The present author has made no attempt to hide his affection for Rick Porcello and Doug Fister. Low walk starters who get a lot of ground balls are a personal favorite and you’re just going to have to accept me for who I am. You’ve seen a lot on these two starters and their ground balling ways over the course of this season, so here’s a little reward for all of you who have stuck around.
Presumably you’re aware that Porcello and Fister get a lot of ground balls, and there’s a chance that you know they’re currently third and fourth among qualifying starters in ground ball percentage at 55.2% and 54.5%, trailing only Masterson and Burnett. And Burnett gets to face the pitcher, so he shouldn’t really count.
Below, I’ve traced their pace from the start of the season through today. Both Fister and Porcello have one more start each before the season wraps up and the team ground ball championship is still up (or down?!) for grabs. Let’s take a look:
Fister led the way for the first half of the season but Porcello made his move around the midway point and it’s been neck and neck since right around start #22 for each. Porcello has a narrow lead entering the final round, but Fister could induce a few double plays and put himself in position to take home the title.
Reports are scare as to what the particular award will be for the winner, but this seems like something for which New English D should take the time to name and have a ceremony. I can’t imagine either starter would show up, especially considering they’ll be busy trying to win the World Series, but as we enter each pitcher’s final turn through the rotation, the battle for which hurler can induce more ground balls is still very much an open question.
A little longer than it needed to be.
Twins 4, Tigers 3 (Magic # = 2)
Justin Verlander (33 GS, 212.1 IP, 3.56 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 4.9 WAR) is toying with us. Just when you think you’re ready to move on and name someone else the Game One starter, he hangs 12 strikeouts on the Twins in 6 shutout innings in his penultimate start of the season. He had it all working and had little trouble pitching around the baserunners he did allow. On the other side, Hunter doubled in a run in the 5th and Cabrera and Martinez each knocked in a run in the 7th to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead, but the bullpen gave them all back and eventually surrendered the winning run in extra innings. The loss holds the magic number at two but they’ll still look to lock up their third straight AL Central crown (pending an Indians loss) with Doug Fister (31 GS, 201.1 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 4.3 WAR) making his final regular season start on Tuesday.
The Moment: Verlander fans 12 Twins in 6 innings.
I’ve lured you here under false pretenses. Sorry about that, but I won’t take up much of your time. This isn’t a post about an actual race, it’s about a metaphorical race and I’ll keep it short. Over the last few months, Alex Avila and Victor Martinez have started raking. Fifty-seven games in, both had OPS’ under .600. That’s not very good if you’re new to OPS. Since then, they’ve been better. Much better. They’re racing to the finish line, one might say. Normally we’d use wOBA or wRC+, but OPS is way easier to gather for an analysis like that, hopefully you’ll accept it as a stand in. Take a look.
Since game 57, they’ve both been on a march toward awesomeness. The two flat lines in blue are Avila’s DL stints. Let’s get a quick look at their numbers before and after and then I’ll let you go.
The Tigers were 31-26 through their first 57. They are 60-39 since. The two are probably related.
Just a bump in the road.
White Sox 6, Tigers 3 (Magic # = 2)
A day after rallying back to beat the Sox, the Tigers fell short of that goal and left Anibal Sanchez (28 GS, 177 IP, 2.64 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 5.9 WAR) on the hook after he allowed four runs over five innings on 8 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts. Sanchez was actually quite good for most of the start, but was victimized but a little bit of shaky defense in the 5th that multiplied the mistakes at inopportune times. The bats couldn’t get much going on the other side, scoring only on a Fielder blast, Jackson sac fly, and a Santiago RBI groundout. With the Tribe winning across the Lake, the Tigers wouldn’t have been able to clinch at home anyway, so they’ll have their chances starting in Minnesota Monday night with Justin Verlander (32 GS, 206.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 4.5 WAR) taking the ball.
The Moment: Prince launches a no doubt blast.
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 0.09 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!
|1||Sergio Santos||Blue Jays||1.03|
|2||Koji Uehara||Red Sox||0.97|
|11||Jesse Crain||White Sox||0.78|
|19||Jose Veras||– – –||0.62|
|26||David Huff||– – –||0.57|
|29||Casey Janssen||Blue Jays||0.56|
|40||Juan Perez||Blue Jays||0.49|
|42||Brett Cecil||Blue Jays||0.47|
|43||Andrew Miller||Red Sox||0.47|
|51||Joe Thatcher||– – –||0.41|
|61||Junichi Tazawa||Red Sox||0.39|
|70||Francisco Rodriguez||– – –||0.35|
|85||Aaron Loup||Blue Jays||0.30|
|90||Scott Downs||– – –||0.27|
|91||Luis Ayala||– – –||0.27|
|92||Craig Breslow||Red Sox||0.26|
|94||Addison Reed||White Sox||0.26|
|95||Nate Jones||White Sox||0.26|
|107||Neil Wagner||Blue Jays||0.20|
|116||J.C. Gutierrez||– – –||0.18|
|119||Steve Delabar||Blue Jays||0.16|
|122||Matt Lindstrom||White Sox||0.13|
|125||Brandon Workman||Red Sox||0.12|
|134||Darren Oliver||Blue Jays||0.09|
|140||Andrew Bailey||Red Sox||0.08|
|152||Matt Thornton||– – –||0.03|
|153||Dustin McGowan||Blue Jays||0.03|
|155||Matt Guerrier||– – –||0.01|
|163||Dane de la Rosa||Angels||-0.01|
|168||Marc Rzepczynski||– – –||-0.03|
|175||Donnie Veal||White Sox||-0.05|
|186||Drake Britton||Red Sox||-0.12|
|187||Wesley Wright||– – –||-0.12|
|193||Pedro Strop||– – –||-0.15|
|197||David Purcey||White Sox||-0.15|
|210||Justin De Fratus||Phillies||-0.24|
|211||Ramon Troncoso||White Sox||-0.25|
|214||Kyle Farnsworth||– – –||-0.26|
|222||Brad Lincoln||Blue Jays||-0.31|
|227||Carlos Marmol||– – –||-0.34|
|229||Zach Duke||– – –||-0.35|
|230||John Axford||– – –||-0.36|
|232||Dylan Axelrod||White Sox||-0.38|
|234||Travis Blackley||– – –||-0.41|
|235||Clayton Mortensen||Red Sox||-0.42|
|236||Esmil Rogers||Blue Jays||-0.43|
|237||Alex Wilson||Red Sox||-0.45|
|254||Cory Rasmus||– – –||-0.69|
|255||Henry Rodriguez||– – –||-0.70|
|260||Mitchell Boggs||– – –||-1.40|
A beauty, at the start and at the end.
Tigers 7, White Sox 6 (Magic # = 2 )
Rick Porcello (29 GS, 174.2 IP, 4.38 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 3.0 WAR) gave up 2 runs across 6.2 innings tonight, but he was even filthier than that line indicates as he punched out 9 Sox and walked none. He was commanding all three pitches and was missing bats left and right as the he mowed through the White Sox lineup. Chris Sale was as good on the other side and kept the Tigers off the board the entire way, but he had to give the ball to the bullpen and that didn’t go very well. Trailing 6-0 entering the 9th, the Tigers jumped the Sox with three straight hits and then a Dirks bomb to pull within one. Infante walked. Santiago bunted him up. Avila walked. Jackson walked. Hunter tied it with a sac fly and then Cabrera walked before the Sox finally escaped and sent this one to extras in which the Tigers loaded the bases in the 11th and brought Infante to the dish. As you would guess, he hit a walk off infield single. This was just a tremendously fun game to watch as both pitchers worked quickly and effectively from start to finish – and then someone let the bullpens allow it to get out of hand. The Tigers final home game of the regular season awaits the team on Sunday with Anibal Sanchez (27 GS, 172 IP, 2.51 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 5.7 WAR) toeing the rubber.
The Moment: The Tigers scored 6th in the 9th to send it to extras in part courtesy of a Dirks no doubt blast.
So now that we have sufficiently killed the win, bunting seems to be the topic of the day. Last week there were many examples of managers employing the sacrifice bunt at silly times and it seemed to set off a fervor among those wishing to debate new ideas and old tradition. I got into some debates with followers – and you all know Brian Kenny did the same.
The basic argument against the sacrifice bunt is that giving up and out to gain a base is a bad percentage play. The facts are pretty clear on the matter. You have to consider who is batting and the exact situation of the game, but it’s usually always a bad idea to bunt with a reasonably competent position player. Below I’ve presented The Nine Worst Sacrifice Bunt Attempts of 2013. This requires some definition, but first I want to lay out the basic argument for when bunting might be a good idea because some often taking anti-bunting comments as absolute:
When To Bunt
- When a pitcher is batting OR
- When a very low quality hitter is up AND
- There are zero outs AND
- There are men on first and second AND
- The batter has a high probability of striking out based on his skills or the opposing pitcher AND
- One run is sufficient (i.e., you’re down one run late or tied)
The Odds Against Bunting
Here’s my post from earlier this year that outlines Run Expectancy. If you don’t like the way I explain it, just Google it. Lots of smart people have explained it.
So the following are The Nine Worst Bunt Attempts of the year as defined like this. First, these are all bunts that have been put in play. I can’t examine the times a batter failed to get a bunt down and then the bunt sign was taken off. Second, this does not include bunts that went for hits. Bunting for a hit is great, this is about bunts in which an out was made – which is the goal of a bunt. Get on base and we don’t have a problem. Third, this is judged by Win Probability Added (WPA), which considers the game situation and the result of the play. So, if you call a bunt in a 10-0 game, who cares. If you call for a bunt in a 5-3 game with your two hitter, that’s probably silly. Finally, no pitchers. Pitchers can’t hit, so it’s fine to use them to bunt. Let’s see what happens!
There have been 1,192 sacrifice bunt attempts this season by non-pitchers. 174 have gone for hits and 39 have been turned into errors, so that’s 979 bunt attempts that resulted in at least one out. In sum, they have been worth -2.7 WPA. Here are the worst.
Let’s start with some data that sets the stage.
There we have the date and hitters. Now the opponent and situation:
|9||@ARI||Brad Ziegler||down 2-1||t9||-12||0|
|8||HOU||Josh Fields||down 2-1||b11||-2-||0|
|7||BAL||Jim Johnson||down 4-3||b9||-2-||0|
|6||@TOR||Casey Janssen||down 5-4||t9||-12||0|
|5||@SFG||Javier Lopez||tied 2-2||t10||1–||0|
|4||NYY||Mariano Rivera||down 4-3||b9||-12||0|
|3||CHC||Carlos Marmol||down 4-3||b9||-12||0|
|2||TEX||Robbie Ross||down 4-3||b8||3||1|
|1||ATL||Craig Kimbrel||down 3-2||b9||1–||0|
All but one feature no outs and the hitting team has been trailing late or tied in each.
|9||Juan Uribe||-0.16||-0.56||5.6||Bunt Groundout: P-3B/Forceout at 3B (Front of Home); Schumaker to 2B|
|8||Alberto Callaspo||-0.16||-0.42||4.38||Bunt Popfly: P (Front of Home)|
|7||Martin Prado||-0.16||-0.42||4.38||Bunt Groundout: P-1B (Front of Home)|
|6||Stephen Vogt||-0.16||-0.58||5.48||Bunt Groundout: P-3B/Forceout at 3B (Front of Home); Crisp to 2B|
|5||Jonathan Herrera||-0.17||-0.68||3.51||Bunt Ground Ball Double Play: Bunt C-SS-2B (Front of Home)|
|4||Munenori Kawasaki||-0.18||-0.58||6.13||Bunt Groundout: 1B-3B/Forceout at 3B (Front of Home); Rasmus to 2B|
|3||Juan Pierre||-0.18||-0.56||6.21||Bunt Groundout: C-3B/Forceout at 3B (Front of Home); Kearns to 2B|
|2||Brendan Ryan||-0.22||-0.69||4.33||Fielder’s Choice P; Chavez out at Hm/P-C; Ryan to 1B|
|1||Rob Brantly||-0.28||-0.74||5.4||Bunt Pop Fly Double Play: Bunt 3B (Short 3B Line); Solano out at 1B/3B-1B|
Alright, so a few notes. The very worst bunts are almost always the ones that include double plays or a runner getting thrown out at home somehow. Which makes sense, any time a bunt goes horribly wrong, it’s going to be more costly than a normal bunt. Martin Prado’s at #7 is the worst true sac bunt of the lot because the runner didn’t advance and Prado made an out.
So it’s perfectly reasonable to say these are poorly executed bunts. That’s true. But it’s not interesting to show you 9 very similar bunts that are all in the -4% range in the same situations. There are just so many of them. But, let me provide some summary stats to give you a better idea about the whole dataset. Of the 979 bunts that didn’t result in a hit or error, 722 resulted in a decrease in WPA, 160 resulted in no change, and 97 increased the team’s odds of winning. In other words, only 26% of sac bunts in the sample are good for the team.
So 18% of the time a batter attempts to sac bunt, he gets a hit or induces and error. That’s good. And 26% of the remaining 82% helps anyway. All told, about one quarter of position player bunts turn out to be a good idea based on WPA. Let’s go further.
Even including all of the bunts that ended in hits and errors, 276 resulted in more than one run, 339 resulted in one run exactly, and 577 resulted in zero runs. There are good bunts, but bunting is usually a bad idea. There are bunts that mess up the defense and open the door, but they are rare. Usually when you bunt, you don’t score.
You’re welcome to keep bunting, but the odds are not in your favor.
A complete domination.
Tigers 12, White Sox 5 (Magic # = 3)
Max Scherzer (31 GS, 207.1 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 6.2 WAR) had a bit of a mundane, 6 inning, 3 run start with just three strikeouts, but that hardly mattered. He could have had the worst start of his career and the Tigers still would have won this one as the offense absolutely unloaded on Dylan Axerold and the White Sox. They scored 2 in the 1st, 1 in the 2nd, 4 in the 3rd, and 5 in the 5th as every starter reached base at least once. It was a complete team effort as the Tigers annihilated the White Sox. The Indians waited through rain, but won, leaving the Tigers’ magic number at three with Rick Porcello (28 GS, 168 IP, 4.45 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 2.6 WAR) on the mound Saturday looking to knock it down another step.
The Moment: All of them?
What I’m about to say might make some of you do a spit take and/or faint. If you’re prone to either of those, have a beverage in your mouth, or are a baseball fan prone to negativity, please sit down, swallow the most recent sip, and get ready. The 2013 Tigers are the best Tigers team ever.
I’ll obviously make a couple of qualifications. I’m only talking about the regular season and I’m comparing each team to its own era. I feel pretty confident that even the hapless 2003 Tigers could probably destroy the wonderful 1935 team, but we’re talking about each team in relation to its context. And by that measure, the 2013 club ranks at the top. Sort of. Technically they’re going to roll the odometer over into first place sometime this weekend, but I wanted to get a jump on it because I’m really into preparation.
This is a simple construct. I’m not counting wins and losses for a couple of reasons. First, wins or winning percentage don’t control for their competition. Winning 100 games when there were fewer teams and less reliever specialization is impressive, but I really don’t know how it compares to the modern day. We need to use numbers that control for the era, so we’re going to start with Wins Above Replacement (what’s WAR?), but I’ll run through some other numbers as well. Second, wins are tied to some aspect of randomness. Is a 98 win team better than a 95 win team just because the 95 win team lost some games at the end that didn’t mean anything? What I present below are each Tigers team’s total WAR (i.e. pitching + hitting + baserunning + defense). Please keep in mind the defensive and baserunning data from the past is an approximation and can’t be taken too seriously. That said, it’s the best information we have about those teams and we shouldn’t ignore it. Let’s take a look at the best Tigers teams by total WAR (cWAR) and also by WAR per Game because some teams played fewer games in a season.
So the current Tigers trail the leader by 0.7 WAR and are averaging about .35 WAR per game, meaning that they are expected to accumulate something close to 3.1 wins over the remaining 9 games. It’s hard to imagine they will fall short of taking the overall record and need just 3.6 WAR to lead the per game pace. Maybe they fall short of the record, but they’re already 2nd and have a great shot to be first.
WAR isn’t perfect, but it’s the best way to discuss total, cumulative value. We can break it down into individual components to understand how the team ranks a little bit better. First, the pitching staff, which as you know has been working on one of the best pitching seasons of all time as a starting staff. They rank pretty well among Tigers teams:
They currently rank 25th in positional player WAR, but if you look only at what they do at the plate instead of defense and baserunning, you get a different picture.
This year’s team ranks 2nd, but only by the difference of a rounding error. Controlling for league and park effect, the 2013 Tigers and the 1984 Tigers are essentially offensive equals while the 2013 Tigers are easily the best pitching staff. Put that together and you have yourselves the best Tigers team of all time.
Now there are imperfections, but there are always such imperfections. Many believe this team has under-performed, but with a 5-4 final week, they’re headed for a 94 win season. That sounds pretty great to me. Maybe they haven’t punished the division like they did in 2011, but it’s important to remember to see your team in context. They’re the best hitting and pitching Tigers team ever. How much more could you ask of a team during the regular season?
The only reason they’re not blowing away the previous WAR record is that they don’t play great defense or run the bases too well, but even considering that they’re going to pass the record sometime very soon.
The World Series is the goal, but the season is the first step in that process. They could lose in the first round and the season would be a disappointment for sure, but to this point, this has been the best Tigers team we’ve ever seen. No matter what happens, that’s worth celebrating as the Tigers lock up the AL Central this week.
Another step closer.
Tigers 5, Mariners 4 (Magic # = 4)
Doug Fister (31 GS, 201.1 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 4.4 WAR) was one pitch away from having a phenomenal start but will have to settle for a strong one as he went 7.2 innings, gave up 4 runs (3 on a HR), while walking one and striking out 10. Aside from the 5th inning bomb by Ackley, Fister handled the Mariners easily and kept his team in the game while they charged back. The Tigers had jumped out to a 3-1 lead on a Hunter HR, Martinez double, and Infante bases loaded walk across the first three innings, but the Ackley dinger left them trailing 4-3. Hunter, Fielder, Martinez, and Infante all registered hits in the 7th to push across two runs in the inning and the Tigers took the lead for good. Smyly and Benoit grabbed the final four outs and earned the club its 89th win with three against the White Sox coming this weekend. Also of note, Jose Iglesias was struck on the hand but X-Rays were negative. Prince Fielder also ate a fan’s nacho, so…yeah. Max Scherzer (30 GS, 201.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 6.1 WAR) will take the ball for the first of the set.
The Moment: Martinez doubles home Fielder in the 7th to take the lead – although Fielder didn’t exactly beat the tag.