September 13, 2006


October Baseball in Detroit Is Looking More and More Bleak (CHRISTINA KAHRL, September 13, 2006, NY Sun)

The reason why the Tigers are coming up short is an imploding offense. As the table reflects, scoring fewer than four runs a game, as the Tigers have done by scoring an average of 3.6 runs in their 32-game tailspin, is more this club's problem. The Tigers currently rank a mediocre eighth in the American League in runs scored, and they're 11th in runs scored since the All-Star break. Overall, if you adjust for park effects, league-wide offensive levels, and the opposing pitchers, they drop to a weak 10th in the American League in Equivalent Average.

Put plainly, the Tigers aren't a good offensive ballclub. Since the break, only third baseman Brad Inge, shortstop Carlos Guillen, and outfielder Craig Monroe have done well at the plate, while veterans like catcher Ivan Rodriguez, right fielder Magglio Ordonez, and center fielder Curtis Granderson have all failed to put many runs on the board. In Granderson's case, some of his struggling may be forgiven — manager Jim Leyland has foregone carrying a reliable backup center fielder for most of the season, placing a heavy workload on the rookie.

There are some precise reasons for this offensive collapse, some of which were accidents, but many self-inflicted. Losing second baseman Placido to a dislocated shoulder shouldn't have been crippling — Polanco only ranks 35th among all major-league second basemen in Value Over Replacement (VORP), lower than teammate Omar Infante (32nd). But rather than play Infante, the Tigers had the very bad idea of acquiring veteran infielder Neifi Perez from the Cubs, and Perez has been as bad as you'd expect from one of the game's most historically inoffensive middle infielders, hitting .159 AVG/.213 OBA/.159 SLG as a Tiger, and .239/.258/.314 overall. In terms of VORP, he's 68th out of 68 big-league second basemen this year. He's exactly the player you don't want to use as a replacement, and the Tigers have lost eight of the 12 games he's started since getting him.

Similarly, the club's attempt to replace starting first baseman Chris Shelton after his titanic slump has gone for naught — popular veteran Sean Casey has been awful as a Tiger, hitting a paltry .230/.266/.320, and like Perez, Casey's best years are long since behind him, generating little hope that he'll get much better. Even here, a better option was on hand — since the All-Star break, Dmitri Young has been one of the Tigers' few productive hitters (.292/.331/.504), but a bad patch in September led to the hasty (or panicked) decision to release him. The organization has subsequently been whispering that Young was a clubhouse cancer, but better to risk going radioactive and score some runs than die with the acceptably anemic Casey and Perez.

The three moneyball teams (Yankees, A's, BoSox) were put together with one offensive idea in mind: taking pitches. Not only do hitters who take lots of pitches tend to have higher on base percentages but a team that sees a lot of pitches tends to wear out the opposition starting pitchers and get into the universally awful middle relief corps. Yet when the Sox and Tigers played last month Detroit had almost 200 less walks than Boston. They're still likely to win their division, but the Tigers really should have topped the Yankees offer for Bobby Abreu, who sees more pitches than any hitter in the majors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2006 8:57 AM

Given their payrolls, why should the Yankees and Red Sox be considered "moneyball" teams? Is it because they walk a lot? And the A's, despite taking a lot of pitches, are actually below the AL average in OBP. Finally, do you consider Toronto a "moneyball" team? If not, why not?

Posted by: Gary at September 13, 2006 9:39 AM

It has nothing to do with payroll, just the philosophy of how to contruct the team. As it happens, it was a good philosophy for a lower payroll team because teams didn't yet understand the value of on-base so underrated the Kevin Youkilis types.

A team that acquires Shea Hillenbrand and Benjie Molina doesn't care about OBP.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 9:45 AM

OJ, would you consider the Twins to be a "Moneyball" team, even though their focus is on developing world-beater pitching? Which is what will likely push both the Tigers and the White Sox out of the playoff race.

Yes, I'm thinking the Angels may make up enough ground to snag the Wild Card from both of them.

Posted by: Brad S at September 13, 2006 10:09 AM

If starting pitching does the Yanks in again come this fall, they and the Tigers really should consider a swap of one of New York's plethora of outfielders (Sheffield and Williams excluded, of course, due to their age) for one of Detroit's young arms.

If I were the Tigers I would go for Matsui over Abreu, since Bobby's stint in Philadelphia showed a certain sign of moodiness when he has to be the man in the team's batting order, as opposed to being simply one of the supporting cast for the bigger stars in the Bronx.

Posted by: John at September 13, 2006 10:20 AM

Luis Castillo & Rondell White.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 10:20 AM

The real "Moneyball" philosophy is to find guys who are underrated for some reason (according to what the sabermatricians say) and then sign them. That can mean high OBP guys who take pitches-- until everybody reads the book and the Yankees and Red Sox try to sign the same type of guys. Of course "buy undervalued players" is a pretty simple philosophy.

Posted by: John Thacker at September 13, 2006 10:56 AM

In fact, OBP is the only offensive category where you can excel but you can be underrated. There are no underrated HR hitters.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 11:02 AM

It has nothing to do with payroll, just the philosophy of how to contruct the team.

So "moneyball" has nothing to do with money?

Posted by: Gary at September 13, 2006 1:04 PM

Guys who others don't appreciate cost less. If you have money you can buy a lot of them.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 2:35 PM

Ahem, some of us were pointing this out about the Tigers in May.

It's likely that they'll limp into the playoffs, given the ChiSox recent form and difficulty of Chicago's schedule, but it's hard to see them winning a post-season series.

Btw -- NY Sun baseball writers rawk. Hard to imagine sportswriters anywhere else using VORP in an article -- or frankly even knowing what it means.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 13, 2006 8:27 PM

To the contrary, their pitching & HRs are all you need in a short series.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 8:42 PM

They won't get a pitch to hit.

And their homeruns have dried up too.

How many homers has Magglio hit since the break?

And their pitching just ain't good enuff, yet.

The Yanks are looking more and more like their likely first rd opponents, and the Yanks had no problem either getting the Tigers out, or beating their staff.

5 out of 7, and it would've been a clean sweep if Mariano had been available in the only 2 losses.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 13, 2006 9:10 PM

None of the other staffs are good enough for there to be no pitches to hit out.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 9:16 PM

You think Moose or Wang will throw the ball near the plate? You really didn't watch any of the 7 games the 2 teams played, did you?

There's a reason the Yanks won 5 of 7, and led going into the 9th in other two. The Tigers swing at an-eee-thiiing.

Did you not read the article you posted? What makes you think the Tigers' pathetic display since the all-star break against the AL will improve against playoff teams, which are bound to have better pitchers than the league as a whole.

Really oj, I took this article as an admission of defeat on your part. But now you're back to the same old same old? Why post the thing if you don't believe it?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 13, 2006 9:23 PM

Guys who others don't appreciate cost less. If you have money you can buy a lot of them.

So, nobody appreciated Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, etc.? Ok.

Posted by: Gary at September 13, 2006 9:27 PM

I know Moose will choke. Wang is an unknown.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 9:28 PM

Indeed, Ortiz was waived by the Twins. Millar was on his way to Japan. Bellhorn always gets released.

Abreu was traded for Kevin Stocker...

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 9:32 PM

Yep, them Red sox and Yankees is full of chumps nobody else wanted. That's why their payroll is so low.

Posted by: Gary at September 13, 2006 10:09 PM

Don't need to be full, if you have money. But the Yankees are title-less in the 21st Century because they got away from that philosophy and the Red Sox are rebuilding around it.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 10:22 PM

I knew they'd near the divisional finish line on fumes, though they've sputtered a bit more than I imagined they would.

Posted by: Dave W at September 14, 2006 10:09 AM