Today felt like the boiling point for a lot of the Tigers’ fan base. The team lost their third straight game. They fell into third place behind the Twins. They hardly got any offense going against Jesse Hahn a day after giving away a game in which they led 7-3. There were double plays. The panic is arriving in #PanicTown.
The Tigers are 15-18 since starting 11-2. They seem to hit into five double plays a game. I get that you’re frustrated and you can feel however you want to feel. But there is no reason to panic. In fact, you should be pretty happy about where the Tigers are for several reasons.
The Tigers are Playing at a 92 Win Pace.
I don’t like to play the on pace game because you always want to include regression to the mean, but the Tigers are playing at a 92 win pace. Most objective projections of their talent level forecasted them in the 85-89 win range. Now granted, no projection is perfect, but those projections expected a healthy Victor Martinez and included a mostly healthy Verlander. The Tigers, by any possible measure of full season win expectation, are ahead of their expected win total.
There’s more to discuss, but even if you’re pissed off at the way the Tigers have played so far, you can’t rationally blame them for the 15-18 under-performance and not give them credit for the 11-2 over-performance. Baseball is chaotic. Streaks happen. Maybe you haven’t liked what’s happened in the last couple of weeks, but on balance, the team has been more successful than they should have been so far.
The Defense and Bullpen Have Been Strengths
I’ll be the first person to tell you that the bullpen will not be this effective for the next four months, but good bullpen performance and good defense allows you to squeeze a little extra out of your roster because you don’t lose as many 50/50 games. In fact, if you go by UZR, the Tigers are the second best defensive team in baseball so far. By DRS, they’re 8th.
The bullpen’s ERA is good lately, but they’ve also done fine through more advanced metrics like FIP and RE24. In previous seasons, we’ve been complaining that the bullpen and defense would blow games the team should win, but this year, they’re not blowing as many of those games in those ways. Expect some regression to the mean, but the defense is absolutely much better than in years past and that will help them avoid some extra losses.
The Offense is Hitting Very Well
This is the third best offense in baseball, still. It’s the Dodgers, Royals, then the Tigers at 111 wRC+. That’s context neutral. It’s a measure of offense that doesn’t pay attention to the order of the events. In other words, the reason the Tigers aren’t scoring more runs is because they’re not getting their hits in the right order.
Consider this inning. Single, ground out, home run, single, strikeout, fly ball. If that happens, you score one run. Now consider this inning. Single, single, home run, ground out, strikeout, fly ball. If that happens, you get three runs. On average, those outcomes will yield 2.5 to 3 runs in an inning, but sometimes they don’t just because of the order.
In both cases, you hit a home run, two singles, a ground out, a fly out, and a strike out. Identical innings on a per PA basis. But the order matters in terms of how many runs you score. And listen, I know you don’t believe me when I say this, but teams cannot control the order in which those hits occur. You can order your lineup a little better, sure, but basically there is no way to will yourself to get hits with men on base rather than with the bases empty. It’s just not a real thing. The Tigers happen to be hitting their ground outs at horrible moments so far this year.
The great part about this is that it will almost certainly change. Granted, it’s a GIDP kinda club because they’re on base a lot and are sort of slow, but the luck will even out. Pay attention to the overall quality of the bats rather than the random ordering of the outcomes. If they keep hitting like this, they will score more runs.
The Calvary is Coming
Verlander is coming in a couple of weeks. Rondon is coming. Either Victor Martinez will come back or they’ll continue to use a DH who will hit better than the Victor we saw to start the season. I would imagine Sanchez will straighten himself out. Presumably Castellanos will hit better. Of course, Gose and Iglesias will hit worse than this, but the balance of the corrections should help the Tigers a little bit.
The Royals and Twins Aren’t This Good
Even if you’re one of those people who believe in the Royals Magic, if you think they’re a 103 win team you’re being silly. If the Royals win 103 games, there was nothing the Tigers could possibly do about it. Same for the Twins. You can’t control what the other 29 teams do for most of the season and if you’re judging your team based only on how they stack up against the teams that happen to be performing very well at the moment, of course you’re going to be upset.
This happens almost every season. The Tigers are in the midst of a slightly below average stretch of baseball. It happens. The problem with this for most people is that most people don’t realize that every team goes through the same thing. You’re so plugged in to the rhythm of your team that you don’t realize how often other teams go through terrible stretches of baseball. If the Tigers had started 15-18 and then gone 11-2, you would feel super good right now. But those seasons are identical. They’re no different. Same record of performance. You’re weighted the early games less than the most recent ones because you think this week is a better indication of how good the team is than than the last 46 games and that’s just a trick your mind plays on you. The order doesn’t matter.
This is the same team you were excited about on April 20th. Nothing really changed about the outlook of the team, but your mood shifts on a day to day basis. That’s fine when we’re talking about whether you’re happy with any single game. That’s natural. But when you take a step back, there’s no reason to worry more today than you did four weeks ago.
It’s a solid team. They’re doing well this year. There are flaws, but they are not yet under-performing. There is no need to panic even if you really, really want to.