Friday, October 15, 2004


News Of The Day - 10/15/04

Tigers Withdraw Offer to Justin Verlander - Baseball America, 10/14/04

Apparently, Verlander was asking for the moon: a major league deal that would ensure him a slot on the Tigers' 40-man roster and increase his earning potential sooner, and a hefty increase over the $3,350,000 bonus that Kyle Sleeth signed for after being drafted by the Tigers in 2003.

This appears to continue the Tigers' dreadful record in obtaining good top-tier talent with their #1 draft pick. Here's a sobering statistic: in the last 20 years, only four of the Tigers' #1 picks have ever had even a decent MLB season: Tony Clark, Justin Thompson, Jeff Weaver and Matt Anderson. The jury is still out on whether Eric Munson can join that group. But suffice it to say that they Tigers have had awful luck with their #1's. Take a gander at the #1 picks the team has made in the last 20 years:

Randy Nosek
Phil Clark
Bill Henderson
Steve Pegues
Rico Brogna
Greg Gohr
Tony Clark
Rick Greene
Matt Brunson
Cade Gaspar
Mike Drumright
Seth Greisinger
Matt Anderson
Jeff Weaver
Eric Munson
Matt Wheatland
Kenneth Baugh
Scott Moore
Kyle Sleeth

Yeesh -- doesn't look too good, does it? (Just who the hell was Cade Gaspar, anyway?)

OK, so, just to make lemonade out of lemons: just because a player is picked #1 in the draft does not necessarily mean he is going to be a stud player in the bigs. Just taking a look through the #1 picks in the last 20 years:

You can clearly see this is the case. Yes, some of the greatest players in the game today, such as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Todd Helton, J. D. Drew (the last overall #1 or #2 not to have been signed), and Lance Berkman, among others, are on this list. But so many others -- Vlad Guerrero, Adrian Beltre, Jim Edmonds, Bobby Abreu, Miguel Tejada, Scott Rolen, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, and of course Albert Pujols, are not. Mike Piazza is famous for both being the greatest hitting catcher in history and for being a 62nd round pick taken by Tommy Lasorda as a favor for a family friend.

This is especially true of pitchers. Of the top 40 pitchers in VORP (top 20 AL, top 20 NL) this year, only eight were first round picks: Jake Westbrook; C.C. Sabathia; Ben Sheets; Mark Mulder; Chris Carpenter; Jaret Wright; Brad Lidge; and Jeff Weaver. The other 32 top pitchers were all passed up in the draft by every other team, some of them multiple times.

The fact is, a #1 draft pick is not as essential for MLB as it is for the NFL or NBA, which have many fewer rounds and rely on institutions completely out of their control for player development. Also, an entire class of player -- those born outside the U.S. and Canada and who do not play organized ball in either of these countries -- fall completely outside the amateur draft system. There have been talks about expanding the draft to include international players, but this idea resides in limbo for the moment.

So, what does this mean for the Tigers short-term? This appears to free up some money to make good on Mike Ilitch's threat: increase payroll spending to bring aboard major league-ready talent in order to improve the Tigers right away. Watch for them to become very active in the free agent market over the next several months.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Ken Caminiti: Bad Guy or Victim?

By now everyone has heard about the death of Ken Caminiti. Stories about him have focused mostly on his life, his family, his various addictions, and the impact his death might have on the future of steroid testing in MLB.

But there is an interesting discussion going on in the Detroit Tigers newsgroup about the Caminiti story. The question is basically coming down to this: was Ken Caminiti a bad guy for allowing himself to get mixed up in drugs, or was he a victim of his addictions and thus unable to break free from them?

The thread in question started off this way:

"Apparently Caminiti would do anything to excel. I think the idea is not that you'll do anything, but that you'll do the right things. God bless his soul now - that's all that's left for him. As for the players still with us, one wonders if the MLBPA might actually consider getting serious about the issue of steroids and move more aggressively to get rid of them. I'm not much for unions, but I'd rather be in a union that acts in my best interest rather than a union that wants to shield me from any check or balance on my behavior - even behavior that might kill me."

The discussion quickly turned to moral terms:

"You know, I'm having a hard time feeling sorry for the guy. He was a perfectly healthy person, had plenty going well for him, and he really pissed away his life by continuing his drug habits. I feel badly for his family and friends, and hope this serves as a lesson for anyone in the same sad habit to get their act together, but I just don't know that I feel sorry for the guy."

This statement generated this response:

"Well, he's certainly not an innocent victim, and you might even argue, I suppose, that he deserved his fate. But I thank God that I haven't gotten everything I've deserved in life. Since I've enjoyed mercy and grace, I'm genuinely sad that people like Ken Caminiti and Bubba Helms will not be able to enjoy any more of it.

"Call me a sucker, I guess. When irresponsible people destroy their own lives, it breaks my heart every time."

Which led to this:

"Ugh, I have to get into this discussion. This statement "When irresponsible people destroy their own lives, it breaks my heart every time." really hits home for me. I have a brother who is a heroin addict and I have been raising his children for the last eight years. We legally adopted them when the state took away their parental rights, so the fact that when you said "irresponsible people destroy their own lives" you HAVE to realize it's not just their own lives that are affected. Think about all the innocent crack babies out there, they did nothing wrong but are going to have a life of lowered intelligence, irregular behavior and many more problems. I, personally, have no feelings, good or bad, about this Caminiti dude. I just wonder how many people he has screwed over with his drug usage. I'm sure his addiction ruined many people's lives around him. Those are the ones to feel bad for."

The response to this:

"Exactly. Ken Caminiti pissed away his life and tampered those of others. I was at a walk for ALS Sunday. I did Race for the Cure this year for a friend who left behind a husband and 4 year old son. There are plenty of kids that are in the same boat that John's nieces/nephews are in or are like my nephew who won't ever know one of his real parents (which in a roundabout way is good since the creep doesn't deserve to know what a wonderful kid he is ignoring). I feel bad for people like this, that are thrown disadvantages and heartbreak through the fault of someone else or no one in particular. Ken Caminiti had it made compared to some. But he chose to slowly kill himself anyway. I have a hard time feeling badly for someone like that."

So the conclusion the group seemed to be coming to was that Ken Caminiti was a sinner who willfully destroyed the lives of his children in order to gain whatever advantage for himself.

But then, out of nowhere, came another point of view -- a beautifully written point of view -- from someone named Donna, whom I had never seen post to the group before:

"I don't think it's a matter of whether you should feel "sorry" for him or not. I think his life is just one more example of how strong some drug addictions are. If you haven't ever been addicted to something, you wouldn't be able to understand. I've never taken drugs, but I smoked cigarettes for years. It took me years to quit and I knew the whole time they were bad for me. Ken knew he wanted to stop using drugs, he just didn't know how to stop. And unfortunately, the so-called experts around him like his drug counselor and [probation] person, all sound clueless to me in the quotes they gave after he died. I wished he could have had better help. It may have made a difference. Even on his last day, he was reaching out for help and didn't have anyone around him.

There has to be a complete change in the person's life and spiritual thinking in order to finally change. Ken was a good guy who in spite of all of his drug use, was very much loved by everyone. He wasn't one of those abusive addicts. The opposite actually. He was a giver according to teammates, and he had absolutely no self esteem according to a writer who was working on a book with him. In fact, his former manager told a story that happened about 7 months ago. [Ken] showed up at spring training where he was a coach, and he had a bloody nose and bruises on his face. His girlfriend (who he met in rehab) had hit him in the nose 18 times. And Ken just stood there and took it. He let her keep hitting him. It's almost like he didn't think he deserved better.

So to me it's not a matter of whether people should feel sorry for him (he wouldn't want sympathy) - it's a matter of feeling sadness for another human being who was obviously in a lot of pain. If you don't feel something for him or other people in his situation, then that says more about your ability to empathize than anything else."

Wow. This post floored me. It absolutely, perfectly reflected my own position on this entire situation, but which I had not been able to articulate as effectively up to this point.

In the best way I could, I had to respond to Donna and the group with this (altered slightly for greater clarity):

"Donna, this has got to be the most powerfully-written explanation of people who have monster addictions that I have ever read. I must say I completely agree 100% with everything you say here.

When I heard the Ken Caminiti and the Bubba Helms stories, I felt somewhat ambivalent in my feelings about them. I knew I didn't feel exactly sorry for them, but I felt bad for them that they somehow could not change their circumstances even though they wanted to. I knew they did not have the proper help either available to them, or that the help they hired was not effective in helping to deal with the problem. I hit a roadblock trying to articulate my thoughts on this. You smashed through the roadblock and reflected my position on this perfectly, and far more effectively than I myself could have at this point in time.

As we all know, Ken Caminiti did have resources to get help available to him. But as you've inferred, Donna, just because one can afford the help doesn't mean the help you hire is the right help, or that the help even knows what they're doing. The help may be incompetent for all you know, yet you have no way to assess that. People make bad choices in doctors, dentists, lawyers, contractors, financial advisors, etc., all the time, through no fault of their own. Just having the money available to you doesn't guarantee the help you hire is going to be the best.

I feel especially bad for Bubba Helms. Here's a guy who grew up in an environment where he was allowed to drop out of school in eighth grade, rendering himself undereducated, who was possibly (probably) mentally unstable, stuck in small-town Tennessee where there's little good employment, where there's nothing else to do, where there is probably no effective professional help for people battling drug addiction (and likely a culture that eschews seeking out such help as being a sign of personal weakness), and where drugs are rife to feed the addictions that people who have no resources, no hope, and no future need to quell the pain -- my God, what chance did the guy have?

There are a tremendous number of people, especially in this newsgroup, who want to paint the Caminiti and Helms situations as personal moral failings. They reason that the addicted ones made bad choices, pissed away their lives, and destroyed the lives of people around them, and for that they must be punished. These addicts lacked the will and the gumption to "just say no". These simplistic, self-righteous moralists would have you think that the Caminitis and Bubbas are the world are no better than human garbage to be darwinized out of existence for the good of mankind.

But as you've articulated so exquisitely, Donna, the truth is far more nuanced than that. You have brought an eloquent highly-reasoned point of view to this discussion, and for that I thank you."

I just posted this response to the newsgroup a few minutes ago, so I do not know what the reaction is going to be. It's doubtful that any minds will be changed about this issue, as people tend to hold on to their opinions in the face of all evidence to the contrary. But this discussion will continue to reverberate through the next week or so and then die out, only to be renewed when the next tragic story of death by addiction rekindles this debate.

Monday, October 11, 2004


News Of The Day - 10/11/04

Report: Mets seek to interview Gibson for manager - Freep, 10/11/04
I gues my dream of getting Gibby back in the Tiger TV booth with Josh Lewin is becoming increasingly remote.

Would Kirk Gibson make a good manager? I don't know. He sure won't take any guff from the players -- that's the word, anyway. But will normally-pampered superstars respond to his fire-and-brimstone methods? It might be viscerally pleasing to see Gibby put me-first superstars in their place, but does that automatically result in better production and more winning from the team overall? That's something that we would have to see -- and also would be fun to see.

I would miss the idea of having the spirit of Gibby (and the huge bushy 70's Fu Manchu of Gibby) around the Tigers' clubhouse, although it is the dream of every coach to snag a big-league managing job, so all I can say is: good luck, Gibby. I selfishly hope you don't get it.

Sunday, October 10, 2004


Why People Like Sacrifices and Not Superstars

With the Cubs collapse of late September came the quest among the media and the fans to point the finger of blame to explain why the team didn't make the playoffs. Many people, of course, fingered Sammy Sosa, since he is the guy making $17 million and therefore is the perfect target for such criticism. Of course, his unprofessional behavior on the last day of the season didn't help his protestations contrary to that criticism. (But then, many people in Chicago never embraced Sammy Sosa anyway.)

But another interesting theory came up a month earlier, and then came in handy at the end of the season: that the Cubs rely too much on the home run. I mean, look at the evidence: they led the league in home runs, right? That's bad. The Cubs should be manufacturing runs, sacrificing, executing hit-and-run, playing scrappy, hard-nosed "little ball" instead of relying on brute strength. It's because the Cubs wait around only to hit homers that they lost the opportunity to go to the playoffs.

Both of these excuses, I think, represent a basic insecurity in people that leads them to lash out at superachievers in order to cut them down to size (or at least to their own size). You could call it the "Revenge Of The Common Man" syndrome. People are naturally insecure with those who are much much bigger, stronger, better looking, richer, more accomplished, etc., and it leads them to contemplate their "failings" in themselves, and they don't like the way they look in comparison. So people look to revel in a superstar's failure, because failure would render the superstar no better than the gloating average person. It's this same syndrome that leads people to celebrate those seemingly universal traits that they themselves can reasonably lay claim to, such as hard-work, perseverance, diligence, grittiness, willingness to sacrifice, etc.

And it is exactly because of this syndrome that people like David Eckstein so well. Eckstein is a little guy who appears to embody all these traits, and as a bonus also looks innocent and unassuming, so people identify with him and celebrate his meager triumphs as their own. Never mind that the guy is a millionaire who would absolutely humiliate these people and everyone else in their slo-pitch softball leagues -- because the guy is small by MLB standards, he's easy to identify with. On the other hand, there's no way Joe Whiteguy from the suburbs or the sticks is going to identify with, let alone like or care about, those big, strong, lumbering (or superfast) -- and frequently black or Latino -- superstars.

I'm not saying these average people are wrong or that I think they should change their way of thinking. What I think about them is immaterial, because they're not going to change in any case. After all, we're dealing with a law of human nature here. But it helps for me to understand this, since preferring sacrifices over home runs and scrappy average players over home run-hitting superstars is by all appearances irrational behavior.


News Of The Day - 10/10/04

Bonderman Can Win 20 - Detroit News, 10/10/04

When I first saw this article from Lynn Henning show up on my computer screen this morning, my first one-second blush was a little nervousness. I thought perhaps we might be seeing an article in which Bonderman would be promoted as someone who could win 20 games all by himself, regardless of his teammates. Many baseball writers author such articles from that position, spoken or unspoken.

I have an issue with using win-loss records to assess pitcher effectiveness. That is, I don't believe they should be used at all, and they are exceedingly misleading because wins and losses are not the pitcher's sole responsibility. All the pitcher can do is pitch well and try to keep runners from reaching base by making them hit their pitches, whether out of the zone or off-speed, so batters hit the ball in suboptimal ways to create easier fielding chances, or not hit the ball at all and strike out. Despite what some people would have you believe, a pitcher has absolutely nothing to do with how much offense his team generates while he's pitching, nor can he controls how effective his relievers are in maintaining his leads or preventing his bequeathed runners from scoring. And that's at the core of my belief about win-loss records as a measure of pitcher effectiveness.

Here's my favorite example: given the following records, which pitcher would you have rather had on your team in 1987, A or B?

Pitcher A: 211.2 IP, 154 H, 87 BB, 270 SO, 2.76 ERA, VORP 55.8
Pitcher B: 229.2IP, 250 H, 86 BB, 123 SO, 4.39 ERA, VORP 24.0

You smart people probably know by now that Pitcher A is Nolan Ryan, who led the league in ERA that year with an 8-16 record, while Pitcher B is Shane Rawley with a 17-11 record. Look only at W-L, you'd never have taken Ryan over Rawley. But because Ryan got piss-poor run support from his Astros teammates, and Rawley got among the best support from his bullpen in the league, the W-L records are what they are.

Therefore, I was pleased then to see that Henning did qualify that Bonderman could win 20 on a good team, rather than willing himself to 20 wins all on his own. The question is whether Henning is speaking from a rational position, or whether he's drinking the Kool-Aid.

It is true that Bonderman does rank third among starting pitchers in the AL for K/9, and for a 21-year old, that is very impressive. He does have great baffling stuff, and his ability to control that will be key. He has shown some spottiness on that front so far, walking 3.6 batters per 9, and he does have a bit of a gopher ball, placing in the middle-to-bottom among starters on both fronts.

On the flip side: the kid is only 21. Very few 21 year-olds have pitched even this effectively at that age, and some of the names of those who did include Kerry Wood, Frank Tanana, Nolan Ryan, Sam McDowell, Bob Feller, Dennis Eckersley, Tom Gordon, Hal Newhouser, Vida Blue, Dan Sutton and Jose Rijo. Very few schlubs in that group.

So, all in all, I agree with Lynn Henning: given a good team, it is not impossible for Jeremy Bonderman to win 20 games as early as next year.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


An Ad Hoc AL Fielding Metaranking Study

Believe me, I understand the complexities of cobbling together existing fielding statistics to arrive at a definitive assessment of how many runs players and teams save or allow by their defensive play. Or more exactly, I understand that I don't know it, and nobody else really does, either. Much greater minds than you or I have been stumped by this riddle.

However, I'm on the leading edge of the MTV Generation, so I want an answer, like, now. So rather than spend the next several years studying this enigma, I'm going to serve up an ad hoc system that took me all of about three hours to think about and develop.

In this system, I take three basic defensive measurements -- Fielding Percentage, adjusted Range Factor, and Zone Rating -- and mix and match a team's ranking within each for each position. (Adjusted Range Factor reflects the factoring out of strikeouts from total outs, since current the RF measurement penalizes teams that play with high strikeout pitching staffs.)

The blended ranking -- or "metaranking" - that results essentiallys sum the rankings in each. But rather than summing them up directly, I weight the rankings for each position based on the relative importance each metric counts for the position.

For instance, for SS and 2B, the weighting is: FPCT*1 + aRF*3 + ZR*5 = metaranking. The ability to get to maximum balls hit in your area is very important, and the actual error rate on those balls are relatively negligible. On the flip side, for 1B, the weighting is FPCT*2 + aRF*1 + ZR*1. For this position the ability to handle all types of throws cleanly is most valued, with less emphasis on range, thus more emphasis on fielding percentage.

Please note that the weightings I apply are not based on any statistical analysis I did for each position. It was more like, wet my finger, stick it in the air, and use the prevailing winds (and my 35-year knowledge of baseball) to arrive at what seems to be a reasonable weighting for each position.

Here is a link to how each team in the AL metaranks at each position:

And, this being a Tigers blog, the Tigers' 2004 final fielding stats:

Here is how the Tigers rank against the best and worst teams at each position. The set of three numbers next to each position indicate the weighting of ranks in FPCT, aRF and ZR respectively; the set of three numbers next to each team indicate that teams rank in each of those three metrics:

1B (3/1/1)
First: Detroit 1/9/5 = 17
Last: Seattle 12/14/10 = 60

Carlos Pena has been a solid, sharp 1B for the Tigs, but Dmitri Young surprisingly turned in 211 innings of perfect play at 1B, so that helped Detroit achieve a #1 ranking here.

2B (1/3/5)
First: Toronto 5/1/6 = 38
Detroit: 6th 13/4/7 = 60
Last: Seattle: 12/14/10 = 104

Omar Infante drove most of the Tiger rating with over 800 innings, and he was a shade above average. Jason Smith and Fernando Vina pushed up the team's aRF in their 500 innings. And you gotta admit: Seattle is awfully consistent (and consistently awful) so far.

SS (1/3/5)
First: Oakland 4/2/2 = 20
Detroit: 5th 6/4/7 = 53
Last: Texas: 9/13/13 = 113

Another respectable showing for the Tigers as Carlos Guillen clocked 1,150 innings here. Couple with his .318/.379/.542 A-Rod-imitative offensive performance, he was clearly the best shortstop in the league this year. In fact, if he could have played 160 games, Guillen would have had a fairly legitimate shot at an MVP award.

3B (1/2/2)
First: Oakland 2/1/1 = 6
Detroit: 12th 13/5/14 = 51
Last: Anaheim 11/8/13 = 53

This is what not having a major league-quality 3B will do for you: put you two points from the bottom in fielding metarankings. When you need Brandon Inge to outperform everyone else to keep you out of the basement, you know you have trouble. This is a key reason I added 3B to our list of Tigers' needs.

How about Eric Chavez -- #1 in aRF and ZR, #2 in 3B fielding. The guy is worth his weight in gold, baby. (And while we're at it, Bobby Crosby doesn't suck at SS, either.)

LF (2/5/8)
First: Tampa Bay 2/2/4 = 46
Detroit: 3rd 14/8/1 = 76
Last: Boston 12/14/14 = 206

Craig Monroe's poor performance in LF notwithstanding, Tigs fare pretty well here with three main people you wouldn't expect to do so hot. Rondell White's and Marcus Thames' outstanding ZRs make the difference here.

CF (1/3/5)
First: Seattle 6/1/3 = 24
Detroit: 7th 14/10/4 = 64
Last: Texas 3/14/13 = 110

Just how bad is Alex Sanchez as an outfielder? If he played every inning in CF this year, he would be dead last in every category, by a long shot. As it stands, Nook Logan, Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe (who inexplicably made no errors in 189 CF innings while making eight errors in 446 innings, with decent ZR) lifted the Tigers up to 7th place in the metaranking.

RF (2/5/8)
First: Detroit 13/6/1 = 64
Last: New York 9/9/13 = 167

Bobby Higginson got more comfortable in his new position and turned in a typically fine defensive effort out there, even tying for the league lead in assists. (I personally saw him get a great one in July in which he threw out Ross Gload trying to advance to third on a second, throwing the ball to third on the fly. Amazing.) Fact is, though, it was Craig Monroe that elevated the Tigers to 1st place, again with great aRF and ZR.

Always good to see the Yankees in last place. Thanks, Sheff!

P (1/2/2)
First: Texas 1/1/2 = 7
Last: Detroit 12/13/8 = 54

Mike Maroth did very well, and Gary Knotts was passable, but the rest of the starting staff was just awful awful awful.

You will notice that I don't have a table available for catcher, since the three measures don't really apply to the position, and the ESPN team fielding table for catchers doesn'thave unique catcher fielding metrics such as SB attempts, CS %, or PBs. But reviewing the top catchers listed on the individual catching stats table, we see Pudge's reputation kept steal attempts at the lowest per 9 innings of any qualifying catcher, although CS % was middle of the road (perhaps because only the very best base-stealers made attempts against him). He also had fewer-than average passed balls and more-than-average errors and assists. All in all, he looks to have been an average-to-high-average catcher for the Tigers, not bad considering the wear and tear he has put on his body in his 16 years of professional ball.


News Of The Day - 10/9/04

Tigers pick up Colby Lewis -- Freep 10/9/04

My Take: This is a low risk move with a potentially high reward. Lewis is known to have had a mid-90s fastball with great late movement (maybe too much) and a very sharp curve. He was also developing a slider as a hedge against those two pitches because he frequently experienced loss of command. All that is pending his ability to comeback from rotator cuff surgery in May. Talk is that he might make a closer, but the Tigers should not close the book on the possibility of his becoming a starter. First step, however, is to see how he fares comes March.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


And Now For Something Completely Boston

The awful miscue that Manny Ramirez made in the field in the sixth inning of tongiht's game, which led directly to the Angels' two runs, was definitely rec league softball level. Chris Berman then said something that made me immediately suspicious: he inferred Manny Ramirez was a pretty good fielder when it comes to making spectacular catches, but on the the easy ones ... well, sometimes ...

I went right to the ESPN LF fielding rankings, and Chris Berman was definitely being diplomatic. Manny Ramirez is, in fact, the worst fielding LF in the American League. And it ain't even close:

ESPN AL LF Fielding Rankings


Fewer Hitters That Really Suck

Was reviewing Lee Sinins' final stats package for the American League, looking through the part discussing Runs Created Above Average (RCAA). This refers to how many Runs Created an average player contributes above or below the average player at that position, adjusted for things like park factors and whatnot. I uploaded that portion to my website -- please click here:

The thing that immediately struck me is that the Tigers are the only team in the AL without any hitters who had as low as -10 RCAA. The Indians were close, with only one player exceeding -10 RCAA (Tim Laker, -11).

This points to my earlier post about Alan Trammell today -- he did not waste plate appearances on hitters who really suck. And to me, the most amazing thing about this is that it took Fernando Vina a mere 131 plate appearances to lead the team in negative RCAA for the entire year.

Like I said when we signed the guy back in December: that's $6 million gone "whoosh" down the toilet.


The Amazing, The Spectacular, The One And Only …

... Brandon Inge?

There is no one (except the most optimistic of his immediate family members) who, or nothing (not even the most optimistic of PECOTA projections) that, could have predicted that this flailing, wimpy, MLB-worst hitter of a year ago today would blossom into the .287/.340/.453 hitter of 2004.

The question is, then: is his performance this season sustainable? Does it represent actual improvement, a move to another level of hitting, or is this more like a Norm Cash-esque spike season wrought Inge-sized?

To try to determine that, let's review a few of the statistics that might help diagnose his season and provide a realistic prognosis.

Q: Is Inge more patient at the plate this year? Is he taking more pitches and thus seeing better pitches to hit?
A: Inge's pitches per PA:

Year PA #Pit Pit/PA
2001 202 753 3.73
2002 351 1479 4.21
2003 366 1487 4.06
2004 458 1807 3.95

He may be seeing better pitches to hit, but it's may not be because he's seeing more pitches or is being more patient than before. What's missing from this analysis is how many balls and called strikes he took (more = more patient), and how many foul balls he hit (more = not more patient). But given the information at hand, it's safe to say that he's not more patient this year than before.

Q: Is Inge hitting with more power this year?
A: Inge's ISP (Isolated Power, SLG-AVG):

2001 .180 .238 .058
2002 .202 .333 .131
2003 .203 .339 .136
2004 .287 .453 .167

One saving grace of Inge's hitting profile had been that he's had pretty fair power for a catcher -- that is, not that which you would expect from the worst hitter in the majors. Inge had in fact average power, since AL catchers' positional ISP tends to be in the .125 to .140 range. This year Inge kicked it up a notch, to .167. Of course, he spent a little more than half his defensive innings at 3B, and his ISP this year is more reflective of a 3B positional average. But players don't hit better or worse based on the position they play (although you could argue that it might be so for catchers because of moving away from a more physically demanding position). That is, just because Inge moved to 3B doesn't mean he's going to hit like an average 3B all of a sudden, simply because of the move. So, I think we can call this a likely step up in power for Inge, particularly since at 27 he is at an age we see this kind of bump up in power.

Q: Was Inge consistent in his batting stats during the year?
A: Here's how Inge did on a month by month basis:

April 54 .333 .410 .574 .984
May 68 .235 .307 .338 .645
June 43 .372 .431 .628 1.059
July 49 .204 .226 .408 .635
Aug 85 .306 .362 .424 .785
Sept 98 .286 .324 .408 .732
Oct 11 .273 .273 .727 1.000

Not real consistent, but then, it's not unusual to see players' monthly performances vary widely during the course of the year. (Even Barry Bonds varied from .472/.696/1.132/1.828 to .250/.532/.452/.1.074. What other player wouldn't want that worst month line of his?) However, you can see where the months of April and June stand out as being outstanding for Inge, and did a lot to increase his season numbers overall. The interesting thing here is that with more playing time late in the year, Inge did not regress to his MLB-worst form of prior years, instead posting a for-him-respectable batting line.

Q: How did Inge's BABIP fare this year versus prior years?
A: Inge's BABIP:

2001 .230
2002 .272
2003 .243
2004 .322

This to me is the most interesting stat of all. BABIP stands for "batting average on balls in play", essentially subtracting home runs and strikeouts to see how a player hits when he hits the ball to where fielders could potentially turn it into an out. This number is generally stable for hitters, but could go up or down depending on whether there are sea-changes to the way the ball comes off the hitter's bat (less likely), and on whether the player is luckier and getting more seeing-eye hits than usual (more likely).

I believe in Inge's case, it's a little of both. A significant jump in BABIP along with a jump in ISP indicates that Inge may indeed be hitting the ball harder. It's more likely that hard-hit grounders will get through the infield being hard hit than soft-hit grounders, with a resulting increase in batting average. However, taken against the inconsistency in monthly performance shown above, where two months drove Inge's vast improvement for the year, it's also likely that Brandon Inge experienced more luck than usual during certain months.

OK, Chuck, so bottomline this for me.

I believe that Inge did experience some increase in hitting prowess this year, and that we will continue to see the benefits of this improvement into next year. However, I also believe that he has morphed into more of a .240/.300/.390 than into the .287/.340/.453 that we saw in 2004. That may be OK enough for a starting catcher, but that's not at all good for a starting 3B.

Inge has some value as a utility player, and I wouldn't mind keeping him around as a 25th player and using him in spot starts, sparing him no more than 250 PAs. But if the Tigers think that Brandon Inge is the answer to their 3B issue, I'm afraid they'll be in for a disappointment in 2005.


News Of The Day - 10/6/04

Trammell will stay through '06 season - Detroit News 10/6

While I'm not wild about Tram's tendency to play National League ball -- he was 3rd in the AL calling for sac hits, with 50, for instance -- I think Tram made really good strides this year. The team was more patient at the plate (518 BB 6th/AL vs. 2003's 443 BB 12th/AL), and there was noticeable improvement on the mound in striking out hitters (995 vs. 764), doing a better job to keep the ball out of play, and cutting down on the free passes (530 vs. 557).

One thing I noticed about Tram is that he's good at maximizing his team's hitting strengths and minimizing the weaknesses -- that is, he did a good job giving more plate appearances to his top producers. Doing a quick table using BP's VORPr as the metric for comparison, Trammell gave 77.6% of his non-pitcher plate appearances to his top 10 VORPr players -- in other words, his best producers on a PA-by-PA basis. This was good for 8th among MLB teams in 2004. While this ad hoc ranking does not correlate greatly to overall ranking in runs scored -- VORPr ranking is relative among a team's members and not among the league in general, and some teams naturally have more good run producers than others -- it does show that Trammell was not bent on throwing away plate appearances on healthy offensive sinkholes like Eric Munson, like so many managers do (think Art Howe and Tony Pena).

(It also didn't hurt that two poor contributors, Alex Sanchez and Fernando Vina, collected most of their paychecks propped on the couch taking painkillers.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Tiger Players Home Runs: Home vs. Road

Tigers proved to be a pretty good power hitting team this year, finishing with 201, good for fifth in the league. Moreover, they made some hay in the news toward the end as Marcus Thames' two homers on Saturday gave them 11 players with 10+ home runs, setting a major league record.

This home run record is especially amazing considering Comerica still is one of the worst home run ballparks in the majors, with a HR PF of 87.

I became interested in looking how many home runs Tiger players hit at home and on the road. I created an Excel table to post, only to find that it is not possible to post Excel tables directly to this blog. So I did the next best thing: I created a GeoCities site and uploaded a web page version of the table I created. Here is the table (sorry about the stupid ad on the right-hand side):

This table show the rate at which Tiger players hit home runs at home and on the road in 2004, using HR per AB (HR%) as the metric.

Some interesting things jump out at us:

- Only three players hit homers at home at a greater rate than on the road: Eric Munson, Brandon Inge and Marcus Thames. Munson is the only left-hander of the three.
- Omar Infante hit more HRs on the road, but he also had more ABs on the road. In terms on HR%, he was basically the same at home and on the road. Craig Monroe also hit HRs at the same rate at home and on the road. Both are righties.
- No other Tigers had a Home HR% index higher than 79, including Carlos Pena and Bobby Higginson, both hooks, and Dmitri Young and Carlos Guillen, both switchers.

Despite these individual anomalies, this does not prove that right-handers are at no greater disadvantage hitting HRs at home than left-handers. When you lump the top 11 Tiger home run hitters into their handedness categories, we find that righties (88) and lefties (83) have roughly the same propensity for HR% at home vs. road.


News Of The Day

PARTLY SUNNY, 72: Tigers complete 29-game turnaround, but still have long way to go - Freep 10/4

Goofy numerical wordplay aside, this appears to be a typical John Lowe article: valid on some fronts, off-base on others.

John is right in that the Tigers have a long way to go. Seventy-two wins is a great step, and more than the 66 that I myself had predicted (largely due to their overachievement in offense), but it's not a reason to pop the corks.

But John undermines his own credibility by stating that Comerica "achieved the difficult feat of being friendly to both the home run and the triple". While that's true of the triple, Comerica is absolutely not friendly to the home run, as this ESPN park factor analysis indicates. For those of you too lazy to click, Comerica yields 13% fewer home runs than the average park (23rd among MLB parks), but 79% more triples (tops in the majors by a hair). Given the ease with which reporters can check their assertions before they commit to them on paper, this kind of lazy reporting should not be tolerated.

Regarding Lowe's statistic that 58 home runs have landed between the new LF and old LF fences: If that's true, that would have reduced the total home runs at Comerica from 182 to 124 -- essentially making the park factor for HRs 59. That's probably right, since the HR park factor in 2000 was 61 and in 2001 was 69.

Interesting stat: The Tigers definitely were hurt by Comerica on the HR front, with 87 at home versus 114 on the road. Opponents, however clobbered HRs against Tiger pitching at the exact same rate in Comerica as on the road -- 95 each. Coincidental? Yes.

Interesting, too, how Higginson says he had "10 great years" in Detroit. I don't know whose record he's looking at, but it's more like two great years, four fair-to-decent years, and four lousy years.

GENE GUIDI: More moves needed for better '05 - Freep 10/4

There are basically five things Guidi says the Tigers need for next year. Let's take these in order, then let's add a few:

1. A couple of strong late inning arms.

I'm OK with this assertion. Tigers did well with Jamie Walker, Esteban Yan (despite Guidi's ambivalence) and Ugie (God bless him), but otherwise, we had the 3rd worst relief corps in the AL, and got positively awful performances from Al Levine (especially first half), the departed Darryl Patterson, Gary Knotts, and the soon-to-be-unemployed Steve Colyer. Relievers are cheap and plentiful.

2. A reliable CF

No argument here. I'm thinking offensively as well as defensively. Alex "Run 'Til You're Out" Sanchez is a disaster at the plate (despite his freakish ability to hit bunt singles), on the basepaths (19 SB but 13 CS) and in the field (9 errors, most in the AL, in just half a season; subpar range factor and zone rating). Nook had a very good tenure in CF this year, and while he's not as good at the plate as even Run 'Til You're Out, he is only 24 and he has more future than Alex, who might make good trade bait. Might Nook be ready for prime time next year? I know Curtis Granderson is considered the CF of the future, but Nook could make a good placeholder until that day comes.

3. Top-drawer starting pitcher

This is on the wish list of many teams. Why should we be any different? There are lots of good names out there, too many to even speculate. But I wouldn't mind seeing the Tigers make overtures for Brad Radke, Jaret Wright, Odalis Perez or Matt Clement. I think this is the move to make for 2005 given the state of our system. Dobrowski is spinning it as a strength, but with the likes of James Baldwin, Shane Loux, Andy Van Hekken, Pat Ahearne and Matt Roney down there, I'm not holding my breath. Preston Larrison and Kenny Baugh are still made of glass, and Kyle Sleeth is probably due no earlier than 2006 and possibly 2007.

4. Another thumper in the middle of the lineup

Really? What do you think of Marcus Thames? I think he's ready.

5. Better defense

Tigers finished 12th out of 14 teams in defensive efficiency, with a rating of 0.6859. But is this really a major problem? The top team in the AL had a rating of 0.7013 and bottom team had a 0.6766; the AL average is 0.6907. Given how close the ratings are from the top to bottom, just how mission-critical is improving your defense? I know 144 errors looks bad, and allowing 70 runners on errors seems awful -- but it's not like this makes a difference of 10 or 15 wins. Maybe 2 or 3 -- maybe.

Now while we're at it, how about a couple more?

A real major-league 3B

Despite his out-of-nowhere-good-(for-him)-season, Brandon Inge ain't a major league 3B. We have nobody in the system ready to take it over, so we should look to free agents. Adrian Beltre is out of our reach, but how about Corey Koskie or Bill Mueller (if the Red Sox don't pick up his option)?

Better production out of 1B

Twenty-seven home runs not withstanding, Carlos Pena is running out of time to be at least an average producer out of the position (11th in VORPr among 1B with 250+ PAs). The guy is 26, so this is likely everything we're going to see out of him, although a career surge is possible. I could withstand maybe another year at a couple million, but I'd prefer to find something better out of 1B, and soon.

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