Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Evaluating Nick Castellanos' Rookie Year

If all you look at is WAR, you'd see that Nick Castellanos had a disappointing season.  According to FanGraphs, Casty was worth negative 0.5 wins while Baseball-reference says he was worth negative 1.5 wins.  Nothing is worse than being worth negative wins.  It means, "you are not good enough to be on a Major League roster."  WAR is made up of both offense and defense, so let's look at each one separately.  

Nick Castellanos hit .259/.306/.394 with 11 HR and 66 RBI.  He had a 93 OPS+ and a 94 wRC+, which shows he was slightly below league average.  Among 53 positional rookies, Casty was 18th in wRC+.  Not great, but not horrible either.  

Looking at batted ball data, one number jumps out.  His line drive rate of 28.5% was the 2nd highest in all of baseball and the highest in the American League.  Having a high line drive rate is important because line drives fall in for base hits more often then any other type of batted ball, 69% of the time in 2014 according to FanGraphs.  Players with high line drive rates typically have high batting averages (a great example is former Tiger Austin Jackson).  However, Castellanos' .259 average isn't particularly high.  Why is that?  

Batted Ball Batted Ball
Line Drives
Ground Balls
Fly Balls

Nick Casteallos' hit rate for ground balls and fly balls were lower than league average.  If those types of batted balls fell for hits for closer to league average, Casty's overall batting average would have been closer to .270.  It could be chalked up to a little bit of bad luck.  But also, a lot of it had to do with his high strikeout rate, which ranked T-18th in all of baseball.  This is one area of his offense where he needs to improve.  

According to Brooks Baseball, Nick Castellanos had hit the fastball really well in 2014 but needs to improve on hitting breaking pitches and off-speed pitches better:


However, looking deeper into the breaking pitches, he really wasn't that bad against curveballs:

Slow Curve

But now we're getting into small sample territory.  Nonetheless, an improvement on off-speed and breaking balls is a must if Castellanos is going to get to the next level.  At age 23 to start the 2015 season, he has plenty of time to get there.   

According to baseball-reference, Nick Castellanos had a positive 1.6 oWAR, which means all of his negative WAR came from defense and positional value.

Nick Castellanos was worth -30 runs on defense according to DRS and -18.4 runs according to UZR, both league worsts in 2014.  With a minimum of 400 innings at 3B, Castellanos was also the worst in RZR at .587 and the only one below .600.  Overall, Miguel Cabrera showed better defense numbers just one season ago:

Nick Castellanos (2014)
Miguel Cabrera (2013)

No, I'm not advocating Miguel Cabrera moving back to 3B.  In fact, with Miggy's injury concerns, he'd probably be on par with Casty right now.  To put it in better perspective, though, Nick Castellanos had shown historically bad stats at 3B.  DRS has only been around since 2003, but Casty is only the 2nd third baseman to put up negative 30 runs.  With a minimum of 400 innings, Casty is only the 4th third baseman to put up an RZR of less than .600:

Year Player RZR
Nick Castellanos
Of course there's a chance that these numbers are skewed as it typically takes 3 years for fielding stats to stabilize.  However, looking at these stats, there's only one other player who had a season of -30 DRS and under .600 RZR, Ryan Braun in 2007.  Braun only lasted one year at 3B before moving to LF.  A similar move might need to be made with Nick Castellanos.  With Victor Martinez potentially leaving as a Free Agent, there is an opening in the line up to possibly shift Nick to either 1B or DH (or split time between both positions with Miggy) and acquire a better defensive 3B.  Looking at the Free Agent market, one name jumps out as a great defender with an above average bat, Chase Headley.  Against most fans disapproval, it might be in the Tigers best interest to not resign V-Mart and instead go with Headley at 3B and get the disastrous defending Castellanos away from 3B.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Just How Rare Was V-Mart's Season?

Victor Martinez hit .335/.409/.565 with 32 HR and a 166 wRC+ in 2014.  He hit career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, ISO, wOBA, wRC+ and probably a few more categories that I'm missing.  It was the first time he hit at least 30 HR, had a .400 OBP and at least a .400 wOBA and a 140 wRC+.  It was only the 2nd time he reached a .500 SLG and the 3rd time he reached a .200 ISO.  No question about it, it was definitely a career year for Victor Martinez.  At the age of 35.  How rare is that?  

Using an arbitrary 165 wRC+ cutoff, here is a list of players since 1901 who reached that mark at age 35 or higher.  Several have done it more than once, so only the highest wRC+ season is listed.  

Year Player Age wRC+
Victor Martinez

That's a pretty impressive group of players.  Several all-stars and hall of famers.  Only one or two non-immediately recognized players.  16 players in all and V-Mart is the first to do so since 2008 when Chipper Jones and Manny Ramirez did it.  

So how many of these players were like V-Mart and had their career year at age 35 or higher?  Well, all of these players had at least 1 season of at least 150+ wRC+ prior to their age-35 season.  However, 6 of these players were like V-Mart and had their highest wRC+ at age 35 or higher.  

Player Highest wRC+ 2nd Highest
Victor Martinez
Bob Johnson
Zack Wheat
Hank Aaron
Barry Bonds
Chipper Jones
Ted Williams

And here we see the biggest difference between Victor Martinez and everyone else on this list.  The difference between V-Mart's best wRC+ season and his 2nd highest wRC+ season was bigger than the other 6.  Almost twice as much as the 2nd biggest difference, in fact.

Yep, I would say that puts V-Mart's season in very rare company.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

3 Bad Managerial Decisions by Brad Ausmus in 2014

I wanted to do a recap of the 2014 Tigers season, so I chose to tackle the often criticized Brad Ausmus.  

The Tigers season is over and once again they fell short of their goal of winning the World Series.  For the first time in franchise history, the Tigers lost an ALDS series, being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in 3 games.  Much is being discussed on rookie Brad Ausmus' managerial skills and whether or not he is the right man for the job in finally giving the Tigers their first World Series since 1984.  

Brad Ausmus had a roller coaster season.  On May 18th, the Tigers had a 27-12 record, the best winning percentage in all of baseball and a 7 game lead in the AL Central division.  Then they faltered, going 9-19 in their next 28 game and falling to 2nd place for the first time on June 17th.  They would rebound nicely, though and win 17 of their next 23 games and once again had a 7.5 game lead over the KC Royals on July 12th.  Then another collapse where they fell again to 2nd place on August 11th.  They wouldn't be alone in 1st place again until September 9th and 3 days later they stayed in first place for good, winning their 4th straight division title.

It wasn't supposed to go this way.  The Tigers were supposed to cruise into the playoffs, maybe even challenging for the best record in baseball.  They were well on their way by the middle of May and then Brad Ausmus put it on autopilot.  He refused to make adjustments in his bullpen, setting up inning roles and never switching them as some pitchers were struggling and others were getting better.  Even when J.D. Martinez was crushing the ball, he hesitated to make him a regular in the lineup until Torii Hunter had to miss some games due to injury and then the trade of Austin Jackson forced him to be an everyday outfielder.  Brad Ausmus was supposed to be an improvement over Jim Leyland, using stats and logic instead of gut feeling.  Instead, we got a more stubborn version of Leyland.

Now the Tigers already announced that Brad Ausmus will be back for next year.  Some are questioning if this is the right move (and would rather go with someone more experienced like Ron Gardenhire or Joe Maddon).

Looking back specifically at game situations, moments where you could just feel that the manager just made a wrong move shouldn't be difficult with an often-criticized manager like Ausmus.  But I struggled, so I reached out to Tiger fans, posting the question.  The lack of responses amazed me.  I thought I would get at least 10, maybe 20 specific moments where Ausmus lost the game for the Tigers.  Instead, only 3 stand out.  And all were at the end of the season, where the game is magnified.  

I'm not entirely sure what conclusion can or should be drawn from this.  All I can say is I hope Ausmus learns from his mistakes.  Here are the three bad managerial moves by Ausmus:

3. Game #152 - Refusing to take out David Price.  The Tigers ended up winning this game, so how much blame should Ausmus really receive?  David Price pitched 8 scoreless innings and the Tigers were winning 3-0 going into the 9th inning.  The Tigers bullpen has been shaky all year long, so it made sense to stay with Price - but for how long?  Singe, double, strikeout, single, flyout, single, single, tie game and then Aumus takes him out.  Price was well over 100 pitches and from what I can remember looked like he was out of gas.  No way should Ausmus have left him in long enough for the game to tie up.

2. Game #3 of ALDS - Pinch hitting Hernan Perez for Andrew Romine.  The Tigers have already lost the first 2 games of the ALDS and were on the verge of getting swept.  Baltimore had a 2-0 lead going into the 9th inning.  Back to back doubles by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez cut the score in half, giving Tiger fans hope that they will live to play another day.  Bryan Holaday struck out, but they chose to put the winning run on base when they intentionally walked Nick Castellanos.  Ausmus decides that Hernan Perez, who got all of 6 PA during the regular season, was not only good enough to put on the roster, but also good enough to try to at least tie the game in a do or die situation.  Predictably, Perez grounded into a double play, ending the Tigers season once and for all.  The counter-argument would be that Andrew Romine, who hit .227/.279/.275 during the regular season wouldn't have done much better anyway. However, the Orioles had the lefty Zach Britton pitching and Romine hit a surprisingly .333/.357/.389 in 56 PA against lefties during the regular season.  So much for playing the percentages.  

1. Game 2 of ALDS - Pitching Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria.  The Tigers took a 6-3 lead to the 8th inning.  Starting pitcher Justin Verlander only lasted 5 innings with Anibal Sanchez pitching the next 2, setting down all six batters he faced tossing 30 pitches.  It looked like Sanchez could go another inning, but it was predetermined that he would only go 2 innings before the game even started (limiting his innings after coming back from injury).  Taking out Sanchez isn't the real problem here, it's who Ausmus decided to put in.  Less than 24 hours earlier Chamberlian and Soria got rocked, facing a combined 7 batters and only recording 1 out.  All 6 of the baserunners scored.  It seemed inconceivable that Aumus would go to them again in game 2, but sure enough he did.  And predictably they blew the game, surrendering a combined 4 runs in the 8th inning leading to a 7-6 Tiger loss.  Meanwhile, Al Alburquerque, who had a 2.51 ERA during the regular season, wasn't even warming up in the bullpen.  This was Brad Ausmus' worst managerial decision and it came at the worst possible moment.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

So You Need a New "My Tiger"

On Thursday Dombrowski traded an average centerfielder, an average starting pitcher and an eighteen year old prospect for an ace starting pitcher.  Yep, Dombrowski traded 2 average players and a maybe somebody for ace #3 on the Tigers' staff.  Usually whenever a trade is made, the winner is the team that gets the best player.  Example #1: Miguel Cabrera.  In this case, the Tigers got the best player, therefore the Tigers are winners of this trade.  

The prospect in this case is Willy Adames, someone who the casual fan probably didn't even know existed until the trade.  Not only that, but he was probably one of the top 3 prospects left in the Tigers organization.  (By the way, how bad is the Tigers' farm system if one of their top prospects isn't even on most Tiger fans' radar?).  

The average players in this trade are Austin Jackson and Drew Smyly.  The ace pitcher, or as I will call him, "Dombrowski Steal #47" (approx.) is David Price.  Now David Price is one of the best starting pitchers in the league...uh, wait a minute.  Back up.  The Tigers got rid of Austin Jackson?

Yeah, that about sums up the Tigers' fan reaction of the trade.  I could go on and tell you just how good David Price is (just go to FanGraphs, his stats speak for themselves).  Or I could tackle the real issue here: how in the world are you going to find a replacement for your favorite Tiger?  Just click here, here and here to see how much Jackson will be missed.  Or here.  Or here.  Or here.  Or here.    Heck, you probably wrote something yourself, either on your own blog, a message board, a comment to an article or a small Twitter or Facebook response on how much Jackson was "your Tiger."  

Just take a look at Jackson's stats:

Year wOBA wRC+ BB% K% LD%

Oh, no wait.  Those aren't Jackson's stats.  My bad.  Here are Jackson's stats:

Year wOBA wRC+ BB% K% LD%

They do look pretty similar, so you can see my confusion.  Career-wise, they look almost identical.  Only a 0.002 difference in wOBA, 1 point difference in wRC+.  Identical LD%.  One career year, while the rest were just plain mediocre.  Hold on!  I have an idea!  Why not make your next Tiger someone who has very similar stats to your old Tiger?  

The first table shows the stats of Alex Avila.  Yep, Mr. Nepotism himself has had a career oddly similar to your favorite Tiger.  Ok, so it's not identical.  I creatively left out some stats like batting average and stolen bases.  But I did leave in the more important stats (y'know, the ones that tell just how good a player really is).  What about defense?  The numbers and eye test also shows that Avila is above average, just like Jackson.  

Alex Avila is already one of "my Tigers."  He has been for quite awhile.  So why not join me?  Clearly, he already has the stats for it.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 Mid-Season Grades

Tonight is the All-Star game, which means we're at the halfway point in the season.  This is a good opportunity to evoluate how the Tiger players are performing and compare that to what was expected of them.


Avila has a 105 wRC+ and a 99 OPS+, which means that he's been a league average offensive player (100 is exactly league average).  The "+" is for his plus defense.  He ranks 4th among catchers in the defensive component of FanGraphs' version of WAR.  Avila has been a better player than some fans realize - for example, his 13.5% walk rate leads all Tiger hitters by a pretty wide margin.

Holaday has 22 hits in 79 at bats for a respectable .278 batting average.  However, 20 of those hits have been singles for a pathetic .038 ISO.  Unlike Avila, who has a low average but some power, Holaday has a high average with no power.  Considering that Holaday has a 78 wRC+ and a 77 OPS+, it's obvious which combination produces a better offensive player.  Given Holaday's .361 BABIP, it's likely that his high average has been luck driven anyway.  The eye test shows that Holaday isn't an elite defensive catcher either.


Cabrera is batting .306/.364/.534 with a 142 wRC+.  Even with his home run power down from the pace we saw the last 2 years, he's still an offensive force.  However, he's not in the "elite" class anymore with six first basemen having a better wRC+.  He does rank 3rd in fWAR, though, due to having the best defensive rating among all first basemen, a complete 180 degrees from his third basemen rating.

Ian Kinsler has the highest fWAR among all Tiger positional players at 3.5 wins.  He's hitting .303/.337/.470 and his 121 wRC+ ranks 5th among all second basemen.  The only issue with Kinsler's offensive performance is his 4.4% walk rate; only Hunter has a lower walk rate among everyday Tiger players.  Kinsler is walking almost half as much as he was from the last 2 years.  Defensively, he's been one of the best at his position.  Definitely worthy of an all-star selection.


Due to injuries (Jose Iglesias), bad trades (Alex Gonzalez) and lack of production (Romine), the Tigers were forced to call up rookie Eugenio Suarez a year sooner than they anticipated.  He has responded with a .265/.345/.429 batting line with an above average 116 wRC+.  Lately though, he's shown signs that he may not quite be ready; since June 15th, he's batting .231/.302/.282 with a 65 wRC+.  Defensively he's been great, at least going by the eye test.  

Nick Castellanos - D

Castellanos has hit for a decent .262/.307/.394 batting line with a slightly below average 91 wRC+.  What really brings his rating down is his defense.  Castellanos has been the worst defensive third basemen in baseball, and it's not even all that close.  His horrible defense has lowered his fWAR to a below replacement level -0.2 wins, which by all means warrants an F rating.  However, there have been moments where he has shined and I'm cutting him some slack for being a rookie.

Andrew Romine - F

Romine has hit for a pathetic .217/.277/.259 batting line.  Out of everyone with at least 150 plate appearances this year, only 7 players have a worse wRC+ than Romine's 49.  Many of them have either been sent back to AAA or DFA'd.  His defense would have to be great to earn a better than a failing grade, and it hasn't been going by my eye test.  


J.D. Martinez - A+ 

J.D's 182 wRC+ is higher than any other Tiger hitter this year.  Out of everyone with at least 200 plate appearances this year, J.D. has the highest batting average (.346), SLG (.654) and wRC+ (1 point above Mike Trout's).  He is one home run short of Cabrera's total despite not being called up until April 21st.  If you include the 10 home runs that he hit in AAA, J.D. has hit 23 home runs altogether this year, which is 2 more than V-Mart's total.  Even his below average defense isn't enough to lower his perfect rating.  

Rajai Davis - B

Davis has been overall solid for the Tigers this year, hitting .296/.338/.432 with a 116 wRC+.  He has provided some speed to the Tigers lineup (something in which they've lacked the last couple of years) with 24 stolen bases this year, which ranks him tied for 6th in all of baseball; only Jose Altuve has more in the American League.  His defense has been below average, but not exactly horrible.  

Austin Jackson - D

This was supposed to be Jackson's big breakout season and it has been anything but so far.  His offensive production is very similar to Castellanos' with a batting line of .256/.317/.373 with an 89 wRC+.  His defense, once elite, is now average to slightly below average, not good enough to bring up his rating.  

Torii Hunter - D-

Hunter has been an average hitter this year with a 101 wRC+ and a 100 OPS+, hitting .272/.293/.450 overall.  The one downside to his offensive production is his minuscule 2.8% walk rate.  If defense weren't a thing, Hunter would get a solid C rating.  However defense cannot be ignored and Hunter has been awful at it this year.  FanGraphs gives him a rating of -15.0 for his defensive component of WAR, which is the worst in baseball.  Not just outfielders, but everyone.  His defense is so bad, his fWAR is -0.6, even with average offensive production, which is the worst on the Tigers among positional players.  The only thing preventing him from an F rating is his veteran presence , leadership qualities and all those other intangibles.     

Don Kelly - F

Kelly is batting .258/.333/.309 with a 79 wRC+.  The only redeeming offensive quality from Kelly is that he's 2nd on the team with a 10.2% walk rate.  His power is nonexistent with a .058 ISO.  He has average to slightly below average defense.  Altogether he's worth -0.2 fWAR.  

Kelly's flexibility is not going to be able to save him when Dirks returns from the disabled list.  The only other likely candidate is Andrew Romine and the only thing saving him is that he's the only player able to backup the shortstop position.  Adding Dirks basically gives the Tigers 6 outfielders and that's one too many with Kelly being the worst of the bunch.  I don't see the Tigers being bold and DFA-ing Hunter.

Designated Hitter:

Victor Martinez - A+

V-Mart is having a career year with a batting line of .328/.391/.599 with 21 home runs.  He's only 4 home runs off his career high with a half a season left to play.  He has exceeded my expectations even when I amended my prediction about a quarter of the way through the season.  Among qualified batters he's 4th in baseball with a 165 wRC+ and 2nd only to Mike Trout in the American League.  It's a shame that he's battling injuries right now as I'd like to see him make a bid for 40 home runs this year.  

Starting Pitching:

Max Scherzer - A

The only Tiger pitcher going to the All-Star game, Scherzer has the highest fWAR among Tiger starters at 3.1 wins.  His fWAR ranks 10th in baseball and 9th in the American League.  His 2.96 FIP and 2.97 SIERA suggest that his ERA of 3.35 is higher than it should be.  He ranks 3rd in all of baseball with a 10.4 K/9.

Anibal Sanchez - A- 

Sanchez has the lowest ERA on the Tigers starting staff at 3.04.  This ranks him 26th in baseball and 11th in the American League.  His fWAR is 2.4 despite having the same FIP as Scherzer's 2.96, due to a lack of innings.  His WHIP of 1.04 is the lowest on the Tigers current roster, but his 6.7 K/9 is lower than it has been the last 2 years (10.0 last year and 7.7 in 2012). 

Rick Porcello - B

Porcello was making a good bid to get on the All-Star team up until his last 2 starts.  He was even on the final vote, but his nationally televised start last Sunday didn't do him any favors, when he gave up 7 ER in 5 2/3 IP.  His ERA is the lowest of his career at 3.39 but lower than his 3.94 FIP and 4.22 SIERA.  In fact, his FIP and SIERA are higher than they were a year ago, suggesting a bit of good fortune for Porcello.  One sign that suggested that this year would be Porcello's big breakout year was his 7.2 K/9 that he put up in 2013, but that has all disappeared to a 5.0 K/9 in 2014.  His groundball rate is currently at 48.2%.  It has never been below 50% at any other year.  This is an important stat for a sinkerball pitcher like Porcello.

Drew Smyly - C-

The league ERA is currently 3.81, Drew Smyly's ERA is at 4.00.  The league WHIP is currently at 1.29, Smyly's WHIP is 1.37.  The league average K/9 is at 7.7, Smyly's K/9 is currently at 7.2.  Factoring in park adjustments, he's right around league average with a 104 ERA+ and a 99 ERA-.  However, his FIP is at 4.46 for an FIP- of a below average 111 (minus stats on FanGraphs means over 100 is below average).  His SIERA of 4.14 is closer to his ERA, though.  Slightly below average altogether gives him a slightly below average score.    

Justin Verlander -  D

Out of 94 qualified starting pitchers, Verlander ranks 88th in both ERA (4.88) and WHIP (1.46) and is tied for 83rd in ERA+ at 85.  From May 14th to June 16th Verlander posted a 7.83 ERA, a 1.85 WHIP and a 5.61 FIP.  Not too many starters would have been able to survive that stretch.  Overall his FIP is 4.02 and SIERA is 4.39 showing that he probably hasn't been as bad as his ERA suggests.  His FIP- is 101, which is very slightly below average.  The eye-popping stat is his 6.7 K/9 when we're used to seeing it at around 9.0.  

Relief Pitching:

Joba Chamberlain - A

Joba has easily been the Tigers best reliever this year with a 2.63 ERA, a 2.47 FIP, a 2.66 SIERA and a 9.6 K/9.  However, the most important stat for a reliever just may be RE24 as it takes into account the situation (since relievers are constantly brought in and taken out in the middle of an inning).  Joba's 6.29 RE24 is the best on the Tigers staff among relievers with significant amount of innings.   His 17 shutdowns also leads Tigers relievers 

Al Alburquerque - B+ 

Alburquerque has been the 2nd best Tigers reliever with a 2.91 ERA, 3.49 FIP and a 2.64 SIERA.  His K/9 is still an impressive 10.1.  He's 2nd on the team with a 2.30 RE24 and 3rd in shutdowns with 9.  The big improvement from Alburquerque is the cut down in walks, at a rate of more than half from last year.  

Phil Coke - D

With a 4.59 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, Coke has not been good by standard measures.  His 4.01 FIP and 3.28 SIERA suggest that he's better than his ERA indicates, though.  However, his RE24 is -1.35.  When you are contributing negative runs to the team, you are on the verge of failing.

Joe Nathan - D-

Among qualified relievers, Nathan is 149th out of  155 in ERA at 5.61.  His ERA is the highest among all relievers who are still closing.  Only 10 qualified relievers have posted a worse RE24 than Nathan's -5.93.  His FIP of 4.33 and SIERA of 3.38 suggest a bit of bad luck, which is a good sign going forward.  He's still striking out guys at a high rate of 9.4 K/9.  

Ian Krol - F

Even though Krol has a better ERA (4.44) than Coke and Nathan, there are still reasons to believe that Krol is the worst reliever in the Tigers' bullpen.  His 1.59 WHIP is worse than either Coke's or Nathan's and his FIP of 5.76 is not only the worst on the Tigers, but the worst among any reliever who has thrown at least 25 innings this year.  Krol has a -4.55 RE24; only Nathan has posted a worse number in the Tigers' bullpen.  Krol is tied with Coke by allowing 10 inherited runners to score; only 7 relievers have allowed more.  

Blaine Hardy and Chad Smith get an inc. since they haven't pitched enough for me to properly evaluate them.