The State of the Detroit Tigers: One-Sixth of the Way Through

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The State of the Detroit Tigers: One-Sixth of the Way Through
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Originally published May, 8 2009 at www.jelletlambie.wordpress.com

With 27 games in the books the Tigers are officially one-sixth of the way through the 2009 season. Today we’ll take a look at the highlights and lowlights so far, the teams ranks and grades and a few projections and predictions going forward.

I’ll be back with this same segment in another 27 games and every one-sixth of the season after. Let’s start with some of the baseline statistics.

Overall record: 14-13, Second place in the AL Central

Team Batting Average: .261, tied for 11th in the AL, tied for 17th in MLB

Team ERA: 4.16, 4th in the AL, tied for 11th in MLB

On the surface the Tigers appear to be the middle of the pack ballclub that their one game above .500 record indicates. Let’s look a little deeper.

 

Home Record: 8-5

Road Record: 6-8

Divisional Record: 6-5

Again, seems to be a pretty solid standing smack dab in the middle of mediocrity. Let’s look a little closer.

Day Games: 8-2

Night Games: 6-11

So the Tigers are a much better team under the natural light of day games than under the artificial light of night games, so far. Interesting, but hardly a strong enough indicator to predict their fate the rest of the season.

Although it affirms what I believe, baseball is better played in the daytime, I digress. Let’s go a little bit deeper still.

One-run games: 2-3

last 10: 5-5

Starting Pitchers won/loss: 10-10

Relief Pitchers won/loss: 4-3

Interesting. The perception has been that the Tigers starters have been significantly better than the bullpen. The reality thus far is that both categories are essentially a coin flip in terms of wins and losses. How about the ERA?

Starters ERA: 4.36

Relievers ERA: 4.69

Neither number is particularly impressive or horrific, but the difference of one-third of a run is hardly monumental. It seems the starters and relievers are equally yoked numerically. How about the hitters? Let’s dig a little deeper there.

Vs. right handed pitching (614 at-bats): .256, 22 HR, 99 RBI, 102 runs scored, .326 on-base %, .734 OPS (on-base + slugging %)

Vs. left handed pitching (288 at-bats): .271, 8 HR, 36 RBI’s, 38 runs scored, .348 on-base %, .775 OPS

The Tigers have a higher batting average, on-base % and OPS vs. lefties, interesting. The sample size is smaller of course, so let’s break it down a little more and compare.

At-bats per vs. right handers: 1 HR every 27.9 AB’s, 1 RBI every 6.2 AB’s, 1 run every 6 AB’s

At-bats per vs. left handers: 1 HR every 36 AB’s, 1 RBI every 8 AB’s, 1 run every 7.6 AB’s

Examined under this light the situation is still murky, but getting clearer. While the team garners hits more frequently against left handed pitching the boys in the old english D have a higher contact to damage ratio against righties.

The Tigers are simply more productive against right handed pitching, they score runs more frequently, which last time I checked is paramount in winning baseball games. So far it has taken the Tigers 1.6 more at-bats against lefties than righties to score 1 run. Doesn’t sound like much, until you consider the following names:

Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Matt Thornton, Cliff Lee, Aaron Laffey, Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins—These are the prominent left handed pitchers within the AL Central that the Tigers will see a healthy dose of this season, plus assorted other less than prominent relievers and players yet to be called up or acquired via trade and left handed pitchers from the other teams on the schedule.

We saw what Mark Buehrle did to the Tigers last night. We saw what Liriano did to the Tigers on May 4. Cliff Lee took the loss against the Tigers on May 3, due in large part to Justin Verlander putting on a dominating show. In that start however the Tigers compiled 12 hits against Lee, but could plate only three runs.

The Tigers have faced a left handed starting pitcher 10 times thus far. While Detroit is 6-4 in those games the associated numbers tell a different story. In those ten games opposing left handed starters threw a combined 63-2/3 innings, allowed 64 hits and 35 walks to Tigers hitters, but surrendered only 28 earned runs, or a 4.02 ERA.

If you subtract Aaron Laffey’s awful start (he’s out of the rotation now) on May 2, the numbers come out to 60 and 1/3 innings, 58 hits and 20 walks with 23 earned runs allowed, or a 3.43 ERA.

Of the 78 baserunners the Tigers have had in those nine games against left handed starting pitchers only 29 percent have scored, meaning 71 percent of those baserunners have been stranded.

The Tigers will face a significant number of lefty starters in the remaining five-sixths of the season. If the team can’t find a way to plate more runners against them it could mean a long summer.

Let’s take a look at the studs and duds so far among the 2009 Tiger roster. We’ll start with the hitters.

 

The Studs

Brandon Inge: .278, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 20 runs scored. Brandon seems to have found an offensive groove with his modified stance and approach. He’s been his usual strong defensive self and has played a key part in numerous victories.

Miguel Cabrera: .390, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 17 runs scored. He’s a beast at the plate and is quickly and quietly becoming one of the better defensive first basemen in the AL.

Curtis Granderson: .259, 9 HR, 19 RBI, 20 runs scored, 3 stolen bases. After a slow start Curtis is finding his mojo. His power stroke has been out early and often and he’s starting to run a bit. He’s played excellent defense as well, no surprise there.

 

The Duds

Magglio Ordonez: .225, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 10 runs scored. Maggpipes has struggled with the stick again this April. His .282 career average in April is his lowest of any month. He’s seen time at DH, yielding to better defenders in right field more than once.

Carlos Guillen: .200, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 11 runs scored. It seems an aching shoulder has limited Carlos so far at the plate, at least that’s the explanation from the team upon placing him on the DL recently. He’s been a defensive liability in left field to say the least.

Gerald Laird: .236, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 13 runs scored. Gerald is in a two week funk at the moment that has sapped his batting average tremendously. He’s been solid behind the dish defensively, not sparkling, but solid.

Ryan Raburn: .063, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 runs scored. Offensively his numbers have spoken, he’s been downright abysmal at the plate in the 8 games he’s played and just as bad in the outfield. He’s supposed to be the answer to Josh Anderson against left handed pitching, so far the answer is wrong.

 

As for the pitchers...the studs are a little less consistent at this point.

 

Studs

Armando Galarraga: 3-2, 4.08 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 29 K’s, 16 BB’s in 35-1/3 innings pitched. He’s not your mondo, he’s not my mondo, he’s Armando. His first 4 starts were excellent, the last 2…well, not so good.

Bobby Seay: 0-0, 8 holds, 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 4 K’s, 2 BB’s in eight-and-one-third innings pitched. He doesn’t get the glory of the starters or the closer, but he’s arguably been the Tigers most reliable hurler so far.

Justin Verlander in his last 2 starts: 2-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 20 K’s, 3 BB’s in 14 innings pitched. This version of Verlander has been unhittable. He’s reminding people that he is the ace of this staff and showing them why.

Edwin Jackson: 1-2, 3.08 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 28 K’s, 10 BB’s in 38 innings pitched. Meet the hard luck loser of the 2009 Tigers. In his 4 quality starts so far (6+ innings pitched, 3 or fewer earned runs, more K’s than walks) he’s 0-1.

In three starts where he has surrendered one earned run or less he has 1 win. If the boys start hitting for him he’ll have a heck of a record.

 

Duds

Justin Verlander in his first 4 starts: 0-2, 9.00 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 25 K’s and 9 BB’s in 21 innings pitched. I believe yuck is appropriate. His high K numbers hinted that he was close to finding his way, hopefully he stays on the right path going forward.

Brandon Lyon: 1-2, 0 saves, 0 holds, 5.11 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 4 K’s, 7 BB’s in 12-1/3 innings pitched. Mike Illitch paid $4 million for this? I would have worked a lot cheaper than that. Every time he enters a game I get a sharp pain in my eyes.

The Eddie Bonine/Nate Robertson experiment: combined the two are 1-0 with a 7.50 ERA, a 1.89 WHIP, 12 K’s and 8 walks in 18 innings pitched. Long relief has been a problem and these two are chiefly responsible. The fact that Nate has a win reinforces the theory that the sun even shines on a dogs ass somedays.

As for Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya, Rick Porcello, Zach Minor, Fernando Rodney and the rest—they fall somewhere between good, bad and not enough information currently available. Suffice it to say the staff has some promise, and some holes.

How about the performance of the coaches and the organization? Glad you asked.

Jim Leyland is in the final year of his contract as manager of the Tigers. At this point, I can’t say if he’ll be back next year or not. I can say however that the answer to that question is entirely tied in to how this team performs in the next few months.

The honeymoon ride that came along with the magical 2006 run is over. His bargaining position for an extension has ostensibly become a game of what have you done for me lately?

On a few occasions he’s left a starting pitcher in the game when it was clear said starting pitcher just didn’t have it. This is not a new trend, Leyland lives by the pact that sometimes a starting pitcher will get shelled and it’s better to save the bullpen than to rescue him. I disagree, but it’s his team, for now.

Leyland and the teams upper management decided to try and salvage Carlos Guillen’s bat by moving him around the diamond over the last year. If his year-to-date performance in left field and at the plate is any indicator, that experiment has failed.

The outfield has been an ever changing collection of mix and match plug-ins based primarily on the unbreakable law in Leylands head of the lefty/right matchup. Curtis Granderson is now splitting time between the leadoff spot and the five hole.

Josh Anderson plays against righties, Ryan Raburn plays against lefties. With Marcus Thames and now Carlos Guillen on the DL and Matt Joyce in Tampa Bay the skipper and the GM have been tinkering with a variety of square pegs and round holes hoping to make something fit.

When the Tigers acquired Josh Anderson from the Braves on the eve of the opener we were told he would provide speed on the basepaths and increased range in the outfield to help Curtis Granderson patrol the massive Comerica Park outfield.

So far he’s done just that and more, when he’s been given the chance to play. Despite his success Jim Leyland has routinely benched him against left handed pitching in favor of Carlos Guillen and Ryan Raburn, who both can hit from the right side.

The logic is as old as the game itself, create an opposite pitching arm/batting side matchup in the hopes that you’ll get more offense. So far Guillen and Raburn are a combined 5-44 against left handers, that equates to a .114 batting average. Josh Anderson is a career .258 hitter against lefties.

He’s a superior defender to both alternatives and provides the aforementioned speed that has lead to 6 stolen bases and 11 runs in 51 at-bats.

Fellow offseason acquisition Adam Everett was billed as a significant defensive upgrade to the departed Edgar Renteria and the backup Ramon Santiago. Everett has committed 4 errors in 64 chances for a .938 fielding % to date.

Santiago has 2 errors in 53 chances for a .962 fielding % in response. Offensively Everett is hitting .259 with 1 home run, 10 RBI, 10 runs and 11 K’s in 58 at-bats. Santiago is hitting .256 with 1 home run, 12 RBI, 4 runs scored and 14 K’s in 39 at-bats. Sounds like a wash to me at this point.

For the record Renteria (now with the Giants) is hitting .253 with 2 home runs, 11 RBI’s and 16 runs scored with 15 K’s in 91 at-bats. He has committed 2 errors in 102 chances for a .980 fielding %.

Don’t take this to mean I want Edgar back, I don’t. He’s an NL player if I’ve ever seen one and it was the right move to send him packing. I’m only stating that the replacements have yet to provide any notable improvement. I believe Everett is a better defender than he has shown thus far, let’s hope that turns out to be the case.

The Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson trade appears destined to go down in history as a swap that helped both clubs fill a need. At this point it’s fair to say the Tigers got the better end of the deal.

While Jackson has been excellent, Joyce has struggled in a backup role with the Rays, hitting .100 in 10 at-bats. Both players have the ability to help their teams win games and should blossom going forward if given the chance to play.

I’m going to count this one in the win/loss column as a big win. With Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis out of the picture to date Edwin Jackson has anchored the staff and given the team a chance to win nearly every outing, job well done Mr. Dombrowski.

Overall the team offense has produced 140 runs in 27 games, or 5.19 per game, good for 13th in Major League Baseball. The team has surrendered 4.88 total runs per game, good for 13th best in the majors as well.

I suppose there you have it, the Tigers are approximately the 13th best team in baseball, just about the average. Whether expectations made us think they would be better or worse at this point is a matter for debate another time, now it’s time for the grades.

 

The Grades

Offense: B- The Tigers have outscored their opponents 140-132 going into tonight's game against the Indians. More often than not the team is producing enough runs to win and has shown the ability to dominate by scoring nine or more runs six times out of 27 contests.

The Tigers have scored six runs or more 10 times and have the potential to be a powerful offensive club for the balance of the season. Veterans like Magglio, Carlos Guillen, Gerald Laird and Placido Polanco are currently performing below their career marks – to improve this grade that will need to change.

 

Defense: C+ I’m not including pitching here, we’ll address that next. The Tigers have committed 16 errors in 986 chances for a .984 fielding %. Questionable scoring decisions have kept this number lower than it should be.

The team has turned 76 double plays and surrendered 15 un-earned runs, or more than half a run per game (0.56 to be exact). Gerald Laird has thrown out 4 of 10 runners attempting to steal, or 40 percent—he has a 4.57 catchers ERA. Overall the Tigers have been average with frequent web gems and blunders both.

 

Pitching: C+ Consistency is the key ingredient in this grade. While both the starters and the relief core have shown the ability to get hitters out and shut down opposing lineups the group has also laid some eggs.

Both Verlander and Galarraga have flip-flopped between unhittable and unthinkable while the bullpen has been mediocre overall. Brandon Lyon, Juan Rincon and Nate Robertson need to demonstrate the consistent ability to get hitters out and the rotation needs help from the likes of Willis, Bonderman and whoever else can get it done every five days.

If Verlander, Jackson and Galarraga can pitch through the next one-sixth of the season the way I know they can this group could be among the best in the game—if not, it could be a long summer.

 

Management: C- I’m including coaching and the front office here. Nightly lineup and bullpen decisions continue to cost this team wins while the front office did a passable job in improving the roster.

For every early season success I want to credit to the coaches I see a disappointment they have yet to correct. If Dontrelle can finally help this team and Everett lives up to his reputation this grade will rise next time.

 

Overall: C+ 14-13 is what it is, just a tick above average. The record over the next month will tell the ultimate tale of this teams performance.

Going forward….

In the next 27 games the Tigers will face the following opponents – Cleveland (3), Minnesota (3), Oakland (3), Texas (3), Colorado (3), Kansas City (3), Baltimore (4), Boston (3) and Los Angeles (2). 13 of these games will be on the road, 14 at Comerica Park. The combined record as of today of these teams is 121-132.

Question marks hang over two spots in the starting rotation in that time. Dontrelle Willis will take the mound against Minnesota on May 13, his first start of the season.

By the time I write the next installment of this review series he could have made as many as five starts or as few as one. When will Jeremy Bonderman be back with the back club and what will he have to offer? Who knows. As the weather gets warmer the ball flies farther, can the offense take advantage of this? Can the pitching staff prohibit this?

I’m predicting the Tigers will be 16-11 in their next 27 games, bringing their season mark to 30-24. Where that ranks among the AL Central has as much to do with the remaining teams in it as it does with how the Tigers play, but I expect they’ll be in the hunt for the division lead.

Other predictions (sure to be wrong):

Placido Polance will be hitting .300 or better at the 54 game mark. Miguel Cabrera will be among the top five in average, home runs and RBI’s at that point. Justin Verlander will be 3-2 in his next five starts with an ERA under 3.50.

Brandon Lyon will end up on the DL before the all-star break—it’s the fancy new way to shut a veteran down for a couple of weeks to figure out what’s wrong with him without outright sending him to the minors.

Marcus Thames will return but not find his stroke, mostly due to lingering abdominal issues, slightly due to a lack of playing time—I expect him back in the fold around May 25th. And finally, Ryan Raburn will be sent down to Toledo, where he belongs.

Hazaa

Have a question, comment or idea? Post your thoughts below or drop me a line at jelletlambie@gmail.com

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