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.

Tigers have nocturnal bats

With this afternoon’s loss to the Blue Jays the Tigers record in day games now stands at a remarkable 0-10. A quick check of the splits reveals that the Tigers have been outscored 57 to 18 in day games. Yes, the offense has mustered less than 2 runs a game before the sun sets.

After dusk the Tigers are 6-3 and have scored 59 runs while allowing 60. So the pitching has been pretty inadequate no matter what time it is. The differences in offense however are dramatic to say the least. The following numbers aren’t inclusive of the Sunday tilt:
Tigers can\'t hit during the day
Continue reading Tigers have nocturnal bats

Carlos Guillen appreciation time

There has been great consternation about the Tigers offense over these first few weeks, and rightly so. With things starting to take off, I wanted to step back and recognize the start that Guillen has put together.

How many times have we heard during the complaints about the offense that Clete Thomas and Brandon Inge were the only Tigers hitting? And then we’d laugh at how pathetic it was. Yet all the while Guillen was producing. And not just doing okay, he was terrific.

Going into Wednesday night’s game Guillen had a .372 batting average – 5th in the AL. He had a .698 slugging percentage which was second in the AL. And he was the owner of a .481 OBP which was good enough for 3rd. He ranked second in OPS to only AJ Pierzynski. And he did the bulk of the damage with one leg. He’s managed to hit 5 doubles without being able to run. When there was frustration with the team rushing at-bats it was Guillen who was seeing over 4 pitches per plate appearance.

Yet those accomplishments went largely unnoticed. Maybe it was because he didn’t have gaudy RBI totals, or maybe it was the rather normal home run total. Or maybe he just hadn’t been clutch enough, despite hitting that game tying homer on Opening Day. Yet one of the 2 or 3 best offensive performers in the league was largely unnoticed even by his own fan base.

With the offense starting to roll and Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez finding their groove they will deservedly get the bulk of the attention. But when no one else was producing Guillen was carrying the load.

2008 American League Expanded Leaderboards – Baseball-Reference.com

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 ESPN.com

Junkballing: Cuts like a knife

With spring training winding down, things are getting ironed out throughout the organization. For some players their dreams may be coming true, while others receive a sobering wake-up call.

Minor issues

My blogging brethren has done the heavy lifting on this, but there are a number of cuts and roster machinations taking place. (As an aside it’s amazing to me the number of sources to turn to for information on the Tigers minor leagues. And all of these blogs are well informed and authored by logical, thoughtful folks. Tremendous resources one and all) The Lakeland Flying Tigers blog I believe was the first to report that Jeff Frazier, the player the Tigers sent to Seattle for Yorman Bazardo, is now back in the organization. Detroit Tigers Thoughts and Take 75 North both examine the Erie and Toledo roster implications of the signing, as well as the additional cuts that came down today (Jason Perry, Colin Mahoney, Eleazar Aponte, Chris Homer, Chris Maples among others).

DTT also notes that Randor Bierd, the reliever the Tigers lost in the Rule 5 Draft, has made the Orioles roster.

Also of note, Mike Hessman was outrighted to Toledo today. By my count, the Tigers only have 35 players on their 40 man roster meaning they have quite a bit of flexibility going into the season – and few high level prospects ready to contribute.

What a Fien

LFT Blog is also hearing that Casey Fien has made the roster. While Fien has made an impression on Leyland, this one would really surprise me. I’m not saying LFT is wrong, but it’s just surprising news. If he has made it, I’d assume it is at the expense of Aquilino Lopez. Lopez is only a minor league contract, so there are no implications for him not making the team. The other strong bullpen candidate is Yorman Bazardo who stands a high likelihood of being claimed when the club would have to place him through waivers to remove him from the 40 man roster.

In case Fien makes the team, Detroit Tiger Tales has a profile already put together.

UPDATE: Moments after publishing this post, the Tigers announced that the last two bullpen spots would go to Lopez and Bazardo.

More links

  • View from the other side: Ian was interviewed by Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. It’s a great read and actually part of a 2-way interview as Ian interviewed Sam as well. Check out both interviews.
  • Changes coming to MLB Gameday: I love the Gameday app and it appears to be getting even better. The one piece missing from the pitch f/x element was pitch identification. The new version has it. Tonight’s Tigers game was played in Houston, and it used the new system. It looks like they’ve done a nice job, and there are still more changes to come.
  • Consolo passes: Long time Sparky Anderson assistant coach Billy Consolo passed away due to an apparent heart attack.

Junkballing: Baserunning, blocking, projections

Some of my Tiger blogging brethren have clever names for their link round up posts, like Bless You Boys “Like Stripes on the fur coat of a Tiger” or Mack Avenue Tigers “Bunt Singles” or Roar of the Tigers “Pug Marks.” Here’s my foray and we’ll call it Junkballing: Continue reading Junkballing: Baserunning, blocking, projections

Consistency is good

Lee Panas at Detroit Tiger Tales consistently produces interesting analysis.  Now he’s working on a study about consistency.  Fans love guys who they perceive as consistent performers, and tend to get infuriated with streak hitters (at least during the cold streaks).  It turns out that the fans are on to something as Lee found that consistent players have better results. 

But…there’s always a but.

He also found in his study, which is admittedly limited in that it looks at just 2006 and 2007 at this point, that consistency wasn’t particularly repeatable.

So, it does look as if performance is tied to consistency even though consistency is not repeatable from year to year. That is, consistency describes something about a player’s season more than it describes a player. If a player has an inconsistent season by the consistency statistic, that might be an indicator that he was injured or had some unusually bad luck which prevented him from hitting his best all year long. It also might mean that he’s a candidate to improve in the following season.

I encourage you to click through and read more about his methodology.

Tiger Tales: A Detroit Tigers Blog

One more post on Comerica’s outfield

There are a few items that didn’t fit into the other posts about the outfield park factors that I wanted to wrap up.

First I wanted to acknowledge some other work that was done. Chone calculated outfield park factors in the fall of 2006. I either missed this or completely forgot having seen it.

Also, Dan Fox continues to post about simple fielding runs and has now calculated the metric for the outfielders, which include outfield park factors. What I found surprising in Dan’s work is that using SFR Curtis Granderson ranks below average. It’s the first defensive metric I’ve seen that has him ranking poorly. Comerica’s outfield park factors that show fewer balls dropping in, adjusts his SFR downward because in some respects Comerica’s centerfield is a little easier to play.

A more detailed look at Comerica

When I was doing the other park factors, I was doing it at a broader level. Fox was breaking it down by hit type and batter handedness. I had pulled back that data as well and thought it was worth looking at a more granular view. The table below reflects Comerica Park’s park factors for the last 4 seasons.

Comerica Park Outfield Park Factor

Lee commented in the original post that he was curious to see what would happen with line drives because Comerica Park has a reputation as being great for line drive gap hitters. This seems to hold true for lefties who see more balls than normal drop into the corner outfield spots. But for right handers the opposite is true.

Meanwhile right handed hitters are best served to drive the ball to centerfield which is the only field that is favorable for them.

I find it interesting that fly balls to center rank so well for righties while they rank poorly for lefties. I wonder if this is a case of positioning and that perhaps the fielders are over shifting. It’s also worth reiterating at this point though that we don’t really know where the balls are being hit using this data. We just know who ultimately fielded the ball.

Outfield Park Factors part 2

Earlier in the week, I questioned the widely held belief of whether with an outfield like Comerica Park’s the Tigers should have 2 centerfielder-types to man the large left and center fields. Using park factors and looking at the rate at which balls in the air drop in for hits, we saw that fewer balls drop in in left and center at Comerica Park, while more tend to fall in right field. Now we’ll take a look at what happens when the balls do drop in.

Again I will turn to park factors. And again I will borrow from Dan Fox and use a metric that is total bases per baserunner. And like the previous analysis, I focused on balls in the air.

The tables below represent the park factors for each of the areas of the outfield, as well as an overall rate. (click the chart for a larger image)
Outfield Park Factors Extra Bases

Here’s where the Comerica Park we know and love comes out. There is more extra base goodness in Comerica Park’s center field than any other stadium, and not surprisingly it comes in the form of triples. Over the last 4 years 8.7% of all triples hit to center field in the Majors have come in Detroit. Here is the distribution of hit type on balls fielded by the center fielder:

	1B	2B	3B
MLB	68%	28%	5%
DET	63%	25%	13%

If the ball gets to the wall, only the slowest of the slow runners aren’t going to end up with a triple. While it’s not surprising to see doubles turned into triples, it is a little surprising to see so many singles turned into triples. It must be a function of the fact that centerfielders play relatively shallow cutting off many would be singles which does correspond with the earlier data where fewer balls drop into center field at Comerica.

But back to the original question about the difficulty of playing left field in Detroit, the data just doesn’t bare that out. Fewer balls drop for hits, and there are fewer bases per baserunner in left field. In right field we see a few more balls dropping for hits, but it is one of the toughest fields to get extra bases. Perhaps the right fielders are playing too deep?

While having multiple outfielders with above average speed and range is never a bad thing – especially in larger parks of which Comerica Park definitely ranks – there isn’t anything about Comerica’s left field that makes it any more necessary than in any other stadium. While the argument for “2 centerfielders” can certainly be made, it really only looks like it would help if they were both manning center at the same time.

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at www.retrosheet.org

Comerica Park’s outfield is so big…

“How big is it?”

You need 3 center fielders to cover all the ground out there

Okay, as a joke it’s awful, but it is a common statement amongst Tigers fans. At the very least the belief is that multiple center fielder type players are required to man left and center fields. When you look at the massive expanse of green, it certainly seems believable. But when I go through the game rolodex in my head, I don’t recall an inordinate number of balls landing in the left-center gap. Center field is a massive piece of real estate, but since the ball park was reconfigured left field seems quite manageable. Does Comerica really play as big as it’s reputation in left and center fields?
Continue reading Comerica Park’s outfield is so big…

The Tigers Defense – What are the Odds?

Over the last month or so, David Pinto has released the majority of his studies using his probabilistic model of range (PMR). Today we’ll delve into the Tigers defense using this advanced metric.

I’ve explained PMR in the past, but a refresher is probably worthwhile. The PMR model uses data play by play data collected by Baseball Info Solutions. Pinto uses 3 years of this data to find out the probability that a batted ball will be converted into an out. In doing this he accounts for the handedness of the batter and pitcher, the type of hit (grounder, fly, etc), how hard the ball was hit, and the direction the ball was hit. The beauty of the system is that it provides context to the data. Players who have harder to field opportunities get credit it for it. It also removes the subjectivity of an official scorers decision.

What the system doesn’t do is account for throwing ability for outfielders. So a Jacque Jones upgrade in range would be lessened by a weak throwing arm.

On to the data. The first table shows how the Tigers fared by position.

Position In play Plays Exp Plays DER Exp DER Rate Runs
Pitcher 4486 167 159.73 0.037 0.036 104.55 5.5
First Base 4486 296 310.16 0.066 0.069 95.44 -10.7
Second Base 4486 505 494.43 0.113 0.11 102.14 8.0
Shortstop 4486 517 536.95 0.115 0.12 96.28 -15.0
Third Base 4486 446 426.09 0.099 0.095 104.67 15.9
Left Field 4486 327 331.6 0.073 0.074 98.61 -3.8
Centerfield 4486 468 445.78 0.104 0.099 104.98 23.0
Right Field 4486 318 319.88 0.071 0.071 99.41 -1.6

Continue reading The Tigers Defense – What are the Odds?

Bill James Handbook fun

Last week one of my favorite publications showed up on my doorstep – The Bill James Handbook. This year’s version doesn’t disappoint. I’ve already dropped references to +/- fielding metrics which are an important reference point for evaluating defense. The usual assortment of win shares, park factors, player stats, and projections are also available. There is also a section on baserunning (the Tigers ranked 6th overall and had the highest percentage of their baserunners score). But my favorite part of the book are the leader boards which feature the top 10 in a number of obscure categories.

I won’t hit everything on the leaderboards, a lot of it is obvious (like Granderson and Ordonez being really good). Plus I don’t want to publish too much content because you should still have some incentive to buy the book. But as a teaser:

Hitting Stats

  • Magglio Ordonez slugged .713 against southpaws which far and away led the league (Frank Thomas was second at .613). Meanwhile Granderson and Ordonez placed 4th and 5th in slugging against righties.
  • Hard to believe it, but Brandon Inge had the 9th best batting average against lefties and the 10th best OBP at .419.
  • Granderson had the highest stolen base success rate and Carlos Guillen had the second lowest. But Guillen had the 8th most steals of 3rd base with 5.
  • Brandon Inge ranked 8th in pitches per plate appearance, and was 5th worst when putting pitches outside of the strikezone in play.
  • The Tigers had 3 of the 6 best first halves in terms of OPS with Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, and Carlos Guillen raking early in the season.
  • Ordonez swung at the first pitch 39.6% of the time which was 5th highest last year. Guillen ranked 9th. Curtis Granderson swung at the first pitch 13.6% which was the 5th lowest rate and Sheffield ranked 9th.

Pitching

  • Justin Verlander ranked 10th in terms of percentage of pitches in the strike zone. He ranked 2nd in terms of pitches thrown faster than 95mph and his 94.8 average fastball was 3rd fastest. But he also threw change ups at the 5th highest rate and curve balls at the 9th highest rate.
  • Jeremy Bonderman threw sliders 34.5% of the time which ranked first. Nate Robertson was 2nd at 22.6%.
  • Even with Joel Zumaya’s injuries and decreased velocity when he came back, he still led the league in 100mph fastballs with 30 and Verlander ranked 2nd with 17.
  • Hitters only posted a .502 OPS against Chad Durbin’s slider, the 3rd best rate in the AL.
  • Only 14.3% of the baserunners that Bobby Seay inherited scored, which was also 3rd best.
  • Nate Robertson sported the 5th slowest average fastball.