Where should Cabrera play?

Jim Leyland was quoted yesterday talking about how this deal and the players they acquired were like a presents under the tree. Well, now that we can open up the presents, it’s time to play with them. The common refrain is that the Tigers should play Miguel Cabrera at third base and move Brandon Inge. It’s pretty clear that Cabrera is better than Inge and I’m not going to try and dissuade you from thinking that way. But as both Rob Neyer and Lee Panas have pointed out, the chasm in defensive ability between the two makes the upgrade not as dramatic as it appears at first blush. Are the Tigers better served putting Cabrera in left field?

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Leveraging Todd Jones

WPA Leaders

Rank Name WPA
1 J.J. Putz 6.17
2 R. Betancourt 5.38
3 Takashi Saito 4.27
4 Heath Bell 4.12
5 Joakim Soria 3.85
6 J. Papelbon 3.72
7 Joe Nathan 3.63
8 F. Rodriguez 2.95
9 Hideki Okajima 2.93
10 Pat Neshek 2.83
11 Carlos Marmol 2.8
12 Brandon Lyon 2.8
13 J. Isringhausen 2.75
14 Manuel Corpas 2.71
15 Tony Pena 2.56
39 Todd Jones 1.57

WPA or win probability added tracks a teams chances of winning over the course of a game and the measure for an individual player is the difference in win probability when a player enters the game compared to when they leave. WPA of .5 represents 1 win. The complete list of WPA reliever leaders can be found at Fangraphs.

Last week Dave Dombrowski indicated that the club would like to have Todd Jones back, but under the condition that he may be moved out of the closer’s role at some point during the season. Right now the ball is in Todd Jones court as he evaluates his options, and tries for a gig closer to his Alabama home. But is a set up role better for Jones than as the 9th inning man?

Not your typical closer

Jones doesn’t possess one trait that is common among closers, an ability to strike hitters out. In 2007 Todd Jones was dead last, by a considerable margin, among closers (or people who finished at least 35 games). His 4.84 was considerably behind David Weathers 5.56. What’s more is that there were 12 closers who’s K-rate was more than double that of Jones.

Still, Jones manages success because of other things he doesn’t do. His renaissance as a closer came in 2005 with the Florida Marlins when he simply stopped walking people. He only issued 25 free passes between 2005 and 2006 in over 130 innings. However in 2007 he struggled with his control, relatively speaking and issued 23 walks in 61.1 innings, and that put him in the bottom half of closers.

So with a bad strike out rate, and a not so good walk rate, he must have had sterling defense behind him right? Not so much. His batting average on balls in play was .299 which ranked in the bottom 3rd, or the top 3rd depending on your point of view, but it’s the bad 3rd regardless.

Look at these numbers, how did Jones manage to have blown save numbers comparable to Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Jenks? He had 2 things working for him. The first is that he keeps the ball in the park. He only allowed only allowed 3 homers this year, and a slugging percentage of .371 meant that it would take several hits for Jones to blow a save.
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Tigers extend Leyland

The Detroit Tigers made it official today and announced a one year contract extension that will keep Jim Leyland managing the club through the 2009 season. No real surprise here.

Rotation set, Jurrjens stays and Bazardo starts

The Tigers have set their rotation and Jason Beck has it:

This Fri-Sun at Minnesota: Robertson, Bazardo and Jurrjens
Next Mon-Wed at Cleveland: Rogers, Verlander and Robertson
Next Fri-Sun vs. KC: Jurrjens, Rogers, Verlander
Sept. 24-26 vs. Minnesota: Robertson, TBA, Jurrjens
Sept. 28-30 at Chicago: Rogers, Verlander, Robertson

Notable is that Jair Jurrjens stays in the rotation after feeling fine after last night’s start. Also, Yorman Bazardo who threw 3 innings in the first game yesterday will make his first start of the season. There’s still a TBA so his performance on Saturday will probably determine whether he gets a 2nd start.

There will be 4 more starts for Nate Robertson and Kenny Rogers. Justin Verlander will have 3 more after tonight.

Of course if the Tigers get eliminated Jim Leyland may decide to spot start some of the kids in the last couple series.

Beck’s Blog: Rotation now set

Broken Logic

Jim Leyland answered questions about one of the most inexplicable managing decisions he’s made this year, batting Timo Perez 3rd. I’m not going to continue to harp on this past this post, but even the thought process for batting Perez third is broken. Here is what Leyland told the Free Press

Leyland gave several reasons for hitting Perez third: It gave him another left-handed bat against Bannister, who has done better against right-handed batters than against lefties. Perez also could bunt and he could score from first on an extra-base hit.

Now I think the Freep mis-stated about Bannister’s splits, but getting the extra lefty bat in the lineup is the only part that made any sense. First, the idea that that your number 3 hitter would be bunting is dumb. Especially when your number 4 hitter is having an MVP season. So you use your number 3 hitter to bunt, opening up a base, and inviting an intentional walk. There is a reason that number 3 hitters don’t bunt.

Second, presuming that Perez could score from first on an extra base hit also presumes that he’d get to first base. He For someone who hasn’t broken the 300OBP barrier since 2003 (when he hit 301) that is foolish.

And if you want to look at all the players on the Tigers roster who could a)bunt and b)score from first on a single and c)bat left handed I see Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen, and Ramon Santiago.

Perez was a black hole amongst standout offensive performers last night and the sad thing is he performed exactly as expected.

KANSAS CITY 6, DETROIT 3: Tigers get 16 hits, but only 3 runs; Ordonez: ‘We can’t get any further behind’

Thoughts in brief

A mishmash of things I’ve been meaning to comment on…

Craig Monroe

I’ve read and heard much lamenting that Leyland is being too loyal to Craig Monroe. That was called for at the end of June, but it’s not really called for now. Monroe had lost his starting job prior to the Marcus Thames injury. After a brief reprieve, one in which he hit a couple homers against Kansas City, he subsequently lost his starting job to Ryan Raburn. When you’ve seen Monroe playing lately, it’s because someone else is getting a rest. When he played Tuesday it was because Polanco was DH’ing. When he played yesterday it was because Leyland rested Granderson against a tough left hander. For the last month it wasn’t Leyland’s loyalty to Monroe keeping him in the lineup, it was injuries to Thames and Sheffield.

Monroe’s days in Detroit are numbered. There was a reason he only had a one year contract and it’s so money wouldn’t be blocking Cameron Maybin in 2008. You can even argue that Monroe was unnecessary this year with Thames capable of filling the role at one tenth the cost. But even the most adamant Monroe detractors had no reason to expect a 221/265/387 line from a player that had posted 3 straight season in the 100-115 OPS+ range.

Ryan Raburn

Ryan Raburn has done way more than could have been expected of him and should have solidified his spot as a reserve outfielder on next years team. And I’m not reaching this conclusion on 50-some big league at-bats, but on a couple of strong seasons at AAA. Plus the added flexibility he brings by being able to play infield as well as all 3 outfield positions makes him a pretty valuable guy. I’m not expecting him to continue at his current rate, but near league average offensive production at a whole lot of positions for the league minimum is actually a pretty nice thing to have.

And for those who want to discredit his early success to small sample size, it’s fine to a certain extent in that he won’t keep up that production. But I’ve also heard comparisons to Brent Clevlen last year and those just aren’t apt. Clevlen has had one good year in the minors while Raburn has had several. Clevlen probably has a higher ceiling, and considering he’s at AAA and won’t turn 24 until after the season there is still reason for optimism. But in terms of being a productive player right now I’ll take Raburn.

Leyland having a tirade

I know that many want Jim Leyland to go and yell at all the players like he did last year. Because that will fix everything. He yelled last year because he wasn’t happy with the effort. Now he’s talking about the team not having an “extra charge” and things being dull in the clubhouse. If that’s the case Leyland needs to solve it.

It’s been my contention that Leyland’s strength is managing the clubhouse, and not his game strategizing. If he gets credit for last year and earlier this year, then a dull clubhouse is his responsibility to fix (and he admits as much). Bless You Boys has a take I tend to agree with

Well, where exactly is that going to come from? Yes, the players should provide it themselves. But would it really be a bad thing to close the clubhouse doors before they play the Indians or Yankees and remind them what’s at stake. No one’s saying he needs to rip his shirt off, throw a trash can across the clubhouse, and put out a cigarette on someone’s head. Leyland doesn’t need to put on a show. But he shouldn’t be content to send messages through the press, either.

But what I’d really like to see, and Sean Baligian brought this up on WDFN this morning, is for some of the guys in the clubhouse to take the lead on this. And maybe, this is Leyland’s way of trying to prompt it.

Postponed linking

Definitely a bummer that there is no game today, but maybe it is for the best. Even yesterday I remember looking out at Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, and Pudge Rodriguez standing on base waiting in the cold for a pitching change and just hoping that none of those 6 hamstrings tightened up during the delay.

On to some news…

The shuffle

Last year Jim Leyland kept his rotation intact up until the All Star break. Already in 2007 he’s shuffled the deck. Justin Verlander and Mike Maroth will take their scheduled turns, but then Jeremy Bonderman and Chad Durbin will switch spots. This may be to actually help Durbin, who otherwise would be facing the Royals twice in his first 3 starts. Not that the Royals are especially intimidating, but it could help keep the Royals hitters from getting a read on him. Now he’ll face the Orioles on Monday (their home opener), the Blue Jays, and then the Royals.

Sheffield claims another famous number

I’m still not used to seeing someone other than Alan Trammell wearing number 3, but now Gary Sheffield will be one of the major leaguers wearing 42 on Jackie Robinson day. MLB asked each club to select a player, and the Tigers asked Sheffield.

More M&M accolades

Ryan McConnell writes a milb.com piece highlighting the talent in hi-A ball this year. Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller of course enter into the discussion.

Other stuff

  • Fernando Rodney says he feels out of sync. Kind of a “no kidding” but it’s better than feeling pain.
  • The Lakeland Flying Tigers finally posted their roster yesterday, so all 4 rosters are complete now.

Leyland sets Opening Day lineup

Jim Leyland decided on a lineup, at least for tomorrow. It is:

Curtis Granderson
Placido Polanco
Gary Sheffield
Magglio Ordonez
Carlos Guillen
Pudge Rodriguez
Sean Casey
Craig Monroe
Brandon Inge

No real surprises. I probably would have flip-flopped Ordonez and Guillen because 1) I think Guillen is a better hitter, and 2)It spreads out the left handed bats slightly better, but I don’t think it will make a big difference regardless.

Leyland sets lineup and leadoff platoon

It appears that Jim Leyland has settled on a lineup that he might use some of the time depending on the handedness of pitchers. One thing he did settle on though is that for the time being Pudge Rodriguez will lead off against left handers and Curtis Granderson will lead off against right handers.

The knee jerk reaction from much of the sabermetric community will be to look at Pudge’s batting average heavy OBP (332 and 290 the last 2 seasons) and decry the move. But Detroit Tiger Tales earlier showed the splits that indicate this is a tactic worth at least trying. The Tigers with a right handed heavy roster have very little platoon flexibility and this is a way for Leyland to squeeze a little platoon advantage.

Plus, the few times that Rodriguez led off last year, it appeared he tried to show more patience at the plate. Whether or not that is sustainable (he has a lot of career at-bats working against him), and whether or not it leads to better results, are both huge questions. But if Leyland can help the team score more runs, and Rodriguez become a better hit, why not try it?

The lineup he’ll put out against right handers is: Granderson/Polanco/Sheffield/Guillen/Ordonez/Rodriguez/Casey/Monroe/Inge

And according to Danny Knobler, the players seem happy with the lineup, for whatever that’s worth.

As I’ve mentioned before, the order of the players in the lineup matters much less than which players are in it. This is because the Tigers lineup is quite balanced without real standout players, and without real black holes. Besides, Leyland will likely use over 100 different lineups this year. Last year the most common lineup used took the field all of 6 times.

Jim Leyland on Neifi Perez

Eric picked this up early on, and I saw the comments posted on MotownSports as well. Jim Leyland was interviewed today on the Stoney and Wojo show on WDFN. Mike Stone asked Jim Leyland, “what does Jim Leyland see in Neifi Perez that we as fans and media members don’t?” The response wasn’t the typical fluff you’d expect. Here is the transcribed version of what Leyland said.

Well that’s a good question because he played terrible. And what had happened was we got reports from our scouts, and I had known him from the past. We were kind of in a panic situation. We had lost Polly and we needed someone who could come in and play second, and play shortstop as well because Carlos needed some time off. And up to this point it looks like we made a mistake.

So Neifi’s going to have to prove us wrong this spring because has not been a good acquisition up to this point.

But that was my fault, and the scouts. And I like said we had to have somebody. And I hope Neifi’ll prove us wrong. I think he’ll be much better than what he showed last year because he showed absolutely nothing when he came over.

Now this reads like he was slamming Neifi something fierce. He was very gruff and matter-of-fact, but it’s a little softer when you actually listen to the interview (available on WDFN podcast page). And in typical Leyland fashion he was more than willing to take responsibility.

That said I thought this was a little bit much to call out a player like that in the media in January. I love that Leyland didn’t pull punches and was honest, but what did they really expect from Perez in the first place? Perez pretty much performed up to reasonable expectations given his history.

I’ve definitely done my share of Neifi-bashing in the past, but I tried to direct my frustrations less at Neifi and more at Jim Leyland’s insistence on playing him. Perez didn’t ask to come to Detroit, and it’s really not his fault that teams keep giving him playing time. I actually feel a little sympathetic towards Perez right now. Weird.

But the good news for Tiger fans is that it looks like the Tigers definitely aren’t committed to keeping Perez on the roster and that Infante will have a pretty good shot at making the team.

Even more about lineups

There’s a new Tiger blog, Dtown Baseball. It is authored by DTW commentor Eric Jackson. Eric did some further investigation into Tiger lineup configuration and examined the assertion that the Tigers used 120 different lineups.

Eric raises a great point that there are many distinct lineups, but that there was still considerable consistency.

He looked at the top 5 spots in the lineup and found that the sequence of Granderson-Polanco-Rodriguez-Ordonez-Guillen started 51 times and averaged 4.76 runs per game. He also found a bunch of other stuff and it’s definitely worth a read (plus there’s a graph).
Continue reading Even more about lineups

Fun with line ups

This week Lynn Henning wrote an article speculating on the Tigers lineup for next season.

Henning in addition to penning his own lineup, concluded the article with this:

Much of the manager’s disposition there is a matter of what you think about the computer-generated wisdom that it’s better for a team to load the front end of its order with its best hitters.

That, of course, can collide with a manager’s intuition, and even more, his experience.

“I know a guy who did that one game,” Leyland said of one manager who followed the best-hitters-at-the-top formula. “And his team got shut out on two hits.”

First of all, Jim Leyland citing that sample size of 1 is kind of nonsensical. On a day when your team manages 2 hits the order is irrelevant so it does nothing to refute the premise. Second, it almost makes it sound like Henning is on board with the intuition-over-science angle. But when you look at Henning’s line-up…
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