Window Shopping: Pigs in the Pen

It’s July, which means it’s time for MLB teams to sort out their trade-deadline strategy. While fans distract themselves with All-Star festivities, general managers are preparing to execute player transactions in attempts to load up for a playoff run or, in acceptance of their near-term fates as noncontenders, build for the future.

In this context, the Detroit Tigers find themselves in a bit of a bind. After a very strong start, they’ve slid back to a .500 record and have been entrenched in the middle of the AL Central, never too far out of first place, but never really within striking distance. Would a first-place finish from this position be unprecedented? Hardly. Can they claim a fifth-consecutive division title without making a significant trade this summer? Almost certainly not. The Tigers’ record is not a product of underperforming their potential; instead, it likely is a reasonably accurate reflection of this team’s collective ability to date, warts, lower-body injuries, and all.

There is no question that the Tigers should be buyers this month, however thin their wallet may be with currency in the form of desirable prospects. I can’t say with any certainty whom Detroit should acquire this month– starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels are the most valuable targets on the market, but the sellers’ prices may be too rich for the blood of the Tigers’ farm system– but I do agree with the prevailing preference for bolstering the pitching rotation. Shane Greene‘s floor proved too low to allow the team to continue to wait to see how high his ceiling might go, Alfredo Simon’s regressed to the very average levels we should have expected out of him as a starter, and, with appearances in just four games in 2015, Justin Verlander’s projected resurgence isn’t happening. The return of game-calling extraordinaire Alex Avila to his precarious post behind the plate can’t fix that many holes, and neither, I suspect, can J.D. Martinez‘s unsustainable home-run rate. Detroit needs to find another starter.

The trade-deadline attention on the pitching rotation represents a shift of attention away from their bullpen, the conventionally identified leading source of all of the Tigers’ problems. Continue reading

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Window Shopping: We Got Robbed

The Detroit Tigers shot out to a hot start in 2015, but things have not been too good for Detroit since then. They’ve won just five of their last thirteen series. The team’s active six-game losing streak is its longest in four seasons.

The title of this year’s serial Tigers feature at this site, Window Shopping, comes from the common theme of Detroit season previews that, with respect to a World Series championship, the team was trying to keep open its “window of opportunity,” assuming that proverbial window had not already slammed shut under the weight of expensive long-term contracts, aging players, and perceived defensive burdens.

After the last month and a half, though, it is as if these window shoppers, gazing upon the Commissioner’s Trophy in a fancy Harrod’s storefront display (did we fight the Revolution for nothing??), reached into their back pockets in consideration of making the eventual purchase, only to find they suddenly had no money, no credit cards, no traveler’s checks, nothing. They’ve been robbed.

The Tigers are in a tailspin, and it isn’t exactly anyone else’s fault. Their recent struggles have come in games against teams largely regarded as mediocre or worse, including the Athletics, Angels, and Brewers. What’s happening?

After starting the season with an 11-2 record, the Tigers have gone 17-24, and their performance somehow has felt even worse. By my count, since April 21, the date they entered with that 11-2 mark, Detroit has a -19 run differential. Only two other American League teams– the White Sox and Red Sox– have worse run differentials during that period, and only one AL team, Toronto (187), has allowed more runs over that span than Detroit’s 185. Of course, the Blue Jays also scored 213 runs in those games, a number that dwarfs the Tigers’ 166 and is the most in the league. On the other hand, just seven AL teams have scored fewer than 166 runs since April 21, and two of them, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, still maintained positive run differentials. (Both Sox teams, along with Seattle, Baltimore, and Oakland round out this low-scoring group.) In terms of offense and defense (the fundamental terms of competitive team sports), it’s hard to be worse than Detroit right now.

Offense fueled the Tigers’ strong start, and its disappearance has triggered their decline. They averaged 5.38 runs per game through April 20. Since then, though, they’ve scored just 4.05 runs per game, a drop of more than a run and a third. Omit a blowout 13-1 win against the Twins on May 14, and that per-game scoring average falls to 3.83. No bueno.   Continue reading

Window Shopping: Tigers Roaring Out of the Gate

At one month old, the MLB season now has accrued a sufficient sample size of free time to permit me to compile the opening post of this site’s regular Detroit Tigers series for 2015, Window Shopping. Last year, I came out of the gate a bit too hot, burned out, and had to take the month of June off. This year finds your resident Tiger tracker more balanced and measured in his approach. This year’s Detroit Baseball Tigers have a more balanced look too.   Continue reading

Snapshot: How good has the Detroit Tigers starting rotation been to date?

No, Justin Verlander hasn’t appeared in a single game this season. Yes, it’s still early in the year to be issuing deeply meaningful assessments of baseball team performances. No, I still have not pulled together a proper introductory post for this season’s Tigers series. Instead, you’ll have to get by with this extensive team season preview, which remains not wholly inaccurate, a writeup on Detroit’s bounceback from its first loss in Pittsburgh, a quick peek at changes in team base-stealing profiles, a podcast from earlier this week, and the following snapshot of the Tigers’ rotation through twenty-one games.

This morning, Baseball Prospectus released a new pitching metric, Deserved Run Average (“DRA”), which is designed as a replacement for ERA. You can read more about DRA here (and a nauseatingly detailed exposition of it here), but the one-line summary is simple: “By accounting for the context in which the pitcher is throwing, DRA allows us to determine which runs are most fairly blamed on the pitcher.” After all, that’s what we want to know when we look at a pitcher’s ERA. DRA, it would appear, allows us to know that with greater accuracy.

With that new tool in hand, here are 2015’s most valuable pitchers so far, factoring in their newly calculated DRA:

dra-pwarp-4-29-15Plenty of familiar names on that list, especially for Tigers fans, who will find all five of this season’s starters– David Price (#2), Alfredo Simon (#7), Shane Greene (#9), Anibal Sanchez (#15), and even Kyle Lobstein (#22)– among the thirty most valuable pitchers of this young season.

Through thick and thin offensive production thus far, plenty of credit for the team’s 14-7 record is due to the starting rotation, which, you need not be reminded, unloaded Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello in the past two offseasons. Surprisingly, so far, so good.