The State of the Detroit Tigers 1/3 Through the Season

J Ellet LambieCorrespondent IJune 8, 2009

LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Edwin Jackson #36 of the Detroit Tigers poses for a portrait during Photo Day on February 21, 2009 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Over the weekend the Detroit Tigers played their 54th and 55th game of the season, effectively the 1/3 marker of the 2009 season. So once again 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.

This feature will appear every 27 games, you can jump in the way back machine and read the 1/6 state of the Tigers here.


Overall Record — 30-25, 1st place in the AL Central

Team Batting Average — .264, tied for 9th in the AL, tied for 14th in MLB

Team ERA — 4.13, 2nd in the AL, 8th in MLB


All three of these indicators are more positive than at the 27 game mark. The team is five games above .500 with an ERA and batting average in the upper half of major league baseball.

The Tigers 4.13 ERA is down from 4.16 at the 1/6 point, the .264 team batting average is up three points. Most importantly the Tigers have moved from 2nd place in the AL Central to having a 3.5 game lead.

Let’s look a little deeper:

Home Record — 17-11

Road Record — 13-14

Division Record — 11-9


This seems to be on pace with the 27 game numbers. Coincidentally the Tigers are 14-4 against the AL West, the best statistical record of any team in MLB against a single division not their own. Let’s go a little deeper yet:

Day Games — 15-5

Night Games — 15-20

One Run Games — 6-6

Last 10 Games — 4-6


Again the Tigers play exceptional baseball in the daytime, slightly below average at night. The 6-6 record in one run games concerns me, but it could be a lot worse. Now let’s break down the pitching a bit, shall we?

We’ll start with the starting pitching stats *NOTE* I’ve included Zach Miner and his numbers in the bullpen statistics. He has had four starts on the year but has appeared in nine games in relief.


Starting Pitching

22-19 record, 3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 277 hits allowed, 105 walks issued, 249 strike outs in 307.2 innings pitched.

Very respectable on the surface. The K:BB ratio of the rotation sits at 2.5:1, 34 total home runs have been surrendered by the rotation (22 by Galarraga and Porcello) and the win total would equate to roughly 88 victories over a full season. Now let’s examine the bullpen.


Relief Pitching

8-6 record, 4.68 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 182 hits allowed, 90 walks issued, 134 strike outs in 178.2 innings pitched.

I’m not impressed. Any bullpen that is allowing more than one and a half baserunners per inning is asking for trouble. Especially when you consider that often times managers go to the bullpen when the starting pitcher has put a man or two on base in that particular frame.

The bullpen K:BB ratio is very low at 1.48:1, indicating that even with multiple power arms in reserve this ballclub does not have the control required to kill an opponents rally consistently.

Both the starters and relievers allow a home run approximately every 9 innings pitched (1 per 9.05 for the starers, 1 per 9.40 for the bullpen). Now let’s move on to the offense.


Team Hitting

VS. right-handed pitching — .258 (352 for 1362), 41 HR, 195 RBI’s, .329 OBP, .402 slugging %, .731 OPS, 137 BB, 252 strike outs.

VS. left-handed pitching — .281 (135 for 480), 15 HR, 67 RBI’s, .354 OBP, .443 slugging %, .797 OPS, 51 BB, 99 strike outs.

While the Tiger’s hit 23 points higher, slug 41 points higher and have an OPS advantage of 66 points against lefties these numbers can be deceiving. When you examine the ratios of at-bats per HR, RBI, K and walk the numbers are strikingly similar.

The Tigers have hit one HR every 32 at-bats against lefties, one every 33.22 at-bats versus right handers. The team has one RBI per 7.16 at-bats against lefties, one every 6.98 at-bats against righties.

In terms of strike outs and walks—the Tigers whiff once every 4.85 at-bats and walk once every 10.41 plate appearances against lefties, where as they fan once every 5.4 at-bats and walk once every 10.94 plate appearanced against right handers.

The Tigers have played with more balance in this regard over the last 27 games than the first 1/6 of the season. In the first 27 games the Tigers scored one run every 6 at-bats against right-handed pitching, one run every 7.6 at-bats against left handed pitching. That split after 55 games is now 6.58/6.87 respectively.

The offense has struggled in recent walks, regardless of which hand the opposing pitcher was using. In their last 15 games the Tigers have scored two runs or fewer seven times and three runs or fewer ten times—the team scored one run five times in that span, or in 1/3 of their last 15 games.

Now let’s take a look at the studs and duds so far.


The Pitching Studs

Justin Verlander — He leads the major leagues in strike outs with 97, has a 3.26 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and a .233 batting average against. He hasn’t lost since April 17th and should have eight wins instead of six, had the bullpen been able to do their job.


Edwin Jackson — His 2.16 ERA is the 2nd best in the AL and the 3rd best in all of MLB. He boasts a WHIP of 0.98 and a strike out to walk ratio of more than three to one.

Like Verlander, he should have more than his current total of six victories, but has lost out on multiple chances due to poor bullpen work and a lack of run support. He’s allowed more than three earned runs only twice in a dozen starts.


Rick Porcello — While the youngster has looked more hittable in his last two starts he still has an ERA of 3.98 and six victories through the first week of June. It’s fair to say he’s exceeded expectations to this point and shown signs of growth that are very encouraging.


The Pitching Duds

Armando Galarraga/Dontrelle Willis — The back end of the rotation buddies are a collective 4-9 with ERA’s of 5.31 and 6.84 respectively. Armando has shown improvement in his last two starts, Willis was impressive in his second start of the season, but both have been wildly inconsistent and more often than not they have each been well below average pitchers.

While I hope that Rick Knapp can fix this pair, he’s definitely got his work cut out for him.


Brandon Lyon — I’ve heard the cries that he’s overworked and overwhelmed, I’m not buying it. With the exception of one bizarre game where he threw 60 pitches his workload has been no more taxing than a pitcher of his experience and arm strength should be able to shoulder.

In 23.2 innings over 19 appearances he’s 1-3, has an ERA of 5.70 and has 13 walks against 10 strike outs. Pathetic, plain and simple.


Zach Miner — I realize he’s been asked to fill several roles, that Miner has gone along with being moved from the rotation to the bullpen and back and forth like a lawn sprinkler, and that he has done it without much complaining. That’s nice. Someone give him a sticker, but certainly not as a reward for his performance.

While his record may be 3-1 he is certainly not pitching that well. His 5.29 ERA and 1.82 WHIP are atrocious. He’s allowed 44 hits and 18 walks in 34 innings.

Opposing hitters are batting .314 against him. He may have a rubber arm, but that doesn’t mean we should be seeing it at the major league level.


The Hitting Studs

Miguel Cabrera — Among regulars he leads the team in batting average (.352), on-base % (.421), slugging % (.565) and OPS (.986). While Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson have more hom runs Cabrera leads the team in RBI’s and has a significantly better walk to strike out ratio (22 walks, 28 K’s) than either of them.


Brandon Inge — speaking of the little engine that could, Brandon has been an unexpected offensive star to this point. While his average has dipped from its’ high point in early May, he is still at .277, well above his career mark. His power numbers have been impressive, it seems his modified plate approach and patience are paying dividends.


Curtis Granderson — while his batting average has fallen to .264 he’s found more of a power stroke and has quietly stolen 10 bases in 12 attempts. He leads the team in runs scored (37), home runs (13) and is tied with Josh Anderson for the team lead in stolen bases. This is the beginning of Curtis Granderson, three hole hitter.


The Hitting Duds

Placido Polanco — it kills me to put him on this list, but through 55 games “Polly” is hitting 52 points below his career average. His OBP is a dismal .302 and he’s provided little in the power department, which is to be expected. I believe he’ll get back on track soon, but at this point he’s been a disappointment.


Gerald Laird — a .234 average with two home runs and 14 RBI’s from a guy with 141 at-bats in this lineup is not exactly stellar. He’s playing above average defense and drawing walks (19 so far), but his bat has been slow and quiet.

Dane Sardinha — I know it’s mean to pick on both the starting and back-up catchers, but seriously, he’s hitting .115 with 13 strike outs in 26 at-bats. I’m fairly certain random fans pulled from the Comerica Park stands could put up these numbers.


The Grades:

Offense — C 

The Tigers have scored 277 runs to date. The league average in the AL is 274. They have scored the third most runs in their division, behind Cleveland and Minnesota, ahead of the White Sox and Royals.

The Tigers rank 9th in the AL in batting average, 11th in hits, 9th in OPS, 8th in strike outs, 8th in walks and 8th in on-base %. Certainly sounds like a middle of the road, average set of numbers to me. In the last two weeks the Tigers offense has been offensive to watch, if you’ll pardon the pun.


Defense — B plus

The Tigers rank 3rd in the AL in fielding % (.988), 2nd in defensive efficiency (.705), have made the 3rd fewest errors and have turned 53 double plays, good for 5th in the league. Gerald Laird and Dane Sardinha have thrown out a combined 29% of attempted base stealers, which is tied for 5th in the AL.

After some early struggles the defense has rebounded nicely. The youth and range in the outfield have helped the pitching staff more than their inexperience has hurt it. Brandon Inge is making highlight reel plays on a regular basis, Adam Everett and Placido Polanco seem to be playing well together and Miguel Cabrera is getting better every day.


Pitching — B minus

While Verlander and Jackson have been spectacular and Porcello has been a pleasant surprise, there are many question marks behind them. The back end of the rotation has been hit and miss, as has the bullpen.

I contemplated grading lower here, but when considering that 40% of the rotation (Verlander and Jackson) are 10-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 104 K’s since May 1st, it just seemed a bit too harsh. The staff as a whole is a bit overrated and needs some tuning up, good thing I have faith in Rick Knapp.


Management — C

For every positive surprise there has been a negative reality. If I were grading Jim Leyland alone I would go higher, perhaps a B- based on how many veterans he’s been without and how many other veterans he surely wishes he was without.

The organizational side is included here and frankly, I’m not pleased with Dave Dombrowski at this point. Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Lyon and let’s not forget Gary Sheffield are on the payroll, with huge financail consequences, with very little if any positive impact to the team on the field.

If this team aims to contend management will have to make changes, until it does the grade will stay in this general vicinity.


Overall — B minus

Yes, I realize this team has a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central. I also realize it is early June and that lead is thanks in large part to a pair of starting pitchers being unhittable for six weeks. If either Verlander or Jackson comes back to earth this team could sink like a stone.

The defense is improved, the offense should get better and the bullpen is a crap-shoot. All in all while the team is atop the standings, they have played like a 4th place team many times this season.

To be fair, there have been nights where this club could have beaten any other in the major leagues, but not nearly often enough. The Detroit Tigers are at a fork in the road, in 27 more games we should have a good idea which path they’ll take on the home stretch.


Going forward 

In the next 27 games the Tigers will face the following opponents: Chicago White Sox (4), Pittsburgh Pirates (3), St. Louis Cardinals (3), Milwaukee Brewers (3), Chicago Cubs (3), Houston Astros (3), Oakland A’s (3), Minnesota Twins (3) and the Kansas City Royals for 2 games, three total in that series.

Nineteen of these games will be on the road, where the Tigers are one game under .500. The combined record of these opponents as of this morning is 246-258. Only three of these teams currently have a winning record, the Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs.

In the last installment I predicted the Tigers would be 30-24 at the 54 game mark, turns out I was wrong, they were 29-25. After yesterdays victory in game 55 the Tigers are 30-25. I’ll take being off by one game.

As the 81 game mark is the numerical half-way point of the season I’ll predict at that juncture the Tigers will be 44-37, meaning they will win 14 of their next 26 games.

Also in the 1/6 mark review I predicted Placido Polanco would pull out of this uncharacteristic funk and be hitting .300 by this point. Oops. Looks like I missed the boat entirely on that one, as his average has actually sunk to .252.

I’m going to stick with a prediction of improvement here, although I don’t think he can add 48 points in 26 games. Instead I’ll say he’ll reach .300 by the 108 game mark, or 2/3 of the way through the season.

It should be an interesting month and change until the all-star break. From there the non-waiver trading deadline will sneak up on us and we’ll be in the middle of pennant race time before you know it. Here’s hoping the Tigers will be a part of all of these exciting events.


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

Tagged: Adam Everett, al ranks, armando galarraga, Brandon Inge, brandon lyon, Carlos Guillen, clete thomas, curtis granderson, dane sardinha, dave dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, detroit tigers grades so far, detroit tigers team batting average, detroit tigers team era, dontrelle willis, edwin jackson, gary sheffield, gerald laird, hazaa, jeremy bonderman, jim leyland, josh anderson, justin verlander, Miguel Cabrera, nate robertson, Placido Polanco, rick knapp, rick porcello, the state of the detroit tigers: 1/3 through the season, tigers split stats, zach miner

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