Bay of Cigs: Run distribution, science(!), and the liklihood of a Detroit comeback

We’re a dozen games into the season and the Tigers, with a few hiccups, are off to a respectable 7-5 start. Despite the day/Pacific time starts and my living outside the Tigers Radio Network, I’ve been able to keep decent track of these first few series and, while mindful of small sample size they represent, I was beginning to notice something concerning.

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The DET Offensive: You forgot about J(ustin Verlander)

As the 2012 MLB season winds down– the Tigers are up three over Chicago with three games to go, all against the Royals– the national focus on Motown thankfully has shifted away from a record that has to be considered a disappointment even if the team makes the playoffs and onto the achievements of Miguel Cabrera, who is well within reach of winning the first Triple Crown since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and whether those achievements make him a more worthy MVP than Mike Trout.

While it’s interesting to note that Cabrera is doing all of this while having his “worst offensive season in three years,” it’s more interesting that no one is talking about Justin Verlander as a serious Cy Young candidate despite his having a nearly identical season to the one he had last year, when he ran away with the Cy Young and took home the MVP as well. Joe Posnanski elaborates:

Justin Verlander is, in so many ways, every bit as good as he was last year. He’s striking out the same number of batters, walking just a tick more, and allowing fewer home runs than he did last year. He has given up a few more hits. But he leads the league in strikeouts and innings pitched like last year and you can add in most complete games.

It is true that last year he led the league in ERA and he’s second now to David Price … but he again leads the league in ERA+, which takes into account the ballpark where they pitch. Verlander pitches in Detroit, which has evolved into a pretty good hitters park. Price pitches in Tampa Bay, a hitter’s dungeon.

The point is that Verlander is basically the same guy he was last year. Only, last year he went 24-5. This year he’s 16-8. And that seems to make all the difference. Last year, he won the Cy Young unanimously and became the first starter to win the MVP since 1986. This year — at least from what I can tell — people hardly seem to be talking about him as a Cy Young candidate. I hear a lot of David Price and Chris Sale and Jered Weaver, and these are all worthy candidates. But, once again, I think Verlander has been the best pitcher in the American League.

It gets, once more, to the issue of sports narratives. Last year, Verlander was superman. He went into the playoffs last year as this force of nature … and the record will show that in the playoffs (an odd playoffs, admittedly, because of rain) he posted a 5.31 ERA and did not throw a single quality start. But the narrative was so powerful that people STILL kept going on and on about how gutsy Verlander was, how extraordinary, how Koufax-like, how he was almost single-handedly keeping the Tigers alive.

This year, the narrative has gone the other way, the narrative has been that Verlander has been, you know, eh, good but not the mega-monster he was last year. The narrative has turned instead into how now Miguel Cabrera is superman carrying the Tigers. Narratives are fun, but they aren’t necessarily true. Verlander really is just about as amazing as he was last year.

Jonah Keri succinctly concurs: “Justin Verlander has posted numbers in 2012 virtually identical to those of 2011, yet he’s somehow considered just one of several candidates for Cy Young and a no-chance-in-hell guy for MVP, after winning both awards last year.”

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Finally, looking as far ahead as I’ll allow myself, the Free Press reports that Max Scherzer sounds like he’ll be ready to go for the playoffs, or even this week if necessary.

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Previously
Get perspective – 9/12
Everybody knows this is nowhere – 8/31

Now it’s just offensive – 8/29
Explode! – 7/23
Halfway at the Half-way – 7/9

Interleague
Play – 6/26
Call the Experts! 
 5/26
Recipe for a Slumpbuster
 – 5/2
Delmon Young Swings and Misses
 – 4/30
Brennan Boesch’s Birthday – 4/12
Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep – 4/9

Chilly Monday

Sometimes it’s important to remind yourself that, for the most part, half the teams lose each and every football weekend. Despite what some say about football fandom, most of us are likely to have a couple teams we like, especially between the college and professional levels and, given the number of games played on a weekly basis, we’re likely to have a few winners and a few losers. You see where this is headed.

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The Big Ten is struggling this season. None of their teams were in the top fifteen heading into Saturday, and they didn’t exactly respond well. Notre Dame completed a convincing conquest of the State of Michigan by taking down the Wolverines one week after they did the same to the Spartans, who unconvincingly defeated Eastern Michigan, possibly the worst team in Division I. Iowa lost in overtime to Central Michigan. Northwestern, Minnesota, and the ineligible Ohio State are 4-0. This conference is approaching Big East relegation level lows.

On the topic of relegation, Vanderbilt’s third defeat of the season, a 48-3 drubbing under the lights in Athens more about which later, has Commodore bloggers rising to defend their team’s membership in the SEC. That’s never good. The ACC had the game of the weekend though, in which Florida State defeated Clemson, clearing one of its final remaining obstacles on the path to national championship contention. That path may be clearing further, as LSU barely defeated Auburn. Oregon also started slow before completing a one-sided shutout of RichRod’s inoffensive Arizona Wildcats.

I missed most of the NFL games in transit back from Georgia on Sunday, but I understand the Lions went out with a whimper in an overtime loss in Nashville, the Falcons dominated the Chargers, Darrelle Revis is headed back to his Island after some variety of non-beard-related injury, Peyton Manning’s arm strength continues to be a question, and the scab officials are bad getting worse. (On their account, it also came out during the past week that at least some of them hold personal, financial stakes in the outcomes of the games, which adds a new element of excitement.)

In golf, Vanderbilt alum Brandt Snedeker won $11.4 million yesterday, and in the AL Central race, the White Sox lost once and the Tigers lost twice as part of a statistical phenomenon known as “regression to the mean (streets of Kansas City).”

Slaughterhouse Monday

While I was in Chicago, I got into a discussion with a reader about whether high school was too early to read Vonnegut. While the results of that conversation were inconclusive, this post is unequivocally too late. So it goes.

Week three of college football and week two of the NFL definitely stand as prime territory for some on-field slaughters, and this past weekend did not disappoint in that regard. First, Vandy took the Presbyterian Blue Hose to the woodshed in Nashville, where the Commodores claimed their first win of the season by a 58-0 mark behind new starter Austyn Carta-Samuels. It was the Vanderbilt running game, nonexistent last week against Northwestern, that shone this Saturday, when Zac Stacy took the first Vanderbilt play from scrimmage 86 yards to the house and never slowed down.

There was no shortage of lopsided scores around the country Saturday, including Clemson’s 41-7 takedown of in-state team Furman, the expected Arkansas defeat at the hands of Alabama, 52-0, and other top five blowouts, including LSU’s (63-14 over Idaho), Oregon’s (same score, over Tennessee Tech), and Florida State’s (52-0 over Wake Forest). Not all of said slaughters were so favorable for teams this space likes to track, particularly including Notre Dame’s 20-3 takedown of Michigan State in East Lansing, for which there is no excuse. I’m glad I couldn’t watch it.

The NFL wasn’t especially compelling this weekend, even though a number of games on Sunday afternoon came down to the wire, technically speaking. The main NFL topic this week is likely to be the Monday night game, which has already seen its share of storylines, including multiple Peyton Manning interceptions early and an apparent lack of control by the scab referees.

To round out the slaughter theme, of course, we go to the Motor City, where the Tigers continue to lose, first on a blown save by Jose Valverde against the mighty Cleveland Indians, and then in a make-up game this afternoon against the inexplicably division-leading White Sox.

The DET Offensive: Get perspective

As the Tigers, clear preseason favorites to run away with the division, continue to stumble and struggle in early September, it’s been difficult for Detroit fans to reconcile what they’re seeing with their expectations. At this point, even a winning streak seems out of reach, much less a playoff berth.

Other teams have been here before, though, and whether this team’s fall will be more like last year’s Cardinals or Red Sox (or some twisted, Detroit-misery-special fusion of the two), at least there’s a model; I do not yearn for the historical recognition for which I yearned in 2003. I was about to go cry to Jonah Keri for another explanation of what’s happening when I found that Shaun Powell had, in concise and mostly soothing fashion, reminded me of what I already knew. Of the AL Central race between the Tigers and Chicago White Sox he wrote:

Neither team looks fabulous here in the late summer, and neither is dropping hints that it can rip through September and October and steal someone else’s World Series trophy. The Tigers are just seven games over .500 and the biggest underachievers west of Philly. Meanwhile, the White Sox may have beaten their rivals 6-1 on Monday night, but they still have bruises from a weekend beatdown at the hands of the Royals, who’ve taken 10 of 15 against the current division leader. Which says plenty about the division, the worst in the majors.

But none of that says anything about baseball and the wonderfully weird magic of September. Both the sport and the month are utterly unpredictable.

[I]t’s also possible that we’re in the midst of a stirring four-game series at The Cell [Series currently tied 1-1. -ed.] that allows either the Sox or Tigers to finally press the accelerator and distance themselves from their murky status once and for all. All it takes for any team within striking distance is a stretch where the switch flips on, and the same team that spent the first half of September mumbling to itself will spend the last half of October pinching itself.

That’s baseball. That’s also the ’03 Marlins, who settled for the wild card after finishing 10 games behind the Braves, then beat three favored teams in the postseason. That’s the ’06 Cardinals, who lost ace Mark Mulder, finished the season 83-78, then sucker-punched the Mets in seven games to win the NL and shocked the Tigers to sip champagne. And that’s the ’11 Cardinals, who wiped out a 10½-game deficit to steal the wild card, and you know what happened next. Craziness happened. Magic happened.

Whatever happened to the White Sox and Tigers from April until now has very little to do with what comes next. Because this stage of the season isn’t about the best team, it’s about the hottest. It’s about who can find a pitcher or two, and a manager who knows the right buttons and strings to push and pull, and a hitter who doesn’t shrivel in the clutch. If this comes together in the final eight weeks in the fall, it can make the previous 20 weeks seem an insignificant speck in the rear-view mirror.

Even if the Tigers can’t get rhythm, at least they can get some perspective. They’ll take anything they can get at this point.

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Previously
Everybody knows this is nowhere – 8/31
Now it’s just offensive – 8/29
Explode! – 7/23
Halfway at the Half-way – 7/9

Interleague
Play – 6/26
Call the Experts! 
 5/26
Recipe for a Slumpbuster
 – 5/2
Delmon Young Swings and Misses
 – 4/30
Brennan Boesch’s Birthday – 4/12
Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep – 4/9

The DET Offensive: Now it’s just offensive

Last night’s Tiger loss on the road in Kansas City felt pretty crippling.

The Free Press story starts like this:

In a span of 11 batters over the first and second innings Tuesday night, the Royals got more hits off Justin Verlander than they’d ever gotten off him in a game.

In that same span, they scored seven runs — more than they’d ever gotten off Verlander in a game.

Detroit rallied, tying the game on a Jhonny Peralta home run in the eighth, but Phil Coke, who has been ineffective on the road, gave the lead right back in the bottom half of that inning. The game effectively ended in the ninth, when officials ruled that a Delmon Young drive to the right-field seats wasn’t a homer. It would’ve scored three for the visitors. (Watch the video here, second clip on the right.) That’s Young, pictured above, as he stood on first awaiting the review. He has a mustache now, which I did not know/remember until this morning.

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After the way last night’s game and the month of August has gone for them, there’s little more I can add about this team right now, except to present some numerological reality and then get out.     Keep reading…

The DET Offensive: Explode!

We may finally be getting an idea of how good the 2012 Detroit Tigers can be. After carrying a five-game winning streak into the All Star Break, the Tigers now have won thirteen of their last fifteen. The current run includes taking two of three in Baltimore and three of four at home against the Angels. Most recently, it includes a series sweep of division rival Chicago, putting Detroit a game and a half into first place in the division. And there was much rejoicing. While everyone would acknowledge there’s still plenty of room for improvement, the team finally is clicking on both sides of the plate at the same time, scoring an average of five and two-thirds runs per game while surrendering just three and a half. If not for a heart-breaking loss to the Orioles in the thirteenth inning and a 13-0 destruction of now-traded youngster Jacob Turner at the hands of the Angels, Detroit would’ve been riding a fifteen game winning streak. More than anything (and “anything” includes Miguel Cabrera’s 300th career homer), it feels good to see this team climb the mountaintop and get into first place. They’ll have to fight to stay there, but so long as Austin Jackson keeps sparking two-out rallies and the bottom of the order keeps hitting multi-run home runs, I think they’ll be able to handle it.    Keep reading…

On baseball and energy policy: A word (and a graph) from the Chicago School

Matt McKenna writes:

What, then, is the primary driver of rising fuel costs? The answer, while difficult to capitalize on politically, is straightforward: since 1998, the major contributor to the price of gas has been an aging Chicago White Sox ball club.

To illustrate the point, the price of gas has increased from $1.44 in 1998 to $3.94 in 2012, adjusted for March 2012 dollars. The consistency of this rise allows us to rule out the political affiliation, environmental consciousness, and personal motives of any particular President as a major factor. Clearly, something bigger is at work here.

Over that same time period, the Chicago White Sox have gone from a roster with an average age of 26.85 years in 1998 to 29.2 years in 2011. Due to the White Sox’ magnificent World Series victory in 2005, concern over rising ages and fuel costs didn’t particularly bother White Sox fans or Americans at large. And nor should they have–Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams built some good teams between 2000 and 2005.

Since 2005, however, White Sox teams have been generally mediocre and, as the chart above indicates, getting older. By 2010, the average age of a White Sox player was up to 29.8 years, the fourth highest in the league. By 2011, the price of gas skyrocketed to $3.58 a gallon, and it is no wonder why.

The baffling twist to the Republican’s faux fusillade on Barack Obama’s energy policy is that they actually do have a legitimate gripe on the subject, even if they fail to recognize it: Barack Obama is the world’s most powerful White Sox fan. Obama was an Illinois State Senator between 1997 and 2004 and a U.S. Senator between 2005 and 2008. It was during these years that, while occasionally punctuated with brilliant baseball, the White Sox slowly aged and created the situation in which we currently find ourselves mired: $3.94 for a gallon of gas. One would think Obama might have held enough sway with Chicago’s sports leadership to successfully warn them of the national impact of signing big contracts for aging, once-great players.

The bottom line is that the President has little influence on gas prices outside of calling up Chicago White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams and demanding fresh talent be brought up from the minors to replace the pricey veterans on the current squad. Looking at the 2012 roster, perhaps that’s exactly what has happened–the average age for a White Sox player has dropped to 28.1 years. That may not be a big enough decrease to bring the price of oil down to a reasonable level, but it certainly can’t hurt. And who knows, maybe these young guys can hit.

Read the full piece at McSweeney’s, which also includes this graph:

Keep these trends in mind when the team from Motor City travels to face off against the White Sox in a three-game set this weekend.