The Guide To The 2014 Tigers: Thoughts On The Winter In Detroit
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
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 I 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.
- Wins (88.5)
- Walk Off Wins (4.5)
- Games started by Andy Dirks (58.5)
- Times FSD plays video of Rod Allen in Japan (1.5)
- Number of no-hit bids for Tigers starters – 6 innings or more (5.5)
- Date of first serious fair-weather panic (
May 1March 21)
- Homeruns by Miguel Cabrera (39.5)
- Cabrera’s wRC+ (175.5)
- Times a prominent writer will mention the Tigers being aggressive on the basis (∞)
- Times my wife will comment on Brad Ausmus’ attractiveness (34.5)
- Times Scherzer’s 2013 win total will be mentioned during his first start (3.5)
- Games I will actually get to attend (3.5)
- Stolen bases by Rajai Davis (41.5)
- Austin Jackson dives (0.5)
- Tigers All-Stars (4.5)
- Starters’ FIP- (85.5)
- Ten run games (2.5)
- Cabrera/Martinez back to back homeruns (2.5)
- Number of national broadcasts in which Justin Verlander is the on-air guest (all of them in which he doesn’t pitch)
- Awesome tweets from @PAWSDetroit (45.5)
- Squeeze plays called by Ausmus (3.5)
- Games in which Porcello is BABIP’d into submission (2.5)
- Most strikeouts by a starter in one game (15.5)
- Times in which Rod is beside himself with excitement (9.5)
- Times Mario loses it (2.5)
- Times Rod refers to sabermetricians as “WAR guys” (8.5)
- Dan Dickerson screams (13.5)
- Times I say out loud, “Iglesias would have had that” (34.5)
- Game that will be fun (160.5)
- Latest a game will end, eastern time (2:48am)
The Guide To The 2014 Tigers: The Division
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.
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.
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.
The Guide To The 2014 Tigers: Keys To The Bullpen
Nobody likes bullpens. Even teams with objectively good bullpens hate their bullpens. Pretty much every reliever is a failed starter and the bullpen only shows up when the starter has gotten tired or started to fail. The bullpen is the cleanup crew and sometimes they make the place messier.
You also can’t really predict bullpens. Reliever performance varies so much from year to year outside of the very elite arms that the difference between pretty good and pretty bad usually comes from nowhere. With that said, I’m going to offer a little tidbit about each reliever.
Find a way to neutralize righties.
Command the breaking ball.
Better command, don’t pitch against guys who stand in the right handed box.
Trick them into letting you pitch in non-blowouts, you’re pretty okay!
I don’t mean for this to be a blow off post, but I felt like I had to write it to complete the series. I don’t really have a lot to say about the bullpen other than that they could be really good if everyone meets their potential and really bad if everyone finds their realistic floor. There is talent, but there might not be performance. It’s a tough thing to predict. We can analyze when they start playing games, but for now, you just kind of wait.
The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: Keys To The Rotation
If this was 1998, we’d have referred to the 2013 rotation as “da bomb.” They were simply that good. Historically good, if you like stats like FIP, which we do at New English D. The Tigers were one of the best three rotations ever if you look at park and league adjusted FIP, which is pretty freaking amazing. They’ll be short one Doug Fister and Sanchez and Scherzer probably won’t repeat their career best marks, but Verlander could easily “rebound” and Porcello and Smyly should both be league average or better.
Even if it’s not the 2013 Tigers, the 2014 rotation is going to be very good. The difference, leaving aside health, will be between really good and great.
Verlander’s problem during the middle part of last year was release point. It was a mess, and then it wasn’t, and he went back to be being JUSTIN VERLANDER for the final nine starts of the season. The key for him is avoiding those bad habits. If you see the sharp bite on the breaking ball early and he’s commanding the fastball, expect another Cy Young caliber season. If he’s in and out with his command and not generating the necessary spin on the hook, we might be in for another pathetic 5 win season.
For Scherzer, it’s always about the delivery. In June of 2012, he finally straightened things out and caught fire. He hasn’t looked back and is finally making good on his promise. He has the gas and the secondary offerings. If he finds a groove with his motion, there isn’t much that will keep him from a great year. That said, don’t expect a Cy Young. Even if he has a very strong season, simple regression to the mean will likely bring him back to the pack. Oh no, another 5 win pitcher…
Sanchez was awesome in 2013 and the only thing that kept him from winning the Cy Young was a brief DL stint that held down his inning total. No one in the AL prevented runs better than Sanchez and no one had better fielding independent numbers. He was awesome. The key? It was the ability to generate swinging strikes on his changeup. Watch for that early. If he can make that pitch work again in 2014, it might be his turn to claim the highest pitching honor in the game.
Fun fact: New English D’s first big breakout was this post about Rick Porcello last June. We’ve been driving the Porcello bandwagon for quite some time, and there’s no stopping us now. The key last year, and looking ahead to 2014, was and will be his ability to generate strikeouts. He’s never allowed many walks and his ground ball numbers are above suspicion, but maintaining the spike in strikeouts is key. He made better use of his changeup and worked in a new curveball to help against lefties and added velocity when he needed to. If that’s happening again, and he can avoid the Angels, expect big things.
Smyly’s transitioning back to the rotation after a year in the pen working as the Tigers biggest weapon. He doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he hides the ball well and makes good use of the arsenal he does have. For him, I’m looking at durability and fatigue, which is a very difficult thing to judge out of the gate. He’s never pitched a full season at any level and for the Tigers to rival the previous version of themselves, they’ll need Smyly to give them 180 innings. Perhaps an indicator we could use will be how his command and stuff look late in those early April games. If he has what it takes to stay on the mound, he could make losing Fister a little less painful.
The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: Keys To The Backstops and Bench
And now for the sexiest aspect of any baseball team; the bench. The collection of players not good enough to start, but not so bad that you want to cut them loose. Some bench players are prospects doing the apprentice thing, some are veterans trying to hang on, and some are players with a certain set of skills that makes them useful in only certain situations. Since the Tigers are going to work a platoon in left, we’ve already covered outfielder number four, meaning that this is an entire post devoted to three likely members of the Tigers bench, and Alex Avila because otherwise no one would want to read this.
Avila’s key is always going to be his health. Can he stay on the field in a useful form? But that’s not interesting. Don’t get hurt is everyone’s first priority. For Avila, the key with respect to his performance is if he can maintain that short, left-centerfield gap swing. When he goes through rough stretches, his swing gets long, he gets pull happy, and everything seems to be a lazy fly ball to right field. So if he’s short to the ball and driving it up the alley, it’s going to be a good year.
A backup catcher is a backup catcher. You’re going to see them once a week and if you see them anymore you’re in trouble. Holaday is a solid defender with the ability to put the ball in play, but he’s nothing special. Maybe he has a future as a fringe MLB regular, but the key for him is to do anything at the plate. A couple extra base hits, a couple walks, and a non-terrible average. It’s all you ask.
It’s no secret that this is a pro-Kelly website. He’s a dandy utility man who can take a walk and can hit for a little power, while also being the nicest dude in the world. He doesn’t have to do much to handle his role, but the key, if you could call it that, will be to provide enough value with the bat that he can serve as a legitimate backup rather than as the 25th man. He was on it early in 2013 and faded a little. So look for decent compared to passable.
He’s basically another Don Kelly, but he’s going to be called upon to play shortstop despite almost no experience there. Can he handle the position? That’s the key. If he can’t, the team is going to have to rethink the roster. [Also, I am very excited to see how my mother pronounces his name.]
The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: Keys To The Infield
A few days ago, I made the point that the Tigers outfield is more or less going to be about as good as it was last season. The Tigers infield might end up that way, but it’s an entirely different arrangement of players. My baseline estimate is that the unit will be about 10 to 60 runs better (1-6 wins) defensively, but that some of that value will be lost with a little less offensive oomph.
Over the winter, we looked at the state of the infield, but now it’s time to take a look at the most important thing to watch for with respect to each member of the group. Note: The bench will have its own post.
Um…health? He’s not a good defender or fast runner, but he’s moving back to a position for which he is more suited and he’s definitely established himself as the best hitter of the moment. He showed some signs of physical wear last season, and a recurrence of that would be the only thing to keep him from the top of most of the leaderboards. So yeah…what can you even say about Cabrera?
Kinsler’s defensive is a little unsettled. It’s somewhere in between average to above average based on the tendency to mishandle the baseball on semi-routine plays. He’s a good runner and has solid range, so the question for Kinsler is going to be how he handles the transition to Comerica Park. When we evaluate players, we control for park effects, but there are some people who believe that Kinsler’s swing is specifically designed for Arlington’s dimensions and climate. We know that Kinsler is aging and won’t be a 5-7 win player like he was during his peak, but if the park factor isn’t a big issue, he’s going to be a very solid player for the Tigers. Personally, I’m not worried about the transition, but that’s probably the thing to watch here.
Is he going to be an average player or a star? That question is going to be answered based on how well he can get on base. Most scouts and analysts see Iggy as a guy who can muster a .300 wOBA, but in 382 PA in 2013 it was all the way up at .327 thanks to a .356 BABIP. That’s the thing. Is he someone who can sustain an above average, line drive single kind of BABIP? He doesn’t walk much or hit for power (and he didn’t do that either in 2013), so his offensive value is based on the base hit. If he can’t keep that up, he’s a 2 win player. If he can, we might be looking at 3-4 wins thanks to that elite glove. So what we’ll be watching is how Iglesias responds to his first full season and how his approach looks and contact adapts to pitchers who learn more about him. We’ll also have to keep an eye on his shin splints, but those seem to be healing up right now.
Castellanos has been the Tigers top position playing prospect for several years and look excellent in High A in 2012 and was one of the better hitters in AAA in 2013 despite being one of the youngest players at the level. He’s back at his more natural position, third base, but there are a lot of question. This series focuses on one key thing to watch, but I’ll give you two.
First, how does Nick’s footwork progress over the course of the season. From what I’ve seen and heard, his troubles on defense come from lateral movement rather than his hands or arm. He’s not going to be Longoria or Beltre, but if he can be just a few runs worse than average, things will be just fine. On offensive, you want to watch the whole production, but I’ll be curious to see how he adapts to better breaking stuff at the big league level. Nick has mastered the minor leagues, and has the tools to succeed in the show, but he’s had some swing and miss issues in his career and the degree to which he can handle the slider will say a lot about his 2014 impact.
The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: Keys To The Oufield
Earlier this offseason, we talked about the Tigers outfielders, where we think they’re headed based on 2013, and our expectations for 2014. Which left us with the boring conclusion that things are pretty much the same. Jackson, Hunter, some Dirks, and a platoon partner with one-ish tool. That Tigers outfield, lather, rinse, repeat.
Today’s focus is on what we’ll be watching for early in 2014 as an indication that the outfielders will meet, exceed, or fall short of our expectations.
Hunter is a known quantity, but his game has changed over the last couple of years to focus more on base hits the other way and a higher BABIP instead of some of the power he featured early in his career. He’s also aging, which has left his defense a little worse for the wear.
In 2014, we’ll be looking for two things from Hunter. First, can he keep this new approach going? After two full seasons of an elevated BABIP and new batted ball profile, you start to believe it, but the key to his value is how much that number regresses. In 2012 it was up around .390. Last year it was .344. If it gets too much closer to the .300 to .310 career norm, his offensive value is almost gone. But it could bounce back the other way and he’d be in awesome shape, so look out!
The second note of importance for Hunter is how well he makes routine plays in right field. He looked good in the years immediately after shifting away from center, but he made some really bad reads and attempts in 2013 and that’s the kind of thing you need to avoid, especially as your range diminishes with age. Per FanGraphs’ new Inside Edge data, he was in the bottom half of right fielders at making pretty much every type of play. Seeing if he’s a little better at avoiding mistakes will loom large for his performance this year.
Timing. Always timing with Jackson. Supposedly he’s toying with his swing mechanics again and the key will continue to be his ability to consistently find his groove. He goes on stretches of .400/.500/.600 and stretches of .150/.200/.270 and it correlates pretty well with how he works himself through the zone.
He’s a quality defender, even if he can’t dive, and runs well. The tools are there for him to be a bona fide superstar, but his inability to avoid the big slump pushes him down toward an above average regular. If he can find the magic formula, look for a big year.
It’s hard to pin down Dirks. Good bat, iffy glove, then iffy bat, awesome glove. He’s just kind of okay at everything. The main focus now will be on his health, but what you actually need to watch is his swing, specifically how short it is to the ball. Dirks is at his best when his swing is short and purposeful. He got into trouble last year when he started to overswing and lost his ability to make consistent contact. Don’t try to be Cabrera, you’re not Cabrera.
The key for Davis is to do well what he does well. That seems really obvious and not worth writing, even on the internet, but the point is that you don’t care what Davis does other than the two tasks he’s been assigned. Hit lefties, run fast. If he’s adding value on the bases and mashing lefties, you’re happy no matter what. And because running shouldn’t be heavily affected by randomness, you basically need to watch how Davis handles the batter’s box against southpaws. If he’s employing a good approach and getting decent results, it’s all good. Most of his ability to affect the game is based on how Ausmus uses him, so a lot of it is out of his hands.
The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: How To Watch
Reasonable people can disagree about what is considered “good” and “right,” but at New English D we’ve cracked the code to the ultimate baseball watching experience. Obviously, your personal means and life situation will dictate some of how that plays out – for example, if you have a two month old child, you probably can’t be glued to your phone. This is why I advocate everyone having their children in November.
To that end, here’s what you’ll need to maximize your view experience.
Fox Sports Detroit or MLB.TV (depending on location)
An auxiliary screen, such as a laptop or tablet
You’re going to want to check stats, look up random facts, and duck in on other games while the Tigers are on your main screen, so this is a must. I use a Chromebook, but I’m willing to accept that other devices will do the trick.
Sites to know (The Best Baseball Sites):
- Brooks Baseball
- Baseball Savant
Something that runs Twitter
It’s hard for me to imagine watching baseball without Twitter anymore. Having your timeline full of analysis, jokes, and Tigers joy is a huge addition to the experience. Whether you’re debating strategy, RTing people going nuts after a home run, or obsessing over pitch count, this is the place to be.
Below is a list of people that readers recommended for a must follow list, with a few of my own thrown in for good measure. If you think someone is missing, post in the comments section, but submitting yourself is lame unless you’re really clever about it. This is a Tigers specific list, and I’m @NeilWeinberg44:
Things to Know
Tigers fans, I love you, but you tend to overreact to stuff. This might be just being a sports fan in general, I’m not plugged into many other fan bases, but losing a game isn’t the end of the world. Losing four straight games isn’t a huge deal. You can win if two of your players aren’t that good. Like 26 of the 30 bullpens in the league suck. I think this is a football mentality taking over baseball, but your team is going to lose 60 games every year. If your hockey team lost 60 games they’d be the worst. If your football team lost 60 games it would take them 7-10 years. You lose all the time in baseball, and that needs to be okay. For maximum enjoyment, you want to be ready. It’s okay to feel a crushing loss, but you can’t let it get you down on a regular basis.
It’s also important to let you family, friends, and coworkers know about your April to October schedule. Basically, tell them not to attempt to “invite you to things” or “talk to you about non-baseball related stuff” during this time period. There’s nothing worse than getting a “what are you doing?” text in the 6th inning of a game against a division rival. I mean seriously, how does that person even have your number?
Watching baseball should bring you joy more often than anything else. Sure, every now and then you’ll want to crawl into a hole and die, but if you’re not enjoying the season, reconsider your approach. Try switching on the radio feed instead of the television feed. Mute the Twitter people who are negative Nancy’s, or explain to your family that 7-10pm is not an appropriate time to “have non baseball conversations” or “need to go to the emergency room to get stitches.”
If you haven’t noticed, some of this is obvious, some is light-hearted, and some is a list of people you might want to follow on Twitter. Basically, this was a clever way to make a list post without you realizing it. Feel free to share your own game time traditions in the comments!
The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: Stats at New English D
Many of you reading this post hung out at this web address a fair bit last year, or you’re new to the experience but have arrived via my Twitter handle, which means you likely have some understanding of advanced stats in baseball. If you don’t, that’s totally cool. You’re welcome here and we have everything you need to get you up to speed. If you’re into figuring stuff out on your own, our Stat Primer page has everything you need. If, on the other hand, you want the quick summary, this is a post for you.
Let’s start with the basics. When measuring offensive value, we tend to use two stats, wOBA and wRC+. The two stats contain very similar properties, but are presented differently with a couple of little tweaks. The reason we use these two stats is because they are more accurate reflections of offensive performance than stats you may know such as batting average, runs, hits, RBI, and HR. We may still use the AVG/OBP/SLG triple slash line from time to time, but for the most part it’ll be wOBA and wRC+.
The idea behind both of those numbers is that 1) walks matter 2) all hits are not equal 3) hits do not lead to runs in the 1-2-3-4 ratio that you see in slugging percentage. wOBA properly weighs every offensive outcome and scales it to look like OBP. You can read about it in detail using the link above. For 2014, something like .315 will be average and Cabrera will like in the .420+ range. The link even has a calculator!
wRC+ is based on the same principle, but it does two key things. First, it factors in park effects because spending a lot of time hitting in Colorado is going to boost your numbers relative to hitting at Petco. Second, wRC+ is scaled to league average, so the average hitter is always 100 and every step up is a percentage point better than average, but it’s also set to league average each year, so that you can say a player was X% better than his peers in a given year. We use this one quite a bit, so get acquainted.
For baserunning, we like BsR, which is the number of runs you add based on your stolen bases and baserunning. Most of sabermetrics is based on calculating the degree to which something aids in scoring runs, and then those runs are converted to wins. We have UZR and DRS which are run value measures of defense relative to league average.
If you can grasp the concept of wOBA and the concept of run values, you’re probably 75% of the way there. Which makes this a good time to mention that this is a great place to ask questions. You can learn this stuff on your own, or I can help. Comment anywhere on the site, hit me on Twitter, or email us at NewEnglishD at gmail and we’ll take care of you.
For pitchers, we’re going to spend a lot of time using things like strikeout and walk percentage, ground ball percentage, and two stats called FIP and xFIP. These stats churn out an estimate of what a pitcher’s ERA should look like based on their K/BB/HR rates, or in the case of xFIP, those three things plus their fly ball rate and the league average home run to fly ball rate. This tends to give us a better idea of how a pitcher performed independent of the quality of their defense and luck, because we know a lot of what happens on a ball in play is just dumb luck. Both of those pages have detailed descriptions and calculators as well. From time to time, we’ll also employ FIP-, which is simply FIP scaled to league average with 100 being average and lower numbers being that percent better than average.
Both of those sets, for hitters and pitchers, then produce something called Wins Above Replacement (WAR)/calculator, which is a big part of the site. WAR, which you can read about at the link, is how many wins a player is worth compared to a readily available minor league free agent/AAA player. Mike Trout is a 10 WAR player, Cabrera is a 7 WAR player, Don Kelly is like a 0.5 WAR player. You get the idea. If you’re reading something at this site, we’re using FanGraphs’ version of WAR (fWAR), but Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus each have their own calculations.
This was just a quick hit to make you aware of the things you’ll need to know to make the most out of your time here, but if you want to learn more, click the links and ask questions. If you have an idea about wOBA, wRC+, BsR, UZR/DRS, FIP, xFIP, and WAR, you should be able to follow everything that goes on around here.