The week in “sports”: 5/8/20

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From the Be The Ball, Danny Department:

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.

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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.

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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: An unprecedented offsesaon move?

The 2019 Detroit Tigers struggled on offense. Readers of this website know that the team finished last in the American League in a variety of statistical categories, including home runs and slugging percentage, this past season.

It therefore comes as some surprise today that the team decided to outright Brandon Dixon to Toledo. The surprise arises not because Dixon– a second-year, sub-replacement-level player– is especially good, but because he finished the 2019 season as the Tigers’ leader in home runs (fifteen) and, among qualified batters, slugging percentage (.435). Again, Dixon’s overall performance was unremarkable, and it makes sense for the twenty-seven-year-old to spend more time at Triple-A. But immediate demotions of teams’ home-run leaders cannot be a common occurrence. Indeed, I suspected such an event never before had occurred.

Thankfully, before publishing this post, I checked with BP’s Rob Mains, who reminded me that it had happened once before. In a situation in some ways more extreme than Dixon’s, Chris Carter found himself without a major-league job after a 2016 season in which he paced the National League with forty-one homers as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the team’s decision to non-tender him “unprecedented.” Carter caught on with the New York Yankees for almost half of the 2017 season, but that was it for him in the bigs. After spending the rest of 2017 and 2018 with three different Triple-A teams, Carter’s 2019 found him hitting the lights out for the Mexican League’s Monclova Acereros (alongside Erick Aybar, obviously).

What does the future hold for Dixon? Carter’s path may be his best hope, and there are plenty of reasons to think that’s a reach.

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Previously
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation
RKB: At deadline, Tigers move their best player*

RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?

Now that Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has tipped his hand with respect to his rebuilding strategy, it’s nice to see him following up on his listed priorities of improving every single position on the team. Yesterday, catcher Austin Romine, formerly of the New York Yankees, signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, who have made their former utilityman‘s younger brother the first notable addition of this offseason’s rolling thunder rebuild revue. How does he relate to the guys already on Detroit’s roster?

Obviously, his relationship with Miguel Cabrera hasn’t been great.

After that fight, in which Gary Sanchez revealed his true nature, Romine denied that he escalated the situation, which he probably should hope is the truth. Regardless, Avila may want to consider rehiring the elder Romine sibling as an assistant bench coach, even if the new guy is saying all the right things for now:

Jawing and brawling aside, where does Austin stand in relation to his new backstop colleagues? The assumption is that he will be the starter ahead of Greyson Greiner and Jake Rogers. The following table highlights some 2019 performance numbers those three posted.

Romine, who actually added value to his Yankees team last year, bests the incumbents across the board with the possible exception of age. The reasonable hope for him is that he can continue to hit at something within dirt-kicking distance of average while adding value on defense, which is what he did in 2018. The coming season is likely to be Romine’s first as a starter. He turned thirty-one last month, so his test in 2020 will be to sustain his offense and rebounding on defense while carrying a heavier load and learning a new staff. Seems easy enough.

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Previously
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes

RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes

MLB’s winter meetings, an annual offseason event during which team general managers usually take an opportunity to share some of their preparatory plans for the coming season and commonly make significant player transactions, came to an end yesterday. On Monday, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila described his current approach for the team’s ondragging rebuild:

Finding a catcher is the Tigers’ No. 1 priority this offseason, according to general manager Al Avila, who also named first base, corner outfield, the rotation and . . . the middle infield as other areas of interest for the rebuilding club . . . .

Talk about burying the lede – the bullpen is cured! The Tigers’ lack of an operational bullpen has been as legendary as the complete absence of defense in Big XII football, but no longer. Avila, in identifying as rebuild focal points literally every single component of a baseball team roster except for the bullpen (and center field; somebody call JaCoby Jones’ agent, I guess?), clearly has telegraphed to the league and fanbase that bullpen at last is rock solid and in need of no further improvement whatsoever.

Later today, an update on how the GM addressed his top offseason priority in fighting fashion. Until then, Avila has indicated that there definitely is no need at all to peek in any form or fashion at who exactly comprises Detroit’s current relief corps.

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Related
Detroit’s Tank is Anything but EmptyBaseball Prospectus

Previously
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.

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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

RKB: At deadline, Tigers move their best player*

A year ago yesterday, on what may have been MLB’s last-ever non-waiver trade deadline, the 2018 Detroit Tigers made one move, trading Leonys Martín, then their best player of that season, to Cleveland. Yesterday, depending on how you look at it, they marked that anniversary by doing the same thing again. Shane Greene was the 2019 Tigers’ only All Star, and he led the team in cWPA, a metric I’ve contended should drive MVP-type analyses. By some other measures, Greene was not the 2019 Tigers’ best player, but, in holding a steady hand on the closer’s tiller, he gave the team something for which it desperately had been seeking, particularly in its competitive years. [insert sweaty joaquin benoit face.jpeg] Now, Greene, a thirty-year-old who hasn’t hit arbitration eligibility, likely will receive his first chance to close games in the playoffs, assuming he and the Braves hold it together down the stretch.

The “modest” return the Tigers received in this trade was comprised of two “prospects.” One, Joey Wentz, is a lefthanded pitcher the Braves picked out of high school in the first round of the 2016 draft. He spent all of 2019 to date at Double-A Mississippi, where he posted a 4.72 ERA (4.36 FIP, 116 cFIP) in twenty starts. Wentz missed substantial parts of 2018 with oblique and shoulder problems, which is not what you like to hear. On the other hand (but the same hand, actually, since we’re talking pitchers), maybe he throws his fastball like Clayton Kershaw throws his?

The second, Travis Demeritte, is a hitter the Texas Rangers picked out of high school in the first round of the 2013 draft. He reached Triple-A for the first time this year in the Braves’ system, all of which he spent in Gwinnett, posting a .286/.387/.558 line in 399 games. Baseball Prospectus credits the jump in his power numbers to the introduction of the major-league ball at the Triple-A level, which, yeah. (We actually have covered Demeritte at this site before. Three years ago, he starred alongside Dansby Swanson in the 2016 MLB futures game before the Rangers traded him to the Braves for two pitchers who both appear to have exited professional baseball soon thereafter.)

Would it have been nice for the Tigers to receive some more exciting players from Atlanta’s fairly deep system in exchange for Greene? It would have. It also is hard to be picky when it comes to trading a closer whose BABIP and ground ball rate are way out of whack with his career norms. Greene always seemed like a nice and thoughtful guy, and I suspect the native Floridian will appreciate the opportunity to work a little closer to home.

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Previously
RKB: A Wild Rosenthal Appears – 7/16

Related
Have the Atlanta Braves discovered the secret of the ooze?
Whose All Stars?
2019 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Miguel Cabrera in the bWAR era
Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era