Tondar's Daily Rant

Prepare yourself for the writings of Tondar the Destroyer, Baron of Atlanta, Rightful Heir to the Throne of Spain, from whom all babies come. As his will be blogged, so let it be done.

Monday, November 03, 2008

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TIGERS '08

From Seth...

This is the fastest post-mortem for a season ever:

WAS IT THE OFFENSE's FAULT?

Runs scored in 2006: 822

Runs scored in 2007: 887

Runs scored in 2008: 821

Analysis: The biggest lineup change was adding Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria and losing Sean Casey and a chunk of the season from Pudge. The reamiAlso, Matt Joyce ended up taking a lot of the innings that Craig Monroe had in 2007. Cabrera was an upgrade from Casey hitting-wise. Renteria was actually an upgrade over Inge 2007. Inge 2008 was a downgrade from Pudge. Still, the real knock was mediocre (by their standards) seasons from the rest of the team. The bench only had a small reduction from 2007's output, but a larger one from the 2006 output. Still, the offense was more than capable, as evidenced by similar production to the one that took us to the World Series.

If there was anything particular that stood out, Magglio tied for the league lead in Grounding into Double Plays.

WAS IT PITCHING?

Runs allowed in 2006: 675

Runs allowed in 2007: 797

Runs allowed in 2008: 857

Analysis: In the words of Jaime Heineman: "There's your problem." While baseball as a whole saw run production go down 3% in this period, the Tigers' defense has witnessed a 27% increase, from the MLB's best two years ago, to the MLB's third-worst last year. Equally concerning is the tred line from 06 to 07, when opponents scored more than 120 more runs. This also occurred on a team with a pitcher-friendly ballpark. What happened?

First of all, injuries did hurt us. Bonderman, particularly. He was at 4.29 this year, which is close to his 2006 bar of 4.08 and better than his '07 campaign of 5.01. Bonderman was replaced largely by Eddie Bonine at 5.40.

The big pickup was Dontrelle Willis, but he showed up with skewed mechanics and was replaced by Armando Galarraga, who was our best starter this year (13-7, 3.73 ERA).

But the real story was dramatic dropoffs in production from our starters. Verlander jumped from a 3.66 ERA in '07 (was similar in '06) to 4.84 in '08. Kenny Rogers continued his decline from 3.84 in '06 to 4.43 in '07 and 5.70 in '08. Nate Robertson went from 3.84 in '06, to 4.76 in '07, to 6.35 in '08. The bad seasons from those three guys put greater emphasis on the bullpen. And that bullpen wasn't exactly stocked.

Zach Miner was again our most competent guy, putting in 118 innings at 4.27. Zumaya, when he wasn't hurt, was effective but not stellar, at 3.47. Aquilino Lopez and Freddy Dolsi ended the year as the middle guys, but not before a cavalcade of suck came through, including 16 innings from Kyle Farnsworth at 6.75, which hardly made up for what Pudge did behind the plate. We got more from the late signing of Freddy Garcia, who went 1-1 and 4.20 in 15 innings.

The end of the pitching nightmare was the back of the pen. Todd Jones was at the end of his career and the floodgates he'd held back so long finally opened. Fernando Rodney couldn't string two good outings together and turned in 40 innings of 4.91 ball.

Rodney is the exemplar of this pitching staff, which, likewise, gave up 4.91 earned runs per game. No matter how well the Tigers were hitting, the pitching couldn't get them a lead or keep it.

WAS IT THE DEFENSE?

The question is, with an across-the-board downswing in pitching, maybe there was another factor involved, i.e. bad defense.

Against the rest of the league, the defense was bad. Against ourselves in previous years, it was really bad.

First, the changes: Miguel Cabrera replaced Sean Casey at first. Edgar Renteria replaced Guillen at short. Guillen replaced Brandon Inge at 3rd. Brandon Inge replaced half of Pudge at catcher, and half of Mike Rabelo at catcher. The other half of Rabelo was replaced by Dane Sardinha.

Casey to Cabrera is a big downgrade. Renteria to Guillen is a big downgrade. Inge to Guillen surprisingly wasn't much of a downgrade at all. Pudge/Rabelo to Pudge/Inge/Sardinha was only a slight downgrade. There were also dropoffs around the field. The pitchers performed worse this year than previous ones. Granderson missed some games so centerfield couldn't live up to 2007 (the best fielded year in Tiger's history for that position). Ordonez came down from his career high in right field. Left field degraded as Sheffield and Thames saw more time there, a huge downgrade from 2007, which was mostly Monroe and Thames with a little Timo Perez and Cameron Maybin.

I did a little statistical analysis to see if the Tigers' defense was bad enough against the league to warrant the pitching dropoff. My hypothesis was that if the Tigers had dropped to, say, the 3rd-worst defense in the American League, or worse, then maybe that was what was dragging the pitching down. First I did the starters.

Glossary:

RF2: Known as "Range Factor 2". Putouts and assists per 9 innings plus Double plays per 9 innings. Higher is better

FP: Fielding percentage. Putouts and assists divided by Putouts plus assists plus errors

Fld: Fld is my favorite defensive stat: RF x FP2.

Starter: Player who started most often for that position for the Tigers in '08

AL: American League, e.g. AL FP is the fielding %

Range Rank: Rank of starter by range among AL starters (14 total)

Position

Starter

Starter RF2

Range Rank

Starter FP

AL FP

Fld - Tiger Starters

Fld - AL Starters

Difference

1st Base

Cabrera

8.90

12

99.2%

99.4%

8.76

9.10

-0.34

2nd Base

Polanco

5.22

4

98.9%

98.7%

5.11

4.96

+0.15

3rd Base

Guillen

3.16

1

94.9%

95.8%

2.85

2.49

+0.36

Shortstop

Renteria

4.31

9

97.2%

97.1%

4.07

4.15

-0.08

Centerfield

Granderson

2.81

5

98.9%

98.9%

2.75

2.63

+0.12

Left Field

Thames

2.27

3

96.1%

98.4%

2.10

2.02

+0.08

Right Field

Ordonez

1.79

14

97.9%

98.5%

1.72

2.10

-0.38

Outlier: You'll note that Marcus Thames was the 3rd-rangiest AL left fielder. Yes, AL left fielders were not stellar this year to begin with. But you could argue that Thames played many of his innings in cavernous Comerica Park, and his range factor gives him a big bonus for getting to balls that otherwise would have been homers or in the stands in other parks. This is only partly true: Matt Joyce actually started a plurality of the games in left field of CoPark this year. Thames isn't the world's greatest outfielder, but he actually had a pretty rangey year in 2008, and a better year range-wise than Monroe did in 2007 or 2006.

You'll note two things:

1.) Tiger starters compared to the rest of the league's starters actually had okay range. Cabrera and Ordonez were near the bottom for their positions. Renteria was below average among league starting shortstops. But range-wise, this was not a horrible defense. Guillen was statistically the rangiest 3rd baseman in the league. Polanco and Granderson had years that were Gold Glove caliber. There's a big hole for any ball hit to the right side, but I'm comfortable with the rest of the field.

2.) Errors were bad. At 1st base, 3rd base, left field and right field, and overall (by a whole percentage point), the Tigers starters were below the league average in fielding percentage. That means the starting pitchers had to contend with a lot of errors. The Tigers made 113 errors this year, most of those by the starters. This doesn't make pitchers' stats any better. The corner infield positions I attribute to Cabrera and Guillen playing those positions for the first time, and their improvement through the summer suggests that they won't be as bad next year. As for the corner outfielders, well, Ordonez is never going to be a spectacular fielder, and neither is Thames.

Overall, I'd say the fielding among the starters had a little to do with the problems of the starting rotation, but not really enough to explain the gross increases in ERA and runs scored against us.

Next I ran the team as a whole versus league numbers. These stats are a reflection of the whole team versus the whole league, but really, taken against the starters' stats above, it's a reflection of the bench's defense, and Leyland's ability to use the bench to limit runs scored against the bullpen

Position

Starter RF2

Team RF2

AL RF2

Team FP

AL FP

Team Fld

AL Fld

Difference

1st Base

8.90

8.86

9.26

99.2%

99.4%

8.72

9.15

-0.43

2nd Base

5.22

5.16

5.01

98.5%

98.7%

5.01

4.88

0.13

3rd Base

3.16

3.16

2.74

94.8%

95.8%

2.84

2.51

0.33

Shortstop

4.31

4.30

4.39

97.2%

97.1%

4.06

4.14

-0.08

Centerfield

2.81

2.85

2.71

98.7%

98.9%

2.78

2.65

0.13

Left Field

2.27

2.30

2.05

96.9%

98.4%

2.16

1.98

0.17

Right Field

1.79

1.92

2.15

97.8%

98.5%

1.84

2.09

-0.25

1.) When the whole team was put in, 1st got even worse, and the corner outfield spots improved dramatically. Everything else, Fld wise, was little different against the league.

Looking closer, 1st base was dragged down by over 200 innings of Guillen and Thames, but later on, Jeff Larish put in a stellar 10.42 in 38 innings of late-inning work.

At 2nd, Ryan Raburn was not as good as Polanco.

Inge played 324 innings at 3rd and was a lot better than Guillen, but 300 innings from Cabrera, Larish, Raburn and Hessman canceled out the good Inge did there.

At shortstop, Ramon Santiago was much better than Renteria (and the league average) in 227 innings of work, but just 44 wretched innings from Michael Hollimon canceled that.

In center, Clete Thomas' 112 innings were fantastic from a range standpoint, but his 2 errors stood out. Brandon Inge's 94 innings had league-average range and no errors.

It was a mess in left, where Marcus Thames and Matt Joyce mostly split time but Jacques Jones' 172 innings. The position accounted for 12 errors. Clete Thomas (139 innings) helped bump up the range stat.

Right field was dominated by Magglio, but when the Tigers had a lead, Matt Joyce (161 innings) was rangier but less glovish (glovey? glovular? had more errors per 9) than the league's average 9-spotter.

2.) Yes, there's a lot of red in the Team FP column. Overall, it suggests the backups were somewhat worse than the starters. It's more spread out, however. Total them up and you get the same fielding percentage from the whole team as you got from the starters. If you're looking for a culprit, Ryan Raburn made 5 errors in 118 innings as Polanco's backup, whereas Polanco got dinged for 8 in 1201 innings (he usually doesn't have any).

The Tigers were also at the bottom of the league in errors, making 113 and putting in an awful total fielding percentage of .981, worst in MLB (In case you're wondering why that stat doesn't match up with the one from the chart, it counts total number of plays, whereas above you have an average of all the positional stats)

In 2006, the Tigers led the league in defensive efficiency (.700). In 2007 we were near the top (.690). This year, we were at .683; only Seattle was worse.

It was the errors, then, that made this a bad defense. They got to a lot of balls. Of course, the pitching staff was giving them a lot of balls to hit.

SO IT WAS THE PITCHING?

Yes. The pitching was injured, as evidenced by the high inning totals for relief pitchers (118 for Miner, 41.3 for Casey Fossum, 26.7 from Eddie Bonine, 41.7 from Jonesey, 56.3 from Seay, 78.7 from Aquilino Lopez, 47.7 from Freddy Dolsi and 40.3 from Fernando Rodney). Among pitchers who threw more than 20 innings, we include Clay Rapada, Chris Lambert, Dontrelle Willis, and Gary Glover. That's a lot of innings from sub-prime pitching.

You see a lot of ERA rises in starters that isn't represented in the middle relief. However, I showed above that the team defense was nominally worse than the starters' defense, even with more range. What happened?

1. Walks. Tigers were 3rd-worst in the league in walks, with 644. That's an average of four extra baserunner per game. If one in four baserunners score, that right there is one point of ERA in walks. The Tigers had 566 walks in 2007, and just 489 walks in 2006. Let's go back a sec:

Runs allowed in 2006: 675

Runs allowed in 2007: 797

Runs allowed in 2008: 857

Hmmm

Walks issued in 2006: 489

Walks issued in 2007: 566

Walks issued in 2008: 644

Hmmm

Runs allowed in 2006: 675

Runs allowed in 2007: 797 (15 percent increase)

Runs allowed in 2008: 857 (7.5 percent increase)

Hmmm

Walks issued in 2006: 489

Walks issued in 2007: 566 (13 percent increase)

Walks issued in 2008: 644 (12 percent increase)

And just for kicks:

Errors allowed in 2006: 106

Errors allowed in 2007: 99 (6.6 percent decrease)

Errors allowed in 2008: 113 (13.3 percent increase)

Yes, if this seemed like a longer season than 2006, it's because the Tigers threw a lot more pitches this year. The extra baserunners likely contributed to amount of errors, as players forced throws or missed tough double-play balls. The 2008 Tigers were 28th in MLB in getting the ball over the plate:

There's one more stat that I want to show you to prove it was the pitchers' fault this year:

Runs Allowed by Inning

 Inning   #    0  Any    1    2    3    4   ≥5  Most Total  Avg Avg/9inn
+------+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+-----+----+
    1    162  109   53   34   11    6    2    0    4   82  0.51 4.56
    2    162  111   51   26   14    7    3    1    5   92  0.57 5.11
    3    162  115   47   28    7    5    4    3    6   90  0.56 5.00
    4    162  111   51   28   11    8    4    0    4   90  0.56 5.00
    5    162  106   56   28   14    7    3    4    7  112  0.69 6.22
    6    162  111   51   23   14    7    4    3    6  104  0.64 5.78
    7    162  107   55   32    9    7    6    1    6  101  0.62 5.61
    8    162  112   50   21   12    6    8    3    6  111  0.69 6.17
    9    124   90   34   20    7    2    4    1    6   62  0.51 4.60
   10     12    9    3    2    1    0    0    0    2    4  0.36 3.27
   11      8    4    4    4    0    0    0    0    1    4  0.52 4.70
   12      4    3    1    1    0    0    0    0    1    1  0.30 2.70
   13      3    3    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0  0.00 0.00
   14      2    1    1    0    0    0    1    0    4    4  2.40 21.60
   15      1    1    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0  0.00 0.00
+------+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+-----+----+
        1450  993  457  247  100   55   39   16    7  857  0.59 5.34

Look at the 5th inning and the 6th. Our ERA in the first four innings wasn't great (hovering around 5.00) but in the middle of the game, it jumps to 6.22, then 5.78, then 5.61, then 6.17 in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th innings. This is middle relief doing a suck-fest of getting the starters out of jams. The starters would depart time and time again responsible for runners that the middle relievers allowed to score.

The other thing that sticks out is how many games were lost in the 8th inning. This was the injury to Zumaya, coupled with the crappy play of Rodney and Farnsworth.

Look at the 2006 RAbI chart:

 Inning   #    0  Any    1    2    3    4   ≥5  Most Total  Avg Avg/9inn
+------+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+-----+----+
    1    162  103   59   29   15    6    6    3    6  118  0.73 6.56
    2    162  121   41   28   11    0    2    0    4   58  0.36 3.22
    3    162  110   52   27   13    7    4    1    6   96  0.59 5.33
    4    162  116   46   25   12    7    1    1    5   79  0.49 4.39
    5    162  114   48   23   13    9    2    1    5   89  0.55 4.94
    6    162  102   60   35   14    3    7    1    8  108  0.67 6.02
    7    161  121   40   21   12    5    1    1    5   69  0.43 3.86
    8    161  110   51   25   13    7    4    2    7  102  0.63 5.70
    9    132   98   34   17   10    3    3    1    5   63  0.49 4.40
   10     18   10    8    5    2    1    0    0    3   12  0.82 7.36
   11      7    5    2    2    0    0    0    0    1    2  0.32 2.84
   12      3    2    1    1    0    0    0    0    1    1  0.33 3.00
   13      1    1    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0  0.00 0.00
+------+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+-----+----+
        1455 1013  442  238  115   48   30   11    8  797  0.55 4.96

You can see the '06 Tigers still had problems in the 8th inning (and the 1st, thanks to a full season of Bonderman I have to guess). But look a the 7th inning. That was shut-down ball. In 121 games, opponents left the 7th with nil, nada, zip, zilch.

The other thing to notice is the 5th inning. While this was the take-off point in 2008, in 2006 it was business as usual (and business was better to begin with). It shows the major difference between this season and that one. In 2006 the starters threw more strikes, and got through the 5th inning, and the bullpen regulars could take it from there. In 2008, the starters would leave with runners on base in the 5th, and the weaker bullpen had an extra inning per game to cover.

NEXT YEAR?

2006 Pythagorean W-L: 95-67 (95-67)

2007 Pythagorean W-L: 88-74 (89-73)

2008 Pythagorean W-L: 78-84 (74-88)

There is hope for next year, even without any positive additions. First of all, with a repeat performance, Pythagoras says we'll improve four games just because.

Second, the errors had gone down a lot by the end of the season, particularly as Guillen and Cabrera settled into their spots. After the 2-10 start, when Cabrera moved to 1st, Guillen took over 3rd, and Granderson came back, the Tigers were a just-over-.500 team.

Third, next year, I can almost guarantee better pitching. First of all, it seems whatever was bothering Dontrelle Willis was gone after he worked his way back. I think he can contribute better than his 9.00+ ERA from last year. We also get back Bonderman. Kenny Rogers, meanwhile, has retired. Third, I think Verlander's season was a fluke. He (and Nate Robertson) were the biggest beneficiaries of the middle relief's largesse last year. Every season should make Verlander more comfortable. Robertson I'm not as sure of. But if strike-throwing was the problem, signing a pitching coach whose players tend to throw more strikes could help in that regard.

Our number 1 need bullpen help, particularly late. Todd Jones wasn't much help last year but his retirement doesn't make our job any easier. The young guys are not ready to step up there, and considering the workload put on the relief staff last year, we a 70-80 inning superstar to turn this thing around. A star closer or two solid relievers would make my day here. But I think the Tigers' system has so many middle relief arms that maybe we just be patient and wait for them to pop as they go. A star closer, however, is neither in the system or anywhere on this team.

Our number 2 need is catcher, as Inge is moving to 3rd base and Guillen is moving to left field. Dusty Ryan is the kid who looked good on callup last year, but that's hardly what you want for a shaken pitching staff of veterans. The more I go over this, the more I say ask Pudge back. They won't, though. That's why I think Greg Zaun is the guy, unless a trade goes down.

3rd on the list is shortstop, because Ramon Santiago isn't going to be a superstar, but having him on the bench for defensive purposes is key. Rafael Furcal is a good shortstop and a free agent, but has a lot of suitors, being the only shortstop really available right now. Orlando Cabrera is a solid defender and has hit well at CoPark in the past.

Number 3 is starting pitching. This was such a strength going into last year, but you don't know if Robertson can come back, or what you'll get from Bonderman and Willis. They could re-sign Garcia. And Galarraga will be back, although I expect a sophomore slump from him. Maybe Derek Lowe could take the spot of Kenny Rogers. He's a Michigan man nearing the end of his career.

The Tigers took on a lot of salary to make a run at the championship in '08, so we're gonna be paying for that now. We owe a ton of money to guys who will possibly contribue little, including Gary Sheffield ($14 million), Edgar Renteria ($3 million buyout), and Dontrelle Willis ($10 million). We also have to re-sign a bunch of restricted free agents, including Verlander.

ON FURTHER REVIEW

Had the Tigers not made their trades last offseason, this would be the team heading into 2009:

CF: Curtis Granderson

2B: Placido Polanco

SS: Carlos Guillen

RF: Magglio Ordonez

DH: Gary Sheffield

1B: Sean Casey/Jeff Larish

C: ???

3B: Brandon Inge

LF: Cameron Maybin

SP: Justin Verlander

SP: Jair Jurrgens

SP: Jeremey Bonderman

SP: Armando Galarraga

SP: Andrew Miller/Nate Robertson

LR: Zach Miner

LR: Nate Robertson/Andrew Miller

MR: Freddy Dolsi

MR: Acquilino Lopez

SU: Fernando Rodney

SU: Joel Zumaya

CL: ???

C: Mike Rabelo

IF: Ramon Santiago

UT: Omar Infante

OF: Marcus Thames

OF: Matt Joyce

This team doesn't have Miguel Cabrera, for one, and Casey probably would not have been as productive as he was for Boston off the bench this year. That means Jeff Larish would have some playing time behind him.

Basically, we would have most of the same questions as we do now. We would want a closer, a veteran pitcher in the rotation, a 1st baseman to replace Casey, and a catcher if Pudge didn't re-sign. Sheffield would still be a hanging problem, but it wouldn't be compounded by major salaries for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. So we could possibly get in the sweepstakes for a high-end closer, and maybe go after Grady Sizemore to play left field if Maybin needed another year to be ready. I would buy out Sheff, move Guillen to DH, jump in the K-Rod sweepstakes for a closer, and maybe dangle a package of Maybin and Andrew Miller plus our entire farm system for, say, Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez (both of whom would need to be re-signed to big contracts.

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