A defense that was offensive.
White Sox 6, Tigers 2
Rick Porcello (26 GS, 180 IP, 3.10 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 3.0 fWAR) was dealt a rough hand on Sunday as his defense played like an even worse version of themselves. They committed four errors, an error that wasn’t called an error, and made at least three poor defensive plays that don’t qualify as errors. So Porcello went 6.2 innings and gave up six runs, but three were earned and probably only two qualified as his fault. He walked one and punched out seven along the way, doing his best to hold the game together for the bats. They grabbed a pair in the 6th but couldn’t do more and coasted to a series split courtesy of embarrassing defense. It’ll be David Price (28 GS, 203.1 IP, 3.32 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 4.7 fWAR) trying to bounce back against the Indians after his worst start last time out.
The Moment: Davis and Kinsler hit back to back double to wake the offense in the 6th.
Tigers 8, White Sox 4
Baseball is pretty predictable most of the time. Usually guys like Max Scherzer allow six runs and guys like Kyle Ryan (1 GS, 6 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 0.1 fWAR) allow zero. Hey wait a minute, that’s not right at all. Ryan wasn’t flashing brilliant stuff, but he kept the White Sox off balance for six innings and allowed no runs while his team jumped out to a 5-0 lead courtesy of a pair in the 3rd and three in the fourth. The 8th inning went all disaster movie on us, as the Tigers used three pitchers and gave up four runs to make it painfully close. They grabbed three runs of their own in the top of the 9th, though, thanks to an all around effort and gave Nathan plenty of cushion. It’s Rick Porcello (25 GS, 173.1 IP, 3.06 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 2.7 fWAR) for the series on Sunday.
The Moment: Kinsler punches one through the infield to add runs in the 4th.
A high scoring duel?
White Sox 6, Tigers 3
This one started in a pretty amazing way with the Tigers scoring three runs before they made two outs courtesy of home runs from Kinsler and Martinez. When you can start 3-0 against Chris Sale, you’re happy, but he remembered he was Sale and Max Scherzer (28 GS, 187.2 IP, 3.26 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 4.9 fWAR) fell victim to his own bad inning and HR problems. Max’s final line was 6.2 innings, 9 hits, 6 runs, 0 walks, and 11 strikeouts, so you have some sense of how tough he was to hit during the parts of the game in which he forgot he was Scherzer. Between Scherzer and Sale there were all kinds of strikeouts and all kinds of strikes. It might have been one of the higher scoring pitching duels you’ll see as both starters controlled the story, even if they both stepped in it during one inning. Three hours off and then Kyle Ryan (MLB Debut) makes his debut.
The Moment: Kinsler and VMart get to Sale for HR in the first.
Tigers 7, White Sox 1
The first inning was a little dicey and then, Justin Verlander (27 GS, 171.1 IP, 4.68 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 2.5 fWAR) sort of started to look like Justin Verlander again. It wasn’t perfect, but he twirled seven innings of one run ball that featured eight strikeouts and two walks. For 2014 Verlander, that’s a gem. The pitches were better as well for most of the game and he showed some signs of life while also getting positive results. Not a terrifying opponent, but a good outing none the less. The story of the offense tonight was a chaotic and glorious 4th inning in which the Sox made two errors that opened the door to five runs. It was a collective effort all around and the Tigers set themselves up nicely going into the big Saturday duel between Max Scherzer (27 GS, 181 IP, 3.13 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 4.8 fWAR) and Chris Sale in Game One.
The Moment: Kinsler and Hunter connect on a perfect relay in the 2nd.
I don’t need to tell you Miguel Cabrera’s having a down year at the plate, we assume, primarily due to a couple of nagging health issues. After four straight seasons of a 160 wRC+ or better, he’s trolling down at 137 in 2014. Primarily, his power is way down. His injuries are costing him offensive value. We’re probably talking about a difference of more than two wins of offensive deduction this year compared to his recent seasons. That’s rough. You know what isn’t rough? His defense.
That’s right, Miguel Cabrera’s move back over to first base has turned out well, as most of us suspected it might. Cabrera’s big deficiency is his range. The harm is good. The hands are good. The baseball instincts are terrific. He just can’t move very well. You know who doesn’t have to move as much as a third baseman? A first baseman!
Up front, it’s important to be aware of the variation between the two positions in terms of what constitutes good performance. A perfectly average 3B is considered to be about 15 runs better than a perfectly average 1B. You don’t need to take that as gospel, but it’s a good estimate. Even accounting for that, Cabrera is having a better season than last year. And a better season than back when he played first base before.
I don’t want to get into the positional adjustment and Cabrera’s total value. Let’s talk about his performance at 1B in 2014.
He’s played 929.1 innings. He has -1 DRS, which is a career best so far. His UZR is 4.6 (UZR/150 of 4.9), which basically matches his solid 2009 season at 1B. He’s turning more balls in his zone into outs than ever (slightly). He’s started 13 double plays and made 15 scoops. And he’s made fewer errors, if you care about that.
One thing I want to point out is Miggy’s Inside Edge data. They categorize the difficulty of all balls hit to a fielder. Their buckets are 0%, 1-10%, 10-40%, 40-60%, 60-90%, and 90-100% based on the likelihood that the ball should be fielded.
Obviously, he hasn’t made a 0% play because by definition no one can. He’s 0/8 on 1-10%, 0/5 on 10-40%, and 2/5 on 40-60% plays. That doesn’t look great. I mean, it’s not bad. But it’s not great. Know what’s great? Cabrera is 19/20 on 60-90% plays. That’s a 95% success rate! That’s awesome.
Only two 1B with 500+ innings have a higher percentage and they’re 8/8 and 10/10 rather than 19/20. He’s middle of the pack in 90-100% plays, but he’s 185/190.
First, you can see how rare tough plays are at first base. There have been 8,227 balls hit to 1B according to IE. 80% are easy plays. Cabrera makes an average number of those plays and the 7.5% of plays that are 60-90% plays? Cabrera’s been killing those.
At third base, more like 72% of plays are routine plays and there are about 40% more chances at third than first overall. In other words, there are more plays at 3B and they are tougher on average. That makes moving to first base perfect for Cabrera. He’s great at plays he can reach!
Spray charts? Sure. Here are the 60-90 plays and the 40-60 plays.
First base demands less range and values quality hands and such, which makes it a nice fit. By the numbers, he’s been one of the best handful of defenders at first this year by UZR and average by DRS. Range isn’t his game, but he’s vacuuming up stuff near him. We know defensive numbers aren’t perfectly precise, but we can’t exactly do anything other than go off what data we do have.
Particularly, from a scouting perspective, Cabrera turns the 3-6-3 double very well. It’s a small thing overall, but it’s a nice change from Fielder. Cabrera’s next 3-6-3 will set a new career high of six, in fact.
I don’t think we can say for sure we know Cabrera is and will continue to be a good defensive 1B. I think we can say that he’s much better suited for 1B this year relative to 3B and he’s lived up to that given the data that we do have. He’s making routine plays at an average clip and he’s making slightly more difficult pays at a high rate. Sample sizes matter, but if Miggy’s going to have a down year at the plate, at least he’s hanging in there on the other side of the ball.
A nice recovery
Tigers 2, Yankees 2
Kyle Lobstein (1 GS, 11.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 0.1 fWAR) gave the Tigers a much needed quality outing, going six innings while allowing two runs on four hits and a walk as he gave the Tigers a chance to stay in the game. The teams traded runs in the 2nd and 3rd and then the Yankees took the lead in the 4th before the Tigers got one right back in the 5th. From there they went scoreless into the 9th. Coke found himself in a jam and almost lost it before McCann’s fly ball hooked fouled and he followed up by striking him out to end the inning. The Tigers put two on to start the 9th and then with two outs Avila slammed one off the fence to win it. The team will call on Justin Verlander (26 GS, 164.1 IP, 4.82 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 2.2 fWAR) on Friday.
The Moment: Avila walks off with two outs in the 9th!
Yankees 8, Tigers 4
David Price (28 GS, 203.1 IP, 3.32 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 4.7 fWAR) had one of the worst starts in MLB history tonight if you care about innings, hits, and runs. Only two other pitchers in history have failed to go more than two innings while allowing at least 8 runs and 12 hits as Price did on this night. He allowed nine straight hits to start the third inning and was pulled from the game after 68 pitches. Some hard contact, some BABIP. No fun. The bats gave it a little go with a bomb from VMart and a triple from Nick to go along with a little two out rally in the 9th, but it was nowhere near enough to close the gap. The Tigers will have a shot to win the series behind Kyle Lobstein (0 GS, 5.2 IP, 4.76 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 0.0 fWAR) who will make his first MLB start on Thursday.
The Moment: VMart hits his career high 26th HR.
As it should be.
Tigers 5, Yankees 2
Tuesday afternoon the Tigers got some rough news about Anibal Sanchez. Tuesday night they looked like the team the were expected to be when the season began. Rick Porcello (25 GS, 173.1 IP, 3.06 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 2.8 fWAR) did that thing where he gets a crazy number of ground balls and the infielders turn them into outs and only screwed up to the tune of two Jacoby Ellsbury home runs. Otherwise, it was eight relatively easy innings of work for the Tigers young star. The Tigers got a run on a bases loaded walk in the second, got a single run in the third, two in the sixth, and one in the seventh. Kinsler made a nifty defensive play and Cabrera started a nice 3-6-3 to push this one into the 9th inning where we got good Joe Nathan. David Price (27 GS, 201.1 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 4.6 fWAR) for the series on Wednesday night.
The Moment: Castellanos adds insurance with a single in the 6th.
Tigers 13, Twins 4
After a rough start to the weekend, the Tigers returned the favor. Max Scherzer (27 GS, 181 IP, 3.13 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 4.8 fWAR) wasn’t great, as he labored through five while allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk. It wasn’t his best, but it was plenty good enough to support the Tigers offensive assault on the Twins. They scored three in the 3rd and then starting in the 5th they scored multiple runs in just about every inning. The bullpen didn’t melt down and everyone did their share. Without Cabrera and with a taxed pen, the rest of the crew shouldered the load. After a day off, it’s Rick Porcello (24 GS, 165.1 IP, 3.10 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 2.9 fWAR) against the Yankees in Detroit.
The Moment: Davis puts it out of reach with a bomb.
What felt like an exorcism.
Tigers 8, Twins 6
After back to back disasters, the Tigers turned to Justin Verlander (26 GS, 164.1 IP, 4.82 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 2.3 fWAR) to turn things around and show that he is healthy. While Verlander didn’t look great, he also didn’t allow a thousand runs in the second inning, which was a big improvement over the other starters in this series. He allowed four runs in 5.2 innings, but keeping it from turning into a joke was all the Tigers would need. They got single runs in the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th ahead of a two runs 6th, two run 7th, and an insurance run in the 8th. Blaine Hardy and Joba did their thing to keep the lead intact and Joe Nathan didn’t give it away. Despite the earlier horrors, the Tigers can split behind Max Scherzer (26 GS, 176 IP, 3.07 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 4.7 fWAR) on Sunday.
The Moment: Suarez singles to give the Tigers a 5-4 lead in the 6th.