Monthly Archives: October, 2012

Trade Grade: Royals Nab Santana

The Royals really like buying low on starting pitching and they did it again today. Ervin Santana joins the AL Central as Kansas City sends minor league lefty Brandon Sisk the other way to the Angels.

Santana had a very poor season in 2012 and is owed $13 million in 2013, but the Royals were willing to gamble to improve their pitching staff in hopes of becoming a relevant baseball team in one of the weaker divisions in the sport.

He posted a -0.9 WAR this season to go along with his 5.16 ERA and 5.63 FIP. In 2010 and 2011 he was above 2.0 WAR and had ERAs under 4.00 to pair with his very strong 5.8 WAR in 2008.

Santana’s had four 200+ inning seasons in his career and is entering his age 30 season. While I certainly wouldn’t offer him a long term deal, a one year contract is of pretty low risk for someone who can bring some upside and has no-hit stuff when he’s right.

From a player for player standpoint, the risk was worth taking, the real question is if $13 million is worth it for someone coming off such a bad season. Obviously the Royals think 2012 was an outlier and the real Santana is more like the 2010 and 2011 versions. The Angels take the other side.

It’s hard to imagine that this is the best way to spend $13 million this offseason for a club that needs multiple starters to really explode onto the scene, but if they are willing to expand the payroll it’s a risk worth taking.

Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, Felipe Paulino, and Danny Duffy are the other four members of the Royals projected rotation at this point, but Chris Volstad and others will enter spring training with their sights on a spot.

Dayton Moore and the rest of the Royals front office needed to target starting pitching this offseason given that their top two pitchers by WAR both came out of the bullpen in 2012. Santana is a risk worth taking if they’re going to increase payroll. If they’re allocating most of their offseason budget on Santana, however, I’d give them a failing grade.

On the Angels side, they got a live body for a player they didn’t want anymore, so you can’t really complain. They’ll likely use some of that Santana cash to bid heavily on Zach Greinke.

Free Agency starts Saturday, so stay tuned for updates.


Leyland’s Back in 2013, Dombrowski Meets the Press

The Tigers made news today by announcing Jim Leyland and his coaching staff will return in 2013. Additionally, Dave Dombrowski met the press to talk about the 2013 roster.

Let’s start with Leyland. Some Tigers’ fans have been calling for Leyland’s job this season in frustration with his lineup choices among other things. I, however, maintain that this was a good choice for the 2013 Tigers.

Managers have control over certain aspects of a team, so let’s evaluate Leyland point by point. First, managers set the lineup and make on field personnel choices. Fans take exception with Leyland in this department, but I’ll defend him on two points. One, lineup order matters very little. If you put the right 9 guys on the field, over the course of a season, it doesn’t matter than much where they hit. Two, no one, not even fans use ideal lineups. The game is too set in its ways for that. Want to see the Tigers ideal lineup based on their production (based on who got the most ABs this year)?

With Boesch:

Fielder, Dirks, Peralta, Cabrera, Jackson, Infante, Young, Boesch, Avila

With Berry:

Fielder, Dirks, Avila, Cabrera, Jackson, Young, Peralta, Infante, Berry

Not what you expected, right? Basically the commentary here is that no one would do it much better, so who cares. As for who he puts on the field, he can only work with what he’s given. Dombrowski makes the roster, Leyland just puts them on paper.

How about his management of the pitching staff? As far as the starters go, Leyland’s pretty good. He doesn’t usually leave guys in too long, but also doesn’t have too quick a hook. His bullpen management is problematic at times, but most managers struggle there. He insists on using his closer only in save situations too often and only for one inning at a time (more on bullpen usage later this winter).

His in-game strategy bothers me at times. He brings the infield in too often (you should only do it in the 9th inning and never if there’s a runner on second unless the game ending run is on third) and bunts far too often. But even these mistakes are pretty common and it’s not really holding the club back.

On the field, he’s not a tremendous skipper, but he’s not really costing them a lot of games. However, in the clubhouse, he’s widely respected. The players love him and there has almost never been a clubhouse spat during his tenure. All told, I think the quality environment he brings to the organization outweighs the potential negatives of his on field strategy because the Tigers are not a club that would push the boundaries with a new school manager who would actually correct the problems I’ve laid out.

As for the Dombrowski presser, we learned a few things we expected. Valverde and Young will not be back. Peralta and Dotel had their options exercised. The Tigers intend to pursue Anibal Sanchez in free agency and will make the 5th spot Smyly’s to lose if they fail.

They’ll go with an in house candidate to replace Valverde and will not spend heavily in the bullpen, but will add pieces if they can. Corner outfield will be a target to hold down the fort until Castellanos and Garcia are ready for the show. Dirks will be a fourth outfielder or better and Berry will get a shot to compete for a job.

Infante and Martinez should be ready for Opening Day.

So the roster will look like this:

C – Avila

1B – Fielder

2B – Infante

SS – Peralta

3B – Cabrera

LF – Dirks

CF – Jackson

RF – (TBA)

DH – Martinez

Bench – Santiago, backup catcher, TBA, TBA

Starting Rotation – Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, Sanchez/Smyly/other

Bullpen – Benoit, Dotel, Coke, Alburquerque, Villarreal, TBA, TBA.


The obvious places for offseason activity are corner outfield, bullpen help, some bench help, and maybe the #5 starter. They’ll pay some of their arbitration eligible players more money and will talk extension with some. All in all, the core is in place.

It will be a mostly quiet offseason in Detroit, but we said that last year. Stay tuned for full coverage, but my key offseason target this winter for the Tigers is Torii Hunter. He’ll play a quality RF, hit well, and can mentor Jackson.

The Tigers head into the offseason looking to win it all in 2013 after a runner up performance in 2012.

SABR Toothed Tigers will have full coverage every time news breaks and will provide plenty of analysis for all of the Hot Stove dealings this winter. 153 days til Opening Day.

Perspective After a Tough Series

With a Sergio Romo fastball down the middle and with the bat in Miguel Cabrera’s hands, the 2012 MLB season came to a close last night, ending 29 teams’ hopes at a championship and making the San Francisco Giants and their fans very happy.

First off, congratulations to the Giants. They had a great year and played well in October. Well-earned title for a city that loves its team.

For Tigers fans like myself, hold your heads up high. You might have a bad taste in your mouths after a rough series, but allow me to remind you the Tigers had a successful season. I’ve heard a lot of negative talk about the team in the last day or so from national and local personalities, but they are wrong. The Tigers should be proud, but not satisfied.

It’s easy to put too much focus of the World Series because it’s the biggest stage, but any team can slump. The offense only scored six runs in four games, but the pitching (short of Verlander) was great.

The Tigers swept the AL’s best team (by record) in the ALCS and beat the AL’s best story in the ALDS. This was a good season. Big changes are not necessary. The World Series is a small sample. Victor Martinez is coming back. Young players will improve. Other could bounce back. Relax and look back with fondness.

So some parting thoughts on the 2012 Tigers (full 2012 recaps of all 30 teams to come).

The Tigers have a starting rotation worthy of envy. Verlander is the game’s best. Fister is quietly becoming a top 25 starter. Scherzer is somewhat inconsistent but showed some serious improvement this season and has always had take-over-a-game stuff. I’m still a huge believer in Rick Porcello as well. He’s a groundballer with a poor defense so some of his numbers are inflated, but the guy has never been hurt and has four major league seasons under his belt at 23 (23!!!). He’s still three or four years south of his peak. Smyly showed he can easily be a #5 starter in the show this year and could maybe even be more. All of these guys are under team control for at least two more seasons. Not bad, even if they don’t resign Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers will return baseball’s best staff by WAR.

Cabrera and Fielder are a great middle of the order and will be for years to come. Next year, they’ll get backup from Victor Martinez. Jackson took a big step forward this season. Dirks looks like a fourth outfielder or better. Infante can certainly hold down 2B.

Avila, despite what you might think, is actually a very good catcher. He’s a gold glove finalist this year and his OBP was great even if his batting average wasn’t. (Hint: Walks count as much as singles!) The power was down a little, but he had some injuries and still has a year or two til his peak age.

Peralta is also a pretty solid MLB SS. He’s solid on defense (advanced metrics love him), even if he’s unremarkable. At the plate he’s been up and down but is certainly capable of getting hits at the bottom of your lineup.

That only leaves a corner outfield spot and some bullpen spots open for next year. A lot of teams would kill to be in this position.

Refine the bullpen. Sign Torii Hunter. Get back to the playoffs. That’s my simple recommendation if you’re looking toward the next step.

This is a well-built team if you don’t care about defense. But if Dirks and (hopefully) Hunter are manning the corners next season, things get a lot better.

Don’t let anyone get you down. The Tigers have a wide open window toward a title in the near future. In fact, in the first round of World Series odds out today, the Tigers are the favorite to win in 2013.

2012 is over and I’m sad to see it go, but 2013 could be just as bright or brighter. 154 days until Opening Day.

Let’s start counting.

Every Game Could Be the Last One, But Hopefully Not

Every day could be the last day. That’s a sad realization. The Tigers trail the Giants 3-0 in the World Series and every game could be the game the Tigers get eliminated and the baseball season ends.

We’re down to the final few days, win or lose.

Based on the math we did yesterday, the Tigers have somewhere between a 3% and 9% chance of coming back to win it all. Those odds aren’t great, but as an Econ professor once told me, “That’s not like walking outside and getting hit by an asteroid.”

It’s been a fun season despite the frustrations. Even if it ends tonight, it was a great run. I know people will be upset about how the offense performed in the World Series, but 28 other teams are playing golf right now. The Tigers won the AL Central. They won the AL pennant.

It’s hard not to call that a successful season. Let’s not forget the team should be as good or better next season. Victor Martinez will be back. Fister should be healthy. Smyly will be a year older.

Avila, who actually had a better year than you think, should find his power stroke again. The Tigers will likely add a corner outfielder.

The window for a title is still open. Don’t worry if they can’t make it happen this year.

I’m pretty sure it was John Elway who coined this originally, but I remember my Dad saying it to me when my fourth grade baseball team lost the championship game. “Only two teams got to be here today, and we were one of them.

So I hope today isn’t the last day of the season. I’m hoping for four game win streak. I’m at least hoping to send the series back to San Francisco. But it was a successful season, no matter how it ends.

The most fun you can have is watching your baseball team win the World Series. The second most fun you can have is watching your baseball team lose the World Series.

I’ll take it and let’s make it last a little bit longer.

Goofy Leaderboards: Pace

I have a new favorite stat. Well, it’s not really a stat as much as it is a device most people wear on their wrists.

Pace” is how Fangraphs labels it. It’s the average amount of time a batter or pitcher spends between pitchers. I love this because I value quick workers. I love how fast Fister works and hitters who DON’T STEP OUT BETWEEN EVERY PITCH!

You can tell I feel strongly. Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Position Players – Slowest (among qualifiers)

1. Carlos Pena, 28.0 average seconds between pitches

2. Hanley Ramirez, 26.7

3. Robinson Cano, 26.6

4. Brandon Phillips, 26.3

5. Derek Jeter, 25.0

6. Brennan Boesch, 24.9

7. Ryan Braun, 24.9

8. Danny Espinosa, 24.8

9. David DeJesus, 24.7

10. Allen Craig, 24.7

Position Players – Fastest

1. Michael Bourn, 19.2

2. Dustin Ackley, 19.3

3. Jimmy Rollins, 19.5

4. Jose Reyes, 19.7

5. Kelly Johnson, 19.7

6. Zack Cozart, 20.0

7. Austin Jackson, 20.0

8. Jason Kipnis, 20.0

9. Ben Revere, 20.1

10. Mike Aviles, 20.1

Starting Pitchers – Slowest (among qualifiers)

1. Clay Buchholz, 25.6

2. Josh Beckett, 24.6

3. Jeremy Hellickson, 24.6

4. Ryan Vogelsong, 24.5

5. Yu Darvish, 24.5

Starting Pitchers – Fastest

1. Mark Buehrle, 17.2

2. R.A. Dickey, 17.7

3. Matt Harrison, 17.9

4. Jon Niese, 18.2

5. Clayton Richard, 18.2

Relievers – Slowest (at least 50 IP)

1. Jose Valverde, 32.8

2. Joel Peralta, 32.3

3. Jonathan Broxton, 31.8

4. Jonathan Papelbon, 30.3

5. Rafael Bentancourt, 29.5

I don’t think we have any revelations on these lists, but it’s sure fun to take a look at some of these numbers. Boesch is the slowest Tiger, Jackson the fastest. Valverde is the slowest pitcher and Fister checks in as the fastest Tiger arm at 19.2.

In case you’re wondering, MLB rules state that when the bases are empty, a pitcher must throw a pitch within 20 seconds of the last one. So either some of these guys pitch in a lot of traffic or the boys in blue aren’t enforcing the rule very well. I’ve only seen it called once in my life (against Bentancourt).

Be sure to check back next week for another goofy leaderboard.

The Odds: Can the Tigers Come Back?

After a rough outing by Justin Verlander in Game 1 and a poor offensive showing in Game 2, the Tigers are down 2-0 in the best of seven World Series. This much we know. We also know that Doug Fister is invincible.

But what we want to know at this point is if the Tigers can come back and win the series despite the deficit. Let’s take three different approaches.

First, let’s use math. The Tigers need to win four of the remaining five games in any order. If we assume for a moment that each game is essentially a coin flip and have no impact on one another, the Tigers have an 18.75% chance of winning the series. This covers all of the possible ways the Tigers could win 4 games in the next 5 (plus the abstract possibility they would win 5 of the next 5) divided by the total number of ways the next five games could play out.

Let’s make ourselves feel a little better though! Each game isn’t a coin flip in the sense that the odds are truly 50/50. Most people believe the Tigers are a slightly better team and they get to play three of the next five at home, which most people believe gives you some advantage. Add in any other reasons you could imagine that point in the Tigers favor and ignore the ones that support the Giants.

If we do this, and say the Tigers are 55/45 favorites in all of the remaining games, we can create a 25.62% probability that the Tigers will win the series using them same methodology. If we go the other way and make them a 45/55 underdog, we find a 13.13% chance of a series win.

Is this a depressing finding or a happy one? The Tigers have somewhere between a 13% and 25% chance of winning this series. We’re factoring out certain complexities like how the probability of winning each game varies slightly, but those should always be within 45-55%, so I’m comfortable being a little bit oversimplified on this.

What this tells us is that if these five games were played over and over again, the Tigers would win somewhere between 1 out of every 4 to 1 out of every 7.

That makes me feel pretty good. Those are not terrible odds at all. But what if we win Game 3? Everything changes.

If the Tigers win Game 3 on Saturday, the odds now shift to 24.15% to 39.10%. That’s substantially different. Now it’s 1 in 4 to 2 in 5 odds. If they win Games 3 and 4 it’s back to even.

Now I feel a lot better. Don’t think about winning four games out of five, think about winning one game. Or two games. And then think about 2 out of 3. The Tigers are in a hole, but it’s not that deep.

Approach two is precedent. So this one is tough, because I couldn’t get the data by the time of publication, so I’m trusting a rough source. The weak source tells me a team has come back 14 times from 2-0. I want that to mean “in the World Series,” but it could include other rounds. I also don’t have good numbers on how often a team has gone up 2-0. I’m going to assume it’s half the time. (I’ll update this section if I can get my hands on it)

This is a very rough estimate given the limitations, but I’ll be wildly conservative with my guesses also. My estimate is 11% of the time when a team is down 0-2, they come back to win the series. That’s probably fair if judge that against our 13-25% guess because some of those series could have been 5 or 9 games depending on what rounds and when they happened in history. Series can also be more mismatched than this one. There’s also some psychological affect if the series gets to 0-3. I buy this as an approximate value.

Approach three is the narrative. Basically, this is a guess based on observational data that is selected in a biased manner in order to construct an argument we agree with. Allow me…

“The Tigers have had their backs against the wall all year and have come back. They’re going back to Comerica where the crowd will be rocking. They hit better at home and Verlander is the only guy who really pitched poorly in SF. He’ll be fine in Game 5. We could totally win at least 2 in Detroit, maybe 3! Yeah, then we only need one in SF, but we could probably get two if we had to! They want it more!”

So that’s less scientific, but it’s an approach. Every series is a unique event that doesn’t follow any specific rules. The first two approaches draw on previous data, but this is series has no connection to that data. It’s one single event, so anything can happen.

Here’s a test case. 2004 ALCS. Boston down 3-0 to New York. Approach 1: 4.1% to 9.15%. Approach 2: 0% chance. Approach 3: Red Sox win the series and win the World Series. A very unlikely thing happened. Unlikely things happen all the time.

So while you might be discouraged that the Tigers are down 0-2, all is not yet lost. A win in Game 3 changes everything. A win in Game 4 is even better. It’s not an ideal situation, but there’s a chance.

I predicted Tigers in 6. Tigers in 6 or 7 isn’t bad either.

Stat of the Week: Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Let’s get this out of the way early because it’s going to come up in a couple weeks when SABR Toothed Tigers New English D hands out a very controversial MVP award to someone not named Miguel Cabrera.

This week’s Stat of the Week is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). It’s been in the news a bit lately, so let’s all get on the same page about it.

First, there is something you should know. There are two different WAR. One belongs to Baseball Reference, one belongs to Fangraphs. They are different primarily because they use different measures of defense (more on this later). I will always cite Fangraphs on this site, but only for the reason that I like how they present their data.

The concept behind WAR is the same for both sites. How many wins does a given player add to his team above what a replacement level player would? A replacement level player is defined as a widely available AAA type player. Think Mike Hessman, Jeff Larish types if you followed Tigers minor leaguers in the last decade.

This is a pretty simple idea. What is the difference in wins between Prince Fielder at 1B versus Jeff Larish at 1B if everything else were equal? That is WAR in the abstract.

More concretely, a team that only played replacement level players would win about 50 games per season. As we’ve mentioned a lot here, even terrible teams win sometimes.

So what does WAR look like? For position players, you want to post at least a 2.0 WAR in a season to be considered a “starter.” Below that and you’re a backup or a minor leaguer. 2.0-4.0 WAR is considered solid, 4.0-6.0 is pushing All-Star to superstar levels, and 6.0+ is MVP type guys. You can roughly use the same scale for starting pitchers. Relievers are much different because they play so much less. Better than 1.0 WAR for a reliever is good, 2.0 is great, and 3.0 is excellent.

Let’s talk theory first. The common retort to this is that “Miguel Cabrera has to be worth more than seven wins to the Tigers! If you took him out, they’d suck!”

This isn’t really accurate. Think about it. The Tigers won 88 games, Cabrera posted a 7.1 WAR. Let’s round up to 8.0 WAR to be generous as that difference is attributed to what WAR considers poor defense (more on this later). If the Tigers did not have Cabrera and replaced him with a minor league player ala Ryan Strieby, the Tigers would go 80-82 according to WAR theory. That’s actually pretty realistic if you just look at it. That’s 9% of their wins concentrated in 4% of their roster.

80-82 isn’t very good, but it’s not horrible. After all, they Tigers have a good team around him. Let’s take away Verlander’s 6.8 WAR (rounding up to 7) and we’re at 73-89. Good for fourth worst in the AL. Essentially, if we take Verlander and Cabrera off the Tigers according to WAR, they would only be better than Cleveland, Minnesota, and Boston in 2012.

You have to buy that. They still have Fister, Scherzer, Sanchez, Fielder, Jackson, etc. They would be much worse, but still not a minor league team. Take away Fielder’s 4.9 WAR and we’re down to 68-94. Only the Twins were worse. That sounds about right when you really think about it.

So that’s the theory, but what about the practice. How do we calculate WAR? What WAR seeks to do is combine hitting, baserunning, and defense into a single number calibrated to the only thing we actually care about, wins. Each action earns a “run value” based on how often that action contributes to run scoring and the accumulation of 10 runs is about equal to 1 win.

WAR takes into account how much better than average a player is offensively using wOBA and coverts it into an overall run value, wRAA, based on the number of plate appearances a player has had. You take that wRAA and divide it by the Run to Win value of that year (usually about 9 to 10). That gives you offensive WAR. Baserunning has a similar type formula based on how many bases you take and how many you steal. Defense is based on UZR for FanGraphs and DRS for Baseball-Reference, which all come out in run values converted into wins in the same way. Overall WAR is also adjusted for the position you play.

For pitchers, FanGraphs uses Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and includes the number of innings pitched, park effect, and similar adjustments and Baseball Reference uses runs allowed and controls for the quality of your defense.

Simply put, WAR is trying to measure the total contribution a player makes with his play on the field. It obviously doesn’t measure things like leadership that reflect on other players (or moving to a new position!), but everything they do on the field is captured. Surely no one can challenge this concept.

WAR takes various statistics and combines them and scales them to churn out a number. The math is based on baseball history and what has been shown contributes to winning. For example, WAR values OBP over AVG because walks are important, but missing from average. It doesn’t care so much about RBIs because you can’t drive in runs if no one gets on base ahead of you. The math behind this, which I won’t subject you to any more unless you really want me to (here’s Fangraph’s page on WAR), is rooted in the game’s history and they adjust it every year to pick up new information, but it’s always scaled to that year’s replacement level so you can compare across eras.

WAR is not a perfect, exact measure of a player’s value, but it is a good one if you sum a team’s WAR and compare it to their actual win total + 50 (again this number has been slightly adjusted). It’s not a be all end all. If a player is 4.6 WAR and another is 4.5 WAR, they are essentially equal. There is margin of error. But WAR does give you a good sense of how much this player helps his team win with his own performance.

The argument against WAR is twofold. First, it’s complicated. It turns out a pretty good number, but it’s hard to grasp. You can’t watch a game and immediately see how Player X’s WAR is impacted like you can with HRs or average or walks. It’s not a stat, it’s a metric. It weighs the value of each action based on how those actions normally lead to wins for your team. So it’s hard to follow. You have to look at the numbers, you can’t figure them out and follow them as well. I’m not arguing we throw the others out in favor of WAR, but when you want to compare players who player different positions and on different teams, WAR equalizes that through a positional adjustment and other devices.

The other problem with WAR is defense. Defense is really hard to measure. Fielding percentage is not a good measure because that only tells me how often you make errors, it doesn’t tell me what kind of errors. It doesn’t tell me about your range.

WAR uses UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) or DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) to measure defense. They are both metrics based on range and execution, with human viewers judging every play based on if it should be made routinely and how much harder or easier a play is from average difficulty. So there’s some subjectivity, but it’s much better than any of the traditional numbers. Plenty of people criticize these numbers because they fluctuate a lot and give some weird results on occasion.

Essentially, defense is WAR’s weak leg, but it’s getting better and is much better than anything traditional. But this means we can’t use WAR as a final word. We have to look at other things and use our eyes.

Don’t run from WAR because it is complex math. You can check it yourself by seeing what it turns out in a given year compare to a team’s actual results. The Tigers position player WAR and pitcher WAR sums to 43.9 this season. 50 + 43.9 = 93.9 which misses the Tigers win total by a whopping 6%. Not bad. It works even better with bigger samples.

Question WAR because it may be imperfect. It’s not trying to boil baseball down to a spreadsheet, it’s trying to correctly value on field actions. Having more RBI doesn’t make you a better player than someone else. Hitting more homeruns doesn’t either. If no one gets on base for you, you can’t drive them in. If you play in San Diego instead of Cincinnati, you’ll hit fewer bombs.

WAR is an equalizer. It allows us to compare individuals playing a team game. It’s a good thing. Don’t take it as doctrine, take it as information. The concept is great, the execution is pretty good and getting better. What WAR does is trying to measure value accurately, rather than based on old statistics that were invented before we had a good idea about what mattered in baseball. Check out our Stat Primer page to learn all about what stats are good and which aren’t so good.

And here’s a WAR calculator. Learn how to use it here.

My Complicated Relationship with Jose Valverde

I have a complicate relationship with Jose Valverde.

It comes in three parts. First, I hate his dancing. I think it’s immature, obnoxious, and has no place in baseball. Second, until this season, he was vastly overrated by fellow Tigers fans who mistakenly believe saves are a relevant statistic for measuring performance. Third, he epitomizes part two – how managers use their bullpens to maximize saves instead of wins.

But he’s also a Tiger and I’m a fiercely loyal fan. I’m rooting for him to do well. But I also want him to stop dancing and celebrating like he’s some overcompensating, testosterone enhanced NFL linebacker. This is his fault. I want him to succeed, but he I know he won’t a lot of the time. This is not his fault.

It’s not his fault Leyland uses him when he shouldn’t and doesn’t pull him when he should. Valverde can’t take himself out of the game, so I don’t get mad at him, but I do get angry. It shouldn’t be like this.

Valverde shouldn’t be such a tool, but he also shouldn’t be put in situations where he is likely to fail because he simply is not a terribly good reliever. Especially not anymore.

So I’m not happy that he’s crumbling into nothingness, but I’m also not surprised. We’ve created this fake ideal world where closers are special people who have this innate ability to pitch in the 9th inning. We’ve created this world that says your best reliever has to get the final three outs because they are inherently the most difficult to get in all situations. Logically, at the very least, the second of those two statements is false.

Valverde is not the Tigers’ best reliever. He should not pitch in the closest games and he should not pitch instead of better arms, especially during the postseason when you don’t have to think about saving guys for later in the season.

I don’t need to chronicle his postseason meltdowns for you, except to say that he’s performed terribly in his last three outings to the point where you simply cannot use him. The results are bad, the process is bad, and it has certainly become a mental issue on top of whatever caused it in the first place. Valverde has never been that good in my opinion, but he’s also not this bad either.

During his Diamondbacks and Astros days, he walked plenty of hitters, but he also struck out more than 10.00 per 9. You can be wild if you’re also striking batters out. Since joining the Tigers in 2010, the walks are still high, but the strikeouts are crashing. He struckout just 6.26 per 9 in 2012. You can’t get away with those kinds of numbers.

His FIP, and most notably his xFIP (which is controlling for park effects/homerun rates) have gone the other direction, all the way up to 5.01 this season. He’s had a bad year that’s gotten worse in the playoffs.

In his best years, 2005 and 2008 in my book, he was a very useful reliever. Not elite, but good. But as a Tiger, he’s been bad or dangerously close. Last year, which everyone calls his “perfect season” because he saved all 49 save chances, he actually posted a strand rate of 82.9%. Essentially, that tells us he let a lot of guys on base but managed to not let them score.

That’s a really bad formula for someone if they can no longer strike guys out, which is exactly what happened this season.

It’s simple. Valverde is wild and hittable, so he lets a lot of guys on base. But he can strike hitters out, so they don’t score. If you lose your ability to get those Ks, you’ve lost everything and that’s what we’re seeing. This is the inevitable regression that’s been coming for three years and it’s happening at a really bad time.

If you delete the saves column in your stat sheet, he looks ordinary to bad over his Tigers career. Saves don’t measure a relievers skill because the definition is arbitrary and it is a function of how you are used, not how you pitch.

All of this adds up to Valverde being overvalued. He’s just not that good. But until this week, he was being used like he was. That part is not his fault. Leyland put him in a position to fail and wouldn’t take him out when he was failing because he’s “the closer.” I’ll talk in the offseason about why we shouldn’t have closers, but it’s safe to say that if Alburquerque pitched like Valverde had in New York, the hook from Leyland would have been faster, thus saving him the embarrassment and perhaps the game (luckily Smyly is awesome and allowed the Tigers to come back).

So my relationship with Papa Grande is complicated. Cockiness aside, he isn’t good, but it’s not his fault he is used and valued improperly. Hell, if Leyland called and told me to pitch the 9th for the Tigers I’d do it too. And I’d get lit up. If he didn’t dance, I’d be very sympathetic. I was with Todd Jones.

Jones did his best, but he wasn’t great, so he was stressful to watch. Valverde is the same, but there is this cockiness that complicates it.

I’m pulling for everyone on the team when they struggle. Inge, Raburn, Santiago, Kelly, Boesch, and others. They’re my team and I love them even when they suck. It’s the right way to be a fan. My love is not conditional on success, it’s conditional on effort.

So how should I feel about Valverde? I hate the attitude he displays on the mound and I sometimes think he only really tries when he’s got a shot at a “save.” But I don’t have evidence for the second part. All I know is that he’s not that good and gets put in bad situations. But the dancing gives me an out. It lets me direct my anger at him. Which I never would do to Inge or Raburn.

You can’t hate them because they failed. They don’t make out the lineups. But I can hate Valverde because he’s disrespectful to the game. Or shouldn’t I? Is this just providing me cover?

I’m not really sure. It’s complicated. But I know that despite all my problems with him during the last three seasons, it was really heartbreaking to watch him walk off the mound last night in San Francisco knowing his three year career in Detroit ended in such an awful fashion.

So many fans loved him, and he’s walking off into a stunned dugout. Fister and Verlander were there to greet him, but no one knew what to say. He had crumbled into a shell of himself at the worst time. I felt bad.

I had been so annoyed by him for so long, but I genuinely felt sorry for him as he slowly walked off the mound and out of Detroit.

I didn’t want it to end like this at all. I wanted it to end with him getting the final out and not dancing, but now I’ll get neither.

After three seasons, my relationship – our relationship – with Jose Valverde has ended, and it was a very sad ending to a very complicated affair.

2012 World Series Storylines

With the Fall Classic upon us let’s take a look at the top storylines for the series and end with a completely subjective prediction that should only be used for entertainment purposes.

1) The Tigers Rotation: The Tigers’ starters have rolled through the postseason with a 1.02 ERA. Small sample size and struggling offenses? Sure, but 1.02 is hard to do no matter what. Led by reigning Cy Young and MVP, Justin Verlander, the rotation is stacked. Fister, Sanchez, and Scherzer all range from above average to fringe-elite starters and are all pitching extremely well right now. If the Tigers get the same kind of pitching they got in the ALDS and ALCS in the World Series, the Tigers will coast to a title.

2) The Bullpens: So the Tigers bullpen, not pitching very well right now. Not pitching very well at all. Maybe that’s harsh. Benoit and Valverde aren’t pitching well right now. Coke, Dotel, Alburquerque, Smyly, and Porcello have been solid in the postseason. After two meltdowns, Leyland has unofficially removed Valverde from the closer role and gone with a Phil Coke-by-committee approach that has worked out well. I’m an advocate for closer-by-committee for all teams and at all times of the season, so I think this approach will work for them, but they still have to execute when they are called upon. The Giants on the other hand, have a strong pen with Lopez, Casilla, and Romo in the late innings and Lincecum available as a super reliever. Bottom line? Score on the Tigers pen and the Giants starters if you want to win.

3) Delmon Young: It’s weird just writing that. But Young has hit in a big way during this postseason and last. There’s a good deal of disagreement about whether or not postseason performance is a skill set, but whether it’s luck or ability, Delmon is delivering for the Tigers. If he continues to hit well behind Jackson, Cabrera, and Fielder, it will be hard for San Francisco to limit the Tigers to the two runs they need to if they are going to face those Tigers’ starters. The other Delmon angle is that he has to play LF in Games 1, 2, 6*, and 7*(*if necessary). Since coming to Detroit, Young has been a terrible OF. No one who played more than 150 innings in LF this year posted a worse UZR/150. Granted, Delmon wasn’t asked to play the field very much and was a full time DH, but he’s about to man the position for at least two of the most critical games of the season against a team that puts the ball in play. Hopefully, the Tigers’ arms can punch out enough hitters to limit the Delmon liability.

4) The Fans: Both cities have high energy fans that create a rowdy atmosphere. Both cities have great parks. I don’t know that it will affect the outcome, but it will be cool to watch on TV.

5) The Managers: Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland are different managers, but also heavily criticized in different ways. Bochy thinks walks are outs in disguise (not my joke, but I can’t remember who told it) and Leyland thinks RBIs are baseball’s more critical stat. That said, both managers have good to excellent reputations as leaders of men, which will certainly be on display with a championship on the line. Most critically, how Leyland has handled the situation with Valverde could result in a giant meltdown or a champagne celebration. Certainly something to watch. Additionally, Leyland will be faced with the tough call on when to pinch hit for his frontline starters, and how he responds will dictate a lot that happens in this series.

6) The Tigers Defense: It wasn’t good this season. It was pretty strong in the ALCS. If it’s solid, that’s a huge swing in the Tigers’ favor.

7) Marco Scutaro: The dude is on fire. If that Marco Scutaro shows up, the Giants might just break through on the Tigers. If he doesn’t, it will be tough for them.

I’m expecting a good series and these teams haven’t seen very much of each other in the last several years and have never met in the World Series. Both clubs will be relying a lot on scouting reports instead of experience with each other, and I think that will make for a very close and unpredictable series. (As a side note, Verlander has said in the past he relies heavily on past at bats versus hitters as opposed to video)

I think this is an objective pick, but I obviously have a strong rooting interest.

Tigers in 6. Austin Jackson WS MVP.

A Long Year Coming to a Head

We covered how unpredictable baseball is yesterday. Then the Giants won Game 7 easily and celebrated in the pouring rain.

The World Series won’t be any less unpredictable, but I can tell you the Tigers and Giants will open the Fall Classic Wednesday night in San Francisco.

It’s been a long season. It’s been a long year since the Tigers lost Game 6 of the ALCS in Arlington. It’s been a long six years since they lost Game 5 of the World Series in St. Louis.

It’s been a very long 28 years since Kirk Gibson hitting the put away homerun in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series.

Seventeen other franchises have won since then. Tigers Stadium was demolished since then. Ernie Harwell is gone. So is Sparky. The city is different. Everything kind of is.

But the Tigers are four wins away from delivering a championship to a fan base that is craving one in the worst way. You can’t ask for a whole lot more.

I needed this. It was a very long, crazy, hectic year. The Tigers, like they are every year, were where I went for distraction, comfort, joy, and relaxation. They’re where I went to feel heartbreak, triumph, and community.

Even though I was suddenly a lot farther away from them, they kept me close to home. When my life was changing in big ways, the Tigers weren’t. They were on TV at 7pm, waiting for me.

2012 was a big year in my life, and I’ll always connect it to this team. A team that got off to a hot start, stumbled, and clawed their way back. Pulling away at the very end and hitting the gas when it counted most.

Cabrera’s Triple Crown. Verlander being Verlander. Scherzer staring personal tragedy in the face and finding a way to get better in its midst (I almost lost it when Dombrowski talked about his family after the clincher last week).

Saying goodbye to Inge. Kelly being baseball’s most baseball-ish dude. Quintin Berry having exactly as much fun as you should if you’re playing big league ball.

Prince Fielder not knowing how to slide. Avila getting hit with baseballs.

Avila getting hit with Prince Fielder.

Austin Jackson emerging.

It was a fun season. It was a tough season, but here we are.

I’m really hoping for four more wins. One more champagne celebration and a parade down Woodward.

One more “Mario Impemba quietly interviewing Leyland” moment. One more round of tweets from grown men pretending not to cry. One more “Justin Verlander arms raised clincher.”

I’m hoping for all of that. I think they’ll make it happen.

But I’ll be okay if they don’t. Sports are beautiful, but often cruel.

I’m proud either way.

%d bloggers like this: