Monthly Archives: March, 2014

How Was The Game? (March 31, 2014)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

A nice welcome.

Tigers 4, Royals 3

The Tigers returned Monday looking a lot more like the old Tigers than the new Tigers.They made a couple of miscues in the field and on the bases, but were carried by some mostly solid offerings from Justin Verlander (1 GS, 6 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 0.2 fWAR) and some power from the rest of the group. Martinez homered to put the Tigers on the board early and they unleashed a pair of triples in the seventh to overcome the three run Royals fourth. It was 3-3 going to the 9th when Joe Nathan made his first appearance as a Tiger and set the Royals down in order. Then came the bottom half in which, Alex walked and Castellanos singled to set up Alex Gonzalez for a game winning hit to left. That’s right, Alex Gonzalez, that guy we couldn’t believe they traded for had his hero game on Opening Day. The Tigers take an early lead on the Royals in the division and will call on the reigning Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer (1st Start of 2014), to take the series on Wednesday.

The Moment: Alex Gonzalez triples in the tying run and then walks off in the 9th.

Gonzalez001

Ernie Harwell Welcomes You To Baseball

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Every year, Ernie used to read this quotation from the Song of Solomon on Opening Day. Last year, I heard a priest recite this in Ernie’s name in reference to the rebirth of baseball, Spring, and Easter.

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

Go Tigers.

Check back after the game for the season’s first edition of How Was the Game?

Screw It: Why The Tigers Will Win The World Series

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

I’m an optimist. I’m not really sure why. I’m a pretty anxious person and am heavily analytical. I know all of the things that can go wrong, but I still expect things to work out for the best. It’s hard-wired in, so we’re all going to have to deal with it.

Things didn’t go well this winter. There’s no way around it. I was disappointed and most of you were too. We lost Fister, Peralta, Infante, and Benoit. Iglesias and Rondon are down for the year. Dirks is out, Fielder is out for Kinsler. It looks like a lesser club, but you know what? They’re going to win it all anyway.

Despite the problems, winning a title is about getting to the playoffs and then playing well once you get there. That’s an obvious statement, but it means that they don’t have to be great during the season – they just need to be good enough to finish ahead of the Royals and Indians. Fortunately, that isn’t a terribly high bar to cross. Without the injuries and the Fister trade, they’d have been a mortal lock. They’re short of that, but they’re the best team. As long as the injury bug doesn’t bite any harder, they’ll make it to the postseason.

And once they’re there, they’re built to win. Even without the exceptional Fister, the Tigers have an extraordinary rotation. Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, and Porcello can carry them far. Cabrera and Martinez can drive in Kinsler and Jackson. Davis can run when they need to. You don’t love their chances to outplay the Red Sox over a 162 game season, but they can do it for seven games with this roster.

The Nationals or Dodgers will be a tall order, but the same logic applies. You don’t have to be built for the long haul, you have to be able to turn over the rotation one time. The Tigers aren’t the favorites, but they’re certainly in the conversation.

And that’s all it takes. The Tigers have two main weaknesses. The bullpen and their lack of depth. The depth thing won’t be a huge issue because you stick with your starters in October. Sure they’ll lose a little by not being able to matchup, but they don’t have a ton of guys with serious platoon issues. The bullpen is another story, but bullpens are weird. You can’t really rely on any of them, so all it takes is a bad week from Kenley Jansen. Maybe just one bad outing.

I guess the point of this exercise is that the Tigers aren’t the best bet for the title, but that there’s a very reasonable path for them to get there. I’m an optimist. This isn’t like saying the Twins will win the series just because anyone can technically win. They’re one of the best couple of teams in the AL and the difference between the top teams over a small sprint in October is virtually nothing.

It was a rocky winter, but it’s going to be a good summer and a great fall. Who cares if they probably won’t win it all? Until proven otherwise, I’ll choose to believe that they can. And will.

See you tomorrow, Tigers. We’ve all missed you.

Does It Matter If They Overpaid Cabrera?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

All sports coverage is slowly becoming an analysis of contracts. Watch carefully sometime. Money gets mentioned all the time. We talk extensions, free agency, trades, etc almost as much as we talk about the actual competitions. It’s true in every sport. It’s odd, but it’s a thing we all do. We’re caught up in the culture of it.

There were a lot of comments about the size of the Cabrera deal on Thursday night. And rightfully so, it was big news when pretty much nothing else was happening. It’s a record deal, he’s a great player, you know, the whole nine yards. It’s worth talking about, and I was among the many who thought it was a bad move from a value standpoint. The cost to value ratio was all wrong and the timing was weird. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Cabrera, it just means I’d run a baseball team differently than Dombrowski.

So let’s ask the follow up question. The Tigers are paying Cabrera more than he’s likely to be worth objectively. So what? Does that matter?

It only really matters if it affects the team’s ability to put together its best possible roster. I don’t care if the Illitch family has a lower number of millions, but I do care if they are allocating money to Cabrera that should be going to another set of players in the future who would help the Tigers win more games.

I’ve made this point privately, and if Lewie Pollis is reading this, his hair is likely on fire, but it doesn’t really matter if a team is getting good value. Joe Nathan was probably the best reliever on the market this offseason. The Tigers needed some relievers. Would they rather have a 2 win reliever for $25 million or a 1 win reliever for $6 million? From an economic perspective, the second guy is a better return on investment. But the Tigers need that other win. It’s an expensive win but they need the win. You don’t get a trophy for having the best $/win ratio. You’re trying to maximize your win total. I’d rather have a 95 win team that costs $200 million than one that costs $95 million but wins 83 games. That’s a slightly controversial opinion in some circles.

The counter perspective is that the team that gets better value has resources to allocate elsewhere. But that isn’t really true. The Tigers couldn’t go out and sign a bunch of 1 win relievers and use them instead of Nathan. Those relievers didn’t exist and you only have so many roster spots. If you have five starters who are all 3.0 WAR pitchers, you can’t sign a 3 win starter, even for next to nothing and improve your team. Wins are fungible, but it’s not a perfect market.

This is a complicated way of saying that I only care if the Tigers waste money if it means they don’t spend money on stuff that it available and fits a need. If they need a 2B in three years and they can’t afford one, and the combination of 2B and DH is better and cheaper than Cabrera, then it’s a problem. If not, you live with it.

$352 million is an insane amount of money, but it’s not my money. If the Tigers want to spend $8 million/WAR, that’s cool with me as long as they keep buying their way into the playoffs. The goal is to build a team good enough to make the playoffs and then hope luck is on your side. Someday, the gravy train might dry up, but as long as Illitch is going to spend and spend, this really isn’t a problem.

I don’t know what the plan is overall, but as long as you don’t spend $10 million on Rajai Davis instead of spending that money on a player that helps you win more games, who cares if Davis is actually worth $8 million? Economists care, but very few of us are economists!

Tigers Extend Miguel Cabrera, Pay For Their Impatience

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

It didn’t take long for the Scherzer dust to settle and for Dave Dombrowski to move on to his other star nearing free agency. On Thursday, the Tigers and Miguel Cabrera agreed to a 10 year, $292 million deal (or an 8 year, $248 million extension) that will keep him in a Tigers uniform until 2023. Cabrera had been under contract for the next two seasons for about $44 million. Update: The deal also appears to have two vesting options, so, yeah.

Earlier this offseason, I wrote that the Tigers should wait to extend Miguel Cabrera because I estimated that his price would go down as he aged rather than up as he approached free agency. Dombrowski decided not to wait and locked up Cabrera for the remainder of his productive career.

Cabrera’s defensive value has already bottomed out. At worst, he’ll move to DH for the 2015 season and will cost you about 1.5 to 2 wins of value from the positional adjustment. In 2013, his poor defense at third put that figure around 1.4 or 1.5 wins, so there’s nowhere to go on that side of the ball. This deal becomes about how you expect his bat to age. He’s one or two more good seasons away from the Hall of Fame and he’s established himself as one of the best 30 or so hitters of all time.

But an extension is about who he’s going to be going forward, not who he’s already been. Cabrera’s been worth 5 or more wins in 8 of the last 9 seasons and is on a four year streak of 6+ WAR seasons. If we figure you’d pay $6-7 million per WAR on the free agent market, Cabrera would have to be worth 42-49 WAR over the course of the deal to make it balance out.

And that’s not a great bet. Cabrera isn’t the kind of player that ages well defensively, but he’s already found the defensive floor. You don’t really care about anything but the value he will provide at the plate and as long as his body doesn’t break down, but that also puts a cap on the value he can add. If Cabrera ages pretty normally, you’re paying above market rate for a player who just spend the final two months of the season walking around like he’d been shot in the kneecaps. We’ve just spent the last three seasons watching Albert Pujols’ Hall of Fame skills erode before our eyes and Cabrera just got paid more money without the ability to add value on defense. Cabrera is an all-time talent, but the odds that he’s going to continue to be this great for this many years is a bad bet. And it’s not a bet the Tigers needed to make. You have him locked up for two more years. Take one of them and see how things go. Maybe he gets hurt or declines and either you don’t want him or you can extend him for less. If he looks great, you pay a little more for the year you waited.

Cabrera is coming off a serious injury. This wasn’t a broken finger, it was a injury that completely sapped his power and mobility for two entire months. He’s a great hitter, but the Tigers shouldn’t have been in a rush to sign this deal. It might not be a disaster, but there’s almost no way that it ends up being a good value either. The options are slight overpay and disaster. If those are your choices, it makes sense to wait.

It’s hard to be upset about making sure Cabrera is with the organization deep into his career, but it’s not a move you applaud. It’s a move you just accept. The smart money is on a slow, easy decline. No collapse, but no Bondsian surge. And that track makes this an overpay and an overpay you could have pushed down the road one more year.

In fact, I’m not sure you’d have seen him make this much if he was a free agent this offseason. It would have been close, but I can’t imagine it would have been much over. Why would you sign this deal? If you wait two seasons, does he really sign for more than 8/$248M? I don’t think so. Maybe Cabrera makes this deal look good, but the alternative track is far wiser. You’re paying Cabrera for the best case scenario before you back is up against the wall. Cabrera’s a great hitter and I’m glad he’ll stay on the roster for the next ten seasons, but the cost is too high and the trigger was too quick.

New English D Audio Episode 5 (3-27-14)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

The new season is almost upon us and New English D Audio is back on a regular schedule. Today, we talk with Cameron Bonk of EagleRadio about the offseason in Detroit, the Scherzer contract, which Tigers players match with which TV shows, and what he’s watching entering the season. Runtime is about 29 minutes.

You can stream or download the show here, or you can subscribe and download on iTunes. If you have any problems downloading or streaming, please comment or let me know on Twitter. If the show is popular I may need to upgrade bandwidth to accommodate. If you do run into problems, you will be able to download the episode at this link without any trouble.

The Guide To The 2014 Tigers: Thoughts On The Winter In Detroit

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

For the last month, we’ve pieced together all of the relevant information you’ll need for the 2014 season. The theme of this coverage has largely been that the team got worse, but not to the point at which they’ve fallen below other division rivals. The 2013 incarnation of the team was excellent. They won’t be that good, but they don’t have to be that good in order to still do very well. Not every pitching staff can be like the 2013 Tigers. Not every hitter can be Miguel Cabrera. Imperfect things are still perfectly acceptable.

It’s okay that the Tigers aren’t as good as they were at this point last season. The goal isn’t to be better, the goal is to win a championship in whatever way you can. This team is still capable of that, I’m just less confident about it than I was twelve months ago or six months ago, even. The offseason started with the Fielder/Kinsler swap, which made so much sense. You risk a little short term value for a lot of long term value. It was a challenge trade, but one that worked for the Tigers.

But the Fister trade is when things started to unravel in a very strange way. Dave Dombrowski has done excellent work in his time with the Tigers but that was the all-time headscratcher. I’m not going to keep talking about why it was a mistake. You’ve heard me say it a million times. It only made sense in the context of a rebuild (and even then it didn’t, really) but the Tigers went out and signed Nathan and Davis right after. Then Joba. They traded away one of their very best players, who was also affordable, and then used the money to sign lesser players for 2014.

They weren’t in great shape relative to last year and then the injuries came. Dirks. Iglesias. Rondon. (Verlander gave us a scare, too!). A team with a shrinking margin of error started to get hit with the kinds of rocks that topple a giant. Bit by bit. A little each day.

Instead of responding with force and signing Stephen Drew or pushing in the chips for someone on the trade market, the plan seems to be Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez. Neither of which is anything close to a real, MLB shortstop.

On the plus side, Brad Ausmus seems like a great hire based on the little we know about him. He kept the irreplaceable Jeff Jones and brought in a defensive coordinator to work on positioning and shifts. The team also didn’t overpay to extend Max Scherzer and appear content to let him reach the open market. I think that’s wise.

The organization didn’t do everything wrong that they could have this winter, but there were a lot of moves that made little sense and look even worse in the context of the broader plan. It’s not just that I disagree with what the Tigers are doing, it’s that I can’t really even figure out what the plan is. It’s one thing to have a different opinion than those calling the shots, it’s another to be unclear on what those people are trying to do.

Are the Tigers rebuilding? They signed a 39 year old closer, so probably not. Are they loading up for 2014? Well they traded one of the best pitchers in baseball for a guy who might be mid-rotation starter in the next few years, so probably not. Are they looking for value? They picked up two replacement level shortstops in trades and got less than they could have in the Fister deal, so also probably not. Are they cutting payroll because ownership is putting the screws to the front office? No, because they’re still spending at the same level, just on different players. And they offered Schrezer $144 million.

People have asked me multiple times what I think the plan is. My answer is that I honestly don’t know. I can’t string together a logical chain of events that would lead Dombrowski to make these moves and because of the nature of the business, he isn’t offering one. Maybe there is a method that is yet to be revealed. I’m always open to being wrong, but I don’t see it right now.

Despite all of the gloom, the Tigers are still fronted by one of the best two or three rotations in the sport. They still have Cabrera, Jackson, Martinez, Avila, and company. They’re weaker, but they are not weak. Their rivals are coming, but they aren’t coming with the kind of abandon you might see from the Dodgers or Yankees. A bad offseason doesn’t mean they’ll have a bad season, it just doesn’t make you as optimistic as you might otherwise have been.

You can’t protect Iglesias, Dirks, or Rondon from the injuries. That’s the cost of doing business at the big league level. You can’t protect yourself from Scherzer and Sanchez regressing to the mean simply because you can hardly improve upon what they did last year. All of that was unavoidable.

What was avoidable was building a roster with no depth to absorb the blow and trading away the one area of surplus for pennies on the dollar before the market even developed for starting pitching. You know who signed for $3 million this offseason? Nick Punto. Even if you didn’t want Stephen Drew and his draft pick baggage, there were other options once upon a time. The depth was always going to be the weak spot and firing the only real bullet before you knew what you were going to need was the wrong way to address it.

The Tigers are probably going to win the division. I’d put them right around 89-73 for the season. That should be enough to hold off the Indians and Royals, but it doesn’t give you a ton of faith in their ability to stare down the best teams in the American League come October.

I think it’ll be a fun team to watch and it should be a great season. This isn’t really a complaint about what the Tigers will be, it’s a complaint about what they could have been. The window is slowly closing on the Tigers and rather than trying to find a way to prop it up with toothpicks, they should have tried to dive through wide reckless abandon and they should have done it with Doug Fister. I’m disappointed, but I’m excited at the same time. Watching a slightly frustrating team play baseball is still better than doing just about anything else. And after a long, bloody offseason, that time is almost here.

The Guide To The 2014 Tigers: Over/Unders

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

People enjoy sports. People enjoy arguing. People enjoy wagering. Those are pretty easy statements to get behind. Maybe you don’t personally enjoy all three, but a big portion of the population certainly does. With that in mind, let’s consider the 2014 Tigers and a whole host of random predictions we can make about the team. These are the 2014 Over/Unders.

The idea here is that I’ll be setting the value at what expect to be the mean value. So I’m setting the over/under at 88.5 wins, meaning I think it’s equally likely that they win more games as it is that they win fewer games. Feel free to suggest others in the comments section and weigh in on where you stand on some of the more interesting ones.

  1. Wins (88.5)
  2. Walk Off Wins (4.5)
  3. Games started by Andy Dirks (58.5)
  4. Times FSD plays video of Rod Allen in Japan (1.5)
  5. Number of no-hit bids for Tigers starters – 6 innings or more (5.5)
  6. Date of first serious fair-weather panic (May 1 March 21)
  7. Homeruns by Miguel Cabrera (39.5)
  8. Cabrera’s wRC+ (175.5)
  9. Times a prominent writer will mention the Tigers being aggressive on the basis (∞)
  10. Times my wife will comment on Brad Ausmus’ attractiveness (34.5)
  11. Times Scherzer’s 2013 win total will be mentioned during his first start (3.5)
  12. Games I will actually get to attend (3.5)
  13. Stolen bases by Rajai Davis (41.5)
  14. Austin Jackson dives (0.5)
  15. Tigers All-Stars (4.5)
  16. Starters’ FIP- (85.5)
  17. Ten run games (2.5)
  18. Cabrera/Martinez back to back homeruns (2.5)
  19. Number of national broadcasts in which Justin Verlander is the on-air guest (all of them in which he doesn’t pitch)
  20. Awesome tweets from @PAWSDetroit (45.5)
  21. Squeeze plays called by Ausmus (3.5)
  22. Games in which Porcello is BABIP’d into submission (2.5)
  23. Most strikeouts by a starter in one game (15.5)
  24. Times in which Rod is beside himself with excitement (9.5)
  25. Times Mario loses it (2.5)
  26. Times Rod refers to sabermetricians as “WAR guys” (8.5)
  27. Dan Dickerson screams (13.5)
  28. Times I say out loud, “Iglesias would have had that” (34.5)
  29. Game that will be fun (160.5)
  30. Latest a game will end, eastern time (2:48am)

The Guide To The 2014 Tigers: The Division

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

During the course of March, the month in which we’ve been rolling out our Guide to the 2014 Tigers, things haven’t exactly “gone well” or “not sucked” for the Old English D. Dirks, Iglesias, and Rondon have all gone down with significant injuries and the Tigers have fallen closer to the pack in the Central. They’re coming off three straight division wins and three straight trips to the LCS or better, but the 2014 club will likely face a serious challenge to their divisional supremacy, at least that’s what it looks like at this point.

Minnesota Twins

Luckily, the Twins aren’t going to be one of those challengers. They gave the Tigers a hard time in the second half of the aughts, but over the last few seasons they’ve fallen on hard times. They remade their pitching staff with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and moved Mauer to first base to help keep him healthy, but they are still quite a bit short of legitimate contention. They have plenty of young talent coming, including consensus #1 prospect Byron Buxton, in the next couple of seasons, but they aren’t a threat in 2014.

Chicago White Sox

The Sox actually made some sharp moves this offseason acquiring Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson for very little, and also signing Jose Abreu out of Cuba to play first base. They pitched well last year, but they simply couldn’t hit as a unit. They should be a little better in that department, but they remain a ways off. It’s not inconceivable that they might make a little noise in the Central, but this isn’t a team about which the Tigers will worry. The Tigers need to make sure they play well against the Twins and White Sox, but they should have to worry about either winning 90 games.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have a very good bullpen and a very good defense. Fundamentals, am I right? But the Royals couldn’t hit in 2013. Some of that problem will get cleared up by bringing in Omar Infante and Nori Aoki to play everyday, but you still have offensive question marks at short, third, and maybe center field. Put that together with average-ish starting pitching and you have a good team, but not a great one. The Royals are banking on making it to the postseason and if they don’t, there won’t be any way to defend the Myers trade from a year ago.

This is definitely a team within striking distance of the Tigers, and to catch them, they’re going to have to get better production from the left side of their infield and they’ll need at least one starter to step up behind James Shields.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians came just shy of a legitimate playoff appearance in 2013, but certainly made an impression. They’re returning a very similar crop of position players, but their starting pitching is going to look a little bit different without Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir who pitched very well for them last year. Masterson, Salazar, and Kluber aren’t a bad top three, but getting Salazar to leap into the top tier of young pitchers might be asking a bit much. They’ll need him to dominate and they’ll need their bats to maintain last year’s performance in order to really contend. It’s going to take some good fortune for them to overtake the Tigers, but they have a team fully capable of keeping it close all year regardless.

If I had to call it right now, I’d still pick the Tigers to take the division, but it’s much closer than it would have been even a few weeks ago. The Royals and Indians aren’t World Series favorites or anything, but they won’t got quietly. The Tigers will need to get some good bounces or make a couple of adjustments to their roster in order to ensure that they don’t end of fighting for their lives come September.

Rondon Down, Romine Acquired: A Rough Month In Detroit

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

The Tigers employed a controversial offseason strategy this year. They traded Fielder for Kinsler to free up cash (a move most liked), they dumped Fister for prospects (a move nearly everyone hated), they signed a closer, a Rajai Davis, and a Joba Chamberlain. I don’t think you could have looked at the roster and thought they got better. Some people think they held their ground, some argued it was the right long term plan, but you can’t really say they got better for 2014.

Then Dirks got hurt, out for half a season. Iglesias got hurt, out for the season. Rondon now needs Tommy John Surgery and is done for the year. Sanchez is dealing with some shoulder inflammation, but thankfully it doesn’t look too serious at this point.

So the Tigers were already down a couple of wins and then they lost something like 4-5 with a set of injuries. They had a cushion, but that cushion is nearly gone. To fight back, they’ve traded for Andrew Romine at the cost of Jose Alvarez. It’s a strange move because you’re trading for a player that becomes the fourth or fifth best option at SS organization-wide for a player who was probably one of your rotation insurance policies. I’d rather have Alvarez than Romine on balance, but neither is worth getting upset about. The Tigers have other guys who can fill the Alvarez role.

But then, there was this:

The Tigers brought in a player to share the shortstop job who is worse than their in house options? They gave away Alvarez for the right to play another replacement level shortstop. It’s not a huge waste or anything, but what’s the point of that? Why bother?

I don’t really buy Dombrowski’s “internal options” talk. I think they’ll make a move to improve at least one of the problem areas. In fact, I’m starting to think there’s a handshake agreement with Drew to sign him on April 1. That’s speculation on my part, but I think Drew is going to accept a one year deal for a reasonable price with the understanding that the Tigers can’t offer him the qualifying offer if he signs after Opening Day. But…

There really isn’t a good explanation for what’s happened this offseason in Detroit and my theory on Drew is predicated on an assumption that Dombrowski is actually trying to win a title in 2014. You’re going to have bad fortune with injuries, but the organization was unprepared and reckless in how they went about building for 2014. They are still the best team in the Central, but man, it’s getting close and they no longer look like an October powerhouse.

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