World Series Game 7 in two tweets

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Last night’s World Series finale had everything, and it was amazing to watch. You’ll find plenty to read about it across the web today. For now, anyway, my contribution to that plenty will be, like the bulk of what you usually find here, minimal, derivative, and frivolous.

The game had numerous memorable moments, and one of the most memorable was Rajai Davis’ game-tying home run off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. You can see on the graph above right where it happened, and, if you want an even more graphical recollection, the video is here. As the above starkly illustrates, the Cubs were, more or less, cruising by this point. Sure, Chicago manager Joe Maddon was doing his best to keep the game interesting by mismanaging his pitching staff, but the Cubs’ lead appeared as solid as a lead reasonably can appear late in a game-seven setting. Roughly an hour before Davis’ world-inverting homer, though, when things seemed relatively quiet on the eastern front, came this tweet:

Then, a moment before Davis came to the plate, a second tweet arrived:

And then the rains came. What a night.

The arc of the ALDLAND universe is long, but it bends toward this weekend

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If there are two things I’ve written about with consistency at this weblog they are 1) the Detroit Tigers and 2) the Atlanta Braves’ foolhardy abandonment of their downtown home at Turner Field. Beginning tonight, and for the next two days thereafter, these two ALDLANDic worlds will collide when the Tigers face the Braves in the final three games ever to be played at the aforementioned Turner Field. More than anything, I am grateful that we will be able to attend each of these games, live and in person. These are critical games for the 2016 Tigers, teetering as they are on the edge of postseason qualification, and they are historic games for the City of Atlanta. I have little more to add at this juncture other than that I am very excited.   Continue reading

Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup

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Rather than my own attempt at fashioning a nugget of faux-wisdom, the purpose of this Baseball Notes post is to highlight a number of articles posted elsewhere addressing current issues in the sport.   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Is Brad Ausmus Evolving?, Or, Evidence That Brad Ausmus Definitely Reads ALDLAND

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Although it did not happen precisely as I predicted, the Tigers scored enough runs off new Red Sox pitcher Drew Pomeranz to allow rejuvenated starter Justin Verlander to depart after the sixth inning with a 2-1 Detroit lead. The offense added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth, but, with Justin Wilson on to take care of the power portion of the Boston batting order in the bottom of the eighth, the situation quickly became dicey:

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Those skyrocketing green leverage index bars right before the red ones are what pop up when you load the bases before you get any outs. Not good if you’re on defense. Wilson secured the first out by way of a strikeout, but the next batter singled, driving in a run and narrowing Detroit’s lead to two, with the bases loaded and only one out. That will earn you your first red leverage index bar of the night.

Wilson always looks a bit fidgety on the mound, and with the home crowd mockingly chanting his name like they would that of a visiting hockey goalie who appeared to be cracking under pressure, Wilson mustered his second strikeout of the inning. The reliever appeared, if not relieved, then not unhappy when manager Brad Ausmus came out to fetch him, surrendering the ball without protest. The team’s closer, Francisco Rodriguez, would be coming in to attempt a four-out save.

Not three weeks ago, a nearly identical situation presented itself to Ausmus and the Tigers. They were on the road in Toronto– another team they’re chasing in the AL Wild Card race– that night, and Verlander left in the sixth inning with Detroit up one. That favorable margin held through the top of the eighth inning, and Wilson was back out to handle the bottom of the eighth. He quickly got himself in trouble, putting two men on base. The next two batters made outs, but Wilson walked the third, leaving himself with bases loaded, two outs, and the slimmest of leads to protect. Last night, Ausmus went to his surest option, Rodriguez, in that spot, but on that night in Toronto, he turned to Alex Wilson, a decidedly less sure option, who immediately proved as such by surrendering the lead for good.

At the time, I criticized Ausmus for the decision to bring in Alex Wilson instead of Rodriguez, as well as for his stated reason for making that decision:   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Boy, the starters need to carry that weight a longer time

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The Detroit Tigers’ new starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, has been excellent in 2016. He’s only allowed two earned runs in five starts, all Detroit wins,  and he didn’t allow a single run of any variety through his first three games. He’s been the number-one starter the Tigers needed, especially with Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez offering good-but-not-great performances as they settle into the season. Ostensible fourth starter Mike Pelfrey has not been good at all, posting career-worst numbers virtually across the board. Shane Greene started strong, as he did last season, but a blister has temporarily sidelined him, which allowed the team’s top prospect, Michael Fulmer, to snag a big-league start in Greene’s absence. Daniel Norris showed promise as a starter last season and this spring, but he’s currently on a rehab assignment recovering from a back injury.

As a group, the rotation has been decent, and there are indications that they’ll continue to improve, especially if Verlander can find his groove now that news of his preseason engagement to Kate Upton is public and healthy mixtures of Greene, Norris, and Fulmer can replace Pelfrey before too long.

Overall, this is good news for Tigers fans, who also are enjoying a blissful period of strange and unusual– in light of the team’s recent history– bullpen success. After a month of play, this feels like a satisfyingly complete team.

One potential cause for concern (a Tigers fan always can locate at least one) in all of this good news is that the shiny new Detroit bullpen may have been on display a bit too much through this first month of the season. It’s lovely that they’ve been doing so well, but they need to last to October. I don’t think Brad Ausmus has done a poor job of allocating relief innings among his bullpen staff in 2016, but I think his starters’ collective failure to pitch late into games so far this year has forced him to make more calls to the pen than he’d have preferred at this point.

In fact, among American League teams, only the Orioles are getting less in the way of innings pitched from their rotation than the Tigers:

ip-g 5-2-16 (starters)

Viewed from back to front instead of front to back also finds Detroit essentially tied with Baltimore for the AL lead in relief innings pitched per game:

ip-g 5-2-16 (relievers)

The beginning of May finds the Tigers with a comfortable 14-10 springtime record. We knew the early part of their schedule would be difficult, so it isn’t surprising that the path to 14-10 was somewhat akin to that of a roller coaster. It also is not unreasonable to expect that better teams would chase starters earlier in games than usual.

Even if the heavy bullpen usage has been justified, or, at least, explainable, it isn’t a trend Detroit should try to continue, for obvious reasons, and if you weren’t certain how to interpret this information, a glance at the bad company the Tigers are keeping at each end of the above graphs should offer undeniable clarification of any lingering doubt.

The team has the opportunity to reverse this course tonight, when their once (and future) workhorse takes the hill in Cleveland and tries to reverse a losing trend of his own.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two? – 5/2

Related
Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances
Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training
2016 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: They’re Not Dead Yet

Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?

Last night, the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 season finally got underway in Miami, where the team opened a two-game series against the Marlins. I’m perhaps over-eager to employ this concept, but if Detroit’s 8-7 win in eleven innings wasn’t a microcosm of a Tigers season, I’m not sure what was. This game had pretty much everything:   Continue reading

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

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

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

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.