Monthly Archives: June 2013

Infante Should’ve Bunted In The 4th.

If you follow the right SABR inclined people, and even the your fairly typical, lifelong, American League-only supporter, on Twitter, they’ll all tell you how much bunting sucks. 

They’re anti-bunt in just about any situation.

I’m not pro-bunt, but coming having grown up ‘in the National League’ so to speak as a Phillies fan, I recognize the value in a good bunt. We’re going to come back to the underline. 

The stat guys will be beat me over the head with their precise numbers to indicate to me how absurd it is to give up one of 27 precious outs. Bunting went against the tenets of those early 00s Moneyballing A teams. 

I think the only thing to combat those very sturdy statistics is context, and the human intuition for the game. I’ve always lived by my claim that I believe in an effective balance of supportive and definitive stats, and a subjective, corporeal feel and experience for the game. I get a little frustrated with the super stat guys when they’re solely guided by the cold absolution of their numbers. If that’s the case, why have managers? Just elect someone to make every decision, in any sport with the growing movement of analytics, ‘by the book’, or the spreadsheet. 

Numbers are very helpful. Numbers tell me that Justin Verlander’s velocity is down, and his location is off leading to more line drives and a higher batting average on balls in play. Indisputable. Eyes, indict, stats convict. 

However, human beings play games. 

Back to the anti-bunt stuff. In the bottom of the fourth of the Tigers game last night, the Tigers were up 3-2, with first and second, no one out and the efficient, experienced sacrificer Omar Infante (55 career sacs) at bat, with the lineup about to turn over after he and Brayan Pena. 

I’m mostly certain statistics will say DON’T BUNT. Dane De Rosa relieved Angels spot starter Billy Bucker to face Infante. Flame thrower against dead fastball hitter. Leyland didn’t have Infante bunt, and since he meekly popped out to short right, I don’t even think he was asked to move the runners over. OK, I’ll buy Leyland wanted a fastball hitter to take a whack at a guy who was coming in to throw just that pitch. Maybe the Tigers scouting report failed them. Maybe they didn’t know De Le Rosa had a plus-plus fastball and could possibly overpower Infante.

Statistics said don’t bunt. And not that stats are correct 100%, just as humans aren’t either. 

That half inning finished with Pena grounding out, runners to second and third. Austin Jackson walked and Torii Hunter struck out. 

Inning over.

First and second, no outs. No runs. 

I can’t predict the future, but had Infante moved the runners over, the universe is altered. Maybe Pena doesn’t ground out because the fielders are positioned differently, or the he’s pitched to differently.

I’m fairly certain Infante could’ve executed an effective bunt and moved the runners over. In a tight game, against an opponent you’ve got 7 straight against, with your 6th started on the mound, I’m scratching out runs how ever I can.

Pena or Jackson knocks in a run or two, and Jose Alvarez is given more of a cushion than just a single run. 

*Quick note. I’m vehemently against non-bunters bunting. It’s a recipe for disaster and the fastest way to kill an inning*

Later on, in the top of the 6th, most fans will say Leyland left Alvarez in one pitch too long. His 110th pitch was hit by Erick Aybar (1 HR every 83 ABs, though more HRs as a RHB) for a go ahead home run. After that, the Angels ran away from the Tigers for their eight straight win against Detroit. 

If the Tigers had had a bigger cushion than just a run perhaps Alvarez pitches Aybar differently and that home run never occurs. I don’t know, but I think that’s a very distinct possibility. Again, no one knows.

Let’s throw away the entire bunt scenario. Let’s put the Alvarez vs. Aybar matchup in the vacuum it was. 

I’m OK with Leyland leaving a tiring Alvarez in against the 8th hitter in the Angels lineup. Most stats, and even common sense would say after Chris Iannetta had just singled it was time for Alvarez to go. Maybe Leyland didn’t get the bullpen ready quickly enough and he was stuck with Alvarez for another batter. One batter too long.

However, this is where the human sensitivity of managing is injected into the equation, at least for me. 

Leyland, showing confidence in his young hurler, leaves Alvarez in to face Aybar and Brendan Harris. Out, and out.

Confidence is vital in life, but especially in sports. If Alvarez had gotten the final batters in the top of the 6th, he gets his Handshake of Doom coming back to the dugout and he’s exuberant that his cagey manager allowed him to get out of his own end-of-outing jam. Next time out on the mound – and I think Alvarez will have many next time’s during this 2013 odyssey – he’s out there with the belief that his manager knows he can succeed.

You may be able to drill down and piece three or four statistics together to prove something like a player’s increased confidence because of a previous decision, but I doubt it. 

And that’s why you’ll always need managers and coaches to do what they do. 

Spreadsheets can make a lot of strategy based decisions much easier, but no statistic or program can offer insight on how to connect to a person’s feelings, and how to inspire and motivate them. 

Check out my CIVIL(!!!!!) Twitter exchange last night with my new Tigers buddy Neil Weinberg. 

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If Not Papelbon…(or Crain…)

The Tigers currently have three reliable relievers Drew Smyly, Joaquin Benoit and Darin Downs. 

If that was your arsenal to navigate through October, perhaps with Rick Porcello in the ‘pen as well, the way that trio is performing at this moment you could have a reasonable amount of confidence, and not require any anti-psychotic medication.

The rub is that the Tigers still have 88 games left before they’ve got to worry about aligning their roster and rotation for the LDS (correct, they’re not entering the playoffs as a wild card). 

Leyland’s managed Smyly’s role well – and I adore his guts and his sneaky, filthy left reportoire – but he’s never done this a whole season. Will he maintain the success, or will the young southpaw succomb to the work load during the dog days?

At nearly 36, Benoit, in the last year of deal, undoubtedly seeking a final 8 to 10 million more dollars after this year to close out his career, is on pace to top his career high WAR of 2.4 back in 2007. If money is his motivation to accrue 20+ saves closer for the Tigers then so be it. The 9th inning question is closed. But with ‘stuff’ having almost never been in doubt with Benoit, there’s a reason he’s only tallied 13 career saves before this year. I AM a believer that final three outs of a tight ball game does usually require a particular temperment. 

I like Darin Downs. He’s overlooked and underrated by Tiger fans. I just wonder if he’s going to be relied on more heavily, he, like a utility player vaulted into a starting role, has weaknesses that are exposed and exploited. He may just be nothing more than a very dominant meta-LOOGY, allowing LH’s to hit just .205, vs. .283 for RH’s.

The Tigers don’t just require someone to arise as a closer, they need more/better alternatives in the bullpen aside from what resides there presently. The internal reinforcements include asecertaining whether Rondon can get Major Leaguers out, not just International Leaguers, and the should be running-out-of-chances likes of Villareal and Alburquerque.

Maybe unexpectedly Evan Reed or Luke Putkonen turns into some no-name to late season, October hero that the Cardinals seem to unearth on an annual basis (Motte, Rosenthal, Boggs, repeat). If you had Edward Mujica replacing the injured Jason Motte with 21 saves, please take over my pathetic fantasy team. 

Onto the point! 

Either Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is playing a nice hand of poker by according to Jon Heyman by placing an astronomical price tag on Jonathan Papelbon (and Cliff Lee, which is more appropriate IMO), or likes having a Ferrari in his snowy Alaskan driveway. Because that’s what having a $13 million dollar closer, not named Mariano Rivera, on a aging, mediocre team, bereft of elite prospects ensuring near-future success is like. Whew. Mouthful. 

If Dave Dombrowski doesn’t want to ante up for Papelbon and his postseason ERA of 1, then so be it. There ARE alternatives.

Jesse Crain and his Grilli’fied stuff over the least few years would be a welcome, but likely pricey addition to the Tigers bullpen. 

What about other names? Let’s scan the dregs of baseball, shall we? With some need-to-knows beside the candidates. 

The last place Brewers feature:

Francisco Rodriguez. 300 saves, dwindling fastball, but back healthy in 15 IP this year he features a WHIP of .71. Also, a 2.95 postseason ERA. Pricey, but not Papelbon pricey

Burke Badenhop. Journeyman ground ball speciliast. His career ground ball sits at 55%, while the average is 44%. Hit it AT Jhonny! Cheap.

Mike Gonzalez. Do the Tigers need another lefty in the pen? No, but while he’s a bit erratic (career 4 BB per 9 IP), he’s a strikeout per inning guy, and for a career LH’s hit .215 off him and RH’s are at .222. Injuries have kept him from being known as one of MLB’s finer setup guys. Cheap.

Kevin Gregg, Cubs. What!? He’s terrible! He’s so awful the Orioles are paying his salary for Chicago this year. The Cubs have benefitted to the tone of a 1.11 ERA from Gregg and a WHIP under 1. There’s risk, and he could disintegrate in the second half, but a plausible potential. Cheap, but not that cheap because Epstein knows what he’s doing in the Cubs rebuild.

Jose Veras, Astros. On his 6th team, fashiong more than 10 K’s per 9 IP, and a WHIP just over 1. If you’ll buy line drive percentage, he’s been sensational this year in avoiding squared up balls, with his LD% at 12% (average is 20). I also like this because if he’s acquired and any good, he’s potentially the setup man next year for a reason $3.2 million dollar option. Not cheap, but maybe verrrrry worth it

Steve Cishek, Ryan Webb, MarlinsTigers have scouted both? Cishek is someone we’ve heard mentioned as potential trade bait since Opening Day. What the hell do the Marlins need a closer for? Well, he’s cheap and pretty good. How would he perform in the crucible that is a chilly, fall pennant race? Webb? I can’t find anything that distinguished him as a potential asset to the Tigers bullpen. Sorry. You can look yourself

If the Marlins throw in Stanton…

Stop. He’s going Pittsburgh 😉

I know they have Glen Perkins (SABR-y lefty closer) and Brian Duensing, but Casey Fien of the Twins (former Tiger) caught my eye. In 70 games with the Twins the last two years he’s got a sub-1 WHIP, and a .220ish BABIP powered by his cutter he uses 45% of the time, which is just about equal to his fastball usage. Not sure

Lastly, let’s check out those wretched Mariners, with the caveat that Seattle may still be smarting from getting swindled out of Doug Fister. 

Charlie Furbush. Strikeout freak. Nearly 13 1/2 per 9 IP. He’s already walked as many as he did last year, but he’s got a nasty fastball/slider combo. He’s cheap for Seattle to maintain, so probably NO.

Tom Wilhemson. He sounds like someone in accounting, but I brought him up over the winter as a potential target in a Porcello swap. Did you know he saved 29 games last year? He may top that this year, but his K’s are down down down, but his fastball velocity is steady, though its usage is up to 70% (dude, shake off the 1!). His FIP is an absurd 4.02. All I’ll say is, that’s lousy, and FIP normalizes things like a pitcher’s defense. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. Wilhemson is also inexpensive for the Mariners, so unless the Tigers can convince Seattle he’s broken, when he’s really not…NOT LIKELY

Carter Capps. Lotta K’s, 37 in 29 IP, and lotta HRs allowed, 7. Pass

So there you go. On June 24th with much baseball left before the trade deadline, those are some non-Papelbon/Crain potential relievers for the Tigers to consider adding to their bullpen woes/questions/doubts/etc…

And that, once again is my unsolicited personnel free consultation to Mr. Dombrowski and Tiger fans worldwide. 

 

Tigers KKKKKKey Ingredrients For October Success.

Without going to Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odd grid (though I will in a moment), barring Cabrera & Fielder being traded to start an uncharacteristic (and something demanding an investigation) rebuild, the Tigers blowing every 9th inning save opportunity for the rest of the year, nor this Upton nonsense helping to mute Verlander’s more typical metahuman performances, I put the Tigers playoff chances at 86%. 

Now, let’s go to BP

I was close. 

Rnk Team
Win

Loss

Expected
Win Pct

Sim
Win

Sim
Loss

Div
Pct

WC
Pct
Sorted Descending
Playoff
Pct

Playoff
Pct (Adj)

WS Win
Pct

1 Day
Delta

7 Day
Delta
1
Detroit 
Tigers
39 31 .576 92.1 69.9 88.5% 4.6% 93.1% 91.1% 21.5% -1.1% -0.9%
2
Cleveland 
Indians
36 35 .502 82.5 79.5 8.5% 16.5% 25.0% 16.5% 1.4% 3.8% 7.1%
3
Kansas City 
Royals
34 36 .478 78.2 83.8 2.1% 4.2% 6.3% 4.1% 0.2% -1.3% 3.0%
4
Minnesota 
Twins
32 36 .450 74.6 87.4 0.6% 0.9% 1.4% 0.9% 0.0% 0.4% 0.4%
5
Chicago 
White Sox
29 40 .466 72.2 89.8 0.3% 0.1% 0.4% 0.3% 0.0% -0.2% -1.3%

Now, onto ESPN’s David Schoenfield’s column about Tom Verducci’s crusade against K’s and how it affects postseason performance. A tease? As capricious as October baseball can be, some elementary statistics  look to put the Tigers in excellent shape for another Series run.

I looked at each postseason game from last year. The team that struck out fewer times went 14-17 (six games had an equal number of strikeouts). So strikeouts don’t matter? Not necessarily. I looked at 2010 and 2011 and the team that struck out fewer times went 44-23 (with three games the same). Over a three-year span in postseason games, the team that struck out less went 58-40.

Currently, the Tigers are 28th 3rd in MLB is avoiding K’s, right behind the Royals and defending champ Giants. 

The Giants starting pitching is not the potent force it’s been the last few years, but it’d be unwise to think Matt Cain’s ERA will remain closer to 5, than 3. Granted, there’s other problems on that staff besides him (Ryan Vogelsong), but at this point it’s mediocre at best. The Giants do seem to awaken in September. If you’re going to pick two months to play your best, while meddling in the race the rest of the year, September and October are those months. 

The Royals on the other hand, as I projected in Spring training due to the arrivals of pitchers who on good days could shut down quality lineups, lead the American League in ERA. Though it may be a bit of a mirage, or at least due to exceptional defense, which is certainly sustainable. The Royals (who got a nice t shirt nod in Man Of Steel) are only behind the Twins when it comes to their pitchers being able to get outs from the mound. That will likely be their kryptonite (see what I did there!) in the end. 

While piling up K’s is a good way to run up a pitch count and has starters walking a fine line between plowing through lineups quickly and coming out in the 6th inning, the Tigers starters do their defense a favor by limiting their need to get outs. In other words, the Tigers pitchers lead all of baseball in accumulating strikeouts. Nearly 70% of the Tigers 674 K’s come from the rotation. 

The upshot of this and how it could portend to another deep playoff run for the Tigers goes back to Schoenfield’s observation of strikeouts, for and against. (See, no advanced stats there!)

You’ve played yourself a quality hand of cards to win October baseball games if you’re team strengths are avoiding K’s (like Little League coach said, make them make a play) in your lineup, but hoarding them while on the mound.

Save whales, not pitchers.

PROTECTING PITCHERS MUST BE A PRIORITY

After Alex Cobb becomes latest victim, it’s time for MLB to act before it’s too late. 

I would love to sit here and pontificate about how Major League Baseball needs to do something drastic — and soon — to ensure that pitchers are finally safe from ill-fated line drives through the box. It would be wonderful to never again endure the anxious, gut-churning moments that accompany a fallen pitcher being carried from the field, and waiting for him to flash a “thumbs up” sign to let the crowd know that he’s conscious and in good spirits. That’s from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick.

Well in that case, let me spring into action. 

How can we protect the pitcher?

– Use the batting practice pitching net
– Pitchers deliver then curl into a ball
– If you hit a pitcher with a line drive you automatically get three outs even if it carries into the next inning AND the batter is ejected
– The pitcher wear a lacross, hockey or Darth Vader type helmet
– Move the mound back to 70 feet 7 inches
– No more pitchers, batters hit off a tee or throw it up to themselves fungo stye
– Pitchers get to use an oversized, clown glove
– Immediately after the ball is released the pitcher is transported to a safe area in the field
– As soon as the ball is released an invisibly force field rises from the front of the mound.
 
Back to reality now?
 
There’s no convenient, or maybe even ANY way of protecting pitchers without making them feel grossly uncomfortable and inhibiting their efforts. 
 
From Brandon McCarthy, who took a liner drive to the head late last year and as recently as last week suffered a seizure that was caused by that 9 month old blow. 
 
“It’s not very good at all,” McCarthy said in March. “Until the products are better, it’s going to be slow-moving. I guess there are some entrepreneurs — guys in the basement who are really putting them together — and that’s kind of where my hope lies. I’m hoping it’s someone who’s hungry and wants to fill this gap. I don’t even care if it’s MLB-approved. I just want it to be functionally approved by me.”
 
I was never a good, or willing, math student beyond algebra and most of what I learned, I’ve long forgotten, but I’ll give this a try.
 
I averaged out the amount of pitches of eight (of 15, I thought that was enough of a sample size) games on Saturday, the day Cobb was lasered. There were 2,404 pitches thrown which comes out to about 300.5 per game. Are you willing take that as the rough median for a game? 
 
Now we can compute this one of a few ways, all of which will make a mockery of my math skills.
 
Cobb got hit by one of those 300 pitches. His chances of that occurring were…?
 
.003%
 
As far as I, and Google, know only Cobb was hit in the ear (that’s key if you’re going to invent a type of protection, it’ll have to go around the head) this past Saturday. 
 
300 pitches times 15 is 4500. That many pitches were thrown and ONE pitcher took one to the head. 
 
JA Happ, amazingly also at Tropicana Field (See! The Rays need a new stadium or PITCHERS WILL DIE), took a liner as Cobb did way back on May 7th. Should I multiple 300 times the amount of games played over the last six weeks?
 
 
Didn’t think so. 
 
In the immediate, panic driven moment of ‘WE MUST PROTECT THE PITCHER’ one, there’s no definitive way to do that and two, perhaps this just the cost of doing business in Major League Baseball.