I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Sure, some of it is tied to useless things like bills, plans, and the future.
But lots of it has been tied to more important things like the Detroit Tigers.
Over the course of the last month or so, I have made a huge swing in my opinion of my Tigers and the running of said team.
Up until this time, I had been a Jim Leyland apologist. More than anything, I liked the idea of Leyland. The old curmudgeon manager that huffs and puffs and runs his team in the old school way.
Perhaps I suffered from the same problem that I now see in many others: baseball romanticism.
We watch Bull Durham and The Natural and we get swept up in the mysticism of baseball. We hold dear the "unwritten rules" of the game and we know all the situations that they apply to.
We hold sacred to the "lefty-righty" approach to matchups at the plate and we use phrases like "manufacture runs".
This is all B.S. Baseball, at it's heart, needs to be viewed objectively based on quantitative statistics. Gut reactions and decisions are useless. All that counts is what is there, and luckily enough, we have excellent ways to measure it.
There are many reasons that I have come to this place, namely books by Bill James and the very impressive Moneyball. But more than anything, it comes from watching the Tigers.
Jim Leyland embodies the old school way of thinking, an approach that is painfully difficult to beat out of people.
But in order to win in the regular season, it must be replaced with rational and objective thinking.
That is why I believe the Tigers are wasting a very talented team, and in particular, one of the most gifted hitters to ever wear the old English D.
It's the lineup, stupid!
An everyday baseball player's job is to score runs. In order to score runs, they generally need to get on base. Therefore, the most important statistic is on base percentage. If you get on base, you put your team in a position to succeed, i.e. score runs.
One of the basic truisms of baseball is that your best power hitter hits cleanup, or fourth. The logic behind this is that if the bases are loaded, he can drive them all home.
This is a fallacy, at least in the case of the Tigers.
Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez operate out of the fourth and fifth spots. Martinez is important to protect Cabrera. This makes sense, but they should be batting third and fourth. Take a look at a few statistics.
Martinez is batting .416 with runners on base, but only .238 with no runners on.
Cabrera has an OBP of .425 which is incredible. Therefore, it makes sense that Martinez hits behind Cabrera since he likely will be on roughly 43% of the time, putting Martinez in a place to succeed.
So why move Cabrera up a spot in the lineup? Because Cabrera is also a beast with runners on base, hitting .349 in that situation as opposed to .288 with no runners on.
Cabrera is also very good at driving in those runners on base, so he needs to be deep enough in the lineup to be rewarded with runs batted in, but not so deep that he will risk coming to the plate with nobody on.
Therefore, the most sense would be to put Cabrera in the three spot.
But that's not all. Let's take a look at who hits before him.
Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch are typically the one and two hitters, with Magglio Ordonez as three.
The OBP of those three players:.315, .341, and .292 respectively.
Of those three, only Boesch makes sense hitting in one of the top two spots.
So why does Leyland consistently put two guys ahead of Cabrera and Martinez that have no business hitting there?
One of the other baseball truisms is that you need speed at the top of your lineup. Speed is completely overrated in baseball. Besides, Leyland rarely sends Jackson to steal, so what's the point anyways?
But Jackson, with his anemic OBP, should be hitting further down in the lineup, preferably in the bottom third. As should Ordonez, if he plays at all. In all honesty, Andy Dirks should be given more of his at-bats since he has more potential at this point in his career.
So who should be hitting first? Either Jhonny Peralta or Alex Avila.
Avila and Peralta have excellent OBP, .373 and .357 respectively. They also hit well with nobody on base, which is another prerequisite of leadoff hitters.
Avila is hitting .285 with runners on and .286 with none on. Peralta is at .303 with runners on and .320 with none on, actually hitting better with nobody on base. This makes him a perfect candidate to hit either first, second or fifth.
For argument's sake, let's set a lineup with Avila hitting first. He will get on 37% of the time. Next up you can bat either Peralta or Boesch since both are better with none on just in case it is one of the 63 times out of 100 at bats that Avila fails to get on base.
However, Boesch is only hitting .212 in the second spot. He is, however, hitting .347 when leading off an inning, so let's put him further down in the lineup. We will come back to him.
So that leaves Peralta and his .357 OBP hitting second.
This means a lot more opportunities for Cabrera to hit with runners in scoring position.
Cabrera is hitting .373 with runners in scoring position.
This all but ensures that Martinez will hit with runners in scoring position, and given his .412 average in that situation, it agrees with him.
I am not a mathematician, but it seems like this would be a successful venture.
Then you can bat Boesch since you want Martinez to have a little protection as well. Besides, most of the time the guys in front of him will fail, putting him in the likely position to lead off the inning, something we have already discussed as being in his wheelhouse.
Hitting sixth, you can start to put in your lesser players. Wison Betemit is actually hitting fairly well with Detroit, getting on base 35% of the time.
After Betemit, you can put Jackson at seven, followed by Guillen and Ordonez. All of them have an OBP of .315 or worse. More than anything, you are hiding these guys and conceding that inning. If they succeed, great. If they don't no big deal, you still have the big guys coming up next.
The point is that Leyland completely misses this aspect of the game, therefore he is missing out on a very potent lineup.
He bats Jackson leadoff everyday, despite the fact that he isn't any good at it. A leadoff hitter needs to face a lot of pitches and get on base. I already showed how bad he is at getting on base. He also doesn't wear out pitchers, instead only averaging four pitches per plate appearance.
Granted, Avila isn't great at this either, but at least he doesn't strike out as much. Jackson is leading the team with 124 compared to Avila's 85.
Then he bats either Boesch or Ryan Raburn second. He claims it's because he wants some power in the two hole, but Peralta would serve this as well.
I already mentioned Boesch's average in the two hole. Ready to hear Raburn's? .209 with an OBP of .277.
Top that off with Ordonez batting third, and you have a lineup that cannot consistently get on base, leaving Cabrera to lead off innings way too often, which drops his average nearly 70 points from where it is with runners on base.
The bottom line is that this is way too talented of a team to be just barely holding first in a very weak division.
Leyland apologists can scream all they want, but I just rationally put together an objective way to measure his performance, and it is sorely lacking.
I just hope we don't have to waste any more years of this tremendously talented team.