Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tigers Don’t Need Rafael Soriano

A few weeks ago, Dave Dombrowski said that the Tigers weren’t interested in Rafael Soriano to be the Tigers closer, praising prospect Bruce Rondon.  Recently, there have been reports that super-agent Scott Boras slyly bypassed Dombrowski and went straight to owner Mike Ilitch about the possibility of signing Soriano.  This isn’t the first time that Scott Boras has done this.  Just last year, the Tigers at first weren’t interested in signing Prince Fielder, until all of a sudden Ilitch approved a raise in payroll to make room for Fielder.  Boras seems to be doing the same thing this year with Soriano as the Tigers seem to be a perfect fit.  The Tigers have a need for a closer after Jose Valverde left via Free Agency, Ilitch is willing to spend money and the Tigers are in a “win now” mode, falling just short of a World Series title in 2012. 

The real question is, how much of an impact will Rafael Soriano really make?  He had a really good year for the Yankees last year, taking over for Mariano Rivera as their closer and pitching 62 2/3 innings, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.18 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 3.32 FIP, 3.75 xFIP.  Last month, Collin made a post on the Tigers bullpen construction for next year and the potential is there to be really good.

2013 Bullpen Options:

Al Alburquerque – Only pitched 13 1/3 innings in 2012, but over his 2-year career, he has 56 2/3 innings with a 1.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 13.50 K/9, 5.88 BB/9, 2.11 FIP, 2.82 xFIP.  However, he’s an injury concern.

Brayan Villarreal – He did awful in 2011 with a 6.75 ERA in 16 IP, but had a decent year in 2012: 54 2/3 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 10.87 K/9, 4.61 BB/9, 2.98 FIP, 3.96 xFIP.

Bruce Rondon – 53 IP, 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 in 3 levels for the Tigers’ minor leagues in 2012.  Lack of experience is a concern.

Octavio Dotel – 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.62 K/9, 1.86 BB/9, 2.30 FIP, 3.22 xFIP.  Has closing experience, saving 22 games as recently as 2010. 

Joaquin Benoit – 71 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.65 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 4.26 FIP, 3.29 xFIP in 2012.

Phil Coke – 54 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 3.47 FIP, 3.65 xFIP in 2012.

Those are 6 of the 7 spots that will be filled.  Other pitchers that could see some time with the Tigers next year are Duane Below (3.92 ERA in 43 2/3 IP in 2012), Darin Downs (3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 IP in 2012), Luis Marte (2.82 ERA in 22 1/3 IP in 2012), Adam Wilk (2.77 ERA in 24 starts in AAA in 2012), Casey Crosby, Andrew Oliver and Luke Putkonen.  Some are better options than others and as the old saying goes, you can’t have enough pitching.

The Tigers do lack some experience and depth but there is more than one solution to this problem.  Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are both coming off of Tommy John Surgery and will likely only command a 1-year deal to reestablish their value.  Both might be out until May, so that will give the Tigers some time to see if one of their internal options are capable of closer duties.  If the Tigers are still struggling in the 9th, then they’ll have someone waiting with closing experience.

This approach would be similar to the Tigers second base problem of last year.  There was a glaring hole at 2B and instead of addressing it, the Tigers chose to go with Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge.  Neither one worked out and the Tigers had to make a trade for Omar Infante.  If the Tigers still have a need for a closer mid-season, then they could still get one at the trading deadline. 

This isn’t a money situation; Ilitch has the money and is willing to spend it.  This is how much impact Soriano will have on the Tigers.  And the answer is likely not much.  Several studies have been done on the impact of closers, one done by David Smith at Retrosheet took 73 years of data and found that teams won after having the lead after 8 innings 95% of the time, no matter who was pitching the 9th inning.  The Tigers have 4 relievers with closer potential in Alburquerque, Dotel, Rondon and Villarreal, so the likelihood that they already have pitcher capable of closing next year is very high.

We all saw firsthand how a reliable closer can turn bad when Jose Valverde fell apart in the playoffs.  Rafael Soriano is looking for a 3-year deal.  If he suffers from any struggles, it’ll be hard to replace him after all the money they committed to him, as opposed to someone internally (say Rondon wins the closer's job out of Spring Training.  If he struggles, replacing him with Al Alburquerque wouldn't be a problem).  Also, an unlikely closer emerged in Phil Coke when he took over closing duties in one of the highest pressured situations, the playoffs against the Yankees.  After the year that Coke had during the regular season, no one would’ve thought that he would be able to close games, let alone in the playoffs.  All the left-handers in the Yankees lineup helped, though, as Coke is much better against lefties than righties, which could also prove that the best way to handle the 9th inning is by situations instead of having one designated closer.

It’s not that Soriano would be a bad signing.  In fact, he’d probably be a really good closer for the Tigers.  However, it’s likely the Tigers already have a really good closer and therefore adding Soriano wouldn’t have a huge impact to the Tigers.  

Update: I must've missed it, the Angels have signed Ryan Madson.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tigers TV revenue and payroll sustainability

In this edition of Eye on the Tigers, I want to take a look at the projected revenue increase the Tigers are reported to be in line for.

The Tigers are projected to get a hefty increase in TV revenue that can sustain this increase in  payroll and also be used to extend some of their superstars for a long time. But how much is it set to increase, and when? To answer that, let’s take an in depth look at what we are dealing with.

From the figures listed in the above article, the Tigers currently bring in about $64 million in TV revenue. $40 million from FOX Sports Detroit, and $24 million from a shared deal from TBS, FOX, and ESPN for all of MLB. With the new shared deal, they will gain about $26 million in 2014, pushing TV revenue up to about $90 million.

In addition to that, it been reported that the Tigers can renegotiate their current deal with FSD at the halfway point of the contract, which would be this year as it was signed in 2008 for 10 years. The Tigers currently make $40 million per year from this deal but it is speculated that they could see that figure double based on the size of other recently negotiated contractsIt should be noted though that FSD has refuted the Forbes article about the Tigers being able to renegotiate as inaccurate.

So, how much payroll could the Tigers sustain?

Well according to Forbes (from Crain):
"The Tigers had $8.2 million in operating income last season on revenue of $217 million, estimated this year. That was after three straight seasons of operating losses."

That means the Tigers cost $208.8 million last year to operate.

In 2011 the Tigers payroll was approximately $110,935,181.

I have a feeling I may be overestimating by a million or so as I filled in the salary amounts for players whose totals weren't listed with the following method. $200k for call-ups, regardless of actual time up in Detroit, and half of the 2011 salary listed on Baseball-Reference for players acquired through trade.

Moving on though...if the cost to operate the Tigers in 2011 was $208.8 million and they had about $111 million in payroll to players, that means it cost $97.8 million in overhead to pay for the stadium operation, travel, workers salaries, coaches, taxes, ect...

Now lets break down the revenue. The Tigers made $217 in revenue. If they were getting $64 million in TV deals, that means they made $153 million on tickets, concessions, merchandise, and selling ads in the stadium. With 2,642,045 fans through the gates in 2011, they made roughly $57.91 per head (Mr Illitch thanks you very much).

Now to begin the 2012 and beyond calculations.

To keep things simple, we'll assume they make the $57.91 per head in 2012 and to 2014 (though they probably will make more as ticket prices and other prices go up over the next year or so). They sold 3,028,033 tickets last year, so that gives them an approximate income of $175,352,444 in tickets and concessions and merchandise. Combine that with the $64 million they get in TV revenue, the Tigers likely made more than $239.35 million in 2012.

2012 payroll was a little over $138 million, so combining that with the $97.8 million in overhead, that means the Tigers cost to operate in 2012 was roughly $235.8 million.

$235.8 million to operate.

$239.35 million in revenue.

They made at least $3.55 million, and likely several million more when you count in the profits from the playoffs.

I will revisit this in March when Forbes comes out with their estimates on the value of the Tigers based on the 2012 calendar year.

Now how about 2013...

Their payroll currently stands at $143 million. That would give them a total cost to operate of $240 million this year. That is probably very close to the amount they made last year in revenue.

Knowing that there is a large margin for error, I'm going to say that what their payroll is right now is probably the maximum sustainable level for their current TV and operating deals (i.e they operate with minimal gain/loss).

So, what about the new TV deals?

In 2014, they will gain $26.5 million from the shared TV deals. Most of that will (hopefully) go towards extending Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander as well as extending some other key Tigers like Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, and Doug Fister. They will have some room to work beyond that after Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez come off the books ($25 million total)

Anything beyond that will have to come from and increase with FSD. If they renegotiate this year and get a modest $25 million, they could have a sustainable 2014 payroll of $194 million (assuming the increases in ticket prices at least match the increases in operating costs, and they stay around 3 million fans per year).

They will be just over the luxury tax threshold in 2014, which would have to be factored in if they exceed it.

So there you go. The Tigers should be operating close to break even next year, and depending on if they negotiate a new deal with FSD, they could easily make Verlander and Cabrera Tigers for life and still push payroll even higher.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thoughts on Ryan Raburn and the 40-Man Roster

Last Tuesday, the Tigers released utility man Ryan Raburn, officially making him a free agent.  They also added relievers Bruce Rondon and Melvin Mercedes and shortstop Dixon Machado to the 40-man roster and outrighted reliever Tyler Stohr before the deadline.  The deadline is to protect players for the Rule 5 Draft.  Players have to be protected if they were:

          1.    Signed at age 19 or older and have been with the organization for 4 years or
          2.    Signed at age 18 or younger and have been with the organization for 5 years.

Raburn batted .256/.311/.430/.740 with 54 HR and a 96 OPS+ in parts of 7 years with the Tigers.  He had his best years in 2009-2011 when he batted .274/.329/.473/.802 with 45 HR and a 113 OPS+, prompting the Tigers to make him the starting second baseman to start the 2012 season.  He has always hit well against left-handers, hitting .282/.355/.547/.902 against southpaws in those 3 years, suggesting that he’d at least make a great platoon player.  And for reasons unexplained by the SABR community, he has always hit well in the 2nd half of the year, hitting .320/.374/.552/.925 after the all-star break in those 3 years. 

Unfortunately, those numbers did not transfer in 2012 as he only hit .171/.226/.254/.480 with only 1 HR and a 30 OPS+.  He did just as bad against lefties (.165/.224/.253) as righties (.175/.228/.254/.482).  He was eventually sent to AAA right before his 5 years of ML service time came, so he couldn’t refuse the assignment. Then finished the year on the disabled list, so he couldn’t demonstrate if he could duplicate his 2nd half magic.  His poor defense added to his misery of a season; his -1.5 fWAR and -2.0 rWAR were among the worst in all of baseball.  MLB Trade Rumors projected Raburn would get $2.1 million in arbitration for 2013, which would’ve been too much money for the kind of year he had, so releasing him was the obvious choice.  He’ll be 32 years old next year, so he might have his best years behind him, but could be serviceable if he could get back to hitting left-handed pitching.  He’s a prime change of scenery candidate if I ever saw one.

Bruce Rondon is the big name added to the roster.  Baseball America has him ranked 3rd on the Tigers’ top 10 prospect list for 2013.  Rondon pitched at 3 levels for the Tigers, ending in AAA with an overall line of 53 IP, 1.53 ERA, 1.094 WHIP, 30.1% K rate and 11.9% BB rate, good enough to earn Tigers’ minor league pitcher of the year.  Rondon is expected to make the team out of Spring Training and be in the mix to be the closer, but lack of major league experience is worrisome.  Personally, I’d like to see Al Alburquerque get the first shot at closing next year.

Melvin Mercedes spent most of 2012 in A-ball, pitching 64 1/3 IP, 2.80 ERA, 1.197 WHIP, 16.5% K rate and 8.8% BB rate.  He also pitched 1 inning in Lakeland, giving up 1 hit and 1 BB with no ER.  Motor City Bengals did a great scouting report for this guy, but it’s a year old.  He’s definitely one to watch.  According to Minor League Central, he had a great 54.4% GB rate in 2012; if he can carry that to the majors, he can have success.  But I expect the Tigers to proceed with caution after having Tommy John Surgery by starting him in Lakeland with a possible call-up to AA half-way through the year. 

Dixon Machado played all of 2012 in Lakeland, hitting a pathetic .195/.283/.252/.534.  His real asset is his defense.  Baseball America rates him as the best defensive infielder and best infield arm in the Tigers’ system.  If he doesn’t learn to hit better, he could be another Cale Iorg-type of a player – all glove and no bat.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2013 Payroll: What it is and what it could be.

Now that the off-season is underway, I would like to take a look at some payroll scenarios for the Tigers in 2013.

Based on projected salary values and arbitration projections from Baseball Reference and MLBTraderumors, here is how the Tigers 2013 roster looks as it stands right now, if they go with these 25 guys out of spring training.

Player2013 Salary
Prince Fielder$23,000,000
Miguel Cabrera$21,000,000
Justin Verlander$20,000,000
Victor Martinez$13,000,000
Torii Hunter$13,000,000
Jhonny Peralta$6,000,000
Joaquin Benoit$5,500,000
Omar Infante$4,000,000
Octavio Dotel$3,500,000
Ramon Santiago$2,100,000
Max Scherzer$7,500,000
Rick Porcello$4,700,000
Phil Coke$1,700,000
Alex Avila$2,500,000
Doug Fister$3,800,000
Brennan Boesch$2,100,000
Austin Jackson$3,100,000
Al Alburquerque$510,000
Daniel Schlereth$510,000
Andy Dirks$485,000
Brayan Villarreal$485,000
Drew Smyly$485,000
Quintin Berry$485,000
Bruce Rondon$480,000
Bryan Holaday$480,000

Brandon Inge$500,000* option buyout

Arb Costs - Total$29,320,000
Arb Costs - 1$11,500,000
Arb Costs - 2$13,900,000
Arb Costs - 3


Diff from 2012($6,920,000) increase

Again, this is how it would look, if we make no further moves.

Now lets have some fun...

By some recent projections of TV contract increases, it has been suggested the Tigers could sustain a payroll of around $160M. So we'll keep that as our upper limit

Say the Tigers sign Anibal Sanchez. I think the likely result would be that Rick Porcello gets traded, instead of Smyly going to the bullpen or back to Toledo.

By recent rumors, Sanchez is asking for 6 yrs/$ 90M. So, at $15M per season, minus Porcello's expected arbitration salary, total payroll would increase by $10.2M to $155M.

That leaves $5M to make more moves to bring in a LF to platoon with Dirks. But WAIT, there's MORE!

Say they do bring in a RH outfielder, who gets the axe from the projected roster I outlined? My guess, its Boesch. He still carries some trade value and is set to make $2.1M So if they dump him, the payroll space increases to $7.1M. That's enough for a substantial upgrade in the OF, or a RH platoon LF and maybe even another bullpen arm.

Or... Stephen Drew. According to recent rumors, the Diamondbacks have interest in Jhonny Peralta, and the Tigers have interest in Stephen Drew. Dombrowski said they would not move Peralta unless they could upgrade at SS. The Tigers might see Drew as such an upgrade. So, Drew at $10M (3yrs/ $30M) minus Peralta ($6M) leaves the total payroll at $159M.

Just some interesting possibilities that could happen in the next few months.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Defense Will Be Hunter’s Biggest Contribution to the Tigers

Torii Hunter signed a 2 year/$26 million contract with the Tigers to be their everyday RF.  Hunter hit .313/.365/.451/.817 in 2012 and fans are glad to finally see someone fill the void of the #2 slot in the batting order as well as in RF.  The Tigers actually did quite well out of the 2nd spot in the lineup last year with a .710 OPS, good for 6th in the AL with mainly Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry getting the majority of the playing time.  But the Tigers' RF production only gave a .641 OPS which was dead last in the AL.  Hunter is poised to be upgrade at both spots. However, there are some concerns with Hunter that show he may be declining as a hitter.

Hunter had an unsustainable .389 BABIP last year, the biggest red flag.  The highest mark that he gave before that over a significant sample size was .336 in 2009 and his career mark is at .307.  It’s reasonable to predict that his BABIP will fall and so will his true batting average, to probably around the .260-.270 range.  Then there’s the walk rate, which was at 6.5% in 2012.  The three years before that was 9.6%, 9.4% and 9.3%.  A 3% drop-off is huge.  If Hunter cannot get his walk rate back up while his batting average falls, then his OBP doesn’t look so good anymore (and not #2-hole material).  Hunter also struck out at a rate higher than he ever did last year, 22.8%.  Finally, there’s the power issue.  Most players lose some power when they get older, so this one doesn’t come as a shock.  His .139 ISO was the lowest since his first couple of years with the Twins and he failed to hit 20 HR for only the 2nd time in the last 12 years (the only other time was an injury shortened 2005 season).
There are some factors that show that Hunter has changed his approach.  His LD% was the highest of his career in 2012 at 22.6%, but only a little increase from his 21% rate in 2011.  His GB% went above 50% for the first time at 52% and his FB% went lower than 30% for the first time at 25.4%.  It looks like he traded some of his fly balls for ground balls.  Ground balls result in a higher average than fly balls and a high line drive rate also increases a batting average, so it looks like he was trying to trade in some power for more contact.  However, his contact rate actually fell from 77.2% in 2011 to 74.9% in 2012.  Put it all together and this doesn’t account for the 92-point increase of BABIP from the previous year. So it’s reasonable to say that Hunter benefited from a little (or maybe a lot) of luck and his offensive production is likely to take a dive in 2013 but should still be an improvement over Brennan Boesch (who hit .240/.286/.372/.659 in 2012) .  Bill James is projecting a line of .271/.336/.428/.764 with 19 HR, an 8.1% BB rate and 21.4% K rate for Hunter in 2013, although his predictions tend to be on the optimistic side.  Bill James projections are the only ones out at the moment.

Fortunately for the Tigers, offense isn’t the only thing Hunter will provide as defensive stats show that he’s still an elite fielder.  DRS shows that he saved 15 runs and UZR shows 10.4 runs saved compared to -17 DRS (last in the AL) and -17 UZR (13th in the AL) from Tigers’ RF in 2012.  Brennan Boesch contributed the majority of those numbers with a -8 DRS and -12 UZR.  With Hunter that’s an increase of around 27 to 32 runs saved.  That a huge swing in performance and will prove to have the biggest impact on the Tigers from having Hunter on the team.

Torii Hunter provided 5.3 fWAR last year.  With a decline in offensive production, it's more reasonable to predict about 2.5-3.0 WAR in 2013.  Tigers' RF combined for a -2.0 fWAR in 2012 with Brennan Boesch, -1.3, providing the most negative value at that position.  That will be an increase of about 4 wins which will be well worth the contract, even if Hunter is forced to bat lower in the lineup.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Andy Dirks and Jonny Gomes Would Make a Great Platoon

There are reports that Torii Hunter is in Detroit today and that he could be close to making a decision on where to sign.  If he does end up in Detroit, this will fill a big void in RF.  However, there is still concern about the other corner OF spot.

Some fans would rather not worry about it and go with either Andy Dirks or Avisail Garcia (or a platoon of the two).  Garcia was a nice surprise for the Tigers in September (hitting .319/.373/.319) and got some key hits in the playoffs with very solid defense.  However, there are still some holes in his game.  His plate discipline was always a concern in the minors (3.7% walk rate and 21.1% strikeout rate) and he only walked 3 times in 51 PA for the Tigers.  Also, he hasn’t shown any power at all, with his only extra base hit, a double, in the ALCS against the Yankees.  It is very obvious that he can use some more time in the minors to better develop his skills.

Andy Dirks looks like he can be an everyday player if he continues to hit like he did in 2012.  He batted .322/.370/.487/.857 with a 130 OPS+, very similar production to Austin Jackson (.300/.377/.479/.856 with a 130 OPS+), although with much less playing time (only 344 PA).  Most of those PA came against right-handed pitching and while he wasn’t awful against left-handers, he was much better against right-handers:

Vs. RHP – 261 PA | .336/.375/.515/.889
Vs. LHP – 83 PA | .274/.354/.397/.751

It is very obvious that the Tigers need more production against left-handed pitching from their outfield in 2013, only hitting .672 OPS against them in 2012 (only the Indians and Astros’ outfield were worse against southpaws).  Enter Jonny Gomes, who had a massive platoon split in 2012:

Vs. RHP – 137 PA | .209/.324/.391/.715
Vs. LHP – 196 PA | .299/.413/.561/.974

For his career, Gomes is a .284/.382/.512/.894 hitter against left-handers as opposed to a .223/.307/.425/.732 hitter against right-handers.  That consistency is exactly what the Tigers can depend on against right-handers.  There is one glaring weakness in Gomes, and that is his defense is very similar to that of Delmon Young’s.  Although the Tigers have lived with that awful defense before.

Jonny Gomes signed a 1-year deal with the Athletics for $1 million last year.  If he can be had for a similar deal this year, it would be a great deal for the Tigers.  A 1-year deal wouldn’t block Garcia or Nick Castellanos and $1 million wouldn’t break the bank for signing someone like Torii Hunter.  The Tigers could also use the righ-handed outfield production that was lacking last year.  Although if the Tigers do sign Torii Hunter and a platoon outfielder for Dirks, it most likely means the end for Brennan Boesch.  Not that I’m complaining.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Top 10 Most Exciting Tigers Wins of 2012

I wanted to do some kind of recap on the 2012 season but I wanted to do something different than the other blogs.  I’m intrigued by FanGraphs’ Win Probability charts, so I started to view the Tigers games, trying to remember each one.  Then I remembered that the Tigers had some very exciting wins during the 2012 season.  So I’m going to list the Tigers' top exciting games for the 2012 season, with the accompanying Win Probability Chart. 

Of course this is my list, so I’m going by my own discretion.  Sure, 10-0 blowouts are always good wins, but to me not very exciting.  I like games that are close, that go back and forth where you don’t know who’ll win.  I also like comeback wins and walk-offs.  So that’s what this list is going to focus on.  I’m also going to ignore playoff games and focus on the regular season.  Most of the Tigers' playoff games were exciting (save for the World Series games) and are on another level to begin with, so comparing them to the regular season games doesn’t seem fair. And of course, if you disagree, leave your top ten in the comments.

Onto the list:

10. Game 126:

Source: FanGraphs

The Angels took an early 3-0 lead and at one point had an 88.2% chance of winning.  But the Tigers came back with 2 in the 6th and 3 in the 8th to win it 5-3.  Jhonny Peralta's double was the clutch hit that put the Tigers on top for good.  

9. Game 156:

Source: FanGraphs

The chart never gives the Royals much of an opportunity to win, as the closest it gets is at 50% when Billy Butler homered to tie the game at 4.  But the Tigers end up winning on a walk-off when Alex Avila grounds out to 1B and that's always exciting to see.  This is also the game where Doug Fister set an AL record with 9 consecutive strikeouts.

8. Game 1:

Source: FanGraphs

Opening day!  Justin Verlander was excellent through 8 innings and it looked like the Tigers were going to easily win.  But then Jose Valverde blew his first save of the year after being perfect in save opportunities the year before.  Luckily though, the Tigers won it on a walk-off by Austin Jackson.

7. Game 69:

Source: FanGraphs

This was Jacob Turner's first start of the year for the Tigers and he did well.  But the Cardinals' pitching also did well and it was tied 1-1 for most of the game until the Tigers walked off in the 10th inning on Quintin Berry's hit.  

6. Game 124:

Source: FanGraphs

The Blue Jays took an early 2-0 lead on Edwin Encarnacion's homer and at one point had a win expectancy of 88.4%.  But the Tigers came back to tie it in the 8th and won it in the 11th on a walk-off by Alex Avila with a hustling Quintin Berry scoring the winning run.

5. Game 25:

Source: FanGraphs

The White Sox had a 4-3 lead and a win expectancy of 88.7% going into the bottom of the 9th inning.  However, Jhonny Peralta hit a 2-run walk-off home run to give the Tigers a 5-4 win.  

4. Game 60:

Source: FanGraphs

The Reds took a 6-2 lead in the 6th inning and had a win expectancy of 97.1%.  But the Tigers chipped away and tied it on an Austin Jackson double and scored the winning run on a wild pitch against one of the rare meltdowns by Aroldis Chapman.  Matt Young had an RBI HBP and scored the winning run in about his only useful game with the Tigers.  

3. Game 36:

Source: FanGraphs

The White Sox took a 6-0 lead and had a win expectancy of 97.8% in the 5th inning.  The Tigers rallied to score 8 runs in the 6th inning, including Ryan Raburn's only HR of the year. Tigers took the lead for good with Austin Jackson's home run and held on to win 10-8.  

2. Game 3:

Source: FanGraphs

This game was a classic slugfest.  Tigers scored 4 runs in the first, but the Red Sox came back and it was 7-5 by the third inning.  The Red Sox took a 10-7 lead in the bottom of the 9th and had a win expectancy of 96.7%.  The Tigers rallied and tied it up on Miguel Cabrera's 3-run home run.  However, the Red Sox scored 2 runs in the 11th inning and this time had a win expectancy of 95.5%.  For the 2nd time, the Tigers came back and won it it on Alex Avila's walk-off home run.   

1. Game 108:

Source: FanGraphs

This was a back and forth game that ended up tied 5-5 going into extra innings.  The Indians scored 3 runs in the top of the 10th and had a win expectancy of 99.5%.  The Tigers didn't quit and scored 5 runs in the bottom on the 10th, all with 2 outs, tying it on Omar Infante's 2-run single and Miguel Cabrera winning it on a walk-off HR in the most exciting Tigers game of the 2012 season.  

Avisail Garcia's Plate Approach

At this point, most people I’ve talked to are very excited about Avisail Garcia’s Major League debut. Having the ability to watch a young, athletic player with a great arm in the outfield, who just so happens to look exactly like the best third basemen in baseball, has been an exciting experience. Unfortunately, I have to be the bearer of bad news. So far, his plate approach has been nothing short of abominable. He has demonstrated a very unusual swing and has an unacceptably poor walk rate.

 He is clearly an exciting prospect, full of tools. It isn’t often that a 6-foot-4, 240-pound base stealing threat comes along. While he flashes the potential to be a legitimate 5-tool major league player, he has a few holes in his game that has serious potential to hamper his career. The first worrying issue with Garcia has been his swing in general. Known this year in the minors as a well-rounded player with above-average power and speed, he does not have an extra base hit in his first 37 Major League plate appearances. While that is not a large sample size, his swing has been worrying. He seems intent to hit everything to the opposite field or up the middle. He also has had a tendency to lunge at every pitch, often reaching for pitches outside the strike zone to take them to the opposite field. This is clearly reflected in his spray chart, with nine batted balls to right field, six up the middle, and only three to left field. This approach works if you have the prodigious power of Miguel Cabrera, but Garcia hasn’t shown it yet. While this is a little unsettling, we shouldn’t be concerned in the long term since he has shown solid power this year in the Minors, hitting 14 home runs 513 Minor League at bats.

The more significant issue with his game currently is his complete lack of plate patience. His career Minor League walk rate has never been above 3.8% in any season. For comparison, Delmon Young has a career 4.1% walk rate, and anyone who says they haven’t been infuriated by Delmon’s approach at time is lying. If he is not capable of not chasing after so-called “pitcher’s pitches”, he will struggle because pitchers won’t be inclined to challenge him in the strike zone. He needs to get walk rate into at least acceptable territory (6%ish), or he’ll have to hit above .300 and be a consistent 20 homer-20 steal guy to be a viable offensive corner outfielder.

The good news is that this year he seems to have figured out something, because his batting average in the minors is the highest in his short professional career. Another positive sign is his career low strikeout rate. This is the first year he’s maintained a strikeout rate below 20% with a large enough sample size to consider the growth legitimate. His BABIP has not fluctuated severely out of the norm for him, even though it is fairly high and can be expected to drop in a full year in the majors. His BABIP this year was .335 at High-A and .357 at AA. While both are high, they match up to previous seasons and, with his speed, they are not that much above the expected norm. He also seems to have found a solid power stroke, posting a career high in isolated power (slugging percentage – batting average), which was at .158 in High-A and .153 in AA, up from .125 the year before.

 I can easily see Garcia not ever develop the plate discipline required to be an above-average regular and could see his BABIP drop closer to the league average. If his development goes in this direction, he’s nothing more than an adequate 4th outfielder. At the same time, I could just as easily see him developing into an above-average corner outfielder in the majors, a legitimate 5 tool player. He’s already shown flashes of his defensive prowess and speed with the Tigers, and I’m fairly confident that his swing will be straightened out in the offseason. If he makes the necessary adjustments, the Tigers will have right field locked down for years to come.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Future of Rick Porcello

Is Rick Porcello finally going have the breakout season that his underlying numbers and reputation seem hint at? I know many are disappointed with his production in the surface stats including myself, but I've been intrigued with him recently given his reputation as a top prospect and extremely aggressive promotion through the minors. There has been plenty of talk about the Tigers messing him up by moving him so quickly (straight from A+ to the majors?!), but I believe it's difficult to evaluate his career fairly at this juncture, considering that most HS prospects do not make the majors full time until their age 22 season at the earliest, making this the equivalent of a young rookie season. I am simply attempting to provide as neutral an evaluation as possible based his number to this point in his major league career. Please let me know what you think. He has increased K/9, decreased BB/9, and decreased HR/9 every year of his career, with career bests in all three categories this season, yet his ERA still over 4.50. First year with new pitching coach, higher % of CH thrown gives legitimate weapon against LH hitters. After throwing upper 90’s in HS, velocity has disappeared in pro ball, with an average FB velocity of just 91.3, including a low of 90.4 in 2011. In 2012, saw a major uptick of nearly 2 mph to 92.3. A fairly logical conclusion that I fully support is that the new pitching coach is attempting to salvage as much velocity as possible, and I am hoping for (expecting?) a larger increase next season. His contact rate and swinging strike rate are both at career bests and rising. Combining his career high k/9 rate with his second best GB% and highest GB/FB ratio should be leading to very nice results. An increasing BABIP each season, including being .033 points above career average in 2012 (.344 to .311) combined with a below career and league average strand rate leads me to label Porcello as a breakout candidate in 2013. One factor not leaning his way has been our porous infield defense for much of the season. His 3.91 FIP and 3.89 xFIP so far point to poor defense behind him. Another concern is his season to season BABIP has risen every year since 2009, with the jump from this year to last easily being the largest (.316 to .344). This could very easily be fluky, but it could just as easily point to stabilization of his career BABIP, though it should be sitting somewhere near .310 if the numbers are true. It certainly seems as though he was victimized by our poor defense more than any of our other starters, which makes logical sense due to his lower strikeout rate and higher groundball tendencies. While he’s never likely to be the second coming of Justin Verlander that he was advertised as, he still has the ability to be a solid 3/4 type pitcher with an ERA in the 3.50-4 range in 200 innings or more, making him a very valuable commodity. At this point, I see him having the ceiling of Anibal Sanchez-type numbers. Whether he ever reaches this is uncertain, but this year seems to be another step in the right direction despite

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Tiger's first move toward 2013.....

The biggest, and most obvious, move was to secure Jim Leyland as manager for next season.  The easiest thing to say about this is, 'He's the best available option out there.'  That is true, there is no other manager looking for a team that is equal or better than Leyland right now.   Leyland does have his many detractors among Tiger fans, some of which want him and his staff gone.  It reminds me of another much sought after firing of a Head Coach in Detroit sports, Wayne Fontes of the Detroit Lions.  He was nick-named the Big Buck by writers and fans because everyone wanted his head.  Leyland has drawn only a small a fraction of that Big Buck target from fans as compared to Fontes, but it's still there.

If you look deeper at those same fans, a lot of their arguments are based on relatively minor things.  The minor things are the batting order, on field moves during regular season games, his dreaded “hunches” and most confusing of all, the ‘need to get him going’ player usage.  This is very frustrating for fans, seeing a guy struggle for weeks on end showing no improvement.  Most fans end up asking the same question; ‘What does he see in that guy?’  The answer is obvious and simple; 'This guy can really help our ballclub, if we can only get him going.'  Now there is no doubt in my mind that Leyland is using every tool he can to help these players work out their issues.  He will advise and change and maneuver until all options are exhausted, if and only if all of those things don't work will he give up. The case in point for this past season is Brennan Boesch.

Let's also not forget that Leyland is in a group of the most respected Managers in Baseball right now.  There are many teams/fans out there that would love to have Leyland be their manager.  The most important quality that Leyland possesses; His star players want to play for him.  The culture of a team comes from the manager and the tone he sets.  As far as we ‘outsiders’ can tell, there have been no major problems between Leyland and the star players.  The opposing case in point is the Boston Red Sox players and Bobby Valentine.  That hiring turned out to be a death sentence for th Red Sox and not just for last season.  I will take them time to recover the player losses and become a viable contender again.  That is a lesson that Tigers fans need to learn before they blindly call for a firing based on who's batting 2nd or 5th in the batting order in May or June.

Leyland has the core of the team playing well for him and wanting to play well for him.  They know he doesn't run hot-and-cold and won't get too down on them.  More importantly he will do his best to work with them if they need help, which his track history does show.  Leyland has always treated Detroit and the Tigers as a team/franchise that he wants to manage and represent in a good way.  I think that permeates the teams he's managed here and has carried over to his players.  That is something that cannot be replaced by another manager in one season even if he is equal in experience and knowledge to Leyland.

Right now the Tigers cannot afford to make a change away from the good things Jim Leyland brings to this team.  At least not until the organization is ready to head in a different direction with the personnel on the field.  He will still drive most fans crazy with his hunches, mad-crazy ideas and over-loyalties.  The players they have are to the point where they need stability at the managerial and coaching positions, they do not need to feel they are starting over with someone new.