RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation

More to come, probably, but your dutiful scribe wanted to record these items before the playoffs got rolling this evening.

First, relative to their competition, the 2019 Detroit Tigers finished worst in all of baseball in the following categories (merely last in the American League where noted):

  • Wins (47)
  • Runs (582)
  • Home runs (149) (AL)
  • RBI (556)
  • Strikeouts (1595)
  • On-base percentage (.294)
  • Slugging percentage (.388) (AL)
  • On-base plus slugging (.682) (AL)
  • Total bases (2154) (AL)
  • Games (161; tied with White Sox)

They tied for first in triples (41), though.

It also was a bad year for the team’s putative star, Miguel Cabrera, who finished 2019 with career-worst power marks (.116 ISO; cf. Jose Iglesias at .119). Amidst the sport’s juiciest offensive environment of all time, Cabrera clubbed just a dozen homers, the fewest of any of his full seasons and fourth-most on this year’s Detroit team, behind the likes of Brandon Dixon (15), Ronny Rodriguez (14), and John Hicks (13), all of whom reached those lofty totals in significantly fewer plate appearances. By hitting twelve, Cabrera did avoid the full-on embarrassment that would have befallen had he not surpassed the eleven home runs Nick Castellanos hit in a Tigers uniform before the team traded him to Chicago. The good news for Cabrera and his legacy is that he still managed to finish the season in the black WARP-wise, his seventeenth-consecutive season of positive WARP.

Finally, in coaching news, while former manager Brad Ausmus lasted just one season in that role for the Angels, Ron Gardenhire and most of this year’s staff will be back for 2020. Notable changes include a promotion for Lloyd McClendon and a 1B/3B swap for Dave Clark and Ramon Santiago.

Enjoy the Wild Card games tonight.

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Previously
RKB: When the joke doesn’t land where you want it to land – 8/7
RKB: At deadline, Tigers move their best player*– 8/1

RKB: A Wild Rosenthal Appears – 7/16

Related
2019 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Miguel Cabrera in the bWAR era
Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era
Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update

The current argument against Mike Trout, MVP

Mike Trout has been an All Star in each of his seven full MLB seasons. He led the American League in fWAR in five of those seven seasons (four of seven by bWAR; led AL hitters in WARP in three of seven). During that period, he finished in the top two in AL MVP voting every season save his injury-shortened 2017 and won the award twice.

So far, 2019 looks like another MVP year for Trout, who received his eighth-consecutive All Star nod and has a commanding (roughly two-win) advantage atop all AL WAR(P) leaderboards. That Trout will win the award feels like a foregone conclusion, and it has for some time. Early in his career, though, Trout’s MVP candidacy was a contentious flashpoint for the battle between the respective adherents of “new” performance-valuation metrics and “traditionalists.” That conflict came to a head in 2013, when Miguel Cabrera repeated as AL MVP and Trout again finished second. Cabrera’s .348/.442/.636 line led the majors and represented an across-the-board improvement over his line in 2012, when he became baseball’s first triple crown winner in over forty years. On the other hand, Trout’s WAR mark clearly bested Cabrera in 2013 (10.2 versus 8.6 fWAR; 9.0 versus 7.3 bWAR), just as it had in 2012 (10.1 versus 7.3 fWAR; 10.5 versus 7.1 bWAR).

Ironically, Baseball Prospectus, long a leading publisher of work by adherents to “new” performance-valuation metrics, recently reversed course on the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP races after it incorporated changes made to its batting metric into its WAR model (i.e., WARP), acknowledging now that Cabrera really was a more valuable player than Trout in ’12 and ’13. Of course, these days, the fight between “traditionalists” and “sabermetricians” is over. In 2019, no one is arguing that Michael Brantley or Rafel Devers, the current respective AL leaders in batting average and RBI, deserve the league’s MVP award, for example. Part of that comes from the broader appreciation of the usefulness of advanced metrics, and part of that is because Trout is leading many of the traditional categories– at the moment, homers (42), OBP (.435), and SLG (.649)– too. Even if the analytical environment around baseball hadn’t changed, old-fashioned voters would have a hard time denying Trout his due in 2019. Does that mean that Trout has every vote locked up this year?

Stated otherwise, the question is whether there’s a good reason why someone would not vote for Trout as this year’s AL MVP. WAR isn’t everything, of course, but the current difference, by fWAR, between Trout and second-place Alex Bregman is Tim Anderson, or Whit Merrifield, if you prefer, or Blake Snell, last year’s Cy Young winner, all of whom currently have 2.5 fWAR. And Trout’s leads in homers and OPS fortify his position, with his positive contributions on defense and the basepaths rounding out a seemingly unassailable case. What more could he do?

The traditional MVP consideration never was just about individual numbers like batting average and RBI; voters also seemed to care about team-level winning. After all, baseball is a team sport in which the goal is for teams to win games and championships, and there is a conceptual sensibility to the notion that a player deemed “most valuable” would be one who translated his individual value into some significant measure of team value. Recall for example that, in 2012 and 2013, Cabrera’s Tigers were division-winning playoff teams that made deep runs while Trout’s Angels missed the playoffs and waffled around a .500 win percentage. If all of Trout’s good isn’t really doing the Angels any good, is he really the type of player we think of as an MVP? We can appreciate a superstar toiling in competitive obscurity, but does it make complete sense to bestow upon him or her the game’s highest individual honor?

Consider how infrequently postseason MVP awards go to players from losing teams. When it comes to formulating an MVP-award rubric, one can both prefer reliance on metrics that better account for individual performances and believe that the rubric should account for both team-success and individual-statistical components. In other words, the sabermetric revolution need not change what we’re looking for in an MVP even if it has changed how we decide if a candidate meets our criteria.

The good news is that there is a sabermetrically sound method to building an MVP-award analysis that accounts for both individual and team aspects. Continue reading

RKB: When the joke doesn’t land where you want it to land

Following his first career walk-off hit, an eleventh-inning homer against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, July 21, Detroit Tigers right fielder Nick Castellanos shared his feelings about Comerica Park, his baseball home for the entirety of his seven-year MLB career:

This park’s a joke. It’s to the point where, how are we going to be compared to the rest of the people in the league for power numbers and OPS and slugging and all this stuff, when we’ve got a yard out here that’s 420 feet straight across to center field? We get on second base, third base, and (opposing players) looking like, “how do you guys do this?” We play 81 games here, I don’t want to hear it about your two you hit that are questionable.

There’s no reason that I hit a ball 434 feet off Anibal Sanchez and it goes in the first row. That shouldn’t happen.

Let’s just say Miggy played his whole career in Yankee Stadium or Great American Ballpark or whatever – him and [Barry] Bonds are already the greatest hitters, period, there’s no discussion – but the fact that he’s played in Pro Player Stadium, the Marlins’ old park and then Comerica Park, there’s a discussion.

We do have ways of comparing player performances independent of the parks in which they performed, of course, but that’s beside the point. Castellanos wanted the Tigers to trade him prior to this season, and he probably still wanted that to happen as last month’s trade deadline approached. If I had to guess (I don’t have to, obviously), he made this statement because he’s frustrated with the lack of interest in his services from other teams and believes his fairly average batting numbers– which, he believes, would be much better if he played half his games in a smaller park– are to blame for that lack of interest. Subsequently developed information from local media sources apparently desperate to stoke fan outrage seems to confirm this:

Castellanos almost certainly would have more homers if he played in a hitter-friendlier park, but there isn’t a single MLB team or salary arbitrator (see Art. VI, Sec. E, Part 10(c) (defining admissible statistics in salary arbitrations)) evaluating him based on his raw, unadjusted hitting numbers. As long as he’s talking about those numbers, though, this may be the point to note that his career line at Comerica Park (.287/.339/.470) is better than the one he’s posted in road games (.264/.312/.454). The fact that this year’s split is running very strongly in the opposite direction likely is fueling his current frustration, however.  Continue reading

RKB: At deadline, Tigers move their best player*

A year ago yesterday, on what may have been MLB’s last-ever non-waiver trade deadline, the 2018 Detroit Tigers made one move, trading Leonys Martín, then their best player of that season, to Cleveland. Yesterday, depending on how you look at it, they marked that anniversary by doing the same thing again. Shane Greene was the 2019 Tigers’ only All Star, and he led the team in cWPA, a metric I’ve contended should drive MVP-type analyses. By some other measures, Greene was not the 2019 Tigers’ best player, but, in holding a steady hand on the closer’s tiller, he gave the team something for which it desperately had been seeking, particularly in its competitive years. [insert sweaty joaquin benoit face.jpeg] Now, Greene, a thirty-year-old who hasn’t hit arbitration eligibility, likely will receive his first chance to close games in the playoffs, assuming he and the Braves hold it together down the stretch.

The “modest” return the Tigers received in this trade was comprised of two “prospects.” One, Joey Wentz, is a lefthanded pitcher the Braves picked out of high school in the first round of the 2016 draft. He spent all of 2019 to date at Double-A Mississippi, where he posted a 4.72 ERA (4.36 FIP, 116 cFIP) in twenty starts. Wentz missed substantial parts of 2018 with oblique and shoulder problems, which is not what you like to hear. On the other hand (but the same hand, actually, since we’re talking pitchers), maybe he throws his fastball like Clayton Kershaw throws his?

The second, Travis Demeritte, is a hitter the Texas Rangers picked out of high school in the first round of the 2013 draft. He reached Triple-A for the first time this year in the Braves’ system, all of which he spent in Gwinnett, posting a .286/.387/.558 line in 399 games. Baseball Prospectus credits the jump in his power numbers to the introduction of the major-league ball at the Triple-A level, which, yeah. (We actually have covered Demeritte at this site before. Three years ago, he starred alongside Dansby Swanson in the 2016 MLB futures game before the Rangers traded him to the Braves for two pitchers who both appear to have exited professional baseball soon thereafter.)

Would it have been nice for the Tigers to receive some more exciting players from Atlanta’s fairly deep system in exchange for Greene? It would have. It also is hard to be picky when it comes to trading a closer whose BABIP and ground ball rate are way out of whack with his career norms. Greene always seemed like a nice and thoughtful guy, and I suspect the native Floridian will appreciate the opportunity to work a little closer to home.

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Previously
RKB: A Wild Rosenthal Appears – 7/16

Related
Have the Atlanta Braves discovered the secret of the ooze?
Whose All Stars?
2019 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Miguel Cabrera in the bWAR era
Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era

RKB: A Wild Rosenthal Appears

Relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal made his MLB debut in 2012 as a midseason callup for the St. Louis Cardinals. In his first full season, he was a two-WARP player, and he became the Cardinals’ full-time closer in 2014. By his third full season, 2015, he was an All Star and down-ballot MVP candidate (even though the new metrics preferred his 2013 performance). After averaging about seventy-one innings pitched across those first three full seasons, Rosenthal’s totals dropped to 40.1 and 47.2 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The decrease in 2016 was the result of performance struggles and a six-week DL stint for shoulder inflammation. Essentially ditto for 2017, except the DL trip for Trevor Jordan “TJ” Rosenthal was for Tommy John surgery that also caused him to miss all of 2018.

That timing was especially unfortunate for Rosenthal, who became a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. The Washington Nationals quickly signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal, but things did not go well for him in D.C., where the control issues that had begun to crop up at the end of his time in St. Louis quickly reemerged. He made five appearances for the Nationals before he recorded an out, at which point his ERA dropped from “inf” to a mere 72.0. A viral infection sent him back to the DL (plus some extended spring training) for the month of May. He returned in June to provide five additional appearances that were slightly better but still too erratic for the Nationals’ taste, and the team released him on June 23. Six days later, the Tigers signed him and sent him to Toledo. He gave the Mud Hens 5.1 innings of not-great work before the big club called him up yesterday for reasons unclear:

While one would think that Rosenthal’s promotion to the big leagues is a sign that his bout with the yips has improved, that curiously doesn’t appear to be the case. In 5 1/3 innings with Detroit’s affiliate in Toledo, he’s allowed six runs on eight hits and six walks. Rosenthal has punched out nine hitters, which is a mildly encouraging.

Ron Gardenhire didn’t waste much time before taking a look at his new player, sending Rosenthal out to handle the eighth inning and hold Detroit’s run deficit at three. Rosenthal accomplished that task, fully exhibiting his two current trademark tendencies– high velocity and low command– in the process, mixing speed almost as much as location.  Continue reading

Whose All Stars?

Image result for shane greene all star

The stars were out in Cleveland last night, but whose were they? A year ago, the 2018 MLB All-Star teams played a game for the age, one so representative of these true-outcome times that all but one of the fourteen runs scored that night came courtesy of a home run. Last night was much different. The 2019 all stars scored half as many runs as their 2018 counterparts (with just two total through five innings, sinking the under), and only two of the seven runs came off of home runs, solo shots by Charlie Blackmon and Joey Gallo. (Year-to-year strikeout totals nearly were identical.) As a whole, MLB is seeing its highest-ever percentage of runs scored attributed to home runs through this point in the current season, but its ostensible 2019 stars hit like they came from 1989.

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Last night’s ASG likely looked fairly familiar to fans of the Detroit Tigers, however, and not just because the current version of that team only scores 36.01% of its runs with homers, third-lowest in 2019. Even though Detroit had just one representative on this year’s AL All-Star team, Shane Greene wasn’t the only familiar face among the rostered invitees in Cleveland. Justin Verlander was the AL’s starting pitcher; J.D. Martinez was the AL’s starting DH (0-2); James McCann caught Greene’s perfect seventh inning; and Max Scherzer was named to the NL squad (did not play).

The Tigers currently have the second-worst win percentage in baseball– still good enough for fourth in the AL Central!– and resume their regular season schedule Friday against the basement-dwelling Royals.

It appears I hold an unpopular baseball opinion

pujols 2000 rbi

It isn’t just your imagination, Detroit Tigers fans. It doesn’t seem to matter whether either team is having a good year or a bad year: the Angels always destroy the Tigers. Since 2009, no American League team has a better winning percentage against the Tigers than the Angels.* Even by those dismal standards, Thursday’s game was a noteworthy one:

 

Albert Pujols’ home run on Thursday, a solo shot off Ryan Carpenter in the sixth inning, carried significance beyond that fun fact, of course, in that it represented both Pujols’ two-thousandth RBI and a reminder that you earn an RBI when you bat in yourself. Whatever you think of the import of RBIs, you have to admit it’s impressive that Pujols now is one of only five players ever, and three since 1920, to accumulate that many of them. It’s a testament, however circumstantial, to a long and successful career.

The home-run ball in question landed in the seats beyond left field and was nabbed by a twenty-something guy who had just arrived at the park for the day game with his friends and, I initially thought from the replay editing, immediately traded the ball for a Little Caesar’s Hot’n’Ready and a Two Hearted. An in-game interview on the telecast soon revealed that my initial thought was incorrect: he still had the ball and, in fact, planned to keep it. He has a relative who is a big fan of the Cardinals, Pujols’ prior team, and he was thinking about giving it to him. As news spread about the benchmark RBI, the story of the man who had the ball in question– and, more specifically, the fact that he had expressed an initial intention to retain that ball– got swept up along with it. Reports indicated that the man had turned down an offer to meet with Pujols, presumably for the purpose of exchanging the ball for other memorabilia. The Tigers’ public-relations team even instigated itself into the conversation in a strange and seemingly unsolicited fashion. The man subsequently reported that team officials treated him poorly. Two themes appeared to prevail in the public response: 1) the man should have taken the meeting with Pujols to exchange the ball for other items and 2) his refusal to do so would have financial consequences for him.   Continue reading

NFL Draft Jam

Yesterday, the NFL held round one of its 2019 draft on Lower Broadway in Nashville, which, predictably, meant the night’s biggest news involved a bachelorette party and a Taylor Swift song premiere.

Realistically, though, when you look back on this night a few years from now, all you’re going to remember is whether the leadership of your favorite pro football team found its generational franchise player of the future or continued to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors, only this time the Lions are unduly obsessed with tight ends instead of wide receivers. If you’re at the point where the thought of NFL roster construction makes you sick to your stomach, or maybe you’re seeing visions of Lombardi trophies, or maybe you’re somewhere in between and just thankful you were smart enough to plan your pre-wedding bar crawl for literally any time and place other than last night (a Thursday, I’ll just pause to note here) in Nashville and therefore did not appear on a now-viral piece of local news footage that may or may not send a tremble through the foundations of your anticipated marriage, this week’s Jam is for you:

And, if you just want T-Swift’s new video, I get that. Find it here.

2019 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

Image result for ron gardenhire motorcycle

At last, #OpeningDay is here, and the 2019 Detroit Tigers season preview you absolutely need now is ready for you. For the fifth consecutive year, Mark Sands, my Banished to the Pen colleague, and I have prepared a Tigers season preview, which is available right now on that site, which has overhauled in a neat and tidy way the manner in which it presents its team season previews.

First pitch is at 3:37 pm today in Toronto. Until then, and long after, one assumes, the full preview post is available here.

Miguel Cabrera in the bWAR era

miguel cabrera 2003

I have been monitoring the effects of Baseball Prospectus’ recent modifications to its wins-above-replacement metric, WARP, on Miguel Cabrera’s career valuation numbers, and, on the whole, the results for Cabrera have been positive.

On Monday, former Baseball Prospectus editor in chief Ben Lindbergh discussed the ways in which WAR metrics always are in some state of flux as they incorporate newly available information and adapt to significant changes in game strategy and play:

In a sense, it’s unsettling that WAR is always in motion. Batting average may not be an accurate indicator of overall (or even offensive) value, but barring an overturned ruling by an official scorer or an unearthed error in archaic records, it always stays the same. Ted Williams will always have hit .406 in 1941, but his FanGraphs WAR for that season was 11.9 in 2011, and today it’s 11.0. That’s one reason why WAR values may never achieve the emotional resonance of evocative stats such as .406, 56, or 755, or even milestones like 3,000 hits or 500 homers.

WAR reminds us that objective truth tends to be slippery. And the metric is likely to get more unstable before it someday settles down. None of the big three versions of WAR(P) currently incorporates Statcast data. Thus far, MLBAM has drawn on that data to quantify aspects of player production without generating one unified number, but Tango describes it as “inevitable” that “eventually they will get rolled into one Statcast WAR metric.” He acknowledges that WAR’s amorphousness may make some fans more hesitant to trust it. Even so, he says, “Our focus should be on representing the truth as best we can estimate it. And it’s the truth that will attract the people.”

Baseball-Reference founder Sean Forman has responded to criticism of WAR’s mutability—not to mention its multiple implementations—by comparing it to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), another complex statistic that also changes retroactively and comes in more than one form. WAR works the way all science does: Discoveries are scrutinized, assumptions are examined, errors are rooted out, and breakthrough by breakthrough, we learn.

The focus of Lindbergh’s article was on the ways in which teams are straying from the traditional sequencing of starting and relief pitchers– frequently referred to as “the opener” strategy– are affecting WAR calculations, particularly Baseball-References bWAR.

An obstacle I encountered in analyzing changes in Cabrera’s WARP is that BP doesn’t keep a public record of statistical changes. By contrast, as Lindbergh helpfully noted, B-R does keep a public bWAR index, which effectively permits the tracking of changes to individual players’ seasonal bWAR totals on a daily basis since March 29, 2013.

In light of my prior documentation of the recent set of changes to Cabrera’s career seasonal WARP totals, I decided to take a quick and very rough look at how Cabrera’s seasonal bWAR totals had changed over the last six years. What I found was that, at least through 2012 (covering the first ten years of his career, which was all that was included in the March 29, 2013 data set), the difference was negligible. Some years’ bWAR numbers had increased a bit, some had decreased a bit, and some didn’t change; in total, the aggregate difference was -0.13 bWAR over those ten seasons. Doing a similar thing for the next six seasons by using the bWAR value from the first available date on the calendar year immediately following the completed season yielded a similar mix of results, with an aggregate difference of +0.38 bWAR. Combined, the total change is an increase of 0.25 bWAR, basically a negligible amount. Coincidentally, “negligible” also describes the value over replacement blog post (VORBP) of what you’ve just read.

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Previously
Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era
Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update
Trout vs. Cabrera, and Aging with DRC+ (via Baseball Prospectus)