eras.

    It’s still tough to make the postseason, especially in the AL, but it’s not impossible. Once you’re in, it’s really just a crapshoot. Let’s win one and take it from there; no sense writing off the season yet.