Monday, August 27, 2012

Tigers September Call-up Options

On Saturday, September 1st, ML rosters can expand to include anyone from the 40-man roster.  Here’s my take on the likelihood of who the Tigers will call-up.  Note: Ryan Raburn is currently in a rehab assignment in the minors and will likely be reinstated in September, but because he’s down there due to an injury and not optioned, he won’t technically be a September call-up.  Raburn will be eligible for the post-season roster, but these players won’t unless they are replacing an injured player or get called up before September 1st.   Don Kelly might be back in September, but will have to be put back on the 40-man roster.

No Doubters

It is very likely that these players will get called up right away.

Danny Worth:
MLB – 83 PA, .206/.321/.250/.571, 0 HR, 0 SB, 14.5% BB, 26.5% K, 63 wRC+
AAA – 241 PA .275/.372/.441/.813, 5 HR, 10 SB, 12.4% BB, 21.6% K, 131 wRC+

Worth has been up and down so many times that it was hard to tell when he was on the team and when he wasn’t.  Worth has been much better in AAA where he gets to play every day, but he has a surprising good walk rate in the majors.  He’ll provide good infield depth, especially if Miguel Cabrera has to spend more time DHing with a sore ankle. 

Duane Below:
MLB – 46 1/3 IP, 3.88 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 5.63 K/9, 1.55 BB/9, 4.11 FIP
AAA – 7 IP, 5.14 ERA, 2.14 WHIP, 3.86 K/9, 6.43 BB/9, 8.20 FIP

Below spent most of the year with the Tigers until one day the Tigers surprisingly decided to send him down for Luke Putkonen, who had unimpressive numbers both at the ML level and AAA.  Later, the Tigers had to send down Putkonen for Drew Smyly for a spot start when Doug Fister had to miss a start due to a groin injury.  The Tigers kept Smyly to use out of the bullpen instead of recalling Putkonen or another reliever.  It’s obvious that the Tigers prefer Smyly on the post-season roster over Below, who both would be serving similar roles (lefty long-reliever). 

Al Alburquerque:
AAA – 8 2/3 IP, 2.08 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 15.58 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 2.62 FIP

Alburquerque spent most of the season on the 60-day DL recovering from off-season surgery on his elbow.  He was officially optioned to Toledo instead of being put in the Tigers bullpen when he got healthy.  After the year he had last year in the Tigers bullpen, it’s a no-brainer he’ll be called up in September.


It could go either way.  They could call them up right away on the first day of expansion; wait a week or so and then call them up or ignore them altogether.

Avisail Garcia:
AA – 210 PA,  .312/.348/.462/.810, 5 HR, 9 SB, 3.3% BB, 17.1% K, 125 wRC+
A+ – 287 PA, .289/.324/.447/.771, 8 HR, 14 SB, 3.8% BB, 19.9% K, 118 wRC+

Garcia always had the tools, but is finally putting them together this year.  The problem is that he still refuses to take a walk, but his speed and defense can help the Tigers down the stretch. 

Adam Wilk:
MLB – 11 IP, 8.18 ERA, 2.18 WHIP, 5.73 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, 7.37 FIP
AAA – 143 2/3 IP, 2.76 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 7.52 K/9, 1.75 BB/9, 3.29 FIP

Wilk had 3 starts at the beginning of the year with unimpressive stats.  Then he got sent down to AAA and put up a very nice ERA and WHIP.  The Tigers might reward his great AAA season with a September call-up.  Personally, I think his great season in Toledo gives him a leg up for  a bullpen spot next year in a role similar to what Duane Below provided this year.

Bryan Holaday:
MLB – 11 PA, .300/.300/.400/.700, 0 HR, 0.0% BB, 9.1% K, 86 wRC+
AAA – 272 PA, .237/.309/.320/.629, 2 HR, 7.7% BB, 15.8% K, 78 wRC+

Holaday was briefly with the ML club when the Tigers needed another catcher.  If the Tigers call up Holaday, it would be for catcher depth only. 

Luis Marte:
MLB – 17 1/3 IP, 3.63 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 7.27 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 5.87 FIP
AAA – 22 2/3 IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 9.13 K/9, 3.97 BB/9, 3.07 FIP

Luke Putkonen:
MLB – 9 2/3 IP, 6.52 ERA, 2.28 WHIP, 6.52 K/9, 6.52 BB/9, 3.82 FIP
AAA – 53 2/3 IP, 4.36 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 7.55 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 3.31 FIP

Marte and Putkonen have both spent some time on the Tigers ML roster, despite less than stellar AAA numbers.  If the Tigers call them up it’ll be for bullpen depth and the fact that Leyland is familiar with them.  

Not Likely

It would be very surprising if these players get called up.  Leyland has stated that he only likes to call up players that he’ll use, and it’s unlikely that these players will get used often enough to justify a September call-up.

Andrew Oliver:
AAA – 115 2/3 IP, 4.98 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 8.84 K/9, 6.77 BB/9, 4.44 FIP

Oliver’s poor year has knocked him out of the AAA rotation and likely out of the Tigers’ top prospect list.  His biggest problem has been his walk rate, however he has been doing better out of the bullpen.   

Nick Castellanos:
AA – 307 PA, .285/.319/.417/.736, 7 HR, 4.6% BB, 20.5% K, 98 wRC+
A+ - 243 PA, .405/.461/.553/1.014, 3 HR, 9.1% BB, 17.3% K, 186 wRC+

After having a very good performance in A+, Castellanos was promoted to AA where he’s shown that he may not quite be ready for prime time.  Castellanos isn’t even on the Tigers 40-man roster, so a move would have to be made in order for the Tigers to call him up.  Even though it might be a good idea to give him some ML experience with the Tigers this year, it might be wise to just wait until ST and reevaluate. 

Bruce Rondon:
AAA – 5 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 12.60 K/9, 9.00 BB/9, 6.00 FIP
AA – 21 2/3 IP, 0.83 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.55 K/9, 3.74 BB/9, 3.48 FIP
A+ - 23 1/3 IP, 1.93 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 13.11 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 2.26 FIP

Like Castellanos, Rondon isn’t even on the Tigers’ 40-man roster.  The Tigers probably have enough other pitching depth that Rondon might not be needed, even though he remains a top prospect.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Batted Ball FIP

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is an ERA estimator.  It attempts to show what a pitcher’s ERA should look like given an average defense behind him.  It factors in what the pitcher can control; basically home runs and walks are bad, strikeouts are good.  Here’s the formula:

FIP = ((13*HR) + (3*BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + Constant

The constant puts it on the same scale as ERA and will be different each year as the run environment changes.

I found this by Tangotiger, who tweaked the formula to included batted ball data.  Infield fly balls (pop-ups) almost always result in an out, so they are very similar to getting a strikeout.  Line drives result in a hit at a very high rate, so they are similar to giving up a walk.  Ground balls and fly balls are somewhere in the middle (about one-fourth between BB and K according to the article).  The formula is:

ERA = 11*bigs + 3*smalls + Constant

Bigs = ((BB+LD) – (K+IFB)))/PA
Smalls = (OFB-GB)/PA

And BB are actually BB – IBB + HBP.

I did some number crunching to see how the Tigers pitching is performing in this bbFIP stat so far this year:

Max Scherzer – 3.20
Drew Smyly – 3.54
Doug Fister – 3.65
Rick Porcello – 4.34
Anibal Sanchez – 5.76 (only time in DET)

Relievers (min 20 IP):
Octavio Dotel – 1.74
Joaquin Benoit – 2.98
Phil Coke – 3.74
Jose Valverde – 4.67
Duane Below – 4.81

The Tigers as a team are at 3.79 bbFIP. 

It is shocking to see Max Scherzer at the top of the starters list instead of Justin Verlander.  

SIERA is another ERA estimator that also uses batted ball data, but it is a lot more complicated.  Here’s how the Tigers pitchers fare in this stat:

Max Scherzer – 3.05
Justin Verlander – 3.27
Doug Fister – 3.34
Drew Smyly – 3.62
Rick Porcello – 3.97
Anibal Sanchez – 4.76 (only time in DET)

Relievers (min. 20 IP):
Octavio Dotel – 1.99
Joaquin Benoit – 2.75
Brayan Villarreal – 2.94
Phil Coke – 3.40
Duane Below – 3.86
Jose Valverde – 4.29

Max Scherzer again is leading in SIERA.  In fact, he’s leading the entire American League in SIERA and trailing only Stephen Strasburg (2.72) and R.A. Dickey (3.00) for the Major League lead.  It makes me wonder how Scherzer would do with a better defense behind him.  This also puts it into perspective how amazing his season really is with his high strikeout rate, 11.34 K/9.

Is Scherzer the most under-rated starting pitcher in baseball?  A good argument can surely be made for it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Comp for Avisail Garcia?

According to Minor League Central, almost 2 out of every 3 balls in play by Avisail Garcia have been hit on the ground since he’s been in AA.  Garcia has a lot of speed though, so he can beat out a lot of infield hits, and therefore he’s been able to maintain a .300 AVG.  During his time in Lakeland, though, Garcia was only hitting a ground ball about 49.5% of the time.  Has Garcia changed his approach at AA?  And how will this translate to the majors?

I decided to look at ML players to see if I could find one that had similar balls in play percentages as Garcia.  The closest one I could find this year was Ben Revere:

Garcia (AA) – 14.6% LD | 66.4% GB | 16% FB | 3% Unknown | .356 BABIP
Revere (ML) – 20.7% LD | 65.2% GB | 14.1% FB | .342 BABIP (FanGraphs)

There are a lot of similarities here, especially when the walk rates are also compared (Garcia with a 3.4% BB rate and Revere with a 4.3% BB rate) as well as their speed.  This isn’t a perfect comparison, though.  Garcia has a much higher strikeout rate (18.4% compared to Revere’s 8.0%) and also much more power (.153 ISO compared to Revere’s .057).

Comp #2 - Howie Kendrick:

Garcia (AA) - 3.4% BB | 18.4% K | .153 ISO | 66.4% GB | .356 BABIP
Kendrick (ML) - 5.4% BB | 19.5% K | .105 ISO | 58.9% GB | .343 BABIP (FanGraphs)

Again, not perfect.  The underlining theme is that it's very hard to have a lot of power when hitting a lot of ground balls at the ML level.  I'd hate for Garcia to lose his power when he starts to face better pitching, something that looks inevitable if he continues with his approach at AA.

Because Garcia has the ability to hit for power, it makes me wonder if he really is consciously trying to hit more ground balls instead of hitting fly balls.  This could just be the product of facing better pitching, something that is just going to get harder as he moves up in the system.  

Or this is just a product of a small sample size of 44 games and he’ll be able to adjust.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Margin of Error

Player A has hit for a .302 AVG and Player B has hit for a .300 AVG.  Player A has been "slightly better" than Player B in this category.  Given 500 AB, the difference between hitting .300 and .302 is one hit.  The difference of one scorching line drive hit.  Or the difference of a blown fair call down the line.  Or the difference of a blown safe call on an infield hit.  Or the difference of someone getting charged with a tough error.  Umpires and official scorers aren’t perfect and neither are the stats the players put up.

This same principal also applies to sabermetrics.  One common misconception is that sabermetrics attempt to be more accurate and precise than the traditional stats.  That isn’t true at all.  All sabermetrics does is take a deeper look at the stats; looking at things that the players can control themselves.  For example, traditional stats say that Austin Jackson has 117 hits in 373 AB this year.  Sabermetrics say Austin Jackson has 61 line drives, 97 fly balls and 118 ground balls (FanGraphs).  The batted ball data isn’t more accurate, it’s just looking at the AB in a different manner.  (Not to mention that two different sources can disagree on the batted ball data itself!).

For a pitcher, a timing issue can result in skewed stats.  Take Doug Fister’s game last night.  Fister gave up 4 runs, but due to a couple of errors behind him, none of them were earned runs despite giving up a HR.   Had there have been no errors in the game, the HR would’ve resulted in at least 1 ER.  Unearned runs are recorded to prevent pitchers from getting hurt because of poor defense behind them.  But when those runs are scored because of a HR, that kind of defeats the purpose since HR are out of the field of play and the defense has little to no control over them.

It’s getting to that time of year when people look at players stats and determine who has had the “better” year.  The next time someone says that Player A is better than Player B because of a couple of percentage points, just remember the margin of error.  It’s closer than you might think.   

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Where Does Al Alburquerque Fit In?

Last year Al Alburquerque came out of nowhere to dominate in the Tigers bullpen with a 1.87 ERA and a 13.92 K/9 in a little over 43 IP.  It wasn’t all luck as he also had a 2.08 FIP and a 2.78 xFIP.  Even though he had some control issues (6.02 BB/9), Alburquerque looked like someone who could potentially be a future closer.

They key to Alburquerque’s success is his devastating slider.  He loved that pitch so much, that he threw it over 50% of the time!  There has been speculation that throwing too many sliders could lead to injuries in the future.  So when it was discovered that Alburquerque needed a screw inserted in his elbow due to a non-displaced stress fracture, one could argue that this surgery was directly related to the overuse of his slider. 

Now Alburquerque is rehabbing in AAA and it looks like a mid-August return is likely.  The thing is, the bullpen has been performing so well, that there isn’t an obvious move on who will get sent down.

Jose Valverde – 3.71 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 4.97 xFIP
Joaquin Benoit – 2.81 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 3.21 xFIP
Octavio Dotel – 3.34 ERA, 1.80 FIP, 2.40 xFIP
Phil Coke – 3.56 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 3.77 xFIP
Duane Below – 3.40 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.89 xFIP
Brayan Villarreal – 1.32 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 3.32 xFIP
Darin Downs – 1.86 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 2.40 xFIP

Valverde, Benoit, Dotel and Coke aren’t going anywhere. Villarreal is doing what Alburquerque did last year, coming out of nowhere to post a great ERA and strikeout rate (11.91 K/9) in 34 innings.  It could be argued that he has been the Tigers best bullpen arm this year, so it would be a shame to send him down.  Downs has put up his numbers in only 9 2/3 innings, so his inexperience could lead to his demotion, despite pitching well enough to stay. Below is the wild card; he’s been able to hold onto a ML job all year, but lately hasn’t been performing all that well (8 ER in his last 11 2/3 IP).  His overall numbers are very solid, though.  

Drew Smyly adds another variable.  If the Tigers want him on the post-season roster, he’ll have to be added to the 25-man roster before September 1st, which means someone else has to be sent down.  Smyly lost his starting rotation spot when the Tigers acquired Anibal Sanchez.  Instead of getting sent to the bullpen, the Tigers optioned him to AAA when he got healthy despite having solid overall numbers (4.42 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 3.88 xFIP) including 10 strikeouts in 6 IP in his last ML start. 

It appears that 1 or 2 pitchers might get left off the post-season roster (if the Tigers even make the playoffs) despite pitching well enough to earn a spot.  It’s a nice problem to have as they say, "you can't have enough pitching."  At least if Alburquerque can get back to what he was able to do last year and remain healthy, then losing of Valverde to free agency won’t be a huge loss.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What to Expect From Andy Dirks

The trade deadline came and went and the Tigers failed to bring in an OF bat.  Maybe they think they have enough offensive production with the current players.  Maybe they thought they could get one cheaper in August.  Or maybe they think the return of Andy Dirks will be enough of an offensive upgrade.

Andy Dirks was enjoying a breakout year, hitting .328/.379/.515 with 4 HR and a 144 wRC+ in 146 plate appearances before being placed on the DL on May 31st.  This was after hitting only .251/.296/.406 in 235 plate appearances in 2011.  How much of this improvement is reality and how much of it is just a small sample fluke?

Dirks has a .357 BABIP with a 26.1% LD rate.  A quick formula of xBABIP is to add .120 to the line drive rate.  This measure gives Dirks an xBABIP of .381, so the .357 BABIP, while rather high, actually shows a real improvement given the LD%.  However, how likely is it that Dirks will continue to have a LD% of 26.1%?  This is a small sample size and Dirks only had a 18.9% LD% in 2011.  Dirks’ current LD% would place him 6th in all of baseball.  It is pretty rare for someone who was projected to only be a 4th OF this year to suddenly be hitting this well. 

In the 10 games of rehab in AAA, Dirks has put up a line of .216/.293/.405, 2 HR.  While these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, it does show how difficult it will be for Dirks to continue his production before the injury.  There is some evidence that Dirks has truly improved, but a little regression should be expected.

ZiPS does projections before the season begins, but also during the season (updated) while giving a “rest of the season” projection.  Here is what ZiPS projects for the Tigers’ corner outfielders for the rest of the season:

Andy Dirks - .270/.316/.397/.713, 3 HR, .314 wOBA
Brennan Boesch - .263/.318/.419/.737, 6 HR, .320 wOBA
Delmon Young - .278/.313/.419/.732, 6 HR, .313 wOBA

Quintin Berry doesn’t get a projection because he wasn’t supposed to contribute much at the ML level.  Although for the time being, his struggles have come mostly against left-handed pitching and Dirks, being a left-handed hitter, probably isn’t going to replace Berry very often.
Looking at these projections, Dirks doesn’t show any kind of improvement over what the Tigers already have.  With Young being the only right-handed hitter, the Tigers could benefit from getting another right-handed batter and play the match-ups.  There is speculation that Alfonso Soriano could be dealt during August.  If the Cubs are willing to eat a significant portion of his remaining contract and all the Tigers have to give up are a couple of marginal prospects, it could be wise for the Tigers to pull the trigger.