One of the more exciting meaningless losses you’ll ever see..
Marlins 1, Tigers 0
Justin Verlander (34 GS, 218.1 IP, 3.46 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 5.3 WAR) took the ball on the final day of the regular season for the Tigers and did his thing against the Marlins for 6 innings of shutout baseball in which he dropped 10 strikeouts along with just 3 hits and a walk. He failed to get his first MLB hit, but he came awfully close with a foul ball down the right field line against Henderson Alvarez who no hit the TIgers through 9 despite his team failing to score. Naturally, his team came through on a walk off wild pitch in the bottom of the inning to produce one of the more incredible finishes you’ll ever see in a game with nothing on the line. The outcome of this one meant nothing and was just about tuning up and keeping everyone healthy, but it was a nice chance for Verlander to make a final push to get the ball in game one on Friday. It will be interesting to see who Leyland selects, but there’s a sense that it will be Verlander and his impressive track record. Scherzer had the flashy year, and New English D has endorsed Sanchez, but after two straight double digit K games to close out the year, it won’t be a shock to see #35 on Friday. Stay with New English D for complete postseason coverage.
Justin Verlander nearly doubles down the right field line for his first MLB hit, but the ball hooks just foul. Who are we kidding? Alvarez walk off wild pitch no hitter.
You’ll recall earlier this year we introduced our very own reliever rankings called SOEFA, which you can read about in detail here. For a brief refresher, it combines inherited runner strand rate, expected OBP against, ERA-, and FIP- into a deviation from league average. This is a measure of performance, not necessarily ability, and seeks to provide a single number to judge relievers that balances context neutral and context dependent numbers. Certain pitchers, such as Craig Kimbrel, cannot be credited for stranding runners because they are never put into those situations. They are not penalized either, however. Additionally, SOEFA penalizes pitchers like Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera who have done a very poor job when they have been asked to strand runners this season despite great numbers in other categories.
Zero is average, and will generally range between -2.5 to 2.5 with -1 to 1 being most common. This includes all pitchers who have thrown at least 20 IP in relief as of this morning, so the average score on this list is closer to 0.08 and the inherited runner threshold has been increased from 5 to 8. SOEFA is a rate stat not a counting stat. Should you wish to know the SOEFA for any other reliever, or on a day that isn’t Sunday, hit us on Twitter or in the comments section. Also, as we look to improve SOEFA for next season, let us know if you have any suggestions! Hope you enjoyed this project and look for some analysis of its success this offseason.
|1||Sergio Santos||Blue Jays||1.09|
|2||Koji Uehara||Red Sox||0.97|
|10||Jesse Crain||White Sox||0.78|
|19||Jose Veras||– – –||0.60|
|22||Casey Janssen||Blue Jays||0.57|
|37||Juan Perez||Blue Jays||0.49|
|41||Brett Cecil||Blue Jays||0.47|
|46||Andrew Miller||Red Sox||0.46|
|55||Joe Thatcher||– – –||0.43|
|68||Junichi Tazawa||Red Sox||0.37|
|79||Francisco Rodriguez||– – –||0.31|
|86||Nate Jones||White Sox||0.28|
|87||Craig Breslow||Red Sox||0.27|
|93||David Huff||– – –||0.26|
|94||Aaron Loup||Blue Jays||0.25|
|98||Luis Ayala||– – –||0.25|
|108||Scott Downs||– – –||0.22|
|110||Addison Reed||White Sox||0.21|
|112||Neil Wagner||Blue Jays||0.20|
|116||Steve Delabar||Blue Jays||0.18|
|121||Dustin McGowan||Blue Jays||0.15|
|137||Matt Lindstrom||White Sox||0.10|
|139||Darren Oliver||Blue Jays||0.09|
|143||Andrew Bailey||Red Sox||0.07|
|153||Matt Thornton||– – –||0.05|
|160||Dane de la Rosa||Angels||0.01|
|163||Matt Guerrier||– – –||0.01|
|165||Donnie Veal||White Sox||0.00|
|170||J.C. Gutierrez||– – –||-0.02|
|172||Marc Rzepczynski||– – –||-0.03|
|181||Wesley Wright||– – –||-0.06|
|186||Brandon Workman||Red Sox||-0.09|
|194||Pedro Strop||– – –||-0.13|
|198||David Purcey||White Sox||-0.15|
|205||Drake Britton||Red Sox||-0.18|
|209||Zach Duke||– – –||-0.19|
|211||Justin De Fratus||Phillies||-0.20|
|212||Ramon Troncoso||White Sox||-0.22|
|217||Kyle Farnsworth||– – –||-0.25|
|224||Franklin Morales||Red Sox||-0.28|
|230||Brad Lincoln||Blue Jays||-0.31|
|231||Carlos Marmol||– – –||-0.31|
|234||John Axford||– – –||-0.32|
|239||Dylan Axelrod||White Sox||-0.38|
|242||Kameron Loe||– – –||-0.41|
|243||Travis Blackley||– – –||-0.41|
|244||Clayton Mortensen||Red Sox||-0.43|
|245||Esmil Rogers||Blue Jays||-0.43|
|247||Alex Wilson||Red Sox||-0.46|
|262||Cory Rasmus||– – –||-0.69|
|264||Henry Rodriguez||– – –||-0.71|
|270||Mitchell Boggs||– – –||-1.37|
This post is a contribution to Did The Tribe Win Last Night‘s ’48 Replay project in which they are telling the story of the 1948 Cleveland Indians as if it’s happening live. They have game recaps, Twitter coverage, and a whole lot more. DTTWLN reached out to New English D a couple of months ago about contributing to the project and we’re suckers for baseball history. Whenever the Tigers are scheduled to play the Indians in DTTWLN’s way-back machine, you’ll hear from us.
The Tigers have never had a better hurler than the hometown lefty, Hal Newhouser. There are always debates when you make statements like that, but the facts back it up. In 373 starts for the Tigers (and 460 total appearances), Newhouser racked up 62.7 WAR, which is the highest mark ever for a pitcher in a Tigers uniform. He’s a couple wins ahead of Lolich. A couple more ahead of Bridges. A few more ahead of Dizzy Trout. Yeah, the Tigers once had a Trout!
After those four, the next name on the list is one you’ll recognize. Justin Verlander. In 2944 IP, Newhouser gave the Tigers 62.7 WAR. In 265 starts and 1766 innings, Verlander has provided 43.6. Verlander’s pace is better, but Verlander is just exiting his peak so his overall average hasn’t evened out with the inclusion of his later years. By raw numbers to this point, Newhouser is the best the Tigers have ever had.
Take it a step further and take a glance at his peak seasons, let’s say his best five years in a row, and compare that to the other Tigers greats. Newhouser’s peak extends from 1944-1948 and what a marvelous peak it was. In 1475.2 IP in that span, Newhouser had 39.2 WAR, a 62 ERA-, and 69 FIP-. Verlander’s peak isn’t terribly far behind as he has turned in 1166 IP and 33.2 WAR from 2009-2013 (entering Sunday’s start) to go along with a 72 ERA- and 71 FIP- during the same span.
Newhouser has the totals and Newhouser has the best multi-season run in Tigers history. Verlander might make a run at the first, but unless he adds 6 wins to his 2013 total in 9 innings on Sunday afternoon, he won’t match Hal’s five year peak.
As far as single seasons go, it’s Hal Newhouser on top again with his brilliant 1946 season in which he compiled 10.2 WAR in nearly 300 innings of baseball. That season he turned in a 1.94 ERA, 1.96 FIP and struck out more than 8 batters per 9 which was also good for a 54 ERA- and 57 FIP-. It might be more impressive to point out that the league average K/9 that year was 3.92. Meaning that the 2013 equivalent of that mark is something better than 16 K/9. No Tiger can touch what Newhouser did in ’46.
But if you’re going by one particular rate state, FIP-, which adjusts for park and league average, Newhouser has some recent company. In 1946, Newhouser was 43% better than league average using Fielding Independent Pitching. Second on that list is Anibal Sanchez’s 2013 season at 41% better (59 FIP-). That’s a razor thin edge for Newhouser, but an edge nonetheless, and speaks to the marvelous work done by Sanchez this year.
It would be hard to argue that Newhouser, who starts Sunday in DTTWLN’s #48Replay, is anything short of the best starter in Tigers history. He’s accumulated the most value, had the best five year peak, and has the best single season to his name. He peaked more than 60 years ago, so most of those who remember watching him pitch are gone, which is why he doesn’t get the kind of publicity that Kaline and Trammel get among the Tigers faithful, but as the ’48 season kicks off here on the internet, take a moment to appreciate the best starter to ever wear the Old English D and the recent pitchers who have tried to unseat him.
A record setting affair.
Marlins 2, Tigers 1
Anibal Sanchez (29 GS, 182 IP, 2.57 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 6.2 WAR) didn’t hang around that long, but he hung around long enough to give the Tigers the single season strikeout record and he hung around long enough to tie his career best in strikeouts at 202. He also hung around long enough to give the Tigers 5 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts, no walks, and just 2 hits as the Tigers led the Marlins in Miami until the 9th inning. They didn’t manage much offense – just a single run – but Sanchez was good enough to set the bullpen up to take this one the distance before Benoit allowed the equalizer and Reed melted down in the 10th. The loss means the Tigers can only win 94 on the season and cannot tie the ’06 and ’11 teams in wins with a victory on the final day of the season behind Justin Verlander (33 GS, 212.1 IP, 3.56 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 4.8 WAR) who isn’t quite ready to cede his place atop the Tigers rotation entering the postseason. It’s unclear who Leyland plans to give the ball to on Friday in Oakland, but there’s a good chance that with a little magic on Sunday, Verlander might be his guy.
The Moment: Sanchez strikes out Chris Coghlan to give the Tigers the single season strikeout record.
Like one you’d play in March.
Marlins 3, Tigers 2
Jose Alvarez (6 GS and 8 relief appearances, 38.2 IP, 5.82 ERA, 5.19 FIP, -0.1 WAR) started tonight so that Porcello could get some work out of the ‘pen and while Alvarez wasn’t great across 2.2 innings, allowing 3 runs in a meaningless game isn’t much about which to worry. The TIgers ran through five pitchers and all kinds of other substitutions en route to tonight’s loss, but seeing Peralta return and hit a double to right center should be a very welcome sign. Fielder walked and came out in the 2nd and Cabrera came out in the 6th after “singling” off the wall. The Tigers will work another tune up Saturday evening with a few innings from Anibal Sanchez (28 GS, 177 IP, 2.64 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 5.9 WAR) as he makes his final case to start game one and, heck, win the Cy Young.
The Moment: Peralta returns to the lineup and doubles in a run.
It was just a couple of months ago that I wrote about Porcello’s breakout season and then I did it again as he broke out even further four weeks later. This was the year that Rick Porcello made the leap from really good #5 starter to really good starter without the numerical qualification. He’s been scratched from his final scheduled start tonight to get ready for his postseason role out of the pen, so it’s time to look back on his season. It was an excellent campaign for the 24 year old right-hander and it’s only a sign of things to come.
Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that these numbers would look even better if the Angels didn’t possess some sort of Rick Porcello kryptonite, as he participated in two blowup starts involving that opponent. But I won’t drop those starts out because you don’t need to drop those two starts out to demonstrate Porcello’s ascendancy into the upper ranks of AL starting pitchers. (19th in WAR, 6th in xFIP, 17th in FIP in the AL)
It’s well documented that Porcello scrapped his very troublesome slider for a curveball and started throwing the changeup more often this year. It’s also worth noting that he is 24 years old and has 149 MLB starts under his belt. Pitchers tend to peak in their late twenties and here Porcello is a year away from free agency and he won’t be 25 until two days after Christmas. Which is to say, there’s more development coming. Verlander didn’t become VERLANDER until he was 26. Scherzer came even later. Rick Porcello has loads of MLB experience ahead of his prime and things are looking great.
Let’s start with his strikeout and walk rates over the course of his career, both per 9 and as percentages of total batters faced:
So what we have here is a pitcher with a very low walk rate who went from modest strikeout gains every year to a huge leap in strikeouts this year. And if we’re talking strikeouts, it gets better if you look month to month. Porcello had some fluctuation this year, but he had four months that were as good or better than about every month he had previously in his career. Only July stands out, because as we documented in earlier work, Porcello’s breakout came after his disaster start on April 20. This is the new Porcello:
He’s also seeing an uptick in his ground ball percentage.
Wrap that all together and you’ve got yourself a heck of a trend in terms of run prevention and expected run prevention.
Porcello’s ERA is always going to look on the high side if he plays in front of a poor infield defense like the Tigers (Iglesias will help big time), but he’s lowered it every season in conjunction with better peripheral numbers. He doesn’t walk people, he dramatically increased his strikeout rate, and he gets a ton of ground balls, which are good because ground balls don’t go for extra base hits nearly as often as fly balls.
But it’s more than his ability to keep guys off the bases with his new found love of the strikeout, it’s what’s happening even when he allows a ball to be put in play. He’s allowed the lowest slugging percentage against of his career. His well-hit average against is the lowest of his career and the same is true of his wOBA against.
Not only is Porcello striking out more batters, he’s also inducing weaker contact when batters do manage to put the ball in play. He’s getting better results, too, and he’s still just 24. Let’s look at Verlander and Porcello side by side through their age 24 seasons:
That’s right, Porcello had a better FIP and xFIP through age 24 in twice as many innings as the great Verlander and he has a higher WAR through age 24 as well. It’s often difficult to realize that while Porcello has been around forever, he’s also just a kid. He’s done more before his 25th birthday than Verlander and Verlander just signed a $200 million contract. A lot can happen from 25-30.
Well, then. Justin Verlander got way better after his 25th birthday. He increased his K/9 by 2 and dropped his walk rate a bit, which turned into a lower ERA, FIP, and xFIP despite the same BABIP. He increased his innings per start from 6.2 to 6.8 and became the best and richest pitcher in the sport.
I’m not saying Porcello’s going to be Verlander. Not at all. But he’s going to be really good because pitchers who are this good when they’re young (and who stay healthy) get better when they hit their prime. Porcello’s prime is still coming. He’s never missed a start due to injury and he’s making the kinds of progressions that we’d expect to see from a pitcher developing into a star.
When I wrote back in June about Porcello’s breakout I made very similar comparisons and used very similar looking graphs. It all looks the same today. This wasn’t a month long blip. This was a real thing and it’s about to get even real-er. Porcello will be 25 next season and entering his walk year. The Tigers have a lot of big contracts promised to their high end talent and Cabrera and Scherzer are both looming extensions coming in the next 24 months. But Cabrera is 30 and Scherzer will be 30 next summer. Rick Porcello is 24.
This may sound strange, but Rick Porcello is the guy you lock up. Maybe they’ll pay Scherzer and Cabrera too, but Porcello is the bet to make today. A long term deal buys his late twenties – his prime – instead of paying Scherzer and Cabs for their thirties, and it’s time to strike before the Rays, A’s, and Red Sox get their sabermetric claws out. The Cubs are going to be looking to contend in 2015. So are the Astros. That should scare you if you’re a Tigers fan because I promise you those teams see the value in Porcello. You can’t let him get away because he’s good and he’s young. The Tigers need to sign Porcello to a 5 year deal tonight while he’s watching Jose Alvarez fill in for him as he gets ready to move to the pen for the playoffs.
Porcello is unquestionably baseball’s best 5th starter. It’s what makes the Tigers great and it’s what will make the Tigers great for years to come, except in two years he won’t be the #5, he’ll be the #2. This season was Porcello’s breakout and it’s been a joy to watch. We’ve seen his last start in 2013, but if the Tigers are smart, we’ll have years more to enjoy.
In case you missed it, in April we launched our Dynamic Standings Projection feature on New English D. A full explanation of the methodology can be found here or by clicking the tab at the top of the page. This project seeks to provide a reasoned and cautious approach to updating our beliefs about the baseball future. You can find a summarization of the original projections here. You’ll notice a column on the far right that indicates the difference in projected wins from the preseason prediction. Positive numbers mean teams are now projected to win more games and negative numbers mean a team is now projected to win fewer games. You’ll notice a series of graphs below the standings section that track how the projections have evolved over the course of the year.
This Dynamic Standings Projection is updated through the September 25th games. Note that DSP posts have been moved to Thursday accommodate something that won’t interest you.
Being a fan isn’t a rational endeavor. As much as we apply analytic thinking to sports, we can’t engage that kind of clear-headed thinking about our favorite team. We can think about individual players and games rationally, but we can’t experience the season dispassionately. That’s not a bad thing. When we do analysis here, we do it rationally. When we watch baseball, when we watch our favorite team, it’s about experiencing a cavalcade of emotions. From April to October, it’s about joy, sadness, excitement, amazement, heartbreak, and even, love.
So much can be said about the practice of being a baseball fan, but I think the best way to describe being a fan throughout the season is to liken it to falling in love. You go through stages, you’re tested, and you grow together. That might be a stupid way to look at it, but I don’t care, this isn’t about being rational. It’s about being a fan and being a fan is about falling in love.
We can extend this metaphor as much as we want, but I’ll keep it short. That first moment of infatuation was the April 17th game in Seattle in which Scherzer dueled Felix and the game ended with Brayan Pena absorbing a tackle from Justin Smoak. I think that game ended around 3am. It was my birthday. My wife had gone to bed. Twitter activity was dying down. It felt like it was just me and the team staying up late.
There was Sanchez striking out 17 and Sanchez flirting with a no-hitter. An otherworldly 3-HR night from Miguel Cabrera on a Sunday evening in Arlington. Despite early struggles, both Avila and Martinez came on strong down the stretch. Verlander tried to avoid the Handshake by running away from Leyland.
Big hit after big hit. Excellent start after excellent start. Max Scherzer made the leap from above average to elite and Porcello made the leap from serviceable to above average. Even when Verlander struggled, he was still pretty darn good. The staff was better than any in Tigers history and made a very serious run at being the best all-time, period.
Miguel Cabrera spent most of the summer playing on Easy as he compiled one of the top offensive seasons in baseball history despite fighting injuries for the final two months. Infante and Hunter and Fister and Benoit all had great and under-appreciated seasons. We lost Peralta for mistakes made last Spring but gained the preposterous wizardry of Jose Iglesias.
Hunter walked off to avoid the sweep against the A’s. Avila and Cabrera hit huge homeruns in Cleveland. The amazing rally on the final Saturday night at Comerica Park.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, they’ve gotten a little closer. The big winning streak in August effectively put the race to bed and a series win against the Tribe later in the month put the final nail in the coffin. 2013 was not about winning another division – a third straight – which they finally did tonight with a 1-0 win over the Twins in game 159. 2013 was about winning four more games. The last four. That’s the goal. The mission. And they’ve taken the first step.
I said at the beginning of the season that I thought this was the year. Rationally, they’re the best team in the league. Objectively, they’ve got the best pitching and the best offense. But I felt it too. An irrational feeling, but it was there. This was how the long road back would end, with the team spraying champagne.
Ten years ago, they lost 119 games. Only Santiago and Infante remain from that team, and they both went away and came back. Only Verlander and Santiago were around when it all changed in 2006. This team isn’t really connected to those two teams. There’s virtually no overlap. But it feels like one single thread. One narrative. One story.
As fans, it is. We’ve been in since then. In 2006, it came from nowhere. We tasted what it was like to cheer for a winner. They came close in 2007 and loaded up for 2008 with Cabrera and Renteria and were supposed to score 1,000 runs. That was our lesson in hubris. They were going to run away and hide and instead lost the first seven games and never really made it close. 2009 was even worse. They fell apart down the stretch and lost the most heartbreaking game I’ve ever seen. I’ve still never watched the highlights. I haven’t talked about it. I honestly haven’t even looked at the box score. I can’t. Not yet.
2010 was a transition season. Mediocre, but a shift with Jackson and Scherzer coming on board. The final push started in 2011. A tight race for most of the summer turned into a laugher when they picked up Fister and rattled off 12 straight wins to take the division by more than a dozen games. A narrow win against the Yankees in the ALDS and then a good series against the Rangers who were just better.
Last year was about learning to come back. They made a final push over the final two weeks to overtake the White Sox and held off the A’s before annihilating the Yankees. But the World Series, much like in 2006, was a disaster. After such a strong run, it was all over so quickly.
This year was about unfinished business. There is nothing else to prove. They’ve shown the ability to endure an entire season. They’ve shown they can win in the playoffs. It’s about the final four games.
The roster has turned over, but the institutional memory remains. Partly from the front office and the coaching staff, but partly all of us watching every day and living and dying with this team with one last, little thing to prove. Those other teams are special to me. 2006 was about being relevant again. 2011 and 2012 about overcoming the ills the befell the team and the city in 2008 and 2009. This year is about victory.
The funerals ended long ago. No one feels sorry for Tigers fans anymore. The city isn’t the jewel it was fifty years ago, but it’s coming back. This is the last step. It’s not rational to place so much importance on the success of a baseball team, but what are we doing in life if not experiencing things that move us?
I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this is the Tigers team I’ll tell my kids about. I think there’s a rational and irrational case to be made about that. Every single year, I fall in love with that particular team for a variety of different reasons. I fall in love if they suck and I fall in love if they collapse. It doesn’t really matter. I love baseball. I love the Tigers. And in some strange and indirect way, they love me back.
They don’t have to win the World Series for me to have enjoyed this team more than any that have come before. There have been moments of anger and moments of sadness, but it’s been so much fun every step of the way. Perhaps there’s a connection between this site and all of that. Maybe I’ve had more fun watching this team because I’ve enjoyed writing about them so much. It’s possible, certainly.
For whatever reason – Pena’s tag, Sanchez and Scherzer’s brilliance, Cabrera’s magic, or the rest of the team’s moments big and small – I’ve enjoyed this season more than any other. Part of it is about them and part of it is about me. It’s a partnership. Almost like a marriage. It’s not supposed to be a rational endeavor. We can analyze the sport, but we love it because of what it makes us feel.
Today, I feel pride. And determination. Four more wins. Go Tigers.
Covered in champagne.
Tigers 1, Twins 0 (Magic # = 0)
Max Scherzer (32 GS, 214.1 IP, 2.90 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 6.4 WAR) fittingly took the mound in game 159 of the 2013 season, which was the game in which the Tigers locked up their third straight American League Central title. Torii Hunter drove in Austin Jackson in the first and that would be all the Tigers would need as one of their aces provided an excellent closing argument for his Cy Young campaign with 7 innings of 2 hit, 0 run baseball that featured 6 walks, but also 10 strikeouts. He was a bit wild at two different points, but otherwise he overpowered the Twins en route to a champagne shower in the clubhouse. Presumably, the Tigers will still play the final three games of the season in Miami this weekend, but their ticket is punched and they will almost certainly head to Oakland starting a week from Friday. The only thing that stands in their way is a three game set with the Marlins in which Rick Porcello (29 GS, 174.2 IP, 4.38 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 3.0 WAR) will begin on the mound. Check back shortly for our thoughts on the division title.
The Moment: Benoit punches out Willingham to clinch the AL Central.
A prelude to curly fries and champagne.
Tigers 4, Twins 2 (Magic # =1)
Doug Fister (32 GS, 207.2 IP, 3.68 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 4.5 WAR) turned in a fine performance in his last start of the regular season, holding the Twins to 2 runs in 6.1 innings to go with 7 strikeouts and just one walk. He left with the lead – a lead the bullpen held – thanks to a 4 run 4th inning that featured 3-HR from the Martinez, Infante, and Jackson. A night after giving one away, the Tigers slammed the door on the Twins and cut their magic number to one with Max Scherzer (31 GS, 207.1 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 6.2 WAR) in line to start the clincher on Wednesday during his final start of the season.
The Moment: Jackson sends one into the bullpen to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead.