Oh those intentional base on balls

The Tigers struggled with walks in 2008. This is well documented and fairly obvious with the Tigers issuing more walks than every team other than Texas. It resulted in Chuck Hernandez losing his job and the Tigers bringing in a coach who built his reputation on pounding the strike zone. But a significant chunk of those walks came at the hands of Jim Leyland.

The Tigers led the American League in intentional walks with 63. The next closest team had 45 which means Detroit issued 42% more walks than the next most free pass happy team. It also means that instead of ranking 13th in the AL in walks, they rank 11th in unintentional walks. Still poor, but not as ridiculously awful.
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Not pounding the zone

Table of contents for Strike Throwing with Pitch f/x

  1. Strike Throwing – Part 1 – Lots of Tables

Way back in 2008 I started to run a series using pitch f/x data to look at strike throwing tendencies. Sadly this is the slowest moving “series” of posts ever. Nonetheless, it’s time for part 3 where we look at how teams do when they get strikes outside of the zone. For this exercise I’m not looking at those generous calls off the corners, but for those strikes when hitters go fishing.

The first table we turn to is the fish rate, or the percent of pitches outside of the strike zone that hitters swung at. This is presented by count. As for the pretty shading, red are lower numbers and green are higher numbers.

Continue reading Not pounding the zone

Hitting em where they ain’t

We recently took a look at the Tigers team defense through the eyes of David Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range. As Pinto wraps up this season’s numbers, he calculated the PMR behind each pitcher. Not much went right for Nate Robertson this year, and it is little surprise that his woes were reflected in the PMR numbers as well.
Continue reading Hitting em where they ain’t

Pounding the zone by count

Table of contents for Strike Throwing with Pitch f/x

  1. Strike Throwing – Part 1 – Lots of Tables

In part 1 of the series I dumped some big tables in here that looked at the rate at which teams threw a)strikes and b)the ball in the strike zone. Today we’ll continue along the same path, but we’ll start to differentiate based on count.

Pitches In the Strike Zone by Count

In 2008 teams pitchers through the ball in the strike zone (as defined by pitch f/x) at the following rates:

  • 0-0: 48.0%
  • 1-1: 45.0%
  • 2-2: 43.0%
  • 0-1: 40.0%
  • 0-2: 27.1%
  • 1-2: 34.6%
  • 1-0: 49.8%
  • 2-0: 51.6%
  • 3-0: 49.9%
  • 2-1: 51.2%
  • 3-1: 55.9%
  • 3-2: 53.8%

Continue reading Pounding the zone by count

The Tigers according to PMR

The Tigers defense was the cause of much consternation this season, and rightly so. Now that David Pinto has released his PMR defensive metrics, we can take a detailed look at each position.

If you’re not familiar with PMR, it is a system that looks at each ball hit into play and the probability that the ball should be converted into an out. That probability is based on a number of characteristics including the handedness of the batter and pitcher, the type of hit, the direction of hit, and how hard the ball was hit. It is based on data from BIS which also provides the data behind the +/- system and revised zone rating.

The table below shows how the Tigers fared at each position, as well as the primary players at each position. It shows the number of balls in play (this is constant at the team level), the actual outs and predicted outs, the plays made above or below expected and then a conversion to runs. The last 2 columns scale the plays and runs to 4000 balls in play which is approximately 150 games or the normal workload of a full time player.

2008 Tigers PMR
2008 Tigers PMR

Continue reading The Tigers according to PMR

Fun with the Bill James leaderboards

The Bill James Handbook is always one of the first baseball books to come out each year. It’s not a riveting narrative by any means and it consists largely of tables of numbers. But there are always some interesting pieces and there seems to be something new every year. Last year it was the Young Talent Inventory. This year it is a bullpen analysis. They sit alongside managerial stats, baserunning stats, and the Fielding Bible awards. But one of my favorite sections is the leaderboard.

I’m not going to copy a bunch of leaderboards for you here. That might be kind of tedious and boring for everyone, and it would definitely be a copyright violation. But I will point out some Tiger related items that are either interesting, or surprising, or noteworthy.

  • Despite coming back from a horrific shoulder injury, and ending the season early, Joel Zumaya still let the AL with 18 pitches thrown over 100MPH. Brandon League was next closest with 4. Fernando Rodney even managed 2 over the century mark.
  • Speaking of fastballs, Justin Verlander’s 93.6 average was 6th in the AL and Kenny Rogers’ 85.2 MPH heater was slower only than Tim Wakefield’s.
  • Armando Galarraga threw a slider 38% of the time which was the highest rate in the AL.
  • Despite Verlander’s struggles, his .377 slugging percentage against was good enough for 8th best.
  • Rogers and Nate Robertson both ranked in the top 5 in GIDP/9. Just think how bad things would have been if they hadn’t had so many twin killings.
  • Edgar Renteria was 4th in SS pivot percentage. Renteria also had the 2nd highest batting average against left handed pitching with the 7th highest batting average at home. If only the Tigers faced lefties at home more often…
  • Curtis Granderson continued his maturation by taking the 8th highest percentage of pitches and seeing the 5th most pitches per plate appearance.
  • Placido Polanco struck out less per plate appearance than anyone else in the AL, but it didn’t help him in run production where he had the 8th lowest RBI percentage (5.96)

Defensive Projections

Chone Smith has compiled defensive projections for the 2009 season. He’s used 5 years of data (combination of Stats Zone Rating, Revised Zone Rating, and Total Zone), and weighted it such that the most current season receives the most weight. He also regresses the results and uses the Fans Scouting Report. The more data available the less regression, and when data is scarce the scouting report carries more weight.

Cherry-picking out the Tigers (the numbers represent runs/150 games):

Outfield

  • Granderson: 13
  • Ordonez: -4
  • Joyce: (Corner) 7, (Center) -1
  • Thames: -5
  • Guillen: -3
  • Raburn (Corner) 4, (Center) -4

Infield

  • Inge: (3B) 10
  • Renteria: (SS) -6
  • Polanco: (2B) 9
  • Cabrera: (1B) -1
  • Santiago: (SS) -1, (2B) 1
  • Guillen: (3B) 0, (1B) 5

Now there’s a good chance Renteria isn’t back next year, so some shortstop free agents:

  • Orlando Cabrera: 1
  • Eckstein: -3
  • Everett: 19

Adam  Everett could be in a pretty steep defensive decline and even being +2 wins with his glove, his bat is so bad it probably can’t overcome it.  It’s not a great group that is out there, and one more year of Renteria if he can come cheaply might not be a bad bet.

Strike Throwing – Part 1 – Lots of Tables

Table of contents for Strike Throwing with Pitch f/x

  1. Strike Throwing – Part 1 – Lots of Tables

The Tigers walked a lot of people last year. Along the way they threw a lot of pitches, and many seemed to be ill advised. The performance cost Chuck Hernandez his job, jettisoned in favor of an instructor whose students have gone on to gain some renown as strike throwing machines. Armed with a season’s worth of pitch f/x data I’m ready to start delving into this whole strike throwing thing. We’ll start today with some general league wide information.

For those unfamiliar with pitch f/x I’ll have some additional links to more information at the end of this article. The short explanation is a couple of cameras measure the direction and speed a ball is moving shortly in front of the mound. From this the pitch’s path is calculated to within an inch of where it crosses the front of home plate. And it draws the trajectory in the MLB.com Gameday application. On to the data…
Continue reading Strike Throwing – Part 1 – Lots of Tables

News from the front office

While other teams are hanging on to World Series dreams, the Tigers are beginning to retool for next season. The last couple days have already seen a little action, but more on the front office side of things.

The Tigers today named Kevin Hooker as the Pacific Rim coordinator. Hooker comes from the Phillies where he had responsibility for Australia the last 6 years and Taiwan, Korea and Japan for the last two.

They also cut ties with Victor Trasoff-Jilg who was the minor league medical coordinator. That appears to be the only minor league staff move though as all the managers and coaches were invited to return. In the same article Jon Paul Morosi notes that the Tigers will interview 4 candidates for the pitching coach position this week. No names were revealed.

Finally, it looks like Al Avila will be back as assistant GM. The Mariners asked permission to interview Avila for their GM vacancy, and were denied. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dombrowski held the GM reigns for only another year or two before handing that job to Avila. Of course after this past season, his grip on the position probably isn’t as solid as it once was.

Suggestions

I know things have been quiet around here lately, well at least from me. I’m working on gathering data and building databases for my offseason projects. I now have my pitch f/x database built and I’m starting to delve into that. Some things I plan to look at are:

  • Nate Robertson – what the hell happened to him
  • Justin Verlander – what the hell happened to him
  • Plate discipline for the hitters
  • Pitch selection by catcher

Do you have other things you’d like me to look at with this data?  For those who aren’t familiar with pitch f/x, itis the system that displays pitch trajectories in the MLB Gameday application.  So we can examine pitch movement, velocity, location, selection, etc.  I can’t make guarantees about turning around every suggestion, but if it’s something that a)I think is interesting, b)I can do it, then there’s a good chance it will get done.

Tigers have nice fall debut

The Arizona Fall League kicked off and the Tigers representatives represented the Tigers well (how’s that for a sentence?). Wil Rhymes, Casper Wells,and Jeff Larish hit 2-3-4 and each picked up a hit. Wells was the only homer of the game and he knocked in 2. On the pitching side, Rudy Darrow pitched a perfect inning with 2 K’s and Casey Fien allowed 2 hits with 4 K’s in 2 innings of work.

Things are off to a decent start for the Tigers Hawaiian contingent. Andrew Hess has made 3 outings in relief has fanned 8 with only 1 walk in 8 innings with only one walk allowed. James Skelton is posting his customary high OBP at .500 in his first 6 games. Kyle Peter has struggled somewhat posting just a .579 OPS while still looking for his first extra base hit.

Alex Avila - cr Roger DeWitt
Alex Avila - cr Roger DeWitt

Things are also busy in Tigertown. Mark Anderson of Tigstown.com was on hand to take in some of the Instructional League action and filed daily reports. It’s premium content, but today he looked at the catchers and first baseman and the report on Alex Avila was glowing.

The good news is the daily reports don’t appear to be premium content, so you can read some of it for yourself. And if you want to see for yourself, our friend Roger DeWitt has captured quite a few images of the action.

2008 Offseason Preamble

With a disastrous season completed it is time to head into the offseason. Given the gravity of the collapse, you know with the high payroll and the last place-edness, there is probably a tendency to overreact and second-guess. While a deep dive analysis is definitely called for, there is also some inaccuracy being bandied about. With that in mind, some thoughts as we head into what will likely be a tumultuous winter.

Dave Dombrowski did not abandon his philosophy

I’ve heard this one frequently. The common thread is that Dombrowski abandoned his pitching first philosophy in favor of “buiding a slow pitch softball team.” Dombrowski has always believed in stock piling young pitching and using it as the building blocks of a team. Whether that entails using the pitchers on his own team, or trading it to fill needs, he’s always used young pitching.

The Renteria trade was made in large part for defense, not to build a slow pitch slugging softball team. The benefit of Renteria was that he was to be a 2 way player. The problem was that while Renteria was a defensive upgrade, it was a small upgrade (Guillen was -12 in 1074 innings at short in ’07, Renteria was -9 in 1173 innings in ’08 according to Fielding Bible +/-) and his offense was beyond absent the first half of the season. The trade failed, there’s no question, but it wasn’t a change of philosophy.

As for Cabrera, defense was never a part of the issue. It was entirely an offensive move. But it was also an opportunity that doesn’t come along that often. Players like Cabrera don’t grow on trees and to add an elite player at age 25 is largely unheard of. It is the kind of big splash move that Dombrowski has been known for throughout his career.

As for the rest of the staff, they were far worse than could have reasonably been expected. While Willis struggled last year and was trending down, to get nothing from him was unexpected to everyone. Robertson was never a top of the rotation starter, but was the epitome of a solid back of the rotation guy. To compete, along with Kenny Rogers, for worst starter in the league wasn’t part of any reasonable plan. And then there was Verlander adding a run and a half to his ERA. That your entire starting rotation would be injured or significantly underperforming wasn’t part of any plan or strategy and more than could have been mitigated.

The window isn’t closed

I should adjust that and say “the window isn’t closed if Ilitch doesn’t want it to be.” The boss could go all Huizenga and say “cut-cut-cut” but I don’t see that happening. This team was positioned to go for it in both 2008 and 2009. Because 08 was crap doesn’t mean you need to abandon 09 as well. The offense should be good again next year, and it isn’t unreasonable to think that the pitching staff will see some return to non-crapitude next year.

In terms of trading, they’d be selling low on most of the players that fans want to see traded. They could probably get a nice return for Armando Galarraga, Curtis Granderson, and Miguel Cabrera, but who really wants to see them shopped?

Don’t overreact

Everybody wants speed, defense, and starters, and bullpen arms. Some better defense would be nice, but don’t sacrifice offense completely. The Tigers are ready to make that move at third with the Inge pronouncement. It means they can’t afford to do it at both catcher and shortstop.

The bullpen was awful, but 5 years and $75 million to fix it will be money poorly spent. As for starters, is it worth a second round draft pick to sign a Derek Lowe type starter? (it might be if the Tigers can get the draft pick compensation for Renteria)

I’m not saying do nothing. Clearly this team has holes at multiple positions and another starter and a 2-3 new bullpen arms are clearly needed. But I still think, and perhaps this is naive, but good teams can have bad seasons. This team wasn’t as good as we thought going in, and it isn’t as bad as we think right now. I’ll borrow this conclusion from Nate Silver’s piece in Baseball Prospectus ($) and quote sparingly because it is premium content.

Bad years happen to good clubs. The key for the Tigers will simply be not to panic, nor to try and save face with guys like Renteria and Willis whose projections don’t really warrant it. The Tigers need to budget somewhere between $15-$20 million for perhaps three pitchers next year, but with the contracts of Renteria, Todd Jones, Kenny Rogers, and Ivan Rodriguez all coming off the books, they can easily afford to do so without increasing payroll.

This has been a frustrating season in Detroit, but hardly a disastrous one in terms of the club’s long-term fortunes. There have been several pleasant surprises this year in Galarraga, Joyce, and Brandon Inge’s smooth transition back to the catcher position*. From top to bottom, the Tigers still rank somewhere in the top ten in the major leagues in terms of their overall talent pool, and they should be on track to return to contention with some relatively common-sense fixes.

*The Inge part was written on August 14th before Inge completely collapsed down the stretch offensively and started allowing a PB per game.