Catching Fire: The Tigers are not Utilitarians

jeremy_bentham

In the late 1700s, Jeremy Bentham introduced the modern world to utilitarianism, a political theory organized around the “fundamental axiom” that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Bentham believed that happiness is quantifiable (unit of measurement: util) and argued that governments should legislate so as to create the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Utilitarianism has its blind spots and, at least at its Benthamite core, is subject to the conceptual critique that it prioritizes majority preferences over minority rights (a classic critical example here), as well as the practical one that utils aren’t as susceptible to arithmetic in the policy-making context as other measurements of value, like, say, dollars. One of Bentham’s students, John Stuart Mill, later updated and expanded utilitarianism in an attempt to address some of its critics, and although some of the theory’s broader ideas remain in the modern political milieu, utilitarian is viewed as a relatively primitive approach today.

Mike Aviles, Andrew Romine

The 2016 Detroit Tigers are, to some extent, a team out of time. They are neither aggressively modern (e.g., Tampa Bay) nor hopelessly mired in the past (e.g., Arizona). With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, they are neither obvious buyers (e.g., Toronto) nor obvious sellers (e.g., San Diego). Observers have been declaring for years that the team’s “window is closing,” while conceding that it still is open and may remain as such for another season (in which they will repeat their hand-wringing diagnosis all over again). Given their aging roster, though, time is something out of which this team may be running.

All of that leaves the Tigers with two utility players, arguably a practical necessity in an age of limited rosters and relief pitching specialization, Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles. Unlike Bentham’s utils, it is fairly easy– and easier than ever– to calculate how much these two utility men contribute to the team. Readers may recall Aviles’ preseason scouting report (sayeth BP: “Aviles is no longer useful in a baseball sense,” and “his inability to reach base . . . makes him a complete zero on offense, while what’s left of his defensive and baserunning abilities have become liabilities”) or this more recent peek at Romine’s poor offensive numbers. To keep this part of the offensive update simple, the palindromic Romine (73 wRC+) and Aviles (37 wRC+) have been decidedly below average and aggressively below average hitters, respectively, to this point. Aviles, who’s received twice as many plate appearances as Romine, has been worse than all but ten other batters in baseball (minimum 80 PA), and four of those ten no longer have major-league jobs.

Since spring training, manager Brad Ausmus has insisted that carrying two utility players is not redundant, but the question remains: do Aviles and Romine, together, provide utility to their team?

In one basic, immediate respect, the answer clearly is no. Continue reading

Catching Fire: When is it okay to stop short?

iglesias_nosepick

A quick glance at the Detroit Tigers’ seemingly unremarkable current record– 33-31, good enough for third place in a tight AL Central pack– likely would fail to reveal the fairly high degree of volatility that has defined the first two months of the team’s 2016 campaign, including long losing streaks punctuated by spurts of blowout wins and more changes in the pitching staff than, seemingly, in the last three years combined.

All of this– the pitching changes serving as a positive reminder of the relationship between rotational and bullpen depth–  largely has distracted from the things that haven’t changed since the season began. One is the catcher position, which I’ve contended since season-preview time is ripe for an in-season upgrade if this team is going to continue to pursue a championship. Recent numbers only serve to confirm this:

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2016teamextrastrikes

What this graph and this chart from this recent article illustrate is that Detroit has operated under a severe strike-zone disadvantage thus far in 2016. As the breakdown chart shows, the blame for that disadvantage falls at the feet of their (catching) defense. We knew James McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were bad pitch framers. Now we can begin to see the relative consequences of that weakness.

Another thing we can and may want to do at this juncture is ask whether it’s time for a change at the shortstop position. When the Tigers traded for Jose Iglesias as a replacement for the then-suspended Jhonny Peralta in 2013, we figured they were acquiring a defense-first short stop with a probably unsustainably high batting average.

Almost three years later, that basic assessment remains essentially correct. Iglesias wowed early and often with highlight-reel plays in the field and keeping his average up at the plate, hitting .300 again in 2015 after missing all of 2014 with ankle injuries. He was an All Star last year, whatever that means anymore, but 2016 is shaping up a bit differently.   Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Closing the Book on 2013

Rock and Roll never forgets, and neither does ALDLAND. Last season, I took a look at whether the Tigers struggled to score later in games, a trend that, if shown and in combination with the team’s bullpen woes, would make comeback wins less likely. While the preliminary numbers suggested I was onto something, the trend appeared even more pronounced with one-hundred games’ worth of data. The purpose of this post is to make good on the promise implicit in that last one by completing the full season’s worth of data.

First, an aside on data collection. I previously gathered and organized these inning-by-inning run totals by hand because I didn’t realize Baseball Reference actually tracks that information. In order to maintain the same error potential, and because B-R doesn’t separate the runs/inning between wins and losses, I’ve updated (a simplified version of) my chart as I did before.

r-in 2013

Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff

A month into the season, the Detroit Tigers sit atop the tightly bunched AL Central with a tenuous 12-9 record. The team, guided by first-time manager Brad Ausmus, looks and feels much different than it did over the last two years. Whether due to the change at the helm or a not-quite-coherent set of offseason moves, the 2014 Tigers appear to have traded identity for tactics and strategy. Thus begins Flying Tigers,* our third Detroit baseball series.

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When Jim Leyland announced his retirement following the end of the 2013 season, we knew Motor City baseball would be different in 2014, but we didn’t realize just how different it would be.     Continue reading