Flying Tigers: Where are the Bats?

cabbatI have the good fortune to have spent portions of every summer at an old, out-of-the-way place in southwestern New York that historically has named among its variety of curious attributes a large bat population. The particular species is known, semi-colloquially anyway, as the little brown bat, and its surprisingly heavy presence was readily noticeable visually and environmentally (the prime example of the latter being the localized dearth of mosquitos). In the past year or two, the little brown bat population there has declined steeply, however. An invasive mold-related disease seems to be to blame. If the fact of the problem is known and the cause of the problem is suspected, the solution at this time is neither. The situation feels helpless.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the bats have gone missing too, albeit in a far less dire context. While all eyes are on the bullpen, the simple and obvious truth is that successful baseball teams combine good pitching and good hitting. A shut-down bullpen alone does not a winner make. I’m not saying that general manager Dave Dombrowski’s priorities are misplaced in trading for a reliever (Joakim Soria) or even two (a lefty, please) before the trade deadline this afternoon, but if a trade could inject some life into a surprisingly weak Tiger offense that seems like it’s really missing Jhonny Peralta and a healthy Miguel Cabrera, that might not be a bad idea.

The Tigers plated 796 runs last year. They’re on pace for 758 this season. Everyone’s heard the faux hand-wringing of old baseball writers without original topic ideas, though, and knows that offense is down league-wide this year. In fact, the Tigers currently have the fifth-most runs in all of baseball. Hmm. Not what I expected. They even have a winning record in games decided by one run, with the sixth-best winning percentage in such games. Not awful. Even the monthly run splits are holding steady, if not heating up like fans might hope or expect.

They may be scoring a relative bunch of runs, but perhaps they could have been better allocated between games. The ability to bank runs would be helpful for every team, and even teams with positive run differentials could allocate their runs more effectively in order to generate even more wins. The question may be how effectively Detroit’s runs were allocated as compared with other positive-run-differential teams. The team ranks seventh in run differential and fifth in winning percentage, though, suggesting that they already are doing better than they ought to be given the difference in runs scored and allowed.

Charting a comparison of the 2014 and 2013 Tigers’ number of runs scored per total games (by which I attempt to mean the number of games in which the team scored one run, two runs, three runs, etc.), may be a starting point, however. Because the two teams, to date, have played a different number of regular-season games (104 and 162, respectively), this information is presented as a percentage of total games to allow for closer comparison. I also cut off everything above twelve-run games because of incongruities beyond that point. (Click the image to enlarge it.)


If there’s a visually detectable trend here, it might be that the 2014 squad, shown in red, has scored more of its runs in lower-run-total games than the 2013 team, although I admit I’m not sure if I’ve done enough to normalize the two data sets to account for the overall decrease in scoring in 2014. Still, the trend shown does seem to somewhat support my now-slightly-revised hunch: these Tigers may be scoring a lot of runs, but they are lacking timely hitting. A lopsided win feels nice, but it can’t make up for a close loss the day before.

You still may be convinced that finding more pitching help should be Detroit’s priority today and over the next few weeks, and, having read what I’ve splattered above, I may be ready to agree with you. In memory of Doug Fister, Detroit Tiger, I’ll close with Grant Brisbee’s recent comment on (starting) pitching depth:

Pitching depth . . . is always enviable. Except pitching depth is just a bunch of fifth graders standing on each other’s shoulders, wearing an XXL trench coat, trying to get into the NC-17 movie. Once you look closely, the whole thing falls apart, and everyone scrambles off in different directions, leaving you with nothing but a soiled trench coat and a thought of what in the hell just happened? Also, you think one of the little brats bit you.


Detroit finds relief, but at what price? – 7/24
Closing Time? – 6/4
Closing the Book on 2013
– 6/2
Victor Martinez, Professional Hitter
 – 5/7
Actually Mad Max
 – 4/29
Waiting for Takeoff – 4/28


8 thoughts on “Flying Tigers: Where are the Bats?

  1. Nice post.

    I am not sure how much offense is down this year, but if it were down by 10% (which seems like a considerable amount to me) then the effect this would have on the graph would be minimal. Certainly the low margins wouldn’t be affected at all. Moreover, I suspect that trying to adjust for this would be problematic for other reasons – in particular rounding. At 10% wins by 6 would go into the wins by 5 bin as would wins by 5. At different percentages the same problem would also happen but possibly at a different bin.

    It seems to me that the most tell fact is that the Tigers are better at winning (fifth) than scoring lots more runs than their opponents (seventh).

    As for your actual figure I at first thought it was the victory margin for games, which seems slightly more useful for the current discussion.

    • Thanks.

      I didn’t use run differential in the chart because I was trying to isolate offense for evaluation. Run differential (what you refer to as victory margin) obviously brings in a handful of other factors, and I’d already acknowledged that they’re doing even better than their run differential suggests they should (unlike last year

      Maybe that’s part of the difference in perception, that last year’s team did well, had plenty of runs to spread around, still could’ve done better, and was a little unlucky, while this year’s team, at least according to what we generally conclude from run-differential-driven projections, is doing a little bit better than maybe it should be and has been luckier than last year. It may be that luck element that has me slightly uneasy as I look toward the remainder of the season.

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