Monthly Archives: June, 2014

How Was The Game? (June 30, 2014)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Preposterous.

Tigers 5, A’s 4

On the night the 1984 Tigers were honored at Comerica Park, Anibal Sanchez (14 GS, 82 IP, 2.63 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 2.3 fWAR) did his best to lead the team to victory but when he left the game it did not look good despite seven innings of work in which he allowed just three runs (two earned). Sanchez was in control for most of the night and surrendered two of the runs after a lead off error to start the 8th inning wore on his already tiring arm. The bats were only able to muster a single run courtesy of a no-doubt blast from Cabrera through eight innings and oh by the way, Austin Jackson dove and it wasn’t the biggest moment of this game. Castellanos reached on an error, Avila singled, Suarez K’d, Jackson walked (against Doolittle!), and then Rajai Davis, inexplicably hit a walk off grand slam. No words. Go Tigers. Rick Porcello (15 GS, 97.2 IP, 3.41 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 1.6 fWAR) tomorrow.

The Moment: Rajai Davis launches a walk off grand slam!

How Was The Game? (June 29, 2014)

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An incomplete rally.

Astros 6, Tigers 4

Drew Smyly (13 GS, 75.2 IP, 3.57 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 0.9 fWAR) didn’t have it today and his defense was unable to prolong his day which ended after 2.1 innings, eight hits, two walks, and four runs. Thankfully, the bullpen was able to surrender just two runs the rest of the way, giving the bats a chance to rally back. Hunter scored Romine in the third, Avila homered in the 5th, and then Nick scored the Martinezes with his first career triple in the 8th. Unfortunately the rally couldn’t quite overtake the Astros and the Tigers left town having dropped two of three, but also on the heels of a 7-2 trip. They’ll return home for the A’s Monday behind the maestro, Anibal Sanchez (13 GS, 75 IP, 2.64 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 2.1 fWAR)

The Moment: Nick hits a two-run triple in the 8th.

How Was The Game? (June 28, 2014)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

An escape.

Tigers 4, Astros 3

Max Scherzer (17 GS, 111.1 IP, 3.64 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 2.8 fWAR) did Max Scherzer things in this one, striking out 13 batters in seven innings while walking one and allowing seven hits. He allowed a pair of runs early but you can probably hang one of those on the poor defense and one on Scherzer. He was pretty dominant, inducing 21 swinging strikes, in this one but unfortunately his offense made him wait when they had scoring chances, particularly when they squandered a bases loaded one out situation in the 7th inning. With two on and two outs in the 9th, however, Ian Kinsler punctuated his road trip with a go-ahead three run bomb that gave the Tigers the lead. Joe Nathan made it interesting when he gave up a solo shot in his half of the inning but the Tigers survived to even the series. They’ll go for the series win and a 7-2 road trip behind Drew Smyly (12 GS, 73.1 IP, 3.19 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 0.8 fWAR) on Sunday.

The Moment: Kinsler launches a go-ahead homer in the 9th

How Was The Game? (June 27, 2014)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Wild.

Astros 4, Tigers 3

The Tigers rode a seven game winning streak into Minute Maid park and tried to squeeze out an eighth win. Justin Verlander (17 GS, 110.2 IP, 4.72 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 1.8 fWAR) wasn’t MVP Verlander, but he gave the Tigers six innings of work, allowed three runs on six hits and a walk and struck out eight. Other than that, it was a typical game with many Tigers getting thrown out on the bases, weird errors, and some sort of double steal that the Astros probably practiced during study hall. In other words, not a normal baseball game in any sense of the word. The Tigers made quite a few loud outs but the Astros made enough happen to play to a draw through 9. Altuve reached base to start the 10th but a strikeout and a double play pushed us deeper into the night. It was Jason Castro who would put and end to the madness with a walk off homer in the 11th and ended the Tigers’ streak. Can’t win them all. Max Scherzer (16 GS, 104.1 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 2.3 fWAR) goes Saturday.

The Moment: Suarez scores from second on an error in the 8th.

The Cost Of A Porcello Extension

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

It wasn’t exactly a deadly lineup that Rick Porcello faced on Thursday night, but there isn’t really such a thing as a bad complete game shutout. Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that I’m a big fan of the work Porcello does on the mound and think highly of his future in baseball. I’m not going to rehash the Pro-Porcello (Procello?) arguments. You can read them yourself:

What I will say, however, is that it’s becoming increasingly necessary that the Tigers figure out a contract extension before he hits the open market after next season. The first step for the Tigers is to keep Victor Martinez around, but Porcello is right in line behind him and I think he’s a cheaper and better investment than Max Scherzer going forward.

Scherzer has been the better pitcher, no doubt, but Max is four years older and didn’t start to really figure himself out until he was 26 or 27 and didn’t really hit the gas until he was 28. Porcello remains just 25. It’s not a sure thing, but history tells us Porcello’s best days as a pitcher are still ahead of him.

Porcello is pretty clearly at least a 3 win pitcher going forward. He might even be something near a 4 win pitcher and I think you might get one year of 5-6 wins out of the Jersey born hurler. On the free agent market, a win above replacement trades for about $6 to $7 million meaning that even a low ball yearly salary would sit in the $12 to $14 million range. He’s probably going to make something close to $10 or $11 million in his final year of arbitration.

Let’s imagine this. If the Tigers let Porcello walk teams would be bidding for his age 27+ seasons, which is basically the typical season in which a pitcher starts to peak. Even if we were to assume Porcello is maxed out at his current level, his youth suggests he’s not going to get much worse for many years. He’s definitely getting at least four years and he’s probably getting closer to six barring something strange happening between now and then. By next offseason, the price of a win on the market should be around $7 million, so at the very least Porcello is going to fetch 4 years and $56 million. But that’s the extremely pessimistic offer (assuming health, of course). In reality, the upper bound could rest in the 6 years and $120 million range.

Teams have shown a willingness to pay a lot of money for relatively old starters and Porcello will be entering his prime rather than leaving it. Scherzer turned down a bigger offer than this with a year left before free agency at 29 and will likely make $200 million or more entering his age 30 season. There’s not much doubt Porcello is due at least half that sum.

Which means it’s probably now or never for the Tigers. I don’t think Porcello will have much incentive to sign an extension once 2015 starts. He’s going to make $10+ million next year and he’s sharp enough to self-insure the way Scherzer did. He’s got enough money in the bank where he can bet on himself once 2015 is underway and he won’t go below market value.

But I think there’s a window now. Sometime between now and the All-Star Break the Tigers need to approach Porcello about an extension. And I think they should make an interesting offer. I think they should offer him five years at a higher annual average value. Buy out his arbitration season (~$10 million) and then four free agent seasons at something close to $18 million a year. Offer him 5 years and about $85 million. Right about what Shark turned down in Chicago. While I think Porcello is a better long term better, Samardjiza probably should have taken that deal and Porcello is younger. My reasoning might not make sense, but think of it like this. Samardjiza is only going to get one shot at a big free agent deal entering his age 31 season. Porcello could sign this 5/$85M deal and be a free agent again at 31.

This deal makes sense for the Tigers because it locks up his prime without dipping too deep into the future and it works for Porcello because it pays him a nice sum of money and still allows him to cash in again in five years. If he ages typically and comes out as a 2 win pitcher at 31, he’s probably not going to have trouble getting a 4 year, $60 million deal after the one I’m proposing. That’s 9 year and $145 million if he doesn’t rock the world and inflation totally stops. If he does, he gets Scherzer money at 31 and buys a small island.

A lot of this is theoretical. I don’t know for sure that Porcello enjoys Detroit or if the Tigers can take on another contract in the Anibal Sanchez range (it seems like they can), but this is a good bet. Porcello has all the makings of a guy who’s going to be a very good pitcher for a very long time. He may never win a Cy Young, but his development at such a young age is extremely promising about what’s to come. Justin Verlander wasn’t JUSTIN VERLANDER until he turned 26. Porcello is still 25.

I don’t know if he’d take the deal, but I’d offer it and see. The Tigers lost Fister and appear to be ready to let Scherzer walk. Porcello’s youngest and is probably the best buy. You want a pitcher’s late twenties and that’s what he’s offering. It’s time to make it happen.

How Was The Game? (June 26, 2014)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing ToothComplete.

Tigers 6, Rangers 0

Maybe the six run attack catches your eye, or the fact that the Tigers have responded to a terrible month with seven straight wins, but the story on this night was Rick Porcello (15 GS, 97.2 IP, 3.41 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 1.6 fWAR) who twirled his first career complete game shutout. He went the distance once in 2013, but allowed a run that time around. Porcello wasn’t facing an intimidating lineup, but blanking a team with several quality hitters when Sanchez and Smyly couldn’t is still worthy of admiration. Porcello surrendered three hits and three walks while striking out six and found his way out of what little trouble he was in with some timely double play balls. With just a touch of hard contact against him, the Tigers unheralded star (except here of course!) stole the show and lifted the team to their second straight road sweep. They’ll try to keep it going on Friday night against the Astros with Justin Verlander (16 GS, 104.2 IP, 4.82 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 1.5 fWAR) taking the hill.

The Moment: Porcello finishes off 8 masterful innings.

The Tigers and the TOOTBLAN

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

I don’t know who is responsible for the Tigers baserunning, specifically, but it needs to change. Maybe this should be directed at Ausmus or Dave Clark or some mishmash of coaches and players. Regardless of who should be reading this, the message is clear: Stop running into outs on the bases.

Let’s start with some basic fundamentals. The advantage gained by taking an extra base is smaller than the cost of being thrown out on the bases. When talking about stolen bases, this is very easy to explain. Stealing a base, on average, will add about 0.2 runs to your team’s total. Getting thrown out while stealing will cost your team about 0.4 runs on average. The intuition is quite simple. If you stay on first base, you might still advance to second base or the batter might drive you home from first anyway. If you are thrown out on the bases, that isn’t happening and your team has lost a precious out. Getting closer to home is not worth making an out unless you can do it twice as often as you are caught.

To be a neutral basestealer, you need to succeed at least 66% of the time (in today’s run environment). If you cannot steal with that success rate, you need to stop running or run only in situations in which you have a very high probability of success (against a slow pitcher or poor throwing catcher, for example.)

The Tigers have been bad in this regard this season. FanGraphs has a stat called wSB, which is the value of your stolen bases (All those .2) minus the value of your cost stealings (all thouse -.4) compared to league average. Zero is average and every ten runs above or below that number is about equal to one extra win. How are the Tigers doing in this regard?

Poorly. They’re 26th in baseball in wSB with a -2.7. In other words, they are cost themselves runs by how often they try (and fail) to steal bases. Rajai Davis as a +1.7 all on his own, so the rest of the team is actually at -4.4! The full listing is here, but nine Tigers have been worth -0.3 or worse!

Cabrera, Suarez, Avila, and Worth are a combined 0 for 6. Castellanos, Hunter, and both Martinezes are a combined 7 for 14. Eight Tigers are a combined 8 for 20 in stolen base attempts. Kelly is 3 for 4, Romine is 4 for 5, Jackson and Kinsler are 8 for 11, and Davis is 21 for 27. For some reason, the Tigers are letting their bad baserunners run wild. It needs to stop. You’re giving away outs for no reason. It’s not like Davis is being a little too aggressive and things will even out. Alex Avila shouldn’t even be running with two outs and a full count (I jest)! There’s a difference between being “aggressive” in the sense that you’re taking advantage of opportunities to advance and being reckless. With respect to steals the Tigers are being reckless and it’s cost them a chance at big innings on multiple occasions.

But baserunning isn’t just stolen bases. FanGraphs has a stat called UBR which creates the same type of run values for all sorts of other baserunning moments such as going first to third on a single, taking an extra base on a double, etc. They rank 22nd in baseball in UBR with a -2.4.

Now some of this is lack of ability to take extra bases, which isn’t their fault. Being slow and never taking a risk will cost you in this measure because you’re compared to league average, but that’s not really the Tigers’ problem. The average team takes the extra base 41% of the time and the Tigers do it 36% of the time. Not horrible, but not good.

Ah, but the Tigers aren’t just sitting on a base and not going for it. They’re trying to take extra bases and it’s a disaster. The Tigers have made 33 outs on the bases this year (5th in baseball) excluding stolen bases and pickoffs. These are outs while trying to advance during a play. (Track them here!)

They’ve been out at first 8 times, second 9 times, third 6 times, and home 10 times. That’s 33 times the Tigers have tried to advance an additional base and ended up making an out compared to about 67 times where they’ve been successful. That’s not the worst ratio in the league, but it is also not very good.

Some of them are unavoidable. A great throw can ruin a good decision, but last night the backup catcher was gunned down at the plate by 30 feet. Making an out on the bases, especially at home, is costing you runs and the Tigers aren’t good enough at it to make the risks worth the reward.

They’re a bad stolen base club and a bad overall running club. Taken together (wSB and UBR), the Tigers are the 27th ranked baserunning team in baseball. Remember those early season stories about how much the Tigers speed was going to improve the team? Remember how Dombrowski was so smart to make the team more versatile? All nonsense. Good baserunning is valuable, but the Tigers didn’t build a good baserunning club. They have a a couple of guys who can run the bases well and for whatever reason, they’ve allowed the rest of the team to follow their lead. This is bad. I don’t fault Dombrowski for adding Davis and Kinsler, I fault the players and coaches for letting Castellanos and Martinez try to extra bases.

The Tigers have basically negated the only thing Davis does well by letting everyone else try to do it too. They need to stop. The Tigers will score runs with doubles and homers. It’s who they are. Adding an element of speed is great, but recklessly starting Avila for no apparent reason is beyond comprehension.

How Was The Game? (June 25, 2014)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Not particularly pretty, but effective.

Tigers 8, Rangers 6

Early on, Anibal Sanchez (13 GS, 75 IP, 2.64 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 2.1 fWAR) looked great, but his last three innings were much worse than his first three and he left having allowed four runs in 5.1 innings. There was a noticeable loss of command in the 4th inning and beyond that saw Sanchez surrender two hit batters and a home run to Carlos Pena. Thankfully, the Tigers bats stayed hot and protected Sanchez. They sent seven men to the plate in the first and scored three runs, picked up two more in the third, and then got back to back home runs from the Martinezes in the 5th to hang 7 early runs on the Rangers. Sanchez was relieved by Blaine Hardy, who was terrific, and the Tigers danced their way to their six straight win. After all that losing, things changed quickly. Rick Porcello (14 GS, 88.2 IP, 3.76 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.3 fWAR) will be asked to complete the sweep on Thursday.

The Moment: The Martinezes go back to back.

How Was The Game? (June 24, 2014)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

A dish best served cold (for Ian).

Tigers 8, Rangers 2

The last time the Tigers were in Arlington their starting pitchers were getting assaulted for many, many runs. Drew Smyly (12 GS, 73.1 IP, 3.19 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 0.8 fWAR) made sure last year’s disease didn’t carry over, twirling six innings of one run ball via five hits, a walk, and five strikeouts. Smyly was especially tough on the lefties and gave his offense a chance to take the reins. The Tigers made some rough baserunning mistakes, but the bats got hot and heavy in the 7th inning and pushed across five runs. Martinez, Martinez, Jackson, Avila, Suarez, Cabrera, and Martinez again all reached base in the inning with JDM making the big statement with his blast to centerfield. The Tigers also scored via a solo homer from Kinsler in the 1st and a two run single by Kinsler in the 8th, and his old fans absolutely loved it. The win makes it five in a row for the Tigers and pushes them three games up on the Royals in the Central. Anibal Sanchez (12 GS, 69.2 IP, 2.33 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 2.2 fWAR) will be in charge of taking the series on Wednesday.

The Moment: JD Martinez homers…again.

Seven Awful Weeks in the Tigers Outfield

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Prior to the current four game winning streak, nothing much was going right for the Tigers. Everything was awful and we were all slipping into some type of mix between denial and complete breakdown. It appears that after a sweep in Cleveland, life is going to get back to normal to some extent and food will start to taste better and the air will smell a little sweeter. That is, of course, unless you’re hanging out in the Tigers’ outfield. Because that’s been a giant mess and it was one long before the losing started.

Let’s go back to May 5 for no particular reason other than that I wanted to back up a round number of weeks and May 5 was seven weeks ago yesterday, when I started thinking about this issue. Since then, the Tigers “starting” outfield of Jackson, Hunter, and Davis has been very, very bad. Their only saving grace has been JD Martinez. Read those last two sentences again and then go back in time and play the lottery.

Jackson, Hunter, and Davis are all having below average to bad seasons, but if you remember, they all started quite well. Their defense has been poor from the get go. Hunter is at -14/15 runs. Davis is -4/5 runs. Jackson is about -5. But some of that was expected. Hunter has long left his graceful days and Davis has never been particularly good. Jackson might be a bit of a surprise that he’s doing this poorly, but you can talk yourself out of worrying.

Now let’s look at their offensive performances. Let’s keep it simple and just use wOBA from before May 5 and since. Nothing fancy. Plate appearances and wOBA. Remember that league average wOBA is about .320 and you typically want your corner guys to be in the .340 range or better for a full season.

Player PA before wOBA before PA after wOBA after
Jackson 107 .369 173 .261
Davis 92 .372 131 .282
Hunter 98 .379 143 .277
Martinez 20 .350 102 .411

Oh my. Granted, a full season sample is better than a seven week sample and career data is better than one year data and projections are better than that if we’re talking about how players are going to perform going forward, but the lack of production from the Tigers outfield is remarkable. They aren’t great on defense, but they hit their way out of it for the first five weeks. They aren’t doing that anymore. That’s a big reason why JD Martinez is getting so much playing time and why Andy Dirks can’t get back soon enough.

But it’s also why the Tigers might need an outfielder as much as they need a shortstop and reliever come July. Steamer projects Jackson with a .336 wOBA, .338 Hunter with a wOBA, and Davis with a .308 wOBA the rest of the way. That isn’t enough offense given their defense.

Cabrera, Martinez, and Kinsler are doing their thing. The other Martinez seems to be. Castellanos isn’t going anywhere. You won’t find a better catcher than Avila at the deadline. They won’t trade for a starter. SS/OF/RP will be the targets and with Suarez flashing competence, outfield might be the most important target.

A few weeks back, I suggested the Tigers go all in for Ben Zobrist because he could play SS this year and move to a corner outfield spot next year. Different problem, same recommendation. He’s not having his best season, but that makes it a good time to strike. An aging Zobrist is still probably a 3-4 win player and the Tigers might not get that from Jackson, Davis, and Hunter combined this year.

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