It’s no secret that the Tigers offense was far from satisfying this year. It was the second year in a row that the offense seemed to perform below expectations, after having a huge season in 2007. Naturally suspicions and fingers start to point towards the hitting coach. Is the criticism of Lloyd McClendon justified?
McClendon and the Tigers offense seems to be following a similar trajectory to Chuck Hernandez and the pitching staff over the last 3 years. Hernandez came in 2006 and the Tigers had a dominant pitching attack. The staff regressed in 2007 and after an awful year in 2008 Hernandez was deemed the reason and he was let go.
McClendon arrived on the job in 2007 which saw the Tigers put up one of the top offenses in the league. The offense struggled in 2008 and in 2009 the offense was the culprit in too many losses and the Tigers were outscored despite being pretty good at run prevention. The offense was 10th in batting average and runs scored, and 9th in slugging and OBP and OPS.
Now one of the tough things about evaluating coaches from the outside is that there are considerable unknowns and there are rationalizations or explanations for most of what happens. What we can do is look at what a player was expected to do prior to the season. We can look player by player and see if there is a pattern of players over or underperforming expectations.
In the case of the Tigers there we knew there would be offensive challenges with the lower part of the lineup as the Tigers made a move towards defense at several key positions. The Tigers also had several key offensive components reaching their mid 30’s and offensive decline should be expected as well. With that in mind the table below compares the Tigers expected performance according to the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections to their actual performance across the slash stats.
I’ve applied a color gradient to the difference between actual and projected OPS performance. Of the 12 Tigers with the most plate appearances, 6 outperformed PECOTA and 6 underperformed with 5 of the 12 falling within 20 points of OPS. In other words for the most part the team’s performance followed a normal (not in the strict statistical sense of a normal distribution) distribution without a disproportionate number over or underperforming.
Now the trouble with the Tigers offense is that if you look at those differentials, Miguel Cabrera was the only regular to over-perform significantly while 3 regulars underperformed significantly. So if one were to weight the differences by plate appearance the offense as a group would be shown to have underperformed.
In his post season media session Dave Dombrowski spoke of a need for the organization to make plate discipline a point of emphasis. I’m interpreting his remarks to mean more than simply taking walks and not striking out, we can also look at how McClendon’s troops did compared to PECOTA expectations on walk rate and strike out rate.
This may be shocking to many, but the Tigers as a team walked considerably more than expected and they struck out significantly less. On the walk front, 5 Tigers significantly outperformed their expected walk rate while only Brandon Inge significantly walked less than expected. On the strikeout side Guillen, Everett, Inge, and Santiago struck out significantly more than expected but 7 Tigers struck out less than expected.
In terms of walks and strikeouts Lloyd McClendon looks to do favorably.
The stats don’t tell us a whole lot. There isn’t a glaring deficiency that can be pinned on McClendon. In terms of overall performance there doesn’t seem to be anything of note with some players underperforming, and some over-performing. There isn’t a lot there to show that McClendon impacted the team one way or the other. We do see that with the team placing an emphasis on plate discipline, McClendon may be an appropriate choice as the team did walk more than expected.
I do wonder though if the team wouldn’t do better with a new voice. The Tigers are going to need big seasons from Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen as well as continued development from Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas, and Scott Sizemore. There are limited resources available to get better players so for the offense to get better the incumbents will need to improve.