Archive for Tigers

How to Age, With Francisco Rodriguez

The other day, August wrote about how the Tigers’ bullpen was in desperate need of improvement. That is, if the Tigers intend to compete in 2016, and they do intend to compete in 2016, while simultaneously trying to keep the longer-term picture in mind. So it made sense when, earlier Wednesday, reports came out the Tigers didn’t love the asking prices for the higher-tier relievers available. It’s not like the Tigers have all that much youth to move around, anyway. This all led to an unsurprising end: the Tigers have picked up the more affordable Francisco Rodriguez, from the Brewers. The Brewers are getting a low-level prospect. There are some players to be named later. This will probably just be remembered as the Rodriguez trade, if it’s remembered at all.

Of course a team in the Brewers’ position had little reason to hang on to a veteran closer. And of course a team in the Tigers’ position was looking to add a veteran closer. Doesn’t get more veteran closer-y than picking up the active leader in career saves. You could say Rodriguez is only 34 in January, and that’s true. He’s also looking ahead to his 15th season in the major leagues. He’s survived for a long time, and he’s even thrived for a long time. You can only do that by adapting. Francisco Rodriguez is a tremendous example of how a pitcher should want to age.

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The Wait for Nick Castellanos Will Soon Be Over

Young Tiger Nick Castellanos has two seasons under his belt and hasn’t yet turned 24. He’s shown flashes of the talent he was supposed to have as a top prospect, but he’s on the wrong side of the leaderboards so far. The second half had some good news for him, particularly when it came to his plate discipline, but it’s fair to wonder how important he will be for Detroit.

So far he’s been a net negative. Can he turn that around in a big way this upcoming season?

Only five regulars have been worse over the last two years. And it’s worse than that, since most of the guys ahead of him on the list are no longer regulars. Matt Dominguez (released), Billy Butler (DH), Jay Bruce (future DH?), Ryan Howard (future DH / future release candidate), and Dayan Viciedo (released) aren’t good company to keep.

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Predicting Secondary Market Prices for ALDS/NLDS Tickets

So far this October, we have been treated to some great playoff games.  Most of us watched these games at home in our living room, or perhaps at the local sports bar.  A select few of us have had the chance to watch the games live at the stadium.  Due to the high demand for playoff tickets, most teams conducted some type of lottery to determine who gets to purchase tickets at face value.  Those who aren’t lucky enough to win the lottery can still get into the stadium by purchasing tickets on the second-hand market.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a lot of variation in the second-hand cost of playoff tickets between the different teams.  There are many factors that go into this variation, including regular season ticket cost and how recently the team has gone to the playoffs, among other things.  For example, the Cubs have had the highest playoff tickets prices this year, which is due to the fact that they have a passionate fan base, and that they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008.

I wanted to see if it would be possible to create a model that predicts the cost of ALDS/NLDS ticket prices based on other factors.

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Daniel Norris and His 54-Pitch Inning

Daniel Norris began this season fighting for a rotation spot with the Toronto Blue Jays. At just 21 years of age to start the season, the Blue Jays prospect, who made news in Spring Training for living in a van, made the rotation. After struggling through a dead arm period, however, he was sent back down to the minor leagues while the big-league club struggled through the first half of the season. When David Price moved from the Detroit Tigers to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, Norris was the headlining prospect heading back to Detroit. Both Toronto and Detroit have managed the left-hander’s innings this season — he’s recorded just 145.2 of them between the minors and majors this season — but on Tuesday, Norris suffered through three innings’ worth of pitches in just a single frame, requiring 54 pitches to get through the first inning against Texas.

The pitching scouting reports that local broadcasts put up on the screen are not always illuminating, but the final point in the graphic for Norris’ start was rather ominous.

Screenshot 2015-10-02 at 8.15.02 AM

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Hitters: Quit Chopping Wood, Don’t Go for Backspin

Around little-league parks, and even on the back fields of certain schools and organizations, you might hear a common refrain from the batting cages. “Chop wood, chop wood,” is how Bryce Harper mimics the coaches he’s heard before. The idea is that a quick, direct path to the baseball — like an ax chop — is the best way to get quickly to the ball and create the backspin that fuels the power.

Turns out, pretty much all of that is wrong.

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Astros’ Paulino Another Find in Recent Trade

The Houston Astros acquired right-hander David Paulino and outfielder Danry Vasquez from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline in 2013 for a two-month rental of reliever Jose Veras. At the time Vasquez was a rising prospect for the Tigers and the centerpiece of the deal. Paulino was nothing more than a rail-thin project to sweeten the pot.

A lot has changed since then: Paulino has bulked up, his fastball has gained velocity and the breaking ball has taken a step forward developmentally. Across three levels of A-ball this season, the 21-year-old boasts an impressive 72:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 67.1 innings. Here are my notes from seeing Paulino in extended spring training this year.

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Tigers’ First-Rounder Burrows Impresses in Debut

The Tigers selected right-hander Beau Burrows, one of the hardest throwing prep arms in the class, out of Weatherford High School in Texas with the 22nd-overall pick a few months ago. After quickly signing for just over slot value ($2.1 million), Burrows was assigned to the Tigers’ Rookie-league affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. The 18-year-old right-hander put together an impressive professional debut, with above-average numbers but, more importantly, Burrows’ pre-draft stuff and command were present and he showed the aptitude to adjust to pro instruction. I observed two of Burrows’ starts, on August 13 and August 27.

Physical Description
Generously listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Burrows is likely closer to an even six-feet tall and has a mature build for his age. There’s solid strength in Burrows’ upper body and core. His lower half is exceptionally strong with fairly thick tree trunk legs; there’s minimal physical projection remaining. That being said, Burrows’ frame already resembles that of a potential innings eater.

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What If Justin Verlander Figured It Out?

A little over a month ago, Dave ran through his annual trade value rankings, and as he likes to do, after all the good bits, he wrote up the bad bit, addressing the game’s least-valuable players. Ranking third on his list was fallen Tigers ace Justin Verlander, whose contract is steady even when the pitching isn’t. Verlander ranked worse than Matt Kemp. Worse than Shin-Soo Choo. He’s making $28 million a year through 2019, and when Dave wrote the post up, Verlander looked like a wreck, after a season in which he also looked like a wreck. Verlander’s contract has been used as one of the reasons why the Tigers might be headed for disaster.

And, the Tigers might be headed for disaster. So might you and I be, I don’t know. Who knows anything? One thing I think I know, though — Verlander has turned things around. As the Tigers have faded out of the race, Verlander has seemingly re-emerged, and now it’s worth wondering what he actually is. Just as the world was getting used to the idea of an underwhelming, under-performing Justin Verlander, he’s showing signs that he…might…be…back? What if that were true? Are we open to the chance that that’s true?

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Anibal Sanchez: Embodiment of the 2015 Tigers

It’s not uncommon for a narrative to develop around a great team — nor, specifically, for it to develop around the particular player on that great team who best represents the collective identity. For a club that exhibits a lot of power, the most powerful player is the focus. When a team is full of idiots, the most idiotic player garners a lot of attention. For a young team, the youngest, a gritty team, the grittiest, etc. These portrayals might not be entirely accurate, but they help tell stories and mold perspectives about a club’s identity as they march closer to the end of the season and, subsequently, the playoffs. Repeating the exercise for a disappointing, mediocre team can be an interesting process. So it is with this season’s Detroit Tigers and the one player who most embodies their season: Anibal Sanchez.

Injuries to players like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander have played a role in Detroit’s disappointing 54-57 season, but Cabrera hit incredibly well for half a season and has already produced an above-average line. Verlander, a focal point for the club in the past, has barely pitched at all this season, lacking the requisite presence to represent the 2015 Detroit Tigers. Ian Kinsler has had an odd, but effective season. J.D. Martinez has had another great year, and Yoenis Cespedes had played very well before his trade to the New York Mets. The offense has not been the Tigers’s problem this season with one of the better run-scoring teams in the majors and a 109 wRC+ to back it up. The defense has been average overall so the onus shifts to the pitching.

The bullpen has been bad, ahead of only Boston’s and Texas’s while sitting at essentially replacement-level. If you are looking for someone to blame for the season, the bullpen is an easy target, having recorded just 27 saves against 14 blown saves — and their ranks for both Shutdowns and Meltdowns are near the bottom third of all bullpens. Simply being the weak link on the Tigers does not make the bullpen representative of the team at large, however. Despite the mess of a bullpen, the team is still close to .500 — and Detroit has succeeded in previous years despite similarly weak collection of relievers. So we move to the rotation. David Price was phenomenal, Alfredo Simon exceeded his projections, Justin Verlander has been bullpen-level bad, and none of the other starters had any expectations on them heading into the season, leaving Anibal Sanchez as both a player with decent expectations and a failure to reach them.

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Pick Your Four Years

Every so often, someone asks where I got my start. My first online conversations about baseball took place on the ESPN message boards, and I’m a Mariners fan, and that was back when the Mariners mattered. Around the turn of the millennium, the Mariners were entering the best era in franchise history. Between 2000 – 2003, the Mariners racked up more regular-season wins than anybody else. They ultimately crashed, and crashed hard, but four strong teams were built. Four competitive teams were built. It was terrific, except for the thing that was missing. In 2003, the Marlins of all teams won that thing. There was much debate over what a fan really wants. Say what you will about the Marlins, but they’ve brought home a couple trophies.

Here, I ask you what some might consider a fundamental question. There’s a poll at the end of this, and I want you to try to answer honestly, as a fan who’s presumably something more than just a casual observer. I’m going to go ahead and update my Mariners and Marlins examples. There are current(ish) teams who can fill the same roles. We’re all more familiar with what’s current!

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Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Cespedes Trade

Just minutes before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets finally landed the offensive spark plug they were looking for. They swung a deal for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for pitching prospects Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa. Here’s what my fancy computer math has to say about these two minor league hurlers and their respective big league futures. Read the rest of this entry »

JABO: The Tigers Turned a David Price Profit

We know that the Tigers aren’t pleased to have wound up in this position. They’ve been one of baseball’s most win-now organizations in recent years, and nothing about the 2015 roster construction really conveyed an impression of “building for the future!” Rather, there’s been concern that the Tigers are headed for a cliff, on account of all the money they have tied up in declining players. And when that’s what the future looks like, you at least hope that you can win soon. This year, the winning hasn’t happened. The Tigers had to acknowledge their situation, and sell. There’s no way that was an easy call for them to make.

There is a silver lining, though, one other than simply understanding that sports are frivolous entertainment and there are far more important things in the world. That’s the steady and constant silver lining in the background. There’s a particular silver lining to the Tigers having dealt David Price to the Blue Jays. If the Tigers had their wish, they would’ve given the ball to Price in Game 1 of the ALDS. They got him for two years for a reason. But the return package the Tigers got from the Blue Jays is strong. The group, headed by Daniel Norris, instantly helps the Tigers’ system, and the return seems at least equivalent to what the Tigers gave to get Price in the first place. Which was a year ago, when Price was available for two playoff runs, not one.

Put it another way: Dave Dombrowski traded for Price. Price helped the 2014 Tigers win the AL Central by one game, and then he pitched in the playoffs. Granted, the Tigers got swept, but they got to use Price for their opportunity. Then they had Price for another four months. Now he’s been traded, for a strong group of young players. Even though Price himself has lost some value, given his imminent free agency, it looks like the Tigers managed to turn a profit here, overall.

Read the rest at Just A Bit Outside.

Projecting the Prospects in the David Price Trade

In yet another blockbuster deal, the Toronto Blue Jays have landed David Price from the Tigers in exchange for lefty hurlers Daniel Norris, Jairo Labourt and Matt Boyd. More pitching prospects on the move! Once again, I’ve applied my fancy computer math to these players to try to get some sense of these pitchers’ futures. If you’re looking for scouting reports on these players, check out Kiley’s write up of this trio. (Note: WAR figures denote WAR through age-28 season.)

Daniel Norris, 4.8 WAR

The centerpiece of the players headed to Detroit is easily Daniel Norris, who was widely considered to be one of the top-20 prospects in baseball heading into the year. Norris enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Blue Jays farm system in 2014. After 13 dominant starts at High-A, the Blue Jays bumped him up to Double-A for eight starts, and then Triple-A for four starts, before giving him a taste of the big leagues last September. Norris pitched to a 2.53 ERA and 2.57 FIP in the minors in 2014.

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Scouting the Prospects in the David Price Deal

In case you missed it, I’ve broken down the prospects in the Johnny Cueto (Reds to Royals) trade, Scott Kazmir (A’s to Astros) tradeTyler Clippard (A’s to Mets) deal, the Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies to Blue Jays) trade and in one post yesterday covered the prospects in the deals of Ben Zobrist (A’s to Royals), Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies to Nationals), David DeJesus (Rays to Angels), and David Murphy (Indians to Angels) trades.  This morning I wrote up the deal sending Cole Hamels from the Phillies to the Rangers. Here’s the breakdown of the 3-for-1 David Price deal sending him to Toronto, and I bet I’ll write a few more of these.

Everyone is going to compare this trade to the Johnny Cueto deal since it’s one rental MLB ace for three minor-league lefties. I gave Finnegan, Reed and Lamb 55, 50 and 40 FV grades, respectively — with all of them pretty close to the big leagues — while the combination Norris, Labourt and Boyd received 55, 50 and 45+ FV grades, with Labourt the farthest away of the six (although not by much). I’d lean to the Price haul and I’d lean strongly that way if Norris can work out his delivery issues.

Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers, FV: 55

Coming into this year, Norris was riding a wave of positive momentum after a non-descript start to his pro career, itself coming on the heels of a $2 million bonus in the second round in 2011 out of a Tennessee high school. The big question on Norris coming into pro ball was his delivery and those questions still exist now, even though they disappeared in the second half of 2014 when he steamrolled his way to the big leagues from A-Ball.

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Tigers Press the Reboot Button

We’ve all been there. Our buddy down the street is somehow beating us at “RBI Baseball,” even though we own this game. We always beat him! What is going on today? Well, no matter, we’ll just press the reset button and start over. That’ll teach him. This is my house.

That might not be precisely what the Detroit Tigers have been thinking this season, but it’s not far off. The Royals are good again? Exactly how are the Twins winning games? Detroit kept sinking further and further this year until they were far closer to last place than they were to first. And with their rest of season’s projection not that rosy anymore, the Tigers are bowing out. From Jayson Stark’s report yesterday: Read the rest of this entry »

Identifying the Starting-Pitcher Buyers

Over the next month, rumors will shape baseball coverage, and a small portion of those rumors will actually develop into real trades. Every team with a shot at the playoffs wants to get better, and adding a starting pitcher is often the mode for many organizations. Even teams that have pitching could probably use a little more. To be willing to part with organizational resources, teams need to have an appropriate nexus between the impact of the new pitcher and a spot on the marginal win curve that makes the upgrade worthwhile.

Eliminating buyers is harder than finding them at present. Every team in the American League except for the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and Oakland Athletics have at least a 15% chance of making the playoffs and even those three teams might not have thrown in the towel yet this season. Only the Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Angels have greater than a 55% chance of making the playoffs and even those teams do not have commanding leads in their respective divisions. The National League looks slightly more clear with seven teams likely fighting for five playoff spots. In a tight race, a pitching addition can have a considerable impact, but how much difference a trade makes depends on the hole the new player is filling.

A quick look at the rest-of-season depth-chart projections reveals how rotations are expected to perform in the second half. The graph below shows the projected WAR for all Major League Baseball rotations. Read the rest of this entry »

The Worst Called Ball of the First Half

A lesson you learn as you grow older is that everything is somewhere on a spectrum. Though we yearn for blacks and whites, for certainties and absolutes, the world is more complicated than that, littered with partials and mitigations. Seldom does everything point in one direction. Seldom do we even know about everything pointing. There is always much we can’t or don’t figure out. There is a neat thing, though, about spectra — each one has two extremes. So when we know enough, we might be able to identify points near an extreme. The least-talented running back. The most challenging summit. The worst called ball by an umpire.

Strikes and balls are most definitely on a spectrum. The strike zone might be precisely defined, but it’s impossible for humans to call it that way, given our own limitations, which means any given pitch has a certain likelihood of being called a strike, and a certain likelihood of being called a ball. Most controversial calls take place around the boundaries. That area where taken pitches end up as coin flips. But sometimes there are bad calls beyond the boundaries, within or without. These head toward our extremes. Armed with PITCHf/x, it’s possible to find the worst called ball, by looking for balls on pitches down the middle. They’re uncommon, but they happen. What’s been the worst called ball of the 2015 first half? The following pitch was called a ball, though it was 3.0 inches from the center of the strike zone:


The worst called ball is worse than this.

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J.D. Martinez: Right-Handed Lefty Power Hitter

If you’ve been paying attention to baseball during the past month, you probably know that J.D. Martinez has been on a pretty good run. That might be an understatement: he’s hit 15 home runs in the past 31 days, four more than the next-best mark (Albert Pujols). If home runs aren’t your thing, he’s also first in wRC+, wOBA, and ISO over that span. Martinez has been out of his mind recently, and he’s been out of his mind in an even more extreme way than we’re used to seeing from him.

Let’s start with a few names. Below is the complete list of right-handed hitters who have hit a home run to either center field or right field at Comerica Park this season:

It’s not an extensive list, because hitting home runs to those areas of Comerica Park is difficult if you’re right handed: the right-field fence is 11 feet tall once you get toward right center, and center field is, quite simply, where fly balls go to die. The names on this list have to possess a lot of raw power, obviously. Exhibit A, Martinez’ first hit of the season:

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The Tigers Are Trapped

Last winter was the winter of Cole Hamels trade conversation. As it became more clear the Phillies were going to hold on for the time being, it became necessary to try to forecast the midseason trade market. Hamels was obviously going to be out there. And then people wondered about Johnny Cueto. On the one hand, it made sense, with Cueto due to become a free agent, and the Reds seemingly not very good. But the Reds also wanted to win — everyone wants to win — and in the middle of May, the Reds were caught in that in-between position, with as many wins as losses. That’s not a good place to find yourself, when you’re on the verge of having to rebuild. Since then, though, the Reds have lost 60% of their games, so they’ve at least gotten clarity. These Reds ought to sell. While nobody likes losing, at least losing has made the Reds’ decision easier.

Where the Reds know what they ought to do, though, the situation has grown increasingly complicated in Detroit. Many have been predicting the Tigers’ coming demise for a while, and though that might be overstated, it’s not an organization on the upswing. It’s more of a win-now ballclub, but it’s a win-now ballclub with about as many losses as wins, and a few days ago Miguel Cabrera went and hurt himself. For the next six weeks — roughly half of the remainder — Miguel Cabrera will be replaced by not Miguel Cabrera, and that’s a huge void for a team that’s been struggling for a month and a half. The Tigers, I’m sure, would love to know how to proceed. Unfortunately, nothing about this is simple. The Tigers are navigating a ridge while they’re fully exposed.

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