How Was The Game? (May 27, 2015)

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Unexpected. 

Tigers 3, A’s 2

If you said, “hey, I bet the Tigers bullpen could win an entire game,” entering this season, collect your prize. Alex Wilson and Kyle Ryan combined for a great start to set up the Yoenis Cespedes three run home run in the 5th that proved to be the difference. It got a little dicey as the A’s grabbed a run in the 7th and 8th and threatened in the 9th, but the Tigers held on and secured a series win on a day in which Dixon Machado grabbed his first MLB hit. It wasn’t the cleanest series but the Tigers won twice against a solid team (ignore their record, mostly). They’ll head south to LA to take on the Trouts on Thursday starting with Buck Farmer (2015 Debut).

The Moment: Cespedes turns on one to score three.

How Was The Game? (May 26, 2015)

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Narrow.

Tigers 1, A’s 0

The Tigers got their only run two batters into the game. It was the only run either team would score all night. David Price (10 GS, 66.2 IP, 2.97 ERA, 3.31 FIP) surrendered contact, some of it was hard, but he managed to deliver seven shutout innings of baseball before turning it over to the Joba-Gorz-Soria tandem, including four outs from Joakim Soria. Thankfully, the first 10pm start for the Tigers was a quick affair, courtesy of neither team’s offense really doing very much. Someone, probably Kyle Ryan (2015 Debut) will start Wednesday in place of Simon.

The Moment: Gose scampers around the bases in the first.

All Of The Reasons Not To Panic

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Today felt like the boiling point for a lot of the Tigers’ fan base. The team lost their third straight game. They fell into third place behind the Twins. They hardly got any offense going against Jesse Hahn a day after giving away a game in which they led 7-3. There were double plays. The panic is arriving in #PanicTown.

The Tigers are 15-18 since starting 11-2. They seem to hit into five double plays a game. I get that you’re frustrated and you can feel however you want to feel. But there is no reason to panic. In fact, you should be pretty happy about where the Tigers are for several reasons.

The Tigers are Playing at a 92 Win Pace.

I don’t like to play the on pace game because you always want to include regression to the mean, but the Tigers are playing at a 92 win pace. Most objective projections of their talent level forecasted them in the 85-89 win range. Now granted, no projection is perfect, but those projections expected a healthy Victor Martinez and included a mostly healthy Verlander. The Tigers, by any possible measure of full season win expectation, are ahead of their expected win total. 

There’s more to discuss, but even if you’re pissed off at the way the Tigers have played so far, you can’t rationally blame them for the 15-18 under-performance and not give them credit for the 11-2 over-performance. Baseball is chaotic. Streaks happen. Maybe you haven’t liked what’s happened in the last couple of weeks, but on balance, the team has been more successful than they should have been so far.

The Defense and Bullpen Have Been Strengths

I’ll be the first person to tell you that the bullpen will not be this effective for the next four months, but good bullpen performance and good defense allows you to squeeze a little extra out of your roster because you don’t lose as many 50/50 games. In fact, if you go by UZR, the Tigers are the second best defensive team in baseball so far. By DRS, they’re 8th.

The bullpen’s ERA is good lately, but they’ve also done fine through more advanced metrics like FIP and RE24. In previous seasons, we’ve been complaining that the bullpen and defense would blow games the team should win, but this year, they’re not blowing as many of those games in those ways. Expect some regression to the mean, but the defense is absolutely much better than in years past and that will help them avoid some extra losses.

The Offense is Hitting Very Well

This is the third best offense in baseball, still. It’s the Dodgers, Royals, then the Tigers at 111 wRC+. That’s context neutral. It’s a measure of offense that doesn’t pay attention to the order of the events. In other words, the reason the Tigers aren’t scoring more runs is because they’re not getting their hits in the right order.

Consider this inning. Single, ground out, home run, single, strikeout, fly ball. If that happens, you score one run. Now consider this inning. Single, single, home run, ground out, strikeout, fly ball. If that happens, you get three runs. On average, those outcomes will yield 2.5 to 3 runs in an inning, but sometimes they don’t just because of the order.

In both cases, you hit a home run, two singles, a ground out, a fly out, and a strike out. Identical innings on a per PA basis. But the order matters in terms of how many runs you score. And listen, I know you don’t believe me when I say this, but teams cannot control the order in which those hits occur. You can order your lineup a little better, sure, but basically there is no way to will yourself to get hits with men on base rather than with the bases empty. It’s just not a real thing. The Tigers happen to be hitting their ground outs at horrible moments so far this year.

The great part about this is that it will almost certainly change. Granted, it’s a GIDP kinda club because they’re on base a lot and are sort of slow, but the luck will even out. Pay attention to the overall quality of the bats rather than the random ordering of the outcomes. If they keep hitting like this, they will score more runs.

The Calvary is Coming

Verlander is coming in a couple of weeks. Rondon is coming. Either Victor Martinez will come back or they’ll continue to use a DH who will hit better than the Victor we saw to start the season. I would imagine Sanchez will straighten himself out. Presumably Castellanos will hit better. Of course, Gose and Iglesias will hit worse than this, but the balance of the corrections should help the Tigers a little bit.

The Royals and Twins Aren’t This Good

Even if you’re one of those people who believe in the Royals Magic, if you think they’re a 103 win team you’re being silly. If the Royals win 103 games, there was nothing the Tigers could possibly do about it. Same for the Twins. You can’t control what the other 29 teams do for most of the season and if you’re judging your team based only on how they stack up against the teams that happen to be performing very well at the moment, of course you’re going to be upset.

*****

This happens almost every season. The Tigers are in the midst of a slightly below average stretch of baseball. It happens. The problem with this for most people is that most people don’t realize that every team goes through the same thing. You’re so plugged in to the rhythm of your team that you don’t realize how often other teams go through terrible stretches of baseball. If the Tigers had started 15-18 and then gone 11-2, you would feel super good right now. But those seasons are identical. They’re no different. Same record of performance. You’re weighted the early games less than the most recent ones because you think this week is a better indication of how good the team is than than the last 46 games and that’s just a trick your mind plays on you. The order doesn’t matter.

This is the same team you were excited about on April 20th. Nothing really changed about the outlook of the team, but your mood shifts on a day to day basis. That’s fine when we’re talking about whether you’re happy with any single game. That’s natural. But when you take a step back, there’s no reason to worry more today than you did four weeks ago.

It’s a solid team. They’re doing well this year. There are flaws, but they are not yet under-performing. There is no need to panic even if you really, really want to.

How Was The Game? (May 25, 2015)

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Quiet.

A’s 4, Tigers 0

In general, allowing four runs against the A’s isn’t a particularly poor showing, especially considering the stars aligning for a Billy Butler infield single. The full line doesn’t look great for Shane Greene (10 GS, 59 IP, 4.27 ERA, 3.49 FIP) but he gave the offense a chance to make it a game. Unfortunately, the Tigers bats didn’t get anything going all afternoon. They had two men on just once today and promptly grounded into a double play. You’re never surprised when the bats are quite after a cross-country-flight-day-game combo, but after a couple of hard losses, it might feel a little worse. David Price (9 GS, 59.2 IP, 3.32 ERA, 3.35 FIP) will look to change the tune on Tuesday night.

The Moment: Castellanos makes a find sliding grab in the 3rd.

How Was The Game? (May 24, 2015)

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A roller coaster.

Astros 10, Tigers 8

chart (2)

I think this just about says it all. Anibal Sanchez (10 GS, 60.1 IP, 6.12 ERA, 4.44 FIP) struggled in the first, got back on track, and was then left in until he broke. The bats did their job to rally back, but they couldn’t prevent runs. You’re okay losing a game in which the starter didn’t perform well, but when get yourself to a 7-3 lead in the 6th, you have to wonder if they didn’t give this one away. Shane Greene (9 GS, 53.1 IP, 4.05 ERA, 3.65 FIP) takes the ball out west.

The Moment: Holaday clears the bases in the first.

How Was The Game? (May 23, 2015)

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Deflating. 

Astros 3, Tigers 2

The Tigers and Astros traded 3rd inning runs, and when the Tigers scored on a Jose Altuve error in the 5th, it was looking like the Tigers were on their way to another victory. Then, on a 2-1 pitch, Ian Kinsler grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play, killing a big threat for the Tigers. In the top of the next frame, the Astros punched through for two more runs against Kyle Lobstein (8 GS, 47.2 IP, 4.34 ERA, 4.11 FIP) and Alburquerque, and then handed it off to their bullpen to shut down the Tigers bats. If you’re going to lose a game, you imagine it will be the Lobstein game, but it did feel like the Tigers gave away a big chance on a bit of dumb luck when Kinsler bounced it right to third. They’ll still have a shot to win the series Sunday with Anibal Sanchez (9 GS, 54.2 IP, 5.60 ERA, 4.39 FIP) getting ball.

The Moment: McCann scampers home on a Gose ROE.

How Was The Game? (May 22, 2015)

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A little payback.

Tigers 6, Astros 2

This game was mostly about the third inning. It started with Alfredo Simon (9 GS, 57.1 IP, 2.67 ERA, 3.60 FIP) allowing his first run during a Kinsler error and letting it snowball with a big double to center, but it ended with JD Martinez driving in Iggy and Gose with a dinger to right field a pitch after missing one down the left field line. It was an otherwise snappy affair until the Tigers insured themselves in the 8th with a Cabrera single, Cespedes double/error, Davis infield hit, and McCann single to break it open. McHugh was solid and Simon was as well, but the Tigers have already earned no worse than a split heading into the Kyle Lobstein (7 GS, 42 IP, 4.29 ERA, 4.08 FIP) game on Saturday.

The Moment: JD Martinez goes the other way for a 3-run homer immediately after hooking one foul.

How Was The Game? (May 21, 2015)

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Nicely bookended. 

Tigers 6, Astros 5

If you were trying to cheat on your recap, you were all ready to lead with some Nick Castellanos related observation. After all, his big two run bomb in the 4th seemed like a decisive blow, especially after the club added on in the 4th, but the story was rewritten as the afternoon progressed. The Tigers were up 5-0 entering the 7th when the Astros started to get to David Price (9 GS, 59.2 IP, 3.32 ERA, 3.33 FIP), who struck out 12 in 6.2 innings while allowing 3 runs in his final frame. Price was sharp early and just lost it a bit at the end, but his bullpen didn’t help him out, allowing one of his runs to score and plating two of their own to send it into extra innings. When the 11th inning came it was James McCann who sent everyone home happy, walking off for the first time and also clearing the fence for the first time as well. The win is the club’s second straight and they’ll try to make it three Friday night with Alfredo Simon (8 GS, 50.1 IP, 3.04 ERA, 3.80 FIP) on the mound.

The Moment: McCann walks off!

How Was The Game? (May 20, 2015)

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Late blooming. 

Tigers 5, Brewers 2

For most of the evening, it looked like we were in for another night lamenting the not-quite-there Tigers offense. Over the first 7 innings, the teams traded runs on two occasions, allowing Shane Greene (9 GS, 53.1 IP, 4.05 ERA, 3.66 FIP) to look good over 6.1 innings, preventing the Tigers from controlling the game. With two outs in the 8th, Martinez and Cespedes walked, Collins singled, and Castellanos came to the plate in the definition of a high leverage situation. He fouled off a pair of two strike pitches before punching one down in the right field corner behind Parra to clear the bases and give the Tigers a path to victory. Soria allowed a double to start the 9th, but gathered himself to get the final three outs and spare the club a sweep. David Price (8 GS, 53 IP, 3.40 ERA, 3.76 FIP) is in line to face the Astros on Thursday.

The Moment: Castellanos sends one into the corner for a bases-clearing triple.

Does Sparky’s 40 Game Rule Actually Work?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Through 40 games, the Tigers have a .575 winning percentage. That’s a 93 win pace. If you go by the projections, they’re on an 88 win pace including the wins they’ve already bagged. There’s so much that can happen between now and the end of the season, like injuries to key players and significant trades. For now, they’re playing like a good team and they probably are one. They’re short of great, but plenty good.

 

They’re 3rd in baseball with a 111 wRC+ and they’ve been average or a little better depending on how you like to measure pitching. But Sparky said he knew what type of team he had after 40 games and that’s where we are right now. Based on what we’ve seen, the Tigers have flaws but they are certainly contenders.

But before we go, was Sparky right? Can you tell what kind of team you have after 40 games? Let’s look back at the 114 year history of the Tigers.

image

It’s an R^2 of .50, if you’re into that kind of thing (and if you are willing to assume linearity). Basically, you an explain about half of a team’s won-loss record by their first 40 games. If it had no bearing on their future won-loss record, that R^2 would be closer to .25 because 40 games is about one quarter of a season. If you correlate the first 40 with the rest of the season, you get an R^2 of about .22.

In other words, the first 40 games are a decent proxy, but nothing is carved in stone.

 

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