Five Hundred Home Runs Dies In Darkness?

The ever-astute and hip Washington Post decided to celebrate Miguel Cabrera’s historic home run achievement by opining that Cabrera and Albert Pujols may be the last major leaguers to reach five hundred home runs and three thousand hits because apparently they tallied a lot of their numbers while opposing pitching was relatively bad and batters (but we’re not saying who!) artificially extended their careers with prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, and pitching is good now and PEDs are gone.

Rather than engage that cheerful take, let’s join the throngs of the genuinely happy and have yet another look at the rarity of Cabrera’s accomplishment from two big-picture perspectives.

Cabrera famously hit his first career MLB home run in his first career MLB game, a walk-off shot in the bottom of the eleventh inning. That day, June 20, 2003, Cabrera, then twenty years old, became the 18,306th person to play Major League Baseball. (A list of all 2003 debutants is available here.) As of this writing, 22,538 people have done so, meaning that Cabrera, the twenty-eighth player to five hundred homers, joined a group that represents barely a tenth of a percent of all MLB players ever. Whether we eventually will look back at this benchmark as– perhaps like Rickey Henderson’s 1,406 career stolen bases or maybe Denny McClain’s 31 wins in 1968– an irreplicable vestige of eras past is, for this moment, a matter for dour D.C. dilettantes to debate. We can celebrate and appreciate the extreme rarity and therefore special nature of Cabrera’s feat right now.

Also noteworthy in the present moment is the rarity of the observation of the achievement for current fans. The six seasons between Cabrera’s five-hundredth blast and David Ortiz’s was the longest such gap between such career landmark hits since the nine-year period between Mike Schmidt’s (1987) and Eddie Murray’s (1996).

That the combination of talent, consistency, and longevity required to hit five hundred major-league home runs always has been rare and appears likely to remain so does not in any way diminish the significance of the accomplishment. And although the Washington Post isn’t projected to produce any journalism on the level of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate work in the foreseeable future and hasn’t since, neither has Cabrera taken time to comment on the Post’s weaker competition during the zenith of institutional print media. (Selections from today’s online front page for modern reference.)

Thus, a humble suggestion that the Washington Post aim its performative social criticism elsewhere. Cabrera, with his excellent resume and obvious love of the game, can handle it, but it doesn’t become them. Perhaps the editors just are embarrassed that their own team can’t hang onto this type of historic player and so responds by lashing out at other greats. Regardless, I look forward to not reading a Washington Post sportswriter’s forthcoming book on Stephen Strasburg’s career entitled The Final Days.

Miguel Cabrera’s Monster Milestone (via FanGraphs)

On Sunday afternoon against the Blue Jays, Miguel Cabrera became the newest member of an elite baseball club by hitting his 500th regular-season home run, making him just the 28th player to reach that mark in MLB history; he joins Albert Pujols as the only active players on the list. (He’s also the first-ever Tiger and first ever Venezuelan-born player to get there). Cabrera is also chasing entry into the equally exclusive 3,000 hits club, but he would need roughly a hit per game for the rest of the season to do that, making 2022 more likely, so let’s focus on 500 and his road there. … Read More

(via FanGraphs)

________________________________________________________

Related
Miguel Cabrera in the bWAR era
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)
Man vs. Machine
Real talk: The media is completely blowing it on the Miguel Cabrera triple crown story

Cherry picking the 2021 Detroit Tigers All-Stars

The annual National Cherry Festival resumes this weekend in Traverse City and runs until the start of the 2021 MLB All-Star break begins after the following weekend. Let’s use that time to look at how the Detroit Tigers have been performing over an intraseason period selected solely to make them appear better than they have been if you do something foolish like take then entire season into account.

On May 7, the Tigers lost to the Minnesota Twins 7-3, dropping their record to 9-24, and leaving them as the only MLB team without a double-digit win total. Miguel Cabrera was running a career-worst .127/.225/.238 line, and the team had just one above-average hitter in Jeimer Candelario (115 wRC+, with his BABIP still hovering around .400).

On May 8, though, the Tigers reversed the scoreboard and beat the Twins 7-3. That started a 25-21 run, a .543 winning percentage that– holding all else constant– would bump Detroit up to third place in the AL Central (or first place in the NL East).* Sure they actually remain locked in a virtual tie for last place in the division, but let’s stick with this May 8 thing a little while longer.

Since May 8, Detroit quadrupled its tally of above-average hitters. Robbie Grossman and Eric Haase (both 107 wRC+) have come on strong and clutch. And Jonathan Schoop and breakout star Akil Baddoo are on fire. Their respective 167 wRC+ and 159 wRC+ marks would make each of them top-ten hitters if extended over the full season to date. (On the other hand, Candelario dropped 100 points of BABIP and flipped his wRC+ from 115 to 85.)

As he so often does, Miguel Cabrera deserves special mention. He’s pulled up his offensive rate numbers a good deal and continues to accumulate historic-level career achievements. He continues to close in on 3,000 hits (2,915), and at 493 homers, he now is tied with Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff on the all-time list.

Continue reading

Detroit Tigers 2021 Season Preview

The day is here. A full season of baseball, we have many reasons to hope, lays before us. The Detroit Tigers’ opening contest, a home divisional matchup with Cleveland, begins at 1:10 this afternoon. It will be, we must begin by noting, the first opening day without Al Kaline as a part of the Tigers organization since 1954.

The leading public projection systems don’t particularly care for what they see in the Tigers roster this year (PECOTA: sixty-six wins; FanGraphs: seventy-one wins), but even seventy wins would feel like a good accomplishment for a team that hasn’t bested that mark since 2016.

With championship contention out of the question, the focus turns to individual accomplishments. In that regard, most of the spotlight rightly belongs to Miguel Cabrera. A full, healthy season puts in play for him in 2021 two major offensive milestones: 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Cabrera’s place in Cooperstown already is assured, but these are lifetime-achievement benchmarks it’s difficult to imagine absent from his resume. Cabrera enters the season second on both the active hits (2,866) and home runs (487) leaderboards, trailing only Albert Pujols in both categories. Most observers are targeting August and September for Cabrera to hit these historic points. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch him pass other big names– Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds– on his way there.

The rest of the Tigers roster has perhaps more modest goals for this season. The PECOTA projection system sees a few interesting individual achievements of varying significance for a handful of players. Will Opening-Day starter Matthew Boyd finish the season with an ERA under 4.00 for the first time ever? Will Buck Farmer post his first career save? Will Jeimer Candelario go all year without being caught stealing for the first time since 2017? Will Cabrera hit his first triple since 2016?

Detroit fans definitely like Farmer’s odds. As fun as it would be to see Cabrera leg out another triple, I think I’m rooting for Farmer, if only because that might help my nickname for him– Deer Hunter– finally gain some traction.

The Candelario item highlights a broader strategic shift toward what seems like it will be a more aggressive style of play coming from new manager A.J. Hinch. After leading the Houston Astros from the bottom all the way to the top and then losing his job and serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Hinch found a new home with the team for which he played an unmemorable season of third-string catcher nearly a decade ago. Although there is and will remain a cloud over it, Hinch’s managerial championship pedigree and association with some of the game’s brightest minds (a little too bright, perhaps) in Houston, together with his playing experience that includes time behind the dish in Detroit and his relative youth (he’ll turn forty-seven next month), all suggest he could be the best version of what the Tigers thought they’d found in Brad Ausmus back in 2014.

While Hinch appears to be a steady hand at the helm, this ship will sail only as far as ownership allows. As some of the team’s top pitching prospects begin to ripen, the task of finding run support for that budding rotation remains at the feet of Chris Ilitch. When the iron is hot, will he spend like his father did to add key free agents and push the team back into the top tier of contention? Or will he continue to churn the roster, keeping the team mired in a hunt for nothing more than intransigent mediocrity? I really like the Julio Teheran signing this offseason, but it’s moves of a different kind– think Prince Fielder or even Justin Upton, like Teheran, also a former Atlanta Brave– that soon will be needed. Is the young owner truly motivated to win? We’ll know before long.

For now, we have at our own feet that pure and exciting thing for which there is no need to wait: the Detroit Tigers are playing baseball today.

RKB: Shifting the D to See Whether Analytics Drives the Motor City’s Baseball Team

The Detroit Tigers have the reputation of being a team late to baseball’s new analytical revolution, but they quietly have been making front-office hires (no, Brad Ausmus did not count) purportedly to try to catch up in that area, and there’s evidence that it’s happening. For example, two weeks ago, something occurredfor what I believe to be the first time in Tigers history, when manager Ron Gardenhire cited input from the analyitics department– excuse me, “analytic department”– as the reason for a decision he’d made:

If you’re excited — or angry — about seeing Jeimer Candelario in the lead-off spot Wednesday night, then feel to credit — or blame — the Detroit Tigers analytics department.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said the recent spate of roster changes prompted a consultation with the club’s analytics and research department in an effort to find an ideal batting order.

“We did some research and the analytic department put all the data in there to try to see what gives up our best opportunities,” Gardenhire said. “(Candelario’s) name came up first as lead-off.”

Just the one analytic so far, but it’s a start. Now that we know the Tigers have sabermetric analysts and those analysts convey strategic input to the coaching staff, it’s fair to inquire into the quality of that input. As it turned out with respect to the above example, Candelario only hit leadoff for two games, and while he performed well (four hits, including a double and home run, and two strikeouts in eight plate appearances), it did not seem to be a part of Gardenhire’s long-term plan. Very likely coincidentally, the team lost both of those games, and Gardenhire moved Candelario back to fifth, where he’s hit for most of the season, for the next game, a win. As Lindbergh and Miller’s The Only Rule Is It Has To Work reminds, it’s one thing to develop sabermetrically informed strategies and another to implement them with coaches and players. (And, as beat writer Evan Woodbery pointed out in the article quoting Gardenhire, Detroit didn’t have many good options for the leadoff position anyway.)

More recently, Tigers observers and fans have cited with excitement a data point on defensive shifts an FSD producer pointed out over the weekend as more good evidence in this area, even suggesting that the team was becoming a leader (first place!) in the realm of new analytics-based strategy:

The irony of the timing of this was that it came as lead Baseball Prospectus writer Russell Carleton was in the process of dismantling the notion of the shift as a useful defensive strategy.  Continue reading

RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.

For 2020, our season preview for the Detroit Tigers will proceed, like a rebuilding project, in piecemeal fashion. The machines have completed their work, and it’s time for the humans to step to the plate.

The first subject I’d like to cover for this year is payroll. When a team is in deep rebuild mode, it’s almost pointless to spend time thinking about payroll. We know that rebuilding teams, essentially as a rule, are trying to shed payroll– usually with a focus on reducing a small number of large commitments to aging players– while gearing up for the next round of competitive action. This accounting-department aspect of baseball isn’t exciting, and it isn’t something even close observers monitor on a regular basis. Particularly with resetting teams, like the Tigers, that are very unlikely to add a high-priced free agent or sign a current player to a pricey extension, the payroll landscape changes only at a relatively glacial pace as years tick off old contracts.

Team payrolls are back in the news these days, though, thanks to the Boston Red Sox’s [Yeah, I don’t know either, man. -ed.] much-maligned decision to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. However you cook it up or boil it down, Boston gave up two of its best players without receiving a commensurate return because the team wanted to cut payroll costs, apparently with the hope of creating the financial flexibility to maybe replace Betts or Price at an unspecified future time.

Detroit, on the other hand, has quite a bit of financial flexibility, and the team didn’t have to do anything to generate it but wait around. Safely assuming you haven’t checked in a while, how do the books look?

Barring drastic changes, the Tigers will open the season with a payroll of about $95 million, which places them on the high side of the bottom third of all teams this year. That’s a stark change from the days when Chris Ilitch’s father was holding the purse: Detroit had a top-five payroll as recently as 2017. In 2020, only two Tigers– Miguel Cabrera ($30 million) and Jordan Zimmermann ($25 million)– have salaries in the double-digit millions. Cabrera has three more seasons to go after this one, and he’s scheduled for a raise after next season. Zimmermann, on the other hand, is done (and maybe done done) after this year.

How quickly do things fall off after Cabrera and Zimmermann? Newcomers Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron and their matching one-year, $6.1 million contracts are next up. And if you thought that was a big drop, consider the fact that those four are, on an individual basis, the only players the Tigers are paying more in 2020 than Prince Fielder ($6 million).

Next in line is the only other notable mention in this conversation: Matthew Boyd ($5.3 million). The twenty-nine-year-old lefty probably is the team’s best player right now, and he still has two arbitration years remaining. Many people have said many things about whether the Tigers should trade or extend Boyd. The most-likely outcome probably is that they do neither and hope to avoid a repeat of the Michael Fulmer Experience.

What does this mean for you? Not much, really, except that we’re almost finished with our regimen of eating extra Little Caesars Hot-N-Readys to pay off the fun Prince Fielder days. Still worth it, in my opinion.

______________________________________________

Previously
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?
RKB: An unprecedented offseason move?
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation

RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.

The rise of mechanized automation was supposed to ease our human lives. Instead, it has led to increased unemployment and longer, more laborious hours for those fortunate enough remain on the job. We at ALDLAND are here to swim against that current by compelling our metal creations to improve our earthly experiences. Rest assured, demanding readers: plenty of hand-crafted, free-range baseball coverage is on its way to these digital pages. But why wait for a man-made preview post when the computers can do the work for us?

With brevity as our computing watchword, here‘s the projection for the 2020 Detroit Tigers from Baseball Prospectus: a 69-93 record and a zero-point-zero-zero-percent chance of making the playoffs. BP’s PECOTA system sees only one other team, Seattle, with no shot whatsoever at the postseason, and only five, Seattle, Kansas City, Baltimore, and San Francisco, posting fewer wins.

On an individual basis, PECOTA expects eight Tiger players to add at least one win above the contribution expected of a replacement-level player (2019 WARP in parenthesis):

  • Matthew Boyd: 2 WARP (3.7)
  • Jonathan Schoop: 2 WARP (0.3)
  • Niko Goodrum: 1.7 WARP (1.6)
  • C.J. Cron: 1.6 WARP (1.3)
  • Miguel Cabrera: 1.4 WARP (0.3)
  • Christin Stewart: 1.2 WARP (-1.3)
  • JaCoby Jones: 1.1 WARP (0.0)
  • Joe Jimenez: 1 WARP (0.9)

Last year, only four Tigers– Boyd, Goodrum, Nicholas Castellanos, and Buck Farmer–contributed at least 1.0 WARP to the team.

On the whole, this is a very Professor-Farnsworth-good-news moment for Detroit fans. No one really anticipated seeing Tiger baseball in October 2020, but the fact that the robots think the team will win almost two-dozen more games than last season– that’s almost four extra wins every month– and feature twice as many productive-ish players is reason enough to be encouraged, at least relatively speaking.

______________________________________________

Previously
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?
RKB: An unprecedented offseason move?
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation

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.

______________________________________________

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