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. 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

Preseason BP Nuggets

bpro-oscarAs mentioned, this is my first season reading the Baseball Prospectus annual, and as those around me this spring have noticed, it’s full of numbers. Numbers are okay, but without analysis or interpretation, it can be a bit like reading the backs of a bunch of really comprehensive baseball cards (that also happen to include some sophisticated projections for the season ahead). There’s nothing wrong with numbers, but they don’t tend to make for very exciting reading on a site like this. Instead of asking you to widen your eyes along with me at the number of home runs Chris Davis is projected to hit this year (thirty, down from his Triple-Crown-repeat-spoiling fifty-three in 2013), I’ve tried to extract a few nuggets of information from the weeds of the raw data that will make watching baseball this season just a little bit more enjoyable.      Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Playoff Prelude

The Tigers look to get their train back on the tracks in Oakland tonight in game one of their American League divisional series. Detroit will send twenty-game-winner, Cy Young frontrunner, and probable ocular unicorn Max Scherzer to the mound in a pitching matchup against [all the overweight and PED jokes] Bartolo Colon. The Tigers and A’s played each other pretty evenly this season, and Detroit had to face Oakland in last year’s playoffs. What I remember from that series is that Coco Crisp is ruthless. Oakland may not be a top-tier team, but they are a frightening playoff foe. Detroit’s strength right now is its starting pitching, and the team will need to rely heavily on its defense– keep an eye on Jhonny Peralta in left field, and recall that Atlanta’s decision to start a catcher in left field hurt them last night— until it can get its bats going again.

Tonight’s game starts at 9:37. Stay tuned here for details about a possible live blog for the game, and, as always, follow us @ALDLANDia for the latest and unfiltered greatest hot sports takes.

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Previously
Playoff Time – 9/30
Heeeeeere’s Jhonny?
– 9/12
Crime & Punishment – 8/7
Trader Jose(s) – 7/31
100 days of summer run distribution – 7/25
Are the Tigers the unluckiest team in baseball? – 6/28
Forget what you know
 – 6/25
History and Revision – 6/12
Tigers beat Braves 7-4 as part of series sweep of visiting Atlanta
 – 5/7
April in the D – 4/26
Jet Set (Sigh?)
 – 4/23
Run distribution, science, and the likelihood of a Detroit comeback – 4/15
WSJ throws a wet newspaper on the Tigers’ 2013 chances
 – 4/3
A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger – 3/29

The Departed – 3/14

Bay of Cigs: Playoff Time

The regular season is (basically) over. October begins tomorrow. The Tigers are in the playoffs. All of this is good news, and the AL Central-clinching game– Jim Leyland’s emotional 700th win with the Tigers– was worth celebrating.

These Tigers are built to contend for and win a World Series championship, so, for Detroit, the real action begins in Oakland on Friday.

Unlike the A’s, the Tigers are entering the playoffs cold and disjointed. First and foremost, Miguel Cabrera’s abdomen/groin injury/ies appear anything but resolved. There’s no question that he’ll be in the lineup for every game this month, but I have plenty of questions about how productive he can be. Without his consistent hitting power, together with a serviceable level of capability on the basepaths and on defense, it’s difficult to see how Detroit can defend its American League championship and make a return to the World Series. Little is publicly known about Cabrera’s current health aside from what can be gleaned from watching him play, but I’m worried about the signals the visuals and the team’s silence are sending.

Second, the bullpen continues to be a serious weakness for Detroit. This has been an issue since day one of this season, and while it seems like there’s been some progress on that front, I don’t feel a lot more confident in the middle relief after 162 games than I did in March. There’s help here, though. Because the playoff schedule is such that a team only needs, at most, four starting pitchers, the Tigers can move Rick Porcello into the bullpen. Kid Rick is pitching very well right now, and he should be able to fill most of the middle relief gaps.

Third is the issue of late-game run support. I first raised this issue early in the season, and when I checked in after 100 games, the numbers looked even worse. I’ll do one more check of these numbers, but  my sense is that this is an area where the Tigers have improved a little bit. If this remains a problem, the pressures of the playoffs may exacerbate it, however.

Fourth, as more of a note, Justin Verlander probably should be the team’s fourth starter in the playoffs. The question I have about him is not about the number of “smart,” “rational” Tigers fans you can whip into a rage by talking about Verlander’s struggles, but about whether Leyland really will use Verlander as the third or fourth starter in the playoffs. I believe he will. Max Scherzer and, increasingly, Anibal Sanchez have separated themselves as Detroit’s clear top two starters, and if the Tigers are to succeed this month, it will be on the strength of their arms.

Fifth, Jhonny Peralta’s back with the team, and not a moment too soon. It looks like Peralta will be taking over a weak left field for the Tigers in the playoffs. Detroit needed his bat in the lineup, and there isn’t anywhere else to put him. He rejoined the team for their last regular season series, and he had a double and an RBI in his first game back. He had two hits in the second game of the series, and none in three at bats in the third game. Being a shortstop, his fielding abilities in left, backing up Cabrera’s limited range at third, raises some concerns, particularly with starting shortstop Jose Iglesias’ recent case of bilateral shin splints, but, as stated, there aren’t any viable alternatives here.

As a final note, I think it’s the case that you know your own team, and therefore your own team’s weaknesses, better than you know anything about your team’s opponent. These Tigers are very good, and have been historically good at times this season. Starting Friday, we’ll find out whether they will be at their best when there’s no other option.

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Related
Full postseason schedule
Tigers-Athletics preview

Previously
Heeeeeere’s Jhonny? – 9/12
Crime & Punishment – 8/7
Trader Jose(s) – 7/31
100 days of summer run distribution – 7/25
Are the Tigers the unluckiest team in baseball? – 6/28
Forget what you know
 – 6/25
History and Revision – 6/12
Tigers beat Braves 7-4 as part of series sweep of visiting Atlanta
 – 5/7
April in the D – 4/26
Jet Set (Sigh?)
 – 4/23
Run distribution, science, and the likelihood of a Detroit comeback – 4/15
WSJ throws a wet newspaper on the Tigers’ 2013 chances
 – 4/3
A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger – 3/29

The Departed – 3/14

Bay of Cigs: Heeeeeere’s Jhonny?

jhoLast month, Jhonny Peralta, the starting shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, agreed to accept a fifty-game suspension because of his connection to the Biogenesis Clinic. That suspension is nearly over, and he could return to the team on September 27, which is the date of the first game of the Tigers’ final regular season series, coincidentally taking place in Miami.

The decision whether to bring Peralta back to the team belongs to the team, and general manager Dave Dombrowski in particular. The question is whether they should allow him back.   Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Crime & Punishment

jhonnyWhen Ryan Braun accepted a sixty-five-game suspension for his violation of MLB’s drug policy, I lit into the Milwaukee Brewers star, or at least did whatever constitutes lighting into someone around here. Now that (likely former) Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta has accepted a fifty-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic, it seemed only fair that I respond to a part of this expanded story that hits close to my fandom as well.

Peralta represents the nearest the PED scourge has come to my fan doorstep– right on the front stoop, as it were– and even though I acknowledged the likely cognitive bias in the abstract, I did not really appreciate how differently one approaches stories like this when they directly involve a favorite team or player until the Peralta suspension was announced Monday. Lance Armstrong was fun, but I wasn’t a real cycling fan and I never wore a Livestrong bracelet. I wasn’t a fan of Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens either. I did have plenty of pictures of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa on my bedroom walls as a kid, but the revelations didn’t come as quickly then as they do now. By the time they came for those two, I’d moved on.

When the PED dragnet picked up an active Detroit Tiger, a starter, an all-star, and an important component of a team with World Series aspirations, though, I found myself scrutinizing every word of the official public statements in the matter, demanding concrete proof of wrongdoing, and generally establishing a defensive posture. Peralta was reported to have a weaker connection to the Biogenesis clinic than other accused players, after all, and didn’t MLB strongarm Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch into “cooperating” with the league’s investigation by filing a probably frivolous lawsuit against him (yes), and have there been any positive drug test results for any of these players (no), and aren’t they kind of being railroaded into accepting these no-contest suspensions (I mean, at least kind of), and isn’t there something to be said for due process in all of this (of course), and what did the league and the players say, exactly, anyway?

Here’s Peralta’s statement:

In spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret. I apologize to everyone that I have hurt as a result of my mistake, including my teammates, the Tigers’ organization, the great fans in Detroit, Major League Baseball, and my family. I take full responsibility for my actions, have no excuses for my lapse in judgment, and I accept my suspension.

I love the fans, my teammates and this organization, and my greatest punishment is knowing that I have let so many good people down. I promise to do everything possible to try and earn back the respect that I have lost.

(Before spring training this year, Peralta issued a statement: “I have never used performance-enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying.”)

Here’s MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s statement:

Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

The middle of July is one of the slowest times in sports, but the MLB came through by banning Ryan Braun for the remainder of the season for violating its drug policy and provided us with more than enough fodder for a podcast. Listen as Marcus and I discuss the Braun story and related subplots, as well as our thoughts and advice on workout gear and a recap of Lefty’s big win in Scotland.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Bay of Cigs: Forget what you know

This year’s Detroit Tigers are far from perfect, but they’re off to a good start on the strength of their starting pitching and the bats of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Torii Hunter, Omar Infante, (increasingly) Victor Martinez, and (once again) Austin Jackson.

The weak link– the bullpen– has been both very obvious and very weak. Hoping for some addition by subtraction, the club sent onetime-closer Jose Valverde down to the minors, and a more focused “closer-by-committee” approach has emerged, centering around Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly, with an emphasis on not misusing Phil Coke.

One of the criticisms of manager Jim Leyland is that he likes to have go-to players to fill defined roles, and nowhere is this more applicable than in his handling of relief pitching. In short, Leyland wants to have one guy be his guy when it comes to closing out games in the ninth inning. His unwillingness to deviate from that approach has had exceedingly frustrating consequences when The Closer is someone less effective than the likes of a Craig Kimbrel or, say, a 2011-vintage Valverde. (This is especially true because the Tigers have trouble scoring late in games. If the bullpen blows a lead late, this team is unlikely to mount a comeback.) Even though fans would like to see Leyland be a bit more nimble with the way he utilizes his personnel, some of his attitude surely has rubbed off on them. The fans want to have someone who can be The Closer too.

Buster Olney launched a thousand blog posts with his suggestion that current Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon might make a good fit in Detroit. Papelbon has a great reputation as a closer, and, as Buster writes, “there are no questions about whether he could handle October,” which is where the Tigers’ expectations reside.

Team owner Mike Ilitch has shown little resistance to spending money on this iteration of the team, which means that the large contract that’s scaring other teams away from Papelbon is unlikely to be an issue in Detroit.

My opinion is that, if the Phillies are willing to part with Papelbon without demanding much beyond the absorption of his contract, the Tigers should get him. If his steady hand can turn these cardiac kitties into some cool cats come playoff time, it’ll be worth it.

That said, it probably is worth taking a look at how Papelbon would stack up with his new teammates if he were to catch a ride to Motor City this season.  Continue reading

The DET Offensive: Halfway at the Half-way

Just in time for the All-Star break, which marks the half-way point of the MLB season, the Detroit Tigers have clawed their way back to an above-.500 record, which feels like much more of an accomplishment than it should, but things really do seem to be getting back to the way they should be. The team followed up its strong showing in interleague play by finishing the first half of the season having won five straight and seven of their last nine, earning a 44-42 record. The pitchers seem to be getting settled in (Scherzer leads the AL in some strikeout statistic I forgot, Phil Coke is a workhorse, and Justin Verlander’s done well enough to earn the starting spot for the AL All Stars), and odd-walking liability Delmon Young homered in each of the last four games. Brennan Boesch still is hitting below .250, but Jhonny Peralta seems to be coming on, and Quintin Berry is a joy to watch on the basepaths. Team-wide, defense remains a very frustrating problem, however.

The Tigers’ TV play-by-play man, Mario Impemba, offered his suggestions for the team’s continued success in the second half, and they included the following observation:

The second key is the two spot in the lineup.  Quintin Berry has done a terrific job in the two-hole, but the return of Andy Dirks could help fuel the Tigers offense.  Dirks was having a tremendous impact on the numbers that Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera were putting up.  Below is a look at the numbers for the two sluggers with Dirks in and out of the lineup:

With Dirks batting second:                                        With other hitters batting second

Cabrera:  .344 AVG    .392 OB%                               Cabrera:    .318 AVG      .384 OB%

Fielder:    .365 AVG    .411 OB%                               Fielder:     .273 AVG      .364 OB%

While Dirks is out of the walking boot and his achilles is feeling better, getting him back before August is not a good bet at this point.

Mario also tempered the optimism headed into the second half with this note:

The last week has given the Tigers hope that a second half run is on the horizon.  The first three weeks following the break will be telling.  Detroit will play 29 straight games against teams over .500.

Finally, Prince Fielder will be participating in tonight’s home run derby, as narrated by Chris Berman, and Detroit has to hope that this doesn’t mess up a good thing for the remainder of the season.

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Previously
Interleague Play – 6/26
Call the Experts!
5/26
Recipe for a Slumpbuster
– 5/2
Delmon Young Swings and Misses
 – 4/30
Brennan Boesch’s Birthday – 4/12
Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep – 4/9