WTF: Bos to the Races

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Not many Tigers fans were excited when the team named Ron Gardenhire as its new manager this past offseason, but Gardenhire’s decision to add former Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio to his staff seemed promising. After all, Bosio brought a championship pedigree by virtue of his five-year tenure with Theo Epstein’s Cubs. With Justin Verlander gone from Detroit, the Tigers pitching staff looked especially young and vulnerable. Bosio’s recent track record lent hope to the idea that he could be a secret weapon on the bench and, in particular, help mold an inconsistent rotation into a stronger, more developed group. In spring training, Bosio also showed a willingness to clash publicly with Gardenhire, which suggested an independence and division of developmental responsibility not necessarily out of place on a rebuilding team.

One of Bosio’s announced modifications he wanted his new charges, especially Jordan Zimmermann, to make, was to work faster on the mound. So far, they appear to have taken his advice. Fourteen pitchers have shortened their inter-pitch times by more than two seconds as compared to 2017, and three of them are Tigers starters:

pitcher pace

Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, and Matt Boyd have upped their respective paces substantially this season over last season. I think that alone is a good sign, because it demonstrates both a willingness and ability to make changes in approach designed (or believed, at least) to improve outcomes. That’s the bigger question, though. Zimmermann, Fulmer, and Boyd are working faster, but are they doing better?

To try to answer that question, I propose a DRA-based comparison, which should allow us to see, on a rate basis, whether these three Tigers starters also have been pitching better in 2018 than they did during their slower days in 2017.

delta dra re pace

Of the three, Zimmermann had the smallest pace increase but the largest improvement according to DRA. Boyd, who’s shown the biggest pace increase of any pitcher, also has been better, while Fulmer has been a bit worse.

Without more digging, I don’t know that there are any broad statements to make about the consequences of speeding up on the mound. Importantly, we don’t know how the 2018 versions of these players would perform had they continued to work at their slower paces; the results might be exactly the same. The above does provide some circumstantial evidence that increasing pace can help some players, however, and it also suggests that Bosio was right to target Zimmermann as a guy who could benefit from operating at a faster pace.

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The Tigers don’t have any of the top fifty players of 2018, as ranked by fWAR, on their roster. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario used to be on that list, but he now sits sixty-fifth (1.3 fWAR) after missing time with wrist tendinitis. He could return to the team later this week.

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Previously
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox

With the 2016 MLB season roughly one-third complete, this series has touched on possible changes the Detroit Tigers might make at the catcher and shortstop positions and now turns to the starting pitching rotation.

To begin with the good news about the Detroit Tigers’ pitching, we almost have to begin with the bad news, which is that the presumptive lock for an above-slot number three starter, Anibal Sanchez, was so bad through his first eleven starts that he’s been demoted to the bullpen. Another potential starter, Shane Greene, has continued to be unable to prove he can hold down a starter role, and still-semi-prospect Daniel Norris has battled injury and efficiency problems that, so far, have kept him in Toledo and out of a rotation spot in Detroit. Thankfully, Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander have, for the most part, been very solid in the first two spots, and rookies Michael Fulmer and, to a lesser extent, Matt Boyd, have arrived this year as big-league-ready starters.

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A weakness common to all Tigers starters this year has been an inability to pitch late into games, but the arrival of Fulmer in particular has allowed the team to bolster an already-improved bullpen with extra tweener (i.e., not quite starter material yet/anymore) arms like Sanchez and Greene, with Boyd, who has been a bit homer-prone of late, a possibility to join them in the near future. Brad Ausmus and Al Avila have done a good job of rotating these arms through a suddenly thick bullpen, making frequent use of Toledo options where available, to the point that many Tigers fans are experiencing a creeping and unfamiliar sensation of actual comfort with their team’s pitching staff. These are strange days indeed.

If they want to return to the familiar, however, they need not look too hard, because every fifth game or so begins with Mike Pelfrey on the mound.   Continue reading

Window Shopping: Step Back From the Window, or, Thank You Very Much, Mr. Rebooto

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline was an especially active period for the Detroit Tigers franchise, which made big moves both with player and front-office personnel.

Detroit traded three of the best players on its 2015 roster in the days and minutes prior to the trade deadline. The team’s biggest move, and arguably the biggest of one of the most active trade-deadline periods ever, was their decision to trade number-one starter David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. They also sent closer Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh, and, in the final moments before the deadline, Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets.

The basic logic behind each of these moves is that, even prior to these trades, each of these players was, for all practical purposes, not going to be a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2016. That’s because each is in the final year of his current contract, meaning that each becomes a free agent at the end of this season. The Tigers would have no special ability to keep Price, Cespedes, or Soria in Detroit after the end of the 2015 season, and, given their individual successes, each is likely to fetch contract offers on the free market too rich even for Mike Ilitch’s blood. Rather than keep Price, Cespedes, and Soria for August and September on a team that’s unlikely to even make the playoffs, only to watch them walk away in the winter, the Tigers, with an eye on the post-2015 future, decided to cash in some of the value of these assets by trading them now. In doing so, Detroit converted these three expiring assets into six prospects, including five pitchers and one infielder.

Baseball analysts widely praised these transactions as beneficial to the Tigers, who, general manager Dave Dombrowski announced were “rebooting,” selling with the goal of remaining competitive in the near term, rather than undergoing a full rebuilding. The top return for Detroit was Daniel Norris, a now-former Blue Jay who lives in a van and shaves his beard with an ax. They also received Matt Boyd from Toronto, a younger starter who, in his recent Tigers’ debut, beat Johnny Cueto and the Royals.

Of course, the only real question for Detroit was not whom to trade but whether to trade. As July 31 approached, that question divided fans and, it later would be revealed, members of the team’s front office and ownership. As for the former group, most fans recognized the Tigers’ slim playoff odds and supported selling, although a minority that included this writer held out hope that the team could make one more postseason push before initiating a rebuild. Ultimately, Dombrowski’s “rebooting” seemed to satisfy both camps: Detroit would get close-to-ready prospects in exchange for their expiring assets. No long rebuilding process– a full surrender– was in store, just a quick retooling.

Two additional notes in the context of these trades: 1) one week before the trade deadline, Toronto, the biggest buyers, and Detroit, the biggest sellers, sat four and five games out of the last American League wild card position, respectively, and 2) while it isn’t at all likely that Price, Soria, or Cespedes will return to Detroit in the offseason, the effect of an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract is that the Tigers actually increased whatever chance they have of resigning Cespedes by trading him.

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As the Tigers and their fans were settling into life without Price, Soria, and Cespedes, and enjoying their first trial run with Norris, who had a strong start on Sunday in Baltimore, unbeknownst to them, even more action was afoot behind the scenes.    Continue reading