Saturday, 21 March 2015

Looking Forward to... AL Central Relievers

The Tigers' bullpen was possibly the biggest cause of their difficult path to the AL Central championship in 2014, and to their ultimate flop in 2013. Mr Dombrowski, however, seems to have concluded that new faces aren't going to change much, so the Tigers go into 2015 with largely the same cast that proved wanting in 2014. One major change is the addition of Tom Gorzelanny. Given the comment about Brad Ausmus' trusting his veterans in this article, it seems likely that Gorzelanny is going to be given the first crack at being the premier left-hander.

For the purpose of measuring relative strengths in the bullpen, I have selected four relievers to represent each team, guessing at which four will pitch the highest-leverage innings. Using the same method I used in the post on rotations, here are the respective quartets:

In neither of the first two in this series did any team have such an advantage over the others as the Kansas City Royals have over their AL Central rivals in the bullpen. Kelvin Herrera, ranked third behind Greg Holland and Wade Davis, is as good as the best of any of the other bullpens save the White Sox' David Robertson.

The Tigers' problem is that no lead looks safe with Joe Nathan as the closer. He has been booed in Florida, which is not going to help matters, either. However, taking the Tigers' bullpen as a unit, the righty set-up men, Al Alburquerque and Joakim Soria, look a bit more solid than their equivalents on the Cleveland Indians, the Royals and the Minnesota Twins. It looks as if the Tigers' fate is going to depend a lot on how many left-handed hitters they are going to face in high-leverage situations.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Looking Forward to... AL Central Rotations

Mr Dombrowski's trade of Doug Fister and Max Scherzer's rejection of a $144 million contract (which, to be fair, he bettered), completely undid the excellent Tigers' rotation of 2013. The question is whether the 2015 rebuild is strong enough to carry the Tigers into the post-season, where its shortcomings might be easier to hide.

How does it stack up against the other rotations in the AL Central? Here is a chart—

The numbers are a metric of my own invention, using linear weight values for strikeouts, non-K outs, hits, home runs and walks to create a 'Pitching Runs'. The result isn't intended to be predictive of anything, but an estimate of the relative strength of each pitcher based on 2015 Steamer projections. I used six pitchers for each rotation because the fifth starter can be said not to exist.

As one can see, the Cleveland Indians' rotation is quite deep, with Corey Kluber a clear number one, and getting strong support from Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. It is almost 50 per cent stronger than the Tigers' one, mostly because Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez are not quite as strong as the Clevelanders' #2 and #3.

Worse, from the point of view of Tigers' fans, is the way the White Sox have apparently just as good starters in Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana backing up their #1, Chris Sale, as the Tigers have behind David Price. However, the fall-off in the White Sox' rotation is the worst in the division. The Royals and Twins lack a true ace.

The Tigers have their work cut out for them this season, even if Justin Verlander should bounce back. Before, their rotation strength was not just individual quality, but also depth. They will need to hit more consistently this season, to make up for a weaker back half of the rotation than we would have expected in recent years.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fearless Joe Sheehan Predicts #2

On 7 February 2005, the Detroit Tigers signed Magglio Ordonez to a five-year contract for $75 million, and options for 2010 and 2011. At sabermetric sites such as BaseballThinkFactory.org was largelyh hostile. To sum it up, the criticism was 'Too expensive for the likely production.' But Fearless Joe Sheehan took things a little bit further
In the short term--2005, maybe 2006--this contract should make the Tigers a better team. Even a past-peak Ordonez, if reasonably healthy, should put up a .300 EqA that will be a big improvement on recent Tigers' corner outfielders. It won't be long, though, before Ordonez's salary far outpaces his value, and eventually is used as the excuse for not retaining a Jeremy Bonderman, or an excuse for more "changes to the system."

The Tigers, though, can't blame any system, or boogeyman in the offices of the MLBPA. They walked into this one, and they will deserve what they get in return.

In fact, as far as one can tell, the Ordonez contract had no impact at all on the Tigers' willingness to spend money to retain star young players, including someone better than Magglio Ordonez

Monday, 16 March 2015

Looking Forward to... 2015 AL Central Lineups

Apologies for the Winter hiatus. My wife's breast cancer has returned, and so I have had more to do than normal. However, I hope to return to my traditional semi-regular posting schedule with the season upon us. She seems to be doing very well so far, although we won't know how successful the treatment is for another 6-8 weeks.

I have an unfinished post I started composing around the time Mr Dombrowski signed Victor Martinez, which was an analysis of the effects of the Anthony Gose deal (but not the Yoenis Cespedes one) on the Tigers' lineup. Since we are now getting projections from the likes of FanGraphs.com and Baseball Prospectus, I thought I would look at the lineups, rotations and bullpens of the AL Central contenders to see how they match up.

Those projections are not happy reading for fans of the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have made a habit of making the pursuit of the division title a bit more exciting than their player talent is generally reckoned to allow. FanGraphs.com sees something of a dead heat between the Cleveland Indians and the Tigers, while the PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus give the Tigers a narrow advantage. We all know that projections are just projections, and how Lady Luck can break your heart.

I have used Steamer Projections, available at FanGraphs, to work out the projected wRC+ of the different AL lineups, reproduced in a PNG here:

The lineups are arranged by position, and based on projected PA also at FanGraphs.com I have made my own combined calculation where platoons or usage does not reflect about 500 PA per position. Being projections, one is more interested in assessing the approximate relative strength of the lineups, as opposed to achieving some kind of precision. As you can see, the Tigers still manage to have the strongest set of regulars, on paper. This is despite Miguel Cabrera's injury struggles last season, and the fact that realistically we have to expect J.D. Martinez to do it again. The strongest challenge should be mounted by the Indians. The White Sox look a bit disappointing to me, based on what I've been hearing about their off-season all off-season. The Twins are in the middle, and the Royals bring up the rear.

At this stage, the problem for Tigers' fans is that we as yet have no clear idea about how ready Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera will be for the start of the season. If they miss three or four weeks between them, that might be enough to close down a good portion of that twenty-run wRC+ advantage over the Indians. Having said that, I was impressed with what I had heard so far of Tyler Collins PAs this spring training. I'm a couple of games behind, though. He has been getting solid contact off front-line pitching, not just off the younger bullpen filler that tends to appear as end-of-game padding. Some good PAs as cover for one of Victor Martinez and Cabrera will go a long way towards keeping the Tigers' lineup strong.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Should We Have the Melk-Man Delivered?

The rumour mill (or in this case The Oakland Press' Matthew Mowery) reported a 'real' interest on the part of the Tigers for free agent Melky Cabrera. Cabrera has most recently been playing in HomerDome North, where the Blue Jays take flight.

By now, the pattern should be familiar. Out comes the Brock2 projection spreadsheet, and in goes the data. However, I would like to briefly digress to take a look at the pattern of Cabrera's career.

Through age 25 (2010), Melky's career slash line was .267/.328/.379. He had mostly been a CF for the Yankees up to then, with his most recent season being at all three outfield positions for the Braves. From age 26 through age 29, he has a slash line of .309/.351/.458. It's not surprising for a player to peak at this period, but that is quite a jump, adding 42 points of BA, 23 points of OBP and 79 points of slugging. He brings doubles power, rather than home-run power. Brock2 suggests his walk rate is going to improve noticeably over the next four years, with his doubles power staying about the same. We've probably seen the best of his home-run hitting. This is a player who was suspended for violating Major League Baseball's policy on doping.

His Runs Created over the next four years are 58, 78, 66 and 72. Not the greatest for a corner outfielder, but there is definitely a spot for production like that where Tigers' outfield corner positions are concerned. He would likely be a noticeable upgrade over Torii Hunter's hitting production, and thus would improve the Tigers' lineup straightaway.

The stumbling block is money. Beyond the Box Score's free agency calculator suggests an annual average value of around $9 million, which is not a great improvement on his last contract, for which Toronto paid him $8 million.

That said, Melky potentially offers a long-term (four-year) fix of a fielding position, and is not coming off a career year. If I'm going to overpay for 274 runs created over the next four years, I think I would rather do it for a left-fielder than a DH.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Victor Martinez: Four More Years?

It seems the market for Victor Martinez' next contract has been set at four years. If I were GM of the Tigers, would I go after him? He is possibly my favourite Tiger hitter, so my initial reaction would be to get in the bidding, post-haste.

Once again, I turn to the Brock2 spreadsheet to consider this. Let's look at his Fangraphs' WAR and RC for his four seasons with the Tigers:

Season      WAR    RC
2011        2.5    97
2012         0      0
2013        0.9    93
2014        4.4   122
Right away, there is a problem. V-Mart was injured in 2012, which makes projections a little bit difficult. Then, we see that being a DH means one has to be an exceptional hitter to show any real WAR impact. (DHs don't field, which hurts them, in the WARverse.) Basically, a .301 average garnered few WAR. A DH needs to hit somewhere between .320 and .330 to start to be worth the kind of salaries a full-time DH can command. Let's also note that V-Mart's 32 home runs in 2014 is a career high. That's not likely to happen again. Here's his projections in those categories for the next four years, plus what Brock2 thinks his Runs Created will be:
Season     BA     HR    RC
2015      .297    14    67
2016      .289    19    78
2017      .314    16    82
2018      .277    14    67
That 2015 RC value is, I think, too low on account of his missing 2012. I would expect a figure more like 2017's 82 is probable. However, all those numbers are below his previous four-year established performance. That is a very large red flag.

Turning to the Beyond the Box Score free agency calculator, and adding a generous estimate of 1.7 WAR for his injured 2012 season, I get an average annual value for a 36-year-old DH of 14.9 million. But I don't think I want to use that value, because of the career-high home-run total for 2014. ZiPS, Dan Szymborski's projection system, forecast only twelve home runs for 2014, while Steamer had him with fourteen. These projections worked out to a 0.9 WAR (ZiPS) and a 1.3 WAR (Steamer). I would prefer to use a WAR number closer to these than to his actual 4.4 WAR in projecting how much I want to pay Victor Martinez.

Adding them together gives a 2.2 WAR, which leads to a far more realistic annual average value for a 36-year-old DH coming off a career year of $9.7 million. That works out to a 4/$38.8 contract, and that would be my ceiling. But we can't do that, because that is a pay cut relative to his 2014 salary of $12 million. So despite his MVP-worthy heroics for 2014, I would say goodbye to Victor Martinez, and many thanks for a great effort.

The problem for the Tigers is the uncertainty over the expensive contracts for Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, both of whom had seasons below expectations in 2014. The last thing the Tigers need is to tie up $20.8 million in excess realistic-market-value for an aging designated hitter. I tend to think the new-fangled sabermetricians are laughably cheap in paying for quality players, but in this case I think they are probably right.

Washington Nationals 2014 Batted Ball Analysis

My batting reviews use types of batted balls to essay an assessment of how much a hitter's statistics might depart from their 'true talent level'. Another way to think about it is to see who might be hitting over their heads, getting that dying quail, or who might be suffering from an excess of 'at 'em' balls and may be likely to improve.

As anyone familiar with sabermetrics knows, one can evaluate batting events by means of linear weights. What this means is that a single is worth about two-fifths of a run while a home run, because it can drive in the men on base, is worth over three times a single. Research has revealed that types of batted balls can assign similar values. Line drives are worth a lot, while infield flies are almost as good as strike-outs. There is a problem in deciding what category to place a batted ball sometimes, especially the difference between a fly ball and a liner, as symbolised by the neologism 'fliner'. So one needs to treat these numbers with a degree of circumspection.

What this chart shows is the difference between a batted-ball linear weight and Fangraphs' wRC. wRC gives a supposed aggregate number of runs that should have been scored based on hitting events. Some people have flares falling in, while others hit the ball hard, but see it caught. The batted ball number also includes Ultimate Base Running, to make it more compatible with wRC. Note that the chart excludes pitchers' hitting. The first column is wRC, the second the batted ball expected runs.

Ian  Desmond       79    61   +18
Bryce  Harper      51    41   +10
Jayson  Werth     100    94   + 6
Danny  Espinosa    31    26   + 5
Adam  LaRoche      84    80   + 4
Zach  Walters       5     4   + 1
Michael  Taylor     4     3   + 1
Tyler  Moore       11    11     0
Nate  Schierholtz   4     4     0
Ryan  Zimmerman    32    33   - 1
Steven  Souza       2     3   - 1
Anthony  Rendon   100   102   - 2
Greg  Dobbs         1     3   - 2
Jeff  Kobernus      0     2   - 2
Scott  Hairston     5     8   - 3
Sandy  Leon         2     6   - 4
Wilson  Ramos      38    43   - 5
Jose  Lobaton      17    24   - 7
Nate  McLouth       9    17   - 8
Asdrubal  Cabrera  21    30   -11
Kevin  Frandsen    19    32   -13
Denard  Span       88   102   -14

I only did this analysis once for the Nationals in 2014 and, just like last time, Ian Desmond has been the luckiest batter, while poor Denard Span has been poorly rewarded for his efforts at the plate. Although I haven't don't a study of this, I use a rule of thumb that +/-5 is within reasonable expectations. So the main candidates to expect a decline from next year are Bryce Harper and possibly Jayson Werth (and Desmond), while we should expect more from Jose Lobaton, Nate McLouth, Asdrubal Cabrera and Kevin Frandsen (and Span). So it's just as well the Nationals picked up Span's 2015 option.