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.
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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)

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.

Daily Linking – 9/19/08

Links of note, or stuff I find interesting, or stuff I think you might find interesting

Time to fold ’em

Kenny Rogers career as a Tiger appears to be over. Jim Leyland announced that Rogers will be shut down for the rest of the season.

Rogers has been getting hammered with regularity, and it looks like this is the end of the line. The move will cost Rogers $250K to $750K in incentives, but given his recent performance I don’t think that played a large role.

While Rogers won’t be making anymore starts, it would be nice if he could be brought into a game for a batter during the final weekend so the fans could say thanks for 2006.

Rotational Flux

The Tigers are going to be mixing and matching down the stretch it appears. Kenny Rogers will miss his next start. This is due to hip pain that is believed to be rendering him completely ineffective. (Yes, the old guy has a bad hip. The jokes seem to easy to make, but too easy to ignore also.)

In his place will likely be Nate Robertson. I think it’s a safe assumption that this has more to do with needing a starter than Robertson pushing his way back.

Also, it looks like Dontrelle Willis may get a start. Willis and Freddy Garcia will pitch against each other in another simulated game on Tuesday, and the decision will probably be made at that point.

If Willis is healthy and the mechanical tweaks are in place, then by all means start him. I know it would be nice to wait until everything is perfect, but Willis needs to be in game situations, and at this point it won’t cost the Tigers anything. But the key is if he’s healthy.

Between the knee and more recently the forearm, you have to question if Willis has been healthy at any point this year. Sending an injured pitcher out there to see what you’ve got doesn’t help anyone.

Daily Linking – 8/26

Links of note, or stuff I find interesting, or stuff I think you might find interesting

An old dog teaching himself a new trick

Kenny Rogers was pitching a mighty fine game on Friday when he decided he needed a little something different. So he “invented” a cutter during the game.

“It keeps guys a little honest,” said Rogers, who ran into trouble in the eighth, allowing a walk, a hit-batsman, and a two-run double to Jose Lopez . “I just didn’t use it in the eighth. “But it’s a pitch I can throw inside to righties. It makes the plate that much wider.”

I find this pretty remarkable on a couple fronts. First that he tries out a new pitch in a game and is able to command it and be successful with it. Second, and more surprising, is that he hasn’t tried it out in the past. For a guy that hasn’t been relying on “stuff” for quite some time and has been looking for every edge he can get (insert pine tar joke here) I can’t believe he wouldn’t already have it in the arsenal if he could command it.

Shuffling the deck and rehab news

A cornucopia of Tigers news that has come out today. Jim Leyland is prepared to make some changes, even if it means hurting some feelings. The skip says:

“So I’m going to change some things around here and see what happens. I think that’s important. As I said, I don’t know if it’s going to work. I don’t know if it’s going to make people angry, but that’s the way it goes.

“I don’t mean for this to sound negative, I don’t mean it that way, but this isn’t about feelings. It’s beyond worrying about egos. This is about doing the job. I’m going to try some stuff.

“We have a great group of guys and I think they’ll understand. They might not agree with it, but the manager has to do what he thinks is best for the team. If this team is what I think it is, they’ll go along with it.

“We have to get it rolling somehow,” Leyland said. “I’m not really a 40-game guy, or a June 1 guy, but you can’t just sit there when it’s not working.

“My general manager has given me a hell of a team here. I haven’t really coached it to the right flow. But I’m not going to sit still. I don’t want to be patient to a fault.”

One thing you can’t accuse Leyland of this season is being complacent. He’s shuffling batting orders, moving people aroudn the diamond defensively, giving pitchers different roles in the pen. The hope is that something sticks. Some of the moves coming out are:

Miggy drops to 6th

Jim Leyland dropped Miguel Cabrera to the sixth spot in the lineup. I have to believe that this move is more psychological that strategic. Let me rephrase that. I believe that the implications of this move will be more psychological than strategic.

Lineup configuration has a pretty limited impact on run scoring. Cabrera hasn’t put up his typical numbers, but has still been an offensive force. He has struggled with RISP to the tune of a 639 OPS. If there is a thought that he’s pressing, perhaps moving him down will take pressure off of him to drive in runs. I don’t really believe any of that and chalk it up more to sample size issues. I’m somewhat supported in this because he has a .903 OPS with men on.

Still odd that Cabrera is productive and gets moved from 5th to 6th while Sheffield was allowed to flounder at the 3 spot.

Rotation flip-flop

With the off day yesterday Leyland is flipping Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers in the rotation. I’m guessing the move is 2-fold. First, Rogers struggled a little in his last start against the M’s. He allowed 8 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs in 5.1 innings on May 21st. Second, Rogers is a Cy Young pitcher in Oakland. In 45 career starts he is 25-4 with a 3.46 ERA.

Supposedly there is another move coming with the pitching staff.

Rodney and Zumaya news

The news out of Lakeland is encouraging for Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Both will be embarking on rehab assignments soon. Rodney is likely heading to Toledo while Zumaya will stay in Lakeland to start.

I’d guess that Rodney is probably a week or two away if he is heading to the Mud Hens. But given his problems last year and this year, I’d still be surprised if he made it through the rest of the season.

Regardless, barring setbacks both would be joining the Tigers within a month or so because a rehab assignment can only last 30 days.

Game 7: Tigers at Red Sox

PREGAME: We’ll see if it is the home whites that were the problem for the Tigers as they embark on their first road trip of the season. They’re taking on the Red Sox who have already played in 3 countries and on 2 continents this season.

In addition to a 6 game losing streak the Tigers also will be dealing with a ring ceremony and a lot of hoopla. Edgar Renteria will bat lead off as Jim Leyland returns to the opening day lineup. Renteria and Boston don’t really mix so this should be interesting.

On the mound today will be Kenny Rogers and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Rogers was solid his last time out allowing just 2 runs in 6 innings but was out dueled by Brian Bannister. Matsuzaka is making his 3rd start of the year and has a 2.31 ERA with 15 K’s in 11.2 innings.

Game Time 2:05

DET @ BOS, Tuesday, April 8, 2008 Game Preview – Baseball-Reference.com

POSTGAME: Go ahead. Panic. Do whatever you have to do. I feel sick. I have nothing encouraging to say. Just more of the same.

Game 2: Royals at Tigers

PREGAME: It’s another afternoon tilt for these two teams. For the Tigers it will be Kenny Rogers making his season debut. Last year Rogers battled a blood clot, and later some elbow soreness before finishing the season strong for the Tigers. In 5 September starts he posted a 3.56 ERA, but with an uncharacteristically high 13 walks and 3 homers in 30 innings.

For the Royals it will be Brian Bannister. During the offseason he did a Q & A with MLB Trade Rumors and talked about facing the Tigers (this is just a portion of his response, click through for the full answer):

I think the most important thing when preparing to face a lineup of this caliber is to be realistic and to recognize how they have been playing recently, because confidence level is everything with a good offense. If you look at good lineups, they tend to be extremely streaky, but their cold streaks will be much shorter than their hot streaks over the course of a season. During the hot streaks, teams and opposing pitchers tend to be intimidated by their offensive prowess, and games can be blowouts. In contrast, during the cold streaks they can seem to be a totally different team because they have very high expectations placed on them by the fans and media, and when they’re struggling, it tends to snowball.

Last year Bannister was a much tougher pitcher on the road, posting a .598 OPS against as opposed to .828 at Kauffman Stadium.

Game time 1:05

POSTGAME:
Not exactly the kind of start that we’re looking for here in Detroit. I’ve gotta be honest, I was at work and didn’t see the game. Just listened in to the call, but I didn’t come away happy regardless. Most of the Tigers bloggers have done their wraps and said their pieces and I’ll trust their judgment. At least Rogers had a solid outing. He breezed through the 2nd and 3rd innings before needing some extra pitches and falling behind in the count. Still, he did his job. Zach Miner showed promise, but ultimately surrendered two runs.

I’m disappointed, but not at all worried. And just responding to some of the things said in the comments (and I don’t mean this as an attack on anyone, so don’t take it personally if I happen to disagree):

  • I’m surprised to see so many of you think tomorrow’s game is a lost cause. Yes, Zach Grienke is good but the Tigers did knock him out in the first inning in a game at Comerica last year. And yes, Jeremy Bonderman finished the year horribly in 2007, but he’s been known to be pretty good to. Let it play out before waving the white flag.
  • Yes, the offense is better with Curtis Granderson in it, but I don’t think that was the problem today. Nobody hit (except Renteria). I don’t think Granderson makes that much of a difference in a game where Polanco, Ordonez, Sheffield, Guillen, Cabrera… couldn’t even muster solid contact. Give some credit to Brian Bannister.
  • In terms of the Tigers patience, the Tigers made Bannister throw 3.86 pitches per batter. That’s actually a hair above average. Bannister appeared so efficient because he didn’t allow baserunners, and he got two double plays. Granted, tell me if I’m wrong, but it seemed that Bannister was mostly throwing strikes. There’s only so much taking you can do in that situation. Also, Jim and Dan mentioned a couple occasions where Tigers hitters missed on very hittable pitches.
  • Jacque Jones has had 2 bad games. I’m not expecting huge things from Jones, but I do expect he won’t go all season without getting the ball out of the infield. I think it’s a little early for a whipping boy, but I am anxious for the Tigers to face a southpaw.

Rogers, Rumors, and the Winter Meetings

The Winter Meetings kicked off today. My fellow bloggers have already commented on how it will be a fairly quiet meetings for the Tigers. That’s what happens when you fill your biggest needs within a couple weeks of the end of the season.

Still, I don’t think the Tigers are done this offseason. While I don’t expect big moves from Detroit during the Winter Meetings, there is still work to be done. The Tigers still have a number of players to tender contracts to. There are currently only 16 members of the team who are signed, and likely to be on the 25 man roster. At least two of those players could be in for a substantial payday.

Curtis Granderson is entering his last year of indentured servitude. The Tigers could sign him for half a million and be done with it. However, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a 5 year deal which would buy him out of his arbitration years and first year of free agency. That would gain the team cost certainty through 2012 which also coincide with the years where he figures to be in his prime.
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