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.