Catching Fire: It Don’t Come Easy

With just under a month remaining in the 2016 MLB season, this is a good time to take stock of the Detroit Tigers and some of their key players.

Team Playoff Odds

Today, the team sits 5.5 games back of Cleveland in the AL Central, and one game out of the second AL wild card spot, behind Boston and Baltimore. At this point, the division likely is out of reach, but the wild card is in play. Over the last two weeks, the Tigers have moved in and out of the second wild card position, and, although it’s served them well to this point, the Orioles’ volatile combination of bad starting pitching and overreliance on home runs is subject to collapse at any moment.

Three sites– Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and FiveThirtyEight– take varying stances on spaces and the capitalization of letters in their names, but all three provide MLB playoff odds for every team. These represent the percent chance, based on to-date performance, that a given team will make the playoffs. Here’s how the Tigers’ playoff chances look today:  

That’s a pretty big tumble from where things stood three days ago— 60%/57%/56%, respectively– before Detroit lost two of three to the White Sox, while Boston and Baltimore each won two of three against their respective opponents. FanGraphs offers a visual exhibit:


One more graph on this subject, illustrating Championship Leverage Index, serves as a reminder that, in terms of postseason odds, Detroit now is playing by far their most important games of the year:


Losing always hurts, but it hurts even more when the games are more significant. The ostensible good news for the Tigers always was supposed to be that they had an easy end-of-season schedule. The Hardball Times highlighted this before the season even began, and, on Tuesday, broke it down this way:

They have two more games against the White Sox, against whom they’re 12-5 this season.

They have seven games against the Twins, versus whom they are 11-2 [sic].

They have a three-game series left with the Braves, who have the second-worst record in baseball.

They have 13 games against teams with winning records, 10 of which are at home.

They lost those two Chicago games, as mentioned, and the winning record against the White Sox was a bit misleading given that many of those games were decided by a single run. The record against the Twins also may be misstated: according to Baseball-Reference, Detroit leads Minnesota 10-2 (not 11-2) in the season series.

Still, they are in a good position going forward, and their win on Monday marked seventy-five for the season, one more than they recorded all of last year.

Justin Upton

Last month, I took a close look at Justin Upton’s struggles since signing with Detroit and argued that his atypically poor performance was due to bad luck. Since then, things got worse…and then a whole lot better:


Offensively, Upton is playing his best baseball of the season right now, and his home runs– nine since August 11– have powered the team’s offense through that stretch.

More than anything else, when you hire Upton, you’re adding twenty-five home runs. This had been an awful season for Upton, though, and yet, with just under a month to go, he sits at twenty-two home runs. If he continues his current hot streak, he could save his season and his team’s.

Miguel Cabrera

Still good. He recently joined David Ortiz and Albert Pujols as the third active player with at least ten thirty-home-run seasons, and he’s already hit more than he did in each of the past two seasons. He’s the fourth Tiger– alongside Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Hank Greenberg– to hit three hundred homers for Detroit, and he’s in a three-way tie (with Adrian Beltre and Paul Konerko) for number forty-two on the all-time list, with 439 total. ESPN also reports that he has ten four-hit, two-homer games, which ties him with Barry Bonds for second-most behind Lou Gehrig, who did it twelve times. The only historical lists on which his name doesn’t appear, oddly, are Baseball-Reference’s populated search lists for “Cabrera” and “Miguel.”


Cabrera usually has been a balanced hitter who, when healthy, has no obvious weaknesses. Yet, back in June, someone highlighted what were politely described as “curious splits.” The short story: 1) Cabrera couldn’t hit left-handed pitching, and 2) he couldn’t hit on the road. Since then, though, those splits have resolved themselves. He’s hitting all pitchers equally well regardless of handedness (no more reverse platoon split), and although he still is better when hitting at home and on the road, the difference is far less extreme than it was in June, and in-line with career norms.

Team Outlook

It could be a rough ride, but I still believe the Tigers will be back in the playoffs this year. ALDLAND will be live in Atlanta for their last three games of the season, which will double (triple?) as the last three games ever played at Turner Field.


Mike Drop – 8/16
Checking in on Justin Upton – 8/11
The Tigers are not Utilitarians – 7/27

Is Brad Ausmus Evolving? – 7/26
Tigers offered another opportunity tonight against Pomeranz – 7/25
Brad Ausmus is not saying, he’s just saying – 7/8
Ian Kinsler is the San Francisco Giants of the MLB All Star Game – 7/6
Night of a thousand feet of home runs – 6/21
Pelf on the shelf – 6/16
When is it okay to stop short? – 6/15
Heading for the exit velocity – 5/17

Boy, the starters need to carry that weight a longer time – 5/3
Who’s Number Two? – 5/2

Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances
Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training
2016 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: They’re Not Dead Yet


5 thoughts on “Catching Fire: It Don’t Come Easy

  1. Pingback: Catching Fire: Cabrera leads by example | ALDLAND

  2. Pingback: The arc of the ALDLAND universe is long, but it bends toward this weekend | ALDLAND

  3. Pingback: Saving Detroit: Decoding the Upton Myth | ALDLAND

  4. Pingback: Saving Detroit: Upton There | ALDLAND

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