Venezuelan Uprising

The Tigers offense certainly doesn’t figure to be the team’s strength in 2010.  It also isn’t devoid of talent. The heart of the order is occupied by the team’s Venezuelan contingent. The trio certainly put on an offensive display in the series against the Royals and the health and production of these three are fundamental to the team’s chances this season.

Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen led the offensive against the Royals. The three combined to go 20-42 and accounted for all 3 of the team’s homers. Two of those homers were by Cabrera in the late innings. The Tigers scored 16 runs and these 3 drove in 10 of them and scored 8 of them. With the exception of Austin Jackson’s and Johnny Damon’s 2 RBI’s, every other run went through Venezuela.

The Tigers shouldn’t expect these 3 to combine to hit nearly .500 all the time, but when the 3 are clicking they should be able to muster enough runs to support what should be at least a decent pitching staff.

Quantifying Lloyd McClendon

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.

Performance against expectations

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.

Continue reading Quantifying Lloyd McClendon

Leyland says Tigers didn’t swing at enough first pitches

During Jim Leyland’s post game presser, he made some interesting comments regarding the Tigers approach against Josh Beckett. Leyland thought the Tigers weren’t aggressive enough on first pitches and settled for too many first pitch strikes. The actual quote was:

“That just makes it easy for him,” Leyland said. “I know how good he is. I know it’s not that easy. But for you to get a guy like him, he basically is going to come right at you. He has very good stuff, and then, he’s a very intelligent pitcher. He’s going to come at you, and if he can get you to stand there and take a strike-one fastball, that’s really playing into his hand.”

It wasn’t really a take I expected (and not just because I spent a chunk of my recap praising the Tigers for making Beckett throw more than 5 pitches per plate appearance through the first 4 innings) because the Tigers aren’t really noted for their patience at the plate.

Detroit ranks 7th in terms of percentage of pitches swung at (46.5%). They are often criticized for swinging at the first pitch too often and making too many quick outs. Their walk rate is middle of the pack. They have the fewest pitcher per plate appearance in the American League (3.75 and the league average is 3.84). Swinging the bats has never been a problem for the Tigers this year.

As for last night’s game Beckett recorded first pitch strikes on 19 of the 24 batters he faced. Here is the breakdown:

  • Called Strike: 12
  • Foul: 1
  • In Play – Out: 5
  • In Play – Hit: 1
  • Ball: 5

The Tigers actually only swung at 30% of the first pitches that Beckett threw. For the season they swing at 28% of first pitches, and the league average is 26%. Last night they had 1 favorable outcome out of the 7 times they swung at the first pitch. Maybe the Tigers get more hits the more they swing away at the first pitch against Beckett, and this is a VERY small sample. But looking at this I don’t see how you can say that the Tigers made things easy for Beckett by laying off the first pitch and if anything their uncharacteristic patience and ability to foul off pitches early in the game made Beckett work harder. And if anything, I think you just need to tip your cap to a very good pitcher.

Beck’s Blog: Leyland critiques approach

Lost weekend and other ramblings

9-5. That was the series score. Tigers pitchers kept a very good offensive team to just 9 runs and yet were swept because Detroit went 1-26 with runners in scoring position. The numbers are pretty much mind boggling. And 3 of the Tigers 5 runs came on solo homers. The White Sox took 2 out of 3 games in their weekend series meaning that the Tigers lead is down to a slim 1.5 games. It was a crappy weekend for Detroit baseball. They got swept, they didn’t score, and they lost a relief pitcher for who knows how long. But I’ll find some good news in here somewhere.

Pitching is still good

The Tigers continue to get good pitching. Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson came out strong and pitched the way they had for the bulk of the first half of the season. Sustained success for both is key to the Tigers playoff chances and with Verlander’s history of second half struggles, and Jackson’s history of never having been this good before, those are both question marks where the early returns are promising.

Also, outside of Joel Zumaya’s blow-up, the bullpen was just as good as the starters. Fu-Te Ni is probably benefiting somewhat from being the new funky-delivery lefty, but his results have been as impressive with the big club as they were with Toledo. I guess the other good news is that the bullpen is nice and rested.

Unsustainable pace

Fortunately for the offense, they won’t continue to be that bad. Going 1 for 26 in any situational split, or any situation period, isn’t a sustainable pace. They’ll at the very least accidentally get a hit at some point in time. But here is the other side of the coin. The Tigers did a good job early in each of the 3 games of making the opposing starter work hard. They were taking pitches, drawing walks, and putting pressure on the starter and thus creating all those scoring opportunities in the first place. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the lineup got destroyed later in the game and the outs came quicker and easier. The Tigers hitters need to carry the types of approaches they were taking early in the game and sustain them throughout and continue to generate the scoring chances.

The Tigers need more offense, and I’d love to see them add a bat, but it goes way beyond that. Even if they trade for a stud, left handed hitting corner outfielder (which is unlikely), he is only going to hit once each time through the lineup. The Tigers have legitimate offensive threats already in the lineup that aren’t producing. One bat isn’t going to have a big impact as long as Granderson/Polanco/Cabrera continue to struggle.

What is Josh Anderson doing in the starting lineup?

One thing the Tigers could do to improve the offense is to remove Josh Anderson from the equation. Anderson had seemingly played himself out of a starting role before the All Star break with Ryan Raburn getting the bulk of the playing time in left field. From June 29th through the break Raburn had 9 starts, Anderson 5 (and one of those was in centerfield to spell Granderson). Raburn hit 323/364/581 over that span and Anderson hit 200/238/350 with no stolen bases. Yet the team gets to New York and Anderson starts 2 of the 3 games.

Raburn is OPS’ing over 800 against both lefties and righties and he has a pretty even mix of plate appearances this year. Anderson is OPS’ing under 650 against both lefties and righties while drawing 88% of his plate appearances against his favorable platoon side. While he is fast, he isn’t a good baserunner. The glaring mistakes are well known, but there are smaller ones as well. On Sunday he slid into second on a fly ball to centerfield. He was stealing and never saw the ball. Plus he had 2 defensive miscues this weekend. One cost the team runs, the other only cost Jackson 6 pitches. Outside of a late inning pinch runner he should have no role on this team, yet he continues to get starts.

Other Stuff

  • The extent of Joel Zumaya’s injury still isn’t fully known but it is a re-aggravation of his stress fracture. I’m sure the 3 inning outing in Minnesota didn’t help the situation, but I wouldn’t blame it either. That shoulder has experienced a ton of trauma. I think there are only so many times Zumaya can throw the ball 100mph before the next injury occurs.
  • The Tigers were 1 of 7 teams to have scouts on hand for Halladay’s outing yesterday. The White Sox weren’t. I don’t think the Tigers have the pieces, or at least pieces they’d be willing to part with, to get Halladay so I’d chalk up yesterday’s appearance to either due dilligence or gamesmanship.
  • What is the smarter financial move for Mike Ilitch, who is faced with decreased revenue due to lower ticket sales and decreased corporate sponsorship, dumping payroll or adding players to keep the Tigers in the hunt? Extended contention and a possible playoff birth will do more to help the franchise’s economic outlook than trying to save on salary. The Tigers need to get through 2010 and then there is considerable salary relief coming.
  • Brandon Lyon has added a cut fastball and he has tweaked his delivery.
  • Curtis Granderson is holding a wine-tasting charity event this Thursday that features a bachelor auction. For more information on purchasing tickets, or if you’d like to learn how you can take home your very own Granderson or Jackson head over the Grand Kids Foundation site.
  • FS Detroit has started to replay each Tiger game at midnight with the Tigers live postgame show to air at 3 a.m. So if you miss either the first time, you have a second chance to DVR it.
  • Also coming up on FS Detroit is Batting Stance Guy. He’ll be recreating Magglio Ordonez’s ALCS homer and Justin Verlander’s no hitter. For more on Gar Ryness, check out his appearance on Letterman. He’s already got a compilation of Tigers past and present.

Maggs and Clete to platoon

The latest technique to milk productivity from Magglio Ordonez is to platoon him and only give him starts against left handers. Clete Thomas will form the other side of the platoon which means he’ll get the bulk of the starts, especially with the team facing more right handers.

For his career, Ordonez has hit lefties about 12% better than righties (in terms of OPS). That differential is more pronounced this year with an 825 OPS against southpaws versus 611 against right handers. So if there is any advantage Leyland can give to Ordonez, it is probably a lefty only diet.

But where this gets really interesting of course is the impact on the vesting option. As of tonight, Ordonez is 166 plate appearances shy of his vesting option. Through the first 84 games the Tigers have faced 27 lefty starters. At the same rate the Tigers would face 25 more lefty starters this season, and with about 4 PA’s per start Ordonez would come up 60-70 plate appearances short of the vesting option. That is significant enough to not be conspicuous or grievance-able, especially if Thomas or a bat to be named later hits well enough against righties.

As for Ordonez’s take on the situation, it certainly is professional:

“When I produce, I play,” he said.

Tigers WAR Projections

It seems as if calculating wins above replacement, or WAR, has become the cool thing to do this offseason. We’ve delved into WAR here in the past when evaluating contracts. Now Fangraphs has made WAR available to the masses. Detroit Tiger Tales has already taken a look at the 08 Tigers numbers. And now a call to action from Beyond the Boxscore has inspired me to project the 09 team numbers.
Continue reading Tigers WAR Projections

Getting stingy?

The Tigers are in a stretch of games where runs are likely to be at a premium. Between the A’s, the Indians, and the White Sox, they are facing 3 of the stingiest teams in terms of allowing runs. At the same time they aren’t exactly powerful offenses either so the Tigers figure to be playing in a number of low scoring games.

The table below shows runs per game scored and allowed as well as the ranks for the Tigers next 3 opponents.

For a freakishly inconsistent offense like the Tigers, it’s hard to say what type of production they can muster. They’ve made mediocre pitchers look awesome. But looking at the offenses they’ll be facing, if they can manage to avoid the 0-1 run syndrome they can still be in position to win a number of these games.

Hopefully those manageable offenses help a pitching staff that has really been turning things around as well. The Tigers are still 12th in the league in runs allowed per game at 5.04 for the season. But in their last 19 games they have allowed a much more respectable 4.1 runs per game.

McClendon- “batting average is the most overrated statistic”

Hitting philosophy

Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said runs scored, followed by on-base percentage, are the most important statistics.

“Batting average is the most overrated statistic in baseball,” McClendon said. “Pete Rose told me, ‘When you are scoring runs, you are doing the job.’

I don’t have a lot to comment on here, but I thought the quote was very noteworthy and that it would make sabermetricians smile.

Earlier in the season we saw that the Tigers were being more patient than they had ever been, and it looked to be a philosophical shift. But with the offense sputtering they’ve gone a little more aggressive (or are being pitched more aggressively) and the walks have gone down.

In April the Tigers were walking 4.36 times per game and the team had a .261 batting average and .355 OBP. In May the walks per game dropped to 2.58 and while the team batting average is now .266, the OBP is down to .336.

About that 1-25 record…

It is quoted after nearly every game, with only the loss column frequently changing. Currently it is 1-25, with IT being the Tigers record in games in which they score 4 runs or less. Some people point to it as a sign of the pitching staff’s futility while others question why the offense is scoring so little so often. Like many of the Tigers struggles this year, it can’t be attributed to just one area.

We’ll start by looking at some broader data. Below is data for the American League showing runs scored per game and the corresponding winning percentage so far in 2008.

AL Run Distribution

Not surprisingly it’s hard to win your scoring fewer than 2 runs a game, and the odds increase dramatically with the 2nd and the 4th runs. Now let’s look at what the Tigers have done.

What you’re seeing is how frequently the Tigers scored a certain amount of runs, how frequently it was done in the AL, how many games the Tigers won at each run point, and how many they would be expected to win given AL norms.

The thing with the 1-25 record is that the Tigers have scored fewer than 2 runs 12 times giving them 12 games with virtually no shot to win regardless of the pitching. And in those 4 run games where the team should have nearly a 50-50 shot of pulling out a W, the Tigers have only had 3 such games.

So with some normal pitching, the Tigers should have expected to win at most 3-4 more games. Chalk those up to the staff, but the bulk of the others fall squarely on the shoulders of the offense.

It doesn’t add up

In today’s Detroit News Tigers beat writer Tom Gage writes about RISP. RISP of course is runners in scoring position and Gage goes on to explain part of the Tigers woes by looking at their performance in RISP situations. Along the way he creates a new metric and applies some faulty logic.

Gage notes that the Tigers are the only team in the AL Central with a RISP batting average lower than their overall batting average. Gage then goes on to compare the Tigers to the division leading Twins:

The Tigers are hitting .264 as a team but .251 with RISP. That’s a difference, math majors, of minus 13. The division-leading Twins? After Sunday’s game, they were at plus 46. Their overall batting average was .265, but with RISP, they were hitting .311.

But here’s the kicker, the Tigers have outscored the Twins this year despite the disparity. The Twins have a better record because they are allowing a run a game less than the Tigers, not because they have a better RISP batting average differential.
Continue reading It doesn’t add up

Leyland to make drastic change to lineup

Following last night’s game a frustrated Jim Leyland suggested that he “might shake up the lineup a little bit” for Sunday’s game. He did just that with Sheffield getting the day off and Miguel Cabrera assuming the third spot in the order. But more changes are a-coming starting on Monday. Changes so drastic that Leyland suggested they might be termed drastic.

Now in Jason Beck’s blog he indicated that there wouldn’t be changes in personnel, meaning that Jacque Jones will continue to flail away at the bottom of the order. But aside from that, what could these dramatic changes be?

Shuffling Sheffield, Ordonez, Cabrera, and Guillen would probably be noteworthy, but hardly dramatic. With Pudge Rodriguez and Jones hardly distinguishing themselves at the bottom of the order, it’s not like they would be deserving of a more prominent role. That would probably be more shocking than dramatic. And I have to believe that Placido Polanco is firmly entrenched in the 2-spot.

That leaves me with this thought for the dramatic move. Gary Sheffield to lead-off and Curtis Granderson to the middle of the order. That would certainly count as dramatic, and there would be some logic behind it as well.

Sheffield’s power is lacking. Whether it is age, or injury, or slump he has not been able to drive in runs. But, he hasn’t been totally unproductive with a .340 OBP. He sees a lot of pitches, and when he gets on he’s a smart baserunner. And if you’re wondering if Sheffield has ever hit leadoff before, well he has but only in 10 games. Plus it takes Sheffield out of the 3 hole without significantly disrespecting him.

Meanwhile Curtis Granderson established himself as an extra base machine. The quad-20 trick aside, Granderson gets on base and he does it with power. Plus depending on the sequencing the lefty-righty match-ups in the middle of the order could make things more difficult on opposing managers.

So that’s the move I’m looking for. It would qualify as dramatic and it makes sense. Of course Leyland’s lineups don’t necessarily make sense so maybe Timo Perez will be your new clean-up hitter.

Patience is a virtue and a technique

Early in the season during the time of the great losing, there were numerous complaints about the Tigers approach at the plate. They were going up their swinging early and swinging often. I didn’t totally buy into the theory because the pitches per plate appearance were in line with league norms. But we didn’t know whether or not they were really chasing more pitches. But thanks to the folks at Fangraphs we now have a handle on this information.

Just this week they started to report out stats related to plate discipline. We now know how often players swing at pitches out side of the strike zone (O-Swing%) versus how often they swing at pitches in the zone (Z-Swing%). And how often they make contact with said pitches.

I brought in the Tigers data through April 29th and added the pitches per plate appearance and the percentage of time players swung at the first pitch. These data are found on the individual player pages at Baseball Reference. The results as well as some league norms for a point of reference are below:
Tigers Pitch Watching Abilities

Some things to note:

  • Granderson, Inge, Guilen, Rodriguez and Jones are all seeing more pitches per plate appearance than at any point in their career.
  • Pudge, Polanco, and Sheffield, are all swinging at the first pitch less than they have at any point in their careers – and there are some serious track records to work with. For good measure you can add Thames to the list as well.
  • Inge, Santiago, and Jones rates of swinging at the first pitch are less than half of their career rates at this point.
  • And yes, Pudge is still chasing more than the league norm. But understand that in the last 3 years his O-Swing% were 37%, 38%, and 41% so this is considerable improvement.

The take away is that everybody in the lineup (and even on the bench) is either meeting or exceeding their career levels of patience. And in terms of first pitch swinging there are some significant, significant changes underway. It’s still early in the season and these numbers could certainly, and I’d expect in many cases, to normalize. But if the team has a quick inning here or there or seem to swing at a few too many first pitches or pitches out of the strike zone, know that they’ve still been better than most in this regard.