Monday, 20 April 2015

2015 Tigers' Series #4: potentes Cespedes

Ave Yoenis! What do the two Tiger victories in the weekend series against the Chicago White Sox have in common? Home runs by Yoenis Cespedes. They also have in common excellent pitching, from David Price and Shane Greene. Meanwhile, Saturday's blow-out loss featured very poor pitching. Even the bullpen gave up three runs in the first two innings after Anibal Sanchez was knocked out of the game. Once again we see Brad Ausmus a bit reluctant to go the pen, although he may have been trying to eke out enough innings from Sanchez to keep some relievers in reserve for the series with the New York Yankees.

Cespedes has now improved his Steamer projection to a wRC+ of 122, up three runs on what was forecast before the season. However, more importantly, shortstop Jose Iglesias has raised his wRC+ projection to 96, from 81. Almost all of the projections for Tigers' hitters are up, but Iglesias' improvement is the most dramatic. Of course, the season is long, and much can go wrong between now and October. Iglesias fine start is based on an outrageously unsustainable BABIP of .459. (It is worth noting, however, that JD Martinez' BABIP is an equally implausible .212.) However, one can't take away those ten wins from the Tigers. The Tigers went 10-2 where pre-season projections implied a 7-5 or 6-6 record. Tigers' fans should be happy, and send positive feelings toward a team that is doing them proud.

Numbers indicate what percent of a win a player added over the series with his bat, based on Run Expectancy and Leverage of plate appearances.

Player               Win Value Added
Yoenis  Cespedes       .987
Jose  Iglesias         .407
Anthony  Gose          .183
Nick  Castellanos      .163
James  McCann          .021
Andrew  Romine         .000
Hernan  Perez         -.005
Miguel  Cabrera       -.039
Rajai  Davis          -.090
Victor  Martinez      -.095
Alex  Avila           -.127
J.D.  Martinez        -.323
Ian  Kinsler          -.523

Friday, 17 April 2015

Octo Lauri

EIGHT AND ONE! Is this egg all over the faces of Tigers' sceptics like Baseball Prospectus' Sam Miller, who has mentioned in a couple of podcasts that he thinks the Tigers will escape the AL Central cellar by one spot? Or should we be more cautious and remember the old sage Aristotle's comment that "one swallow does not make a summer"? Let me line up a few mid-April thoughts as we still remind ourselves that it is a long season, and much can go right during it, as well as going wrong.

The BIG MAN: The Tigers are going to stand or fall by the production of Miguel Cabrera. Last season he looked weak at times, like Antaeus being lifted up by Hercules, but only for a moment. I have only been able to follow the games by GameDay Audio, but the sense I get is that he is still missing a bit of the power that made him the linch-pin of previous Tigers' teams. What we have at the moment is a Cabrera more akin to Victor Martinez, who is hitting hard line-drives for singles and doubles. If he can still hit for a high average with a goodly amount of gap power, he will remain the offensive force that the Tigers need batting in the third spot. I was optimistic from the first plate appearances in spring training that Cabrera would prove all those neo-sabermetric Cassandras wrong, and I remain so.

The Rotation: Like classic Dave Dombrowski teams, the Tigers are going to win with starting pitching. This was his strategy with the Florida Marlins in 1997, and it was what he was rebuilding in 2001, when he came north. Starting with the trade of Doug Fister in November 2013, Mr Dombrowski began rebuilding the rotation on the fly. It seemed to me the trade for David Price was not a short-term patch, but has long-term intent, as Mr Dombrowski is looking to sign him to the kind of contract Max Scherzer turned down. More importantly, after two starts it looks as if Shane Greene is the real thing. However, I am slightly concerned by our Latin AS-Team of Anibal Sanchez and Alfredo Simon. Sanchez' disastrous seventh inning on 13 April reminded me that it is one of his characteristics, to lose it quite rapidly. I would like to see Simon pitch a few more DH games before I regard his starts with a degree of confidence. The big question, though, is whether a Justin Verlander start will be any better than a Kyle Lobstein one. Lobstein did well enough for the Tigers to win the game, but those are games that must be won by the bat, an uncertain hope still, even with a return to fearsome form by Miguel Cabrera.

Cheetahs Prosper: Brad Ausmus' decision-making in these early games suggest that he plans to make full use of his speedier chaps this season. We have seen some benefit with Anthony Gose in centre-field, but the running game is a chancer's hope. So far, the Tigers are on a hot streak, but Gose was caught stealing in the first inning on 10 April, an incident followed by two singles that might have given the Tigers an early lead in a game they never looked like losing — but we didn't know that at the time. As long as Ausmus' decision to run is rewarded with success, I'm happy to see the Go-Go Tigers. But I reserve the right to say indiscriminate basepath larceny will only lead us to remember that crime does not pay.

Oh What a Relief It Isn't: The Tigers have been fortunate that their bats have carried them through two of the three series they have played so far. In Pittsburgh, playing by the National League's primitive arrangements of letting the pitcher bat (my goodness, but Dan Dickerson went on and on about that to the point of making me reconsider my On the Road to Damascus conversion to the Designated Hitter a couple of years ago), Manager Ausmus used a grand total of four relief pitchers in three games, none of which was settled by more than two runs. Meanwhile, Manager Hurdle used EIGHT. Ausmus' reluctance to go to the bullpen in high-leverage games makes me think that he believes he'll find little relief there. Which is fine, until we get to later in the season, when the rotation may be a bit more ragged after throwing so many pitches.

With eight wins banked, the Tigers have made dramatic improvements to their playoff odds. But some of the same questions remain. The advantage gained is still dependent on things like whether Verlander can improve on last season, how much petrol the bullpen has stocked up to pour out in high-leverage situations and how efficiently Cabrera and the Latin legal firm of Martinez, Martinez & Cespedes can deliver runs.

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.