Monthly Archives: October, 2013

How Was The Game (October 4, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Comfortable, until it wasn’t.

Tigers 3, A’s 2 (Lead Series 1-0)

Max Scherzer (1 GS, 7 IP, 2.57 ERA, 2.62 FIP) dominated the A’s on Friday night except for a couple of run-ins with Cespedes who took him for a double and a homer. The line was fantastic – 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 11 K – and the stuff was as filthy the results. He had tons of movement on the fastball and had the offspeed working nicely. The TIgers staked him to an early 3-0 lead as they jumped Colon in the first. Jackson doubled, Hunter got hit, and Cabrera drove in Jackson with a single. Then Fielder bounced into a run scoring double play and Martinez doubled and Avila scored him. They wouldn’t add any additional runs, but those three would hold up as the pen backed Scherzer with the final six outs with two from Smyly and four from Benoit. The Tigers will turn around and try to take a commanding 2-0 lead tomorrow behind the recently invigorated Justin Verlander (0 GS this postseason) at 9pm.

The Moment: Scherzer freezes Donaldson with a tailing fastball on the outside black in the 4th.

Ten Answers To Questions You’ll Ask During Game 1

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

I love the MLB playoffs. They’re awesome, but they don’t lend themselves to a lot of marco-analysis. We’re mostly breaking down individual plays and games. That’s great, just different. I would suggest my skills are more catered to analyzing trends and seasons and stuff rather than individual events, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like doing it. Here, I’d like to be a little more casual, mostly because the playoffs are fun and you don’t want to think too much when you have to stay up until 1am.

Below I present 10 answers to questions you will ask tonight.

1. Wait, Bartolo Colon is paid to be a professional athlete?

Yes. But now I’m thinking about looking up video of him covering first base.

2. Why did someone let TBS cover the playoffs?

So, ESPN wouldn’t agree to move Monday Night Football to ESPN2 during the playoffs and Fox didn’t want to lose their entire Fall lineup. There isn’t really anyone else who could outbid TBS, so here we are. Things will get better when FS1 gets some games next year, even if that’s barely a step up. Just grit your teeth and deal with it. We’re all in this together.

3. What’s a good place to get companion coverage?

Twitter is great, but I’ve been enjoying having the FanGraphs live chats up as well.

4. How do you prepare to stay awake late into the night on a Friday?

Sheer will? I don’t know, I’m already exhausted from working and watching baseball this week and the game doesn’t start for 5 hours. The adrenaline will kick in if the game is close, but if the Tigers get a big lead my wife will be asleep, literally, immediately.

5. Is the Tigers bullpen a serious concern in the playoffs?

It’s not good to be without Rondon, but Porcello is going to be a huge advantage down there and Fister could/should throw an inning tonight. I’m not really that worried so long as Leyland uses them semi-correctly. I would prefer the Tigers have a stronger lefty behind Smyly than Alvarez, but for some reason they have soured on Downs.

6. Will the Tigers defensive and baserunning issues cause problems in October?

I don’t really think so. The Tigers, for my money, aren’t bad at these things through mistakes, they’re bad through lack of ability. What I mean is that they don’t boot the ball and have a lot of TOOBLANs, but rather just don’t get to balls and don’t take extra bases. I think miscues are amplified in October, but otherwise I think defensive deficiencies have similar effects in the regular season and playoffs.

7. Which Tiger do you think has the big series?

Omar Infante. Seems right.

8. How do you get the most out of Cabrera with his injury issues?

We’ll have to see how he’s doing after the five day break, but it’s just something you live with. At some point you move him to DH and try Martinez at third, but we aren’t there yet. That said, I want to see Martinez taking grounders at third. Can’t be caught off guard.

9. Are the late season hitting woes a concern?

Not one bit. Meaningless. I’m serious, means nothing.

10. Who is the key to tonight’s game?

Well the stupid answers are Cabrera and Scherzer, but Avila/Martinez/Fielder are really important because Colon has a pretty serious platoon split. Lefties do much better, so you want to see those guys deliver.

Enjoy the game, and feel free to Tweet at us tonight during the game (@NeilWeinberg44). I’ve got access to some cool statistical tools, so I’ll likely be posting some fun numbers during the game.

The Tigers Hitter Bartolo Colon Fears

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Full disclosure, batter versus hitter matchup stats aren’t very predictive. First, the samples are almost always too small for the numbers to provide meaningful data about what will happen in the future. They tell us what happened, but not what will happen. Second, the matchups are usually spread out across many seasons so the matchups in 2007 and 2013 are not really even between the same players. Players change, after all.

That said, now that we’re into the playoffs and we need to micro-analyze things, let’s just take a quick look at how each of the Tigers stack up against Colon in their careers.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Torii Hunter 63 58 14 6 0 2 8 4 10 .241 .302 .448 .750
Ramon Santiago 28 26 11 3 1 0 3 0 2 .423 .444 .615 1.060
Victor Martinez 23 22 6 2 0 1 3 1 2 .273 .304 .500 .804
Miguel Cabrera 16 16 8 2 0 0 2 0 2 .500 .500 .625 1.125
Austin Jackson 15 14 4 0 0 0 0 1 5 .286 .333 .286 .619
Jhonny Peralta 11 11 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 .182 .182 .182 .364
Alex Avila 8 8 4 1 0 2 4 0 1 .500 .500 1.375 1.875
Andy Dirks 8 8 4 0 0 1 1 0 1 .500 .500 .875 1.375
Prince Fielder 7 7 4 1 0 1 4 0 0 .571 .571 1.143 1.714
Omar Infante 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .286 .286 .286 .571
Don Kelly 7 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Jose Iglesias 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Brayan Pena 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 .500 1.000 1.500
Total 197 187 60 15 1 7 26 6 27 .321 .347 .524 .871
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/3/2013.

Hunter has faced Colon the most without a ton of success. A .750 OPS isn’t terrible, but it’s mostly about extra base hits rather than getting on base very often. Avila, Dirks, and Fielder have done well in small samples and Martinez and Cabrera have been their usual impressive selves. The name that jumps out is second on the list in PA – Ramon Santiago.

Now it’s unlikely that Santiago will see the field in Game 1, but it might be worth putting him out on deck to scare Colon every now and then. Santiago has his number in a big way. He has a career OPS of .641, but in 28 PA against Colon it’s all the way up a 1.060. That’s impressive.

Again, this isn’t predictive, it’s simply interesting. Let’s look at some of their history.

  Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2002 3 3 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 1.000 1.333
2003 8 8 5 1 0 0 1 0 1 .625 .625 .750 1.375
2004 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
2009 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .333 .000 .333
2011 6 6 5 2 0 0 1 0 0 .833 .833 1.167 2.000
2012 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
2013 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
RegSeason 28 26 11 3 1 0 3 0 2 .423 .444 .615 1.060
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/3/2013.

So the success hasn’t really been recent. Over his last six at bats, not much has happened. Which supports the idea that matchup stats aren’t predictive but points out that before that 0-6 he was even better! Just for fun here’s what appears to be the best hit ball by Santiago since 2009 against Colon. On an 0-2 fastball:

pic1

And where it landed:

pic2

Small samples and recent history be damned! Let’s see Santiago tomorrow!

How Leyland Should Manage His Pitching Staff

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

So the playoff rosters are likely coming sometime on Thursday and at that point we’re all going to spend way too much time analyzing whether or not Matt Tuiasosopo made the cut. But for now, let’s talk about something a bit more consequential – how Leyland should deploy his pitching staff.

Let’s draw the boundaries of the discussion by recognizing that he’s already set hit starting rotation for the entire series.

Game 1: Scherzer

Game 2: Verladner

Game 3: Sanchez

Game 4: Fister

Game 5: Scherzer

I’m not going to quibble with this order too much because it doesn’t make a big difference. I’d have led with Sanchez and then pitched Scherzer and then Verlander, but re-litigating that choice isn’t very exciting. Instead, let’s consider how to use what he has in the framework he’s established. For the purposes of this post I’m going to assume Porcello, Smyly, Benoit, Veras, Alburquerque, (lefty), and (long man righty). The last two don’t really matter, because you’re only going to use them in blowouts when everyone else is tired.

So I want to address two key premises that Leyland should employ during the first round, which begins on Friday.

USE YOUR STARTERS

This can be easily broken down into two categories. First, Rick Porcello is your best reliever, use him like it. Last year, Leyland didn’t use Smyly and Porcello as late inning relievers because he thought of them as his long-men/insurance policy. They were starers, so they didn’t pitch in tight games. They only got called on in the 4th inning or in blowouts. This is fundamentally flawed. Your starters, especially someone like Porcello who has a bit of an endurance issue as a starter, are going to become dynamite relievers. Their starting days are over until April, deploy them as high leverage relievers. Leyland needs to use Porcello like he’s a fireman. When the game is on the line, whether it’s inning four or inning eight, Porcello is the first guy you should call. He’s the best and you need to use your best when it matters most.

Second, Leyland needs to make use of Fister in relief. He threw one inning on Sunday and isn’t due to pitch again until Tuesday. That’s an eight day layoff between outings and the initial outing was only an inning long. Fister is well-rested and ready to go. Two things can happen here. One, if Scherzer doesn’t have it early, Leyland needs to be ready to go to Fister. Don’t wait until it’s too late, bring in another starter right away. During the season, you can sacrifice a game now for long term stability, but you can’t do that in the playoffs. Don’t be afraid to do something unorthodox. Two, get Fister an inning or two in relief anyway. We’re talking eight days between appearances and close to two weeks between starts. Get him in the game and let him throw 25-35 pitches on Friday. He’ll be plenty fresh for his schedule start and you won’t have to rely on the bullpen as much.

MANAGE DIFFERENTLY

This is vital to postseason bullpen management. Roles should be completely outlawed. This is about the situation in the game at that exact moment. There is no context, there is no future. If that means you bring in Benoit in the third inning, you do it. If it means Smyly for four outs and Porcello for seven based on the matchups, you do it. Need a strikeout, call Al-Al. You don’t have a closer or an “eighth inning guy” anymore. You have pitchers. Think of them as tranquilizer darts. Some are more powerful than others and some are designed for certain types of animals. When you only have a certain number of them and your life depends on not getting eaten alive, you need to choose which ones to fire when and you can’t decide based on the order you packed them in your bag. That’s not how this works. The playoffs are different than the regular season. You don’t have the luxury of rest or getting comfortable.

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Ultimately the key is for Leyland to recognize that Porcello will be an elite reliever and that he needs to worry about the situation instead of what might happen later. Mario and Rod routinely talk about how Leyland likes to think three innings ahead. That can work in the regular season, but it’s wrong in the postseason. You have to empty the chamber when the lion is bearing down on you. You can’t save a dart because a cheetah might come later.

I have some hope that he knows what Porcello can be after watching Bochy use Lincecum last season, but I’m much more skeptical about the second part. A lot of managers are unwilling to rock the boat this much and Leyland is very much a member of the rank and file. He’s not Dusty Baker stubborn, but he’s not very revolutionary. His virtues are clear – players love playing for him. But he has some clear tactical problems that will be more costly in the playoffs. Hopefully, he’ll make the right calls because if he unleashes this team in the best possible way, there is very little that can slow them down.

How Was The Month? Detroit Tigers September Report

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Just a tune up.

13-13 (93-69 overall)

The Tigers entered September with very little left to prove. They were the best pitching staff and offense entering the month and had the division locked up for all intents and purposes. September was about closing the deal and getting lined up for the playoffs.

The Tigers didn’t hit terribly well in the month (92 wRC+), but some of that is biased due to the fact that they totally phoned in the last few days of the season. It wasn’t a great month, but it also wasn’t terrible considering how well they had hit for the first five months. Avila, Fielder, and Martinez killed the ball during September while Infante and Cabrera were above average.

To no one’s surprise, though, they were the best pitching staff in the league during the month of September turning in 6.0 WAR and a 10.27 K/9, nearly a full win ahead of the second place Indians! The entire rotation was great – led by Verlander’s 1.7 WAR as he looked more and more like himself as the month went on. Sanchez and Scherzer both put up more than 1.0 WAR and Fister and Porcello turned in 0.7 and 0.6 respectively. Only one of them, Porcello, had an ERA during the month higher than 3.00 and that was all the way up at 3.72.

The Tigers bats slowed down during the month, but their pitching staff did its thing as the team coasted to the division title and the postseason. They’ll be back in action on Friday against the A’s and New English D will have a lot more season wrap up coverage whenever the season actually ends.

The Moment: The Tigers score 6th in the 9th inning to tie it against the White Sox – and eventually win in extras.

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