WTF: Which Tigers may move in deadline deals?

The upcoming non-waiver trade deadline, July 31, doesn’t generate the same level of excitement in Detroit Tigers fans it did a few years ago, when the team was in contention and Dave Dombrowski had free reign over Mike Ilitch’s wallet. Now operating as (at least would-be) sellers in the current trade market, the Tigers don’t have any obvious candidates to ship out, which further limits the already diminished excitement that typically surrounds this time of the baseball year.

Some commentators think that’s a sentiment that’s spreading across the sport:

[T]he trade deadline wasn’t so packed with action a year ago, and it might be even slower this season.

The trade deadline just might not matter that much anymore.

Teams knew early last year whether they were buyers or sellers. They’ve known earlier still this season. They also know the deadline doesn’t typically provide much impact.
. . .
What this means is the game doesn’t need July 31st to spur action and decisions between buying and selling status. More and more, the contenders and sellers know their status earlier in the season and sometimes even before the season. Moreover, in a game loaded with rebuilding clubs, non-contenders are perhaps more incentivized to beat the market. There is incentive for activity to begin — if it is to begin — earlier. That makes for a less dramatic deadline.

It may be worth pausing here to ask why this is happening. I don’t think it’s better information that now is providing teams with knowledge of their relative positions earlier in the season. While the new analytical approach may lead teams that do trade at the deadline to act more conservatively and uniformly and avoid badly imbalanced trades, it doesn’t make sense that that would inform teams’ earlier knowledge of their contention positions. The cause should be something new, and I suspect that cause is intentional tanking. Teams used to “find themselves out of contention” by early July; now, they begin the year that way, purposely designed to fail. This is part of the method that helped the Cubs and Astros win championships, so it’s hard to be too upset about it right now. Like other copycat strategies, though, this one soon should begin generating diminishing returns, which is why I’m glad the Tigers have chosen a more traditional rebuilding model.

To the question at hand: which current Tigers might be trade targets this month?   Continue reading

Advertisements

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

fiers mlbn

As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now

The subtitle of this post nearly was “Weakness Abounds,” since the Detroit Tigers are in a real rough spot right now, and, until last night (and even including most of last night, really), it seemed like nearly everything that could go wrong for this team was going wrong, but then I thought of a much better and more accurate one that also allowed me to lead with that music video. The Tigers have fallen to a 24-29 record, four games out of the division, and, while all is not lost, it’s becoming quite easy to feel that way. A thing that happens sometimes when you focus on putting out the various fires– like the bullpen, as a ready example– popping up on a team struggling to hold it together is that you can take for granted the team’s presumed consistent strengths, however minor, and forget to keep an eye on them too. With the offense collectively slumping as bad as it has been and the entire pitching staff acting like it was playing for the opposing teams, this was easy to do.

One of those good things the Tigers thought they had on lock was their up-the-middle defense. When your pitchers are giving up a lot of contact, a double play can be a life-saver. Shortstop Jose Iglesias’ bat hasn’t held up this season, but we always knew he was in the lineup for his defense, and it was just last year that we were beginning to discuss Ian Kinsler’s dark-horse Hall-of-Fame candidacy. At least as far as defense was concerned, these were two guys the Tigers didn’t have to worry about.

And yet, when their pitchers most needed bailouts, the defense has faltered. Baseball Prospectus tracks double-play percentage (DP%), defined as the number of times a team converts double-play opportunities into double plays. Obviously this is a coarse measure for evaluating a particular double-play tandem for a number of reasons, including the fact that it operates on a team level, and, in this case, Iglesias and Kinsler didn’t play every single game together. Double plays also commonly involve the other infielders too. Still, the DP% numbers paint a stark picture for the Iglesias-Kinsler era in Detroit.

det dp percent

Iglesias and Kinsler have been the Tigers’ starting shortstop and second baseman, respectively, since 2015. In the first two seasons of the current tandem, 2015 and 2016, the team did a very good job of converting double-play opportunities. As a team, the Tigers were, at very best, average when it came to overall defense during this period, but Iglesias and Kinsler were supposed to be the glue that made the whole fielding operation passable. When it came to completing double plays, they held up their end of the bargain. Something (or somethings) aren’t right so far in 2017, though, and the dramatic dropoff in DP% hardly could come at a worse time for Detroit’s floundering pitching staff.

Tonight’s game is about to start, so I’ll leave things here for now, but this may be a thing– among a great many, to be sure– to keep an eye on as the Tigers turn toward summer and begin to evaluate their team-level strategic direction.

______________________________________________

Previously
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?

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:

2016-team-extra-strikes

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

Catching Fire: Heading for the exit velocity

vacation-walley-matte-today-150527_25aa56597af71bd8b926763d3272e7cd-today-inline-large

Thanks to MLB Advanced Media’s new Statcast technology, fans can learn more than ever about the activity taking place on the field (and off it) during a baseball game. One such aspect into which Statcast offers insight is exit velocity, which refers to the speed with which a batted ball leaves a hitter’s bat. These velocities can communicate something meaningful about batter success. (Very generally, and possibly very obviously, higher exit velocity is better.)

Statcast came on-line last season, but there were significant flaws in its batted-ball data gathering in 2015. The shortcomings in the 2015 data will affect any analysis that relies on Statcast information from that season, and while Statcast seems to be doing a better job of gathering a more complete set of batted-ball data this year, some imperfections remain. Fortunately, it appears that those imperfections– apparently due in part to differences in hardware installations at each park– can be accounted for. Baseball Prospectus now publishes something called adjusted exit velocity, which aims to control for various influences on Statcast-measured exit velocity that are outside batters’ control. (None of those adjustments can recapture the data the system failed to collect in 2015, of course.)

Early in the season, I went to the Statcast well to compare home runs by Anthony Gose and Giancarlo Stanton. The purpose of this post is not to undermine lazy media narratives but to present a simple comparison between various Detroit Tigers’ adjusted exit velocities in 2015 and so far in 2016.

Keeping in mind the imperfections in the source data, here are the 2015 and to-date 2016 adjusted exit velocities (in miles per hour) of the Tigers’ primary hitters who played for the team in both seasons:

adjev15-16det

While recalling that we still are dealing with small sample sizes for 2016, particularly for James McCann, who’s spent much of the young season injured, and Anthony Gose, who now is down in the minors, I’d guess that the differences in adjusted exit velocity roughly comport with how well fans think each hitter is performing this year: Miguel Cabrera hasn’t heated up yet; J.D. Martinez has been struggling since moving to the second spot in the lineup after a hot start batting deeper in the order; Nick Castellanos has been breaking out; Victor Martinez is healthy again and showing it; Ian Kinsler seems to be in fine form yet again (credit those Jack White-designed bats?); and Jose Iglesias is continuing to rely on weak contact.

Cabrera was second overall in adjusted exit velocity last season, so his drop-off seems like a possible source of concern. Sluggers like Cabrera can take a while to warm up, though, so it’s not unreasonable to think that his adjusted exit velocity will climb as the current season progresses. (Cf. Giancarlo Stanton, 2015’s adjusted exit velocity champ, who, so far in 2016, is down 9.4 MPH.)

The elder Martinez has the largest change of any of the highlighted batters in either direction, but his 2015 doesn’t offer much of a baseline because he was playing through obvious injury. It therefore is reasonable to assume that some portion of that +3.0 MPH of adjusted exit velocity is due to a return to health.

Not only do these changes in adjusted exit velocity correlate with anecdotal observations of these players this season, but they also– loosely but consistently across this sample– track changes in raw power (measured as isolated power, or ISO):   Continue reading

Shane Greene Outduels A.J. Burnett as Tigers Hurdle Pirates to Avenge Only Loss

hurdle

After the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Detroit Tigers their only loss of the 2015 season on Monday afternoon, Detroit sought and found revenge against Pittsburgh Tuesday night. The Tigers’ first seven games were marked by nearly unbridled offense (+32 run differential, second only to Kansas City and, excluding third-best Oakland (+28), not close to anyone else), but they looked to their defense for a bounceback win in game eight. Starting pitcher Shane Greene, making his second start for the Tigers after his acquisition from the Yankees during the offsesason, was excellent. In particular, Greene was highly efficient, averaging just over ten pitches per inning for eight innings of three-hit, no-walk, shutout baseball. Not-insubstantial credit for his performance is due to key defensive plays by Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler, and J.D. Martinez. (Greene, who was making his first-ever plate appearances as a major leaguer, was generally ineffective with his brand-new Louisville Sluggers, but no one should care because this from his mother was adorable.)

Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett also had a strong outing, but he could not keep the Tigers at bay forever. The visitors broke through with one run in the seventh and, thanks to some heads-up baserunning by Iglesias, an insurance run in the ninth. Joakim Soria retired the Pirates side in the bottom of the ninth to seal the win.

____________________________________________________

A minor subplot during this pitchers’ duel was the seemingly vertically compressed strike zone of home-plate umpire David Rackley, who had little interest in labeling anything up in the zone a strike. I was watching the Pittsburgh broadcast via MLB Network, but even I had to agree with the Pirate faithful that Rackley was robbing Burnett, who was throwing plenty down and away, when he even tried to go up in the zone. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle certainly thought so, and after Rackley sided with the batter on a second or third Burnett pitch that really appeared to be in the zone, Hurdle started hollering at Rackley from the dugout, and Rackley tossed him as Jim Leyland watched from the front row.

Taking a fresh look at last night’s pitches this morning, it appears that my eyes did not deceive me, and Hurdle et al. were justified in their complaining:

burnettpitchplotI’ve circled in blue what I believe to be the Burnett pitch that immediately preceded the Hurdle ejection. Looked like a strike last night, and it looks like one today too. In Rackley’s limited defense, he wasn’t really calling any high strikes, but that defense isn’t much of a defense at all in the broader scheme of things. Consistency is important, but an umpire’s imposition of his own personal, deviant strike zone really isn’t.

_______________________________________________________________

Our 2015 Tigers series, Window Shopping, will begin in earnest very soon. Consider this post a prequel, and until I can get the engine revved up, I encourage you to enjoy this 2015 Tigers season preview to which I contributed in significant part.

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.

__________________________________________________________

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

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.

_____________________________________________

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