The Anatomy Of A Winning Streak

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

With a thrilling victory on Monday night, the Tigers pushed their season long winning streak to 9 games as they recorded their 13th win in their last 14 games.  Based on a quick Baseball-Reference search, it looks like this is the 52nd 9 game winning streak in Tigers history. Now this includes the first 9 games of a 10 games streak and games 2-10 of that same streak, but a nine game streak is a nine game streak. By the same method, there are 24 10-game streaks. 12 11-game streaks. 7 12-game streaks. 4 13-game streaks and just 2 14-game streaks, which stand as the team record.

The 1909 and 1934 Tigers won 14 games in a row. The current Tigers are at 9. That’s five games, which is an eternity in winning streak years. It’s unlikely the Tigers will get there, but for now let’s just appreciate the ride on which we find ourselves.

They’ve scored 52 runs and allowed just 12, good for 5.8 runs per game and 1.3 runs per game allowed. The streak includes a three game sweep of the Phillies, a two game sweep of the Nationals, a three game sweep of the White Sox, and a win in Cleveland.

The first 8 games were at home and they sold out each one. They’ve gained just one game in the standings because the Indians have played well, but they started this streak with the a .554 winning percentage (89 win pace) and are currently sitting at .591 (95 win pace). The Tigers have won 95 games twice in the last 8 years, but haven’t won more since 1987.

When the streak began the Tigers had outscored their opponents by 99 runs, which was second best in baseball. They’re still second to the Cardinals, but now they’ve added 40 runs to that total.

First it was a pitcher’s duel. Then a blowout. Then another. Then they faced Strasburg and it looked close until Avila sent a grand slam deep into the night. The Tigers rocked Gio Gonzalez, snuck past Hector Santiago, Scherzer pitched a gem, and then the Tigers rallied back to win in extras after nearly giving it away. And then came the 9th inning comeback capped by an Avila long ball in Cleveland. (Sensing a theme?)

During the streak, the starting pitching has been great. But not just collectively, individually:

  • Fister: 16 IP, 0.56 ERA, 2.23 FIP
  • Scherzer: 13.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.80 FIP
  • Porcello: 13.2 IP, 2.63 ERA, 3.63 FIP
  • Sanchez: 14.2 IP, 1.84 ERA, 3.11 FIP
  • Verlander: 6 IP, 1.50 ERA, 3.54 FIP

And let’s recall that Miguel Cabrera hasn’t played much of a role in this whole affair. He’s had just 15 PA in the last 9 games. Sure he’s hit .385/.467/.615, but that’s no better than his season pace. Beyond that, Price Fielder’s 39 PA have turned in a .176/.282/.235 line. And Austin Jackson is hitting .179/.238/.308. The guys who should be the Tigers’ 3 best offensive players haven’t done anything during this streak either with poor performance or not being on the field.

It helps that Alex Avila has 32 PA in that span and is hitting .300/.344/.700. The erstwhile shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, hit .345/.406/.621 in 32 PA. Andy Dirks has posted 21 PA of .294/.429/.353. Torii Hunter has 29 PA with a .429/.414/.750 line (notice how his OBP is lower than his BA, fun!). And Victor Martinez is par for the course with 38 trips to the plate of .382/.447/.441.

The Tigers have won on the backs of great starting pitching and the bottom of the order. Tuiasosopo isn’t getting hits, but he’s got a .350 OBP in that span. Ramon Santiago’s fill in time has offered him 31 PA and he’s rewarded the Tigers with .400/.467/.480. Pena only has 7 PA, but he has a 1.429 OPS in that span.

Think about it, the Tigers have won 9 straight games with only 15 PA from Cabrera and no production from Fielder or Jackson. You can’t win more than 9 of 9 but the Tigers could be performing even better. The top of their order hasn’t been itself and they’re still running over the competition.

The strength of this team is its starting pitching, but the offense is also baseball’s best. The bullpen has pitched 20 innings and has allowed just 2 earned runs (0.90 ERA). They’ll never be a premium defensive team, but they’ve made some very nice plays and have committed just 2 errors during the streak.

What you’re watching is the peak of the 2013 Tigers. They have the best offense and best staff in baseball, good for the highest number of wins above replacement (what’s WAR?) of any club in the sport. As it stands, only the Pirates have fewer losses than the Tigers and only 4 clubs have higher winning percentages carried by playing more games so far.

The Tigers came into the season with big expectations and a bad taste in their mouths. They’ve played well the whole way, but you’re finally watching the correction between the underlying performance and the won loss record. Baseball Prospectus calculates something called 3rd Order Wins, which projects how many games you should win based on their underlying numbers and no one is better than the Tigers in that department. The real wins are catching up. The streak helps, but the overall stretch helping.

It’s not just 9 of 9. It’s 13 of 14. It’s 22 of 29. The Tigers have been on a role for a month. In the early Jim Leyland years, the Tigers were notorious for second half collapses, but in the last 3 seasons they’ve turned it on. In 2011 they won 12 straight to put the division away. Some called that the anti-collapse. Last year they finished strong. They’re doing it again.

The came 4 wins short of a title in 2012. 2013 looks like a team built to do it again and maybe even go a little further.

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