Royals 8, Tigers 1
In the opening act of the battle for the AL Central, the Royals bested the Tigers by pummeling the Tigers pitching on Thursday evening. Danny Duffy was effective in his own right, but the Royals succeeded in jumping on the Tigers for three in the 3rd on a Hosmer HR and five in the 5th on all kinds of everything. Alfredo Simon (5 GS, 31.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 3.16 FIP) twirled his first clunker in a Tigers uniform, showing some of the concerns we had about him when the season got underway. The bats weren’t able to do much regardless, waiting until the top of the 8th to push across their first and only run. With three left in the series, the club will turn to Kyle Lobstein (3 GS, 18 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.39 FIP) on Friday.
The Moment: Iglesias triples in the 8th.
Imagine my surprise when I saw this in my timeline today:
My only response:
Now granted, it’s not unprecedented for catcher to hit an inside the park home run because inside the park home runs are almost always the result of weird bounces. Even slow guys can score when the ball bounces like crazy. And that’s how it happened for McCann:
As far as I can tell, there have been 49 catcher IPHR since 1938 according to Baseball-Reference. I have no idea if the data is accurate, but let’s assume it is. I’m not going to bother to see if it was the first time it’s ever been the guy’s first HR, but the odds are pretty high that it has only happened a couple of times maximum.
But what’s fun about this for me is that McCann crushed the ball. He’s never hit a ball 380 feet in the majors and this one went 402 or something and he has to run all the way around the freaking bases. Off the bat, when you hit it 400 feet, you kind of expect to trot (98% of the time per Savant). Especially the first time.
Pretty darn strange.
Tigers 10, Twins 7
So I have a job, and so that means I tend to not have my full attention placed on games that occur during the day. Normally, it’s easy enough to catch up, especially as my division often has the game on in the conference room. But forgive my confusion when looking at how this played out. It appears that Shane Greene (5 GS, 31.1 IP, 4.60 ERA, 3.46 FIP) had a super weird day, striking out a bunch, walking none, and getting otherwise obliterated. The Tigers were up 1-0, down 3-1, tied 3-3, down 7-3, and then rallied all the way back. Cabrera hit two dingers, Martinez hit one, and James McCann hit his first career HR, which was of the inside the park variety. I’ll just let that sit out there. Greene was bad, the bullpen was good, and McCann had an inside the park homer. I don’t even know what to tell you, but the good guys won and took the series. Alfredo Simon (4 GS, 27.1 IP, 1.65 ERA, 3.07 FIP) goes Thursday in KC.
The Moment: James McCann inside the park home run.
One that got away.
Twins 3, Tigers 2
The Tigers led for most of this game, but the Twins pushed across a couple of runs in the 7th inning against Anibal Sanchez (5 GS, 29.2 IP, 5.46 ERA, 3.99 FIP) to snatch the lead back. Gose plated Avila in the 3rd and the Twins matched that in the bottom half before Cespedes doubled Martinez across the plate in the 4th to give the Tigers another lead. The score sat at 2-1 for several innings as Sanchez looked good until the Twins got a little bit more contact going in the 7th when he allowed four hits and two runs, including the only extra base hit of the night. That 3-2 score would hold, as the Tigers let Pelfrey control the game and couldn’t do anything against Fien and Perkins in the final innings. The club will look to take the series Wednesday afternoon with Shane Greene (4 GS, 27 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.97 FIP) on the bump.
The Moment: Martinez and Cespedes hit back to back doubles in the 4th.
Sloppy, but successful.
Tigers 5, Twins 4
When you have a chance to jump on Tommy Milone early, you take it. The Tigers got homers, a solo shot from Iglesias and a three run blast from Cespedes, in the 1st inning to get off to a 4-0 start, offering David Price some room to breathe. The Twins got a run back in the bottom half off David Price (5 GS, 31 IP, 3.48 ERA, 2.67 FIP) who was generally pretty good but allowed add on runs in the 5th and 7th allowing the Twins to make it a ballgame against a Tigers team that only put one more run up on the board. The bullpen didn’t look sharp ahead of Soria, but he hung on to the one run lead in the 9th and gave the Tigers their third win in a row. It was a much closer game that it should have been, however, not because of shaky bullpening, but because the Tigers gave away at least three outs on the bases. Iglesias got nailed at the plate on a sac fly attempt and Cabrera and JD Martinez got caught stealing in embarrassing fashion. The club will look to take the series Tuesday with Anibal Sanchez (4 GS, 22.2 IP, 5.96 ERA, 4.77 FIP) on the bump.
The Moment: Iglesias’ liner clears the left field fence in the 1st.
The Tigers didn’t have a good bullpen when the season started, and while Joe Nathan was no longer high-leverage-able, he was probably still an MLB caliber reliever. He’s done for the year. Al Alburquerque was supposed to be one of the anchors, and a few weeks in, it looks more likely that he’ll need a long DL stint than anything else. Ian Krol’s already been sent down with a case of being Ian Krol.
Three of the Tigers seven relievers from Opening Day are gone or broken, and that Opening Day bullpen was already on life support. The Tigers need to improve their relief core in some way, shape, or form, and it’s obviously too late to sign the Weinberg Five (Neshek, Gregerson, Frasor, Duke, and Cotts) and the free agent market is a Rafael Soriano and not much else. It’s also too early to pick up good relievers from cellar bound teams because no one sells until July, and even when that time comes, the Tigers don’t really have a lot of stuff to trade after last year’s big purge.
So the team is left to promote from within, but that’s also tricky because if they had good relievers lying around, they would have made the club out of Spring Training. Except that isn’t quite true, because there’s one category of pitcher who slipped through the cracks: starting pitching prospects.
Last winter, I suggested Lobstein should head north with the club as a reliever, and if and when we see Verlander again, I’d advocate for Lobstein to shift to the bullpen for the duration of the year. But there’s another arm in the system who’s off to a good start that could jump into the pen soon and offer something better than they’re getting from the rest of the group; Buck Farmer.
Farmer is 24 years old and off to a solid start in Toledo after an eye-opening 2014, technically across four levels. Granted, almost all of the work was in A-ball, but he got his feet wet in Erie, Toledo, and Detroit. I don’t think many people are of the opinion that Farmer could handle an MLB rotation spot today, but that’s not what the Tigers need from him.
In his career, he’s been a high strikeout, maybe-high-walk kind of guy. There’s some raw stuff there but it’s not polished to the point where MLB hitters would struggle multiple times through the order. And we saw that last year when he got hit around in his brief 9 inning stint in the show. But Farmer is on a strikeout crazy mission this year, already punching out 32% of batters in four starts after being in the 25-26% range in 2014, mostly against lesser competition. And as Carson Cistulli pointed out last week, Farmer is getting a ton of swings and misses in AAA.
I wouldn’t argue that he’s tearing up the competition or that his 2015 stats portend a meteoric rise in prospect status to the point where Farmer is headed for greatness, but rather that they support the notion that Farmer has swing and miss potential and he’s carried that into at bats against relatively advanced hitters.
And that’s the kind of skillset the Tigers need desperately in the MLB bullpen. I haven’t seen him myself this year, but non-Tigers scouts had him up to 96 with the fastball this spring with a changeup working in the mid-to-upper 80s (Cistulli GIFs!), and a low 80s slider. Interestingly, while the Tigers are committed to Farmer as a starter for now, I heard from another organization that they see him as a 7th/8th inning guy. Which, hey, that’s just what the Tigers need!
So the questions are “can Farmer actually help?” and “is it going to hurt his development and should we care?”
To the first question, I don’t know for sure, but the Tigers would be foolish not to experiment given the state of the pen right now. They need relief help and Farmer is flashing the necessary skills to get outs out of the pen against batters who only see him once per game.
As far as his development, I think it’s a good thing for pitchers to get some MLB experience before they’re pushed into a starting role to sink or swim. Certainly, he’s going to miss chances to stretch out and work on his endurance, but lots of pitchers spend a few months in the pen before going back to work as a starter and Farmer isn’t an elite prospect to the point where ruining his development would be a colossal screw up. In fact, it might be beneficial for him to work through some things against better hitters instead of just blowing stuff by AAA batters.
So I think I would give it a shot. I don’t expect him to fall backwards into Wade Davis numbers, but I think there’s a serious chance that he’s a better option than what is out there right now and the Tigers can’t afford to keep goofing around with the bullpen. I’d call him up, use him in low leverage situations for a few weeks and then slowly start getting his feet wet mid-inning and mid-rally.
If he doesn’t show an ability to get MLB hitters out, you send him down to start in AAA and forget all about it. If he does show that ability, you’ve got a reliever that can be useful for you for the next five months.
Hat Tip to avid reader Stephen Pershing for pushing me to think about this idea.
Tigers 8, Indians 6
After dropping four straight earlier this week, the Tigers have now taken two straight from the Cleveland Indians thanks to a nice outing from Kyle Lobstein (3 GS, 18 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.25 FIP) and a pretty good offensive showing. They got off to a good start thanks to three straight hits and a sac fly to nab two early runs. They added on in the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 8th to keep the pressure going. Lobstein didn’t dominate, but he held the Indians to three runs in seven innings and while the bullpen allowed three runs, they managed not to go overboard. A big play from Iggy and a Miggy bomb made the final innings fun, setting up David Price (4 GS, 24.2 IP, 3.28 ERA, 2.87 FIP) for a trip to Target Field on Monday.
The Moment: Iglesias does a thing in the 9th inning.
As you awake on the third full Sunday of the 2015 baseball season, Jose Iglesias has a .399 wOBA. To give you a sense of what that means, last year among batters who qualified, only McCutchen, VMart, Abreu, Stanton, Trout, and Bautista had wOBAs of .399 or better. We can park adjust, and call it a 155 wRC+, which reorders that list and adds Michael Brantley. Put it any way you like, and Iglesias so far looks amazing.
Sample size is crucial here. We’re 62 PA deep into a season that should feature about ten times as many trips to the plate, so there’s virtually nothing meaningful about the overall results. Everyone knows that. Even the people who don’t know anything don’t expect a .927 OPS from the diminutive Cuban highlight reel. We get that he’s not this good because you don’t become one of the five best hitters in baseball overnight and you don’t do it without power.
But while we know the glove will be there and we think the base running is perfectly legitimate, the bat remains an open question. When the season started, the ZiPS/Steamer blend projected a .281 wOBA for Iglesias. After watching him play for three weeks, his rest of season projection (i.e. his wOBA from Sunday through the last day) is .291. There are two ways of looking at this, and let’s take the sunny outlook. After just 60 PA, the projections already think he’s improved his true talent ability by 10 points of wOBA. Ten points of wOBA is half a win over a full season of baseball.
That’s pretty huge! After just 10% of the season, Iglesias has improved his stock by half a win going forward on top of the value he’s already banked based on his hot start.
If you look across his stat line, he’s hitting for the amount of power everyone expected, around .070 ISO. The two keys are 1) a super high BABIP and 2) a great looking strikeout/walk mix. The first is going away. Iglesias might have the kind of swing that allows for an above average BABIP, but a .426 BABIP isn’t just unlikely for Iglesias, it’s borderline impossible for anyone. So let’s call it a .320 BABIP going forward? Steamer and ZiPS say about .305, so we’re taking the over pretty nicely because we’re being optimists.
But the second aspect, that great strikeout and walk mix, could be somewhat real. He’s walked in 9.7% of his PA to date and walk rate is something that settles in pretty quickly, so after a career walk rate in the 5% range, an early season walk rate close to 10% definitely has your attention. Walks are a boon to Iglesias because for a singles hitter, they’re not just better than a ball in play, they’re as good as most of his hits. If the walk rate is real, obviously, the projection goes up and walk rate in a small sample is more meaningful than most stats in small samples.
And the strikeout rate falling to 8.1% so far is also nice because it’s taking outs off the board and shifting them to balls in play, and balls in play become hits 30-32% of the time, which increases his value to the same degree. In other words, not only is he getting great BABIP voodoo, he’s getting on base without luck (walks) more and he’s putting more balls in play, period. A .300 BABIP is fine for 400 balls in play, but it’s even better for 420 balls in play (assuming the same total PA).
So the question we have to ask ourselves is if Iglesias is really going to keep up the walks and limit the punchouts? That’s basically the whole game. He’s not flashing more power than we thought and while he’s run a nice BABIP, it’s not like he can realistically put together a .350 BABIP or something. Even if we buy him in the .320 BABIP range with .080 ISO power, he still needs a quality approach at the plate to really sell himself as a valuable piece in the box.
So what’s the skinny on his discipline? His contact rate is way up. Before Saturday’s game, his contact rate was 93.5%, which about 8% higher than his career mark (and he didn’t swing and miss on Saturday). The jump is evident both in and out of the zone and he actually hasn’t swung and missed at a pitch in the PITCHf/x strike zone all year.
It’s early. We all know that and none of us are thinking Iglesias is a good hitter. But when you’re an amazing defensive shortstop, you’re not shooting for good. You’re aiming for acceptable. But Iglesias has succeeded in part because of more balls in play via fewer strikeouts and an increase in his walk rate. The BABIP is there, but even as that comes down to normal levels, it’s not taking away all of his hits.
And while it’s early, he’s seen over 225 pitches this year and he’s only swung and missed a handful of times. That’s a really promising sign because that’s generally not the kind of thing you can fake for very long. I’m not going to sit here and tell you Iglesias is a great hitter or that he’s going to be a real contributor, but Iglesias with this kind of contact ability is more interesting than the Iglesias we saw in 2013.
To sum it up, if we say he’s a +10 SS and assume he gets 600 PA, the difference between a .280 wOBA and a .300 wOBA is the difference between a 2 win player and a 3 win player. Push him to .320 and he’s a 4 WAR player, putting him in the All-Star conversation. What would it take to get him to a .320 wOBA?
Over 600 PA and assuming something like an 8% walk rate, it would be a slash line of about .290/.350/.360. That figures a strikeout rate of 10% and a BABIP of .320.
Am I predicting it? I’ll probably bet the under, but it’s reasonable if the contact rate is real. A league average hitting Jose Iglesias would be amazing and so far this year we’ve seen glimpses of a player who might be able to make that work. It’s too early to say that he’s truly different, but in the early goings, we’ve seen some promising signs.
A nice turnaround.
Tigers 4, Indians 1
After a few rough days, the Tigers got things back on track thanks to two in early runs in the first, one in 3rd, and one in 4th, paired with a nice day from Alfredo Simon (4 GS, 27.1 IP, 1.35 ERA, 3.03 FIP). In addition, Cabrera was walked intentionally three times and once normally for good measure. The team will look to take the series behind Kyle Lobstein (2 GS, 11 IP, 3.27 ERA, 3.58 FIP) on Sunday.
The Moment: Victor Martinez pushes a single through the right side to give the Tigers an early lead.
Indians 13, Tigers 1
So, listen. This was very bad. Shane Greene (4 GS, 27 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.94 FIP) got tagged. Alex Wilson gave up a dinger and then was fine, but then Al Alburquerque came in and made it even worse. The Tigers couldn’t must much offense against Danny Salazar, but they had a few good swings and Nick obliterated a pitch in the 2nd. The story of this was the poor performance by the pitching staff with 8 runs from Greene and another 5 from he bullpen. These games are going to happen, but they’re never a lot of fun while they’re in progress. Hopefully Alfredo Simon (3 GS, 20.2 IP, 1.74 ERA, 2.96 FIP) can do his thing on Saturday.
The Moment: Nick Castellanos crushes one to right center field.