Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 Trade Deadline Reaction: Jose Veras and Jose Iglesias

The Tigers completed two trades to shore up their roster for the stretch run.  They sent Danry Vasquez to the Astros for relief pitcher Jose Veras and they sent Avisail Garcia to the White Sox as part of a 3-team deal that sent Jake Peavy and Brayan Villarreal to the Red Sox and shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Tigers.

The Jose Veras Deal:

The Tigers' biggest weakness this year has been their bullpen, so it was pretty obvious that Dombrowski would address that.  Jose Veras was Houston's closer, saving 19 of 22 games.  However, he'll serve as a setup man in the Tigers' bullpen and Joaquin Benoit will continue as the closer.  Jim Leyland has already used him in that capacity, pitching a 1-2-3 8th inning in his Tiger debut on Tuesday.  Some stats (including his 1 inning with the Tigers) and projections for Veras:

Innings ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 FIP
Steamer (ROS)

Veras is enjoying the best season of his career as a 32-year old.  He has always had good strikeout numbers, but the walks have always been issue before this year.  This is partly why the projections has him having a high WHIP for the remainder of the season.  If he has finally improved this area of his game, then he won't be as bad as the projections say.  Even if he does exactly what the projections say, he's still an improvement over other options that the Tigers have had.  Luke Putkonen was optioned to AAA and rookie Bruce Rondon won't have to be relied on in high leverage situations as much.  

The prospect going to Houston, 19-year old Danry Vasquez, was rated as Detroit's #6 prospect by Baseball America.  He was hitting .281/.333/.390 in 96 games in West Michigan.  He has high upside, but there have been many in his caliber that have flamed out.  It's a gamble worth taking on Houston's part given that the signed Veras for exactly this reason.  The Tigers have many outfielder prospects (including Nick Castellanos and Daniel Fields), so they traded a position of strength for a position of weakness.  This deal was a win/win for both teams.

Jose Veras also has a team option for $3.25 that will surely get picked up if he does well for the Tigers.

The Jose Iglesias Deal

This is a typical behind the scenes move by Dombrowski.  No one anticipated this move until minutes before it was announced.  With a possible suspension looming for Jhonny Peralta, Dombrowski felt it was worth getting a shortstop to fill in.  This is also a long-term solution as Iglesias is only 23 years old.  Some stats and projections for Iglesias:

Steamer (ROS)

Don't be fooled by his high batting average, which is inflated by a .376 BABIP.  He is projected to be an all glove, no bat player.  His offense consists of above average speed (13 infield hits this year) with no power (.076 career ISO) and poor plate discipline (4.7% career BB rate).  However, his defense has been comparable to Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel.  If he can hit just well enough, he'll be an important player for the Tigers based on defense alone.

Here's a highlight reel on Iglesias' defense (I prefer watching it on mute):

As for the player they gave up, Avisial Garcia, it's no secret that I'm not his biggest fan.  My biggest criticism on him has always been the poor plate discipline, with a ML career 5.0% and a 5.1% in 88 PA in AAA this year.  He also hits too many ground balls for an alleged power hitter (63% ML career ground ball rate).  However, he was ranked as the Tigers' #2 prospect and #74 overall by Baseball America and was hitting for a .374 batting average in AAA.  He does have tools, but those tools haven't yet fully translated in the stats and it's still questionable if they ever will.  At best, he's an all-star player, at worst he's a 4th OF.  In reality, I think he's somewhere in between, just an average 3rd OF that's probably most comparable to Delmon Young, with much better defense.  

While Brayan Villarreal had a decent year for the Tigers in 2012 (2.63 ERA and a 2.98 FIP in over 54 innings), he struggled mightily in 7 games for the Tigers this year (but had a 3.15 ERA in AAA).  Personally, I think he can stick as a middle reliever in the big leagues, but losing him is essentially inconsequential.  

This was a timing trade for the Tigers, not just because of the Peralta suspension, but because of the lack of depth in free agency at the shortstop position.  Again, the traded a position of strength for a position of weakness as they don't have to worry about acquiring a shortstop for awhile now.  

Overall, I think Dombrowski did another solid job at the trade deadline that might look even better (or worse) a year from now depending on how Garcia and Iglesias progress.  It'll take another 3 years to see how Vasquez will progress, but by then Castellanos will be in the Tigers OF and Tiger fans would've forgotten all about him.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Catcher ERA

Justin Verlander had another rocky start yesterday, surrendering 7 ER in 6 innings.  In his last 15 starts, Verlander has a 5.22 ERA in 91 1/3 innings with a 1.57 WHIP and 82 strikeouts.  There have been several theories in why Verlander is having a down year this year, with the most likely case is that his mechanics are off, causing command issues.  

Another theory going around is that Verlander is much more comfortable with Alex Avila catching than Brayan Pena (based on something Verlander supposedly said on 97.1 this morning).  After all, it was Pena that was catching Verlander last night.  There has been several articles written about the flaws of using catcher ERA because of external factors outside of the control of the catcher, mainly including the talent of the pitcher, the ballpark and the defense.  I crunched some numbers to put this study to the test using Tiger starting pitchers.  I'm also including Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) since the differences in ERA can be more luck-based than skill-based.  

Alex Avila Brayan Pena
Justin Verlander 67 1/3 3.74 3.54 65 1/3 3.99 3.26
Anibal Sanchez 77 2/3 2.67 2.75 26 1/3 2.73 1.34
Max Scherzer 81 2/3 3.09 2.29 56    3.21 3.57
Doug Fister 78    4.15 3.64 49    3.49 3.03
Rick Porcello 79    3.30 3.31 11    5.73 3.87
Total 383 2/3 3.38 3.09 207 2/3 3.60 3.08

The Tigers starting pitchers do have a lower ERA using Avila (3.38) over Pena (3.60).  However, the differences in FIP is insignificant (3.09 for Avila and 3.08 for Pena).  It looks likes pitching performance is not dependent on the catcher and that any big differences shown in this table can be explained away by small sample sizes.  Verlander has close to about the same number of innings using Avila and Pena and his ERA and FIP differences appear to be insignificant.  

This isn't to say that a pitcher isn't more comfortable using a certain catcher.  Many pitchers have used a "personal catcher" throughout the years.  It's this psychological part of the game that often gets lost in advanced stats.  Similar to how relief pitchers like to have certain roles in the bullpen or certain batters like to hit in certain spots in the lineup.  The numbers do not show a significant difference, but the mentality is there nonetheless.  It is possible that Verlander is more comfortable using Avila and this mindset might be the first step in breaking Verlander out of this slump.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

All-Star Game Observations

Prologue- The Home Run Hitting contest was noteworthy due to Prince Fielder's participation.
Prince hit 5 homers in the first round, which left him on the sidelines for the rest of the contest.
Jim Leyland, no doubt, was not disappointed that the reigning HR hitting champ wouldn't have any further chance to strain anything.  Like a rib cage.  

The televised version of the HR Derby is basically ruined by the duck-squawking calls of the grating Chris Berman.  Three hours of hearing "back back back!' is essentially a form of audio torture, so the viewer listens to what he can tolerate, and either hits the mute button, or switches to any other channel.  During a 3 hour ball game, Tigers' fans were treated to Ernie Harwell's "Long Gone!" call, on average, 2 or 3 times.  Berman screeched his duck-call dozens and dozens and dozens, and dozens of times.  Chris!  Stop!  Please!

Oh well, its all for fun of course, and in 1991 I was in Toronto to watch the HR Derby live, and as with most sports, there is nothing like being there.  Another Fielder, Prince's Dad Cecil, participated and it was absolutely a lot of fun.  I supplied my own commentary, and didn't have to endure one "back back back!"

All-Star game- A lot of things to enjoy, not the least being the American League's 3-0 win, handing World Series home field advantage to the Tigers.  Or some other A.L. team, but of course.....never mind.  Tigers vs Arizona.  Welcome to Games 1 and 2 in Detroit, Gibby.

Max Scherzer did a great imitation of Max Scherzer; almost perfect, throwing a stingy 12 pitches (8 strikes) in his 1 inning of work.  After the game, Max said, "That's what it's all about, when you have success, enjoying it with your teammates..."  Nothing like watching a beaming all-star from your team having the time of his life.  Well done Max.

Miguel Cabrera, baseball's most prolific hitter, chipped in with a double and a (winning) run scored.  Jhonny Peralta was 1-1 with a single, and lightning-fast Prince Fielder provided one of the

highlight's of the night with a triple that scooted past the right fielder and was finally retrieved by
the second baseman.  By the time the ball was thrown to third base, Prince was doing an Olympic-style belly flop in the vicinity of third base.  His gleeful "whoooo" blasted thru the TV speakers, and his teammates were grinning, laughing and having a ball.  A classic All-Star moment, that illustrated that Baseball's All-Star game is both fun and competitive. 

Mariano Rivera's appearance was a perfectly executed moment, due in large part to Jim Leyland leaving no doubt that Mariano would make an appearance in his final All-Star game. Although unlikely, the possibility existed that the N.L. could score 4 runs in the 8th inning, while the A.L. failed  to score in the 9th.  No Mariano.  No standing ovation.  No more Jim Leyland.  The Tigers' manager set the stage for a majestic entrance for the future hall of famer, allowing the relief specialist to trot onto the field at the start of the inning, and while the position players stayed in the dugout, Rivera had the stage to himself.  Very cool moment for one of the classy guys in baseball.

One more observation.  The All-Star game has always intrigued me for a lot of reasons, but the one that pleases me as much as any of the others, is the colorful spectacle of the uniforms.  Every team is represented, and every uniform is on display.  There's nothing like it in sports.  The historic, classic uniforms of the Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, Pirates, Dodgers, and of course, the Tigers. No English D this year, but those road uniforms represent our team.  And they were part of a colorful

and fantastic tradition. There is nothing like baseball.  

Jim Skinner

Miguel Cabrera and 1st Half Stats

Miguel Cabrera is following up his Triple Crown MVP season with another terrific season.  He is hitting .365/.458/.674/1.132 with 30 HR, 95 RBI and a 201 OPS+.  If he stays on pace, his AVG would rank 25th, his OBP would rank 10th, his SLG would rank 2nd, his OPS would rank 2nd and his OPS+ would rank 3rd on the Tigers' single-season leader board.  He is also on pace to hit 52 HR and have 164 RBI, which would would rank him 2nd and 3rd respectively.  He may not be on pace to have the best season ever as a Tiger, but he is among the leaders.

How likely is he to keep up this pace?  Two projection systems, ZiPS and Steamer, both think that Cabrera will fall off a little.  Here is what they'll predicting for the rest of the season:

Steamer (ROS)

And therefore, his full season stats are projected to be:

ZiPS (U)
Steamer (U)

Which would put him a bit below in the rankings on the lead board.  However, his first half stats are in the books and can't be taken away.  So, how does Cabrera's stats rank with other Tiger players' first half stats?  Note: I put an arbitrary 300 PA minimum for the rate stats.  Before the All-Star Game started in 1933, they use dates to determine the halfway point, which puts it around the 77-game mark and that is lower than the 94-game mark that happened this year.  Also, Baseball-reference only goes back to 1916 for this split.  

Home Runs:

Player Split Year G HR PA
Miguel Cabrera 1st Half 2013 93 30 428
Cecil Fielder 1st Half 1990 84 28 356
Hank Greenberg 1st Half 1935 76 25 360
Mickey Tettleton 1st Half 1993 83 24 349
Norm Cash 1st Half 1961 86 24 362
Generated 7/18/2013.

Cabrera takes over the #1 spot among Tiger players.  Hank Greenberg's record of 58 set in 1938 isn't even in the top 5, when he hit 22 HR in the first half and an incredible 36 in the 2nd half.  


Player Split Year G RBI PA
Hank Greenberg 1st Half 1935 76 103 360
Miguel Cabrera 1st Half 2013 93 95 428
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1921 77 82 346
Vic Wertz 1st Half 1949 81 80 369
Cecil Fielder 1st Half 1993 86 77 377
Miguel Cabrera 1st Half 2010 83 77 359
Generated 7/18/2013.

Cabrera fell 8 RBI short of Greenberg's record, which just so happens to be a MLB record too.  Amazingly, Cabrera is also on this list a 2nd time, tying Cecil Fielder for 5th with 77 RBI in 2010.  

Batting Average:

Player Split Year G BA PA
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1921 77 .425 346
Ty Cobb 1st Half 1925 70 .410 323
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1925 76 .404 335
Ty Cobb 1st Half 1922 68 .394 308
Ty Cobb 1st Half 1921 67 .392 320
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1923 73 .392 318
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/18/2013.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann dominate this list.  Cabrera only ranks 16th with his .365 AVG.  Interestingly, 2 recent Tigers are ahead of him; Ivan Rodriguez had a .369 AVG in the first half of 2004 and Magglio Ordonez had an AVG of .367 in the first half of 2007.  

On Base Percentage: 

Player Split Year G OBP PA
Ty Cobb 1st Half 1925 70 .500 323
Norm Cash 1st Half 1961 86 .483 362
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1923 73 .478 318
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1925 76 .478 335
Charlie Gehringer 1st Half 1934 76 .472 345
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/18/2013.

Cabrera ranks 12th with his .458 OBP for the first half.  

Slugging Percentage:

Player Split Year G SLG PA
Ty Cobb 1st Half 1925 70 .694 323
Hank Greenberg 1st Half 1937 67 .688 304
Miguel Cabrera 1st Half 2013 93 .674 428
Hank Greenberg 1st Half 1935 76 .671 360
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1921 77 .668 346
Generated 7/18/2013.

Cabrera sneaks back in the top 5, in the third spot.  

On Base + Slugging Percentage:

Player Split Year G OPS OPStot PA
Ty Cobb 1st Half 1925 70 1.194 1.068 323
Hank Greenberg 1st Half 1937 67 1.150 1.105 304
Norm Cash 1st Half 1961 86 1.149 1.149 362
Miguel Cabrera 1st Half 2013 93 1.132 1.132 428
Harry Heilmann 1st Half 1921 77 1.129 1.051 346
Generated 7/18/2013.

Again, Cabrera is in the top 5, this time at fourth.  

Wow, did Ty Cobb have a great first half in 1925, hitting .410/.500/.694/1.194, ranking first in every stat except batting average, which he finished 2nd.  He hit 11 of his 12 HR in the first half that year.  

You may or may not heard of this stat tweeted by Sports Center:

However, they are using the All-Star break as the halfway point, therefore their stats only go back as far as 1933.  If you include the prior years like above, another name joins the list, Jimmie Foxx, who accomplished the feat in 1932:

Rk I Player Split G Year PA HR RBI
1 Jimmie Foxx 1st Half 80 1932 356 30 93
2 Miguel Cabrera 1st Half 93 2013 428 30 95
3 Chris Davis 1st Half 95 2013 393 37 93
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/18/2013.