Do The Tigers Need To Make A Significant Move?

When it was announced last week that Victor Martinez suffered a torn ACL during off-season workouts, I advised on Twitter that we not “overreact” to the news. While Martinez was a good player in his first year for the Tigers, his value on the field was likely overstated through having a high average and getting to bat behind Miguel Cabrera. That combination led to 103 RBIs and a 16th place finish on the AL MVP balloting, but his 130 wRC+ as a guy who spent most of his time at DH led to just +2.9 WAR. He was essentially the Tigers version of Michael Young – a nice player, but not one who couldn’t be replaced with a little bit of effort.

The most obvious candidate to step into Martinez’s vacated role was Carlos Pena, who posted a similar-ish 126 wRC+ last year, even if he got there in a very different way. However, he settled up with Tampa Bay last week, and now the team is kicking the tires on the likes of Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, Hideki Matsui, and yes, even Juan Pierre. Those four players combined for +0.1 WAR last year, and Damon was the only one who even resembled a guy who a contender should be willing to give regular playing time to. If the team does decide to pick a replacement out of that crop, then Martinez’s loss will represent a pretty significant downgrade.

And, honestly, I’m not sure the Tigers are in a position to be accepting that kind of loss right now. While the AL Central is neck-and-neck with the NL West for the title of weakest division in baseball, both the Indians and Royals have enough interesting young talent on hand to win 90+ games if things break right. And, given all the regression that Detroit needs to be expecting from the talent they are retaining from last year’s division winning roster, winning 90+ looks like it could be a challenge.

This isn’t to say that Detroit has a bad team, but they do need to prepare for a number of their most important players from 2011 to perform significantly worse in 2012.

Let’s start on the offensive side of things, where the team is going to need quite a few players to step up if they want to match last year’s total of 787 runs scored. From a macro perspective, we can see that the Tigers led the American League with a .318 BABIP, 23 points higher than the league average of .295. That’s the eighth highest mark any team has posted in the last 10 years, and after you adjust for the lower league BABIPs of recent years, only the 2008 Texas Rangers posted a mark further from the norm. Posting the second best mark in a decade for any type of category is a point of likely regression, but even with hitter’s influence on batted ball outcomes, BABIP has a lot of year to year fluctuation. Those 2008 Rangers that posted a .325 BABIP? They came in at .296 in 2009.

Now, the Tigers do have some players who are likely to consistently post higher than average numbers on their balls in play average. Miguel Cabrera’s career mark is .347 – he hits the ball really hard, or so you might have heard – so his .365 mark isn’t as prone to regression as it might seem on the surface. Austin Jackson‘s speed and ground ball tendencies mean that he’ll probably be among the league leaders again, and his true BABIP is probably not that far from the .340 mark he posted last year. However, even with those two guys holding fairly steady, the Tigers still have a bunch of guys poised to get significantly worse results on their balls in play in 2012.

At the top of the list is Alex Avila, who ran a .366 BABIP last year. For comparison, all Major League catchers combined for a .283 BABIP a year ago, easily the lowest of any position on the field. After all, catchers are generally a pretty slow bunch, which hinders their ability to get infield hits. Avila showed some real power last year, so you could try to claim that he’s a hit-balls-hard exception, but he had a .284 career BABIP before last season, and he only ran a .310 mark during his final year in the minors. Even an aggressive projection for a slow catcher’s true talent BABIP is going to be in the .300 to .310 range, which would represent a 50 to 60 point drop from Avila’s performance a year ago. If he puts 350 balls in play, a 50 point drop in BABIP would account for 18 fewer hits, and consequently, 18 more outs. That’s a lot of lost value, and because of BABIP regression, the Tigers can’t be counting on Avila to post anything close to a 140 wRC+ again.

Likewise, the Tigers need to prepare for a significant step back from shortstop Jhonny Peralta. His .325 BABIP wasn’t too far out of line for him based on his career numbers, but he’d been trending downwards for three years running (pretty normal, given advancing age and the overall league trends) and had posted marks closer to .300 as of late. However, the big step back for Peralta will likely come from his UZR, which was a strong +9.9 at shortstop last year. His career UZR at the position coming into the season was -28.1. The Indians had already moved him off of the position due to a medicore-at-best defensive evaluation. While the Tigers decision to move him back to shortstop seems to have been vindicated, it’s highly unlikely that Peralta will rank among the league’s best defenders at the position again.

Peralta and Avila combined for +10.7 WAR last year – more reasonable projections should expect the combination to produce +5 to +7 WAR this year, a substantial step backwards for two key position players.

On the pitching side, the picture might look a little rosier. After all, Justin Verlander is still around, Brad Penny is not, and the team will get a full season of Doug Fister rather than just having him for the stretch run. However, no matter how good you think Verlander and Fister might be, they combined for a 2.27 ERA in 320 innings between them. Even if you increase the projected innings total to 420 to account for Fister’s full-year presence, the increase in runs allowed will more than off-set the increased quantity of innings. Even if you project the pair to combine for a 3.25 ERA (probably a bit optimistic, honestly), that is 151 runs allowed in 420 innings pitched. That would mean that the duo would combine to pitch an extra 90 innings than they did a year ago, but give up 70 additional runs in the process. That’s the equivalent of adding a pitcher to the roster who would post a 7.00 ERA during a half season of work.

Yes, there are a few guys on the pitching staff that could perform better – Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello certainly have the ability to post lower ERAs than they did a year ago. That will help. But, with so many high profile regression candidates on the roster and Martinez now on the sideline, the 95-win Tigers of a year ago look more like an 85-90 win team as currently constructed. That’s still good enough to make them the favorites in the division, but it shouldn’t make them comfortable in that position, and they should not be working under the assumption that their large cushion from a year ago will give them room to absorb Martinez’s loss without a real replacement.

Whether it’s jumping in on Roy Oswalt or making a move for a real OF/DH who can provide value, the Tigers would do well to add a player to their roster who represents a significant upgrade over what they already have in house. Their current team is probably good enough to contend in the AL Central, but if they want to reap the benefits of having Verlander and Cabrera in their primes, they can’t waste those years by surrounding them with a roster of inferior talents.



Print This Post



Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
David in DC
Guest
David in DC
4 years 6 months ago

“Their current team is probably good enough to contend in the AL Central”

Really? Ya think?

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Although I agree with Dave that regression from a lot of players is likely, we’re still probably only talking about 4-7 WAR, they won the division by a lot of games last year. The Royals look a lot better but I’m not sure the Indians are much better at all given the amount of regression they should expect as well.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

They have to be in on Oswalt. And they really blew their chance to get in on Pena and the other four guys (especially Pierre) are barely worth a major league contract. Damon looks like the best option but I have a hard time believing he’s going to continue to put up a WAR higher than 1 at his age.

Hopefully I do not have expensive stuff around me if they announce a Juan Pierre signing.

JohnF
Guest
JohnF
4 years 6 months ago

I think they need Jason Bay. If the Tigers offer the Mets a bag of used jocks, the Mets might be pursuaded to part with him.

SpikeSchwartz
Guest
SpikeSchwartz
4 years 6 months ago

Bay is making $16M per for the next 2 years. minor obstacle.

JohnF
Guest
JohnF
4 years 6 months ago

Yes, I know how much Bay “earns”. I was hoping the Tigers would overlook that ;)

SpikeSchwartz
Guest
SpikeSchwartz
4 years 6 months ago

The Met who make far more sense is Daniel Murphy. Good LHed hitter who can play 3B/1B and DH. also cheap and 4 more yrs of team control. That’s what I’d be looking to do if I were the Tigers. Not one of these ancient DHs who are 5 yrs past their prime.

It will take one of the TIgers 3 or 4 top arm prospects plus a kicker. Speculation was on Andy Dirks. He’s a good fit as a 4th OFer in NY so Dirks plus an arm like Smyly makes sense for both sides. Mets could be holding out for Turner but I doubt Murphy is enough for Turner.

Madoff Withurmoni
Guest
Madoff Withurmoni
4 years 6 months ago

I believe what the Mets would hold out for is a box of scratch off lottery tickets.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
4 years 6 months ago

You must be a Met fan.

Grand Admiral Braun
Guest
Grand Admiral Braun
4 years 6 months ago

A Pena/Rayburn could have been one alternative. Pena at first base with Cabrera at DH against righties. Rayburn in right field, Cabrera at first, and Young at DH against lefties.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 6 months ago

I agree with you assessment that they can compete for a division title with their current roster. They can expect downward corrections from a few players, as you point out, but it’s also likely that Raburn and Young will be more useful this year. And maybe Boesch can put together a full season for once. I don’t see what Juan Pierre really does for them, although this is the team managed by the guy who tried to bat Maggs and Andy Dirks third last year.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 6 months ago

If Raburn can do what he does in Aug/Sept over an entire year, then he’s not a platoon player. Although an everyday MI of Peralta/Raburn is absolutely frightening.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Peralta is really not as bad as everyone’s perception of him.

Eminor3rd
Guest
Eminor3rd
4 years 6 months ago

Is there any reason that I never see anyone simply add up all the player projections for a team and convert it to WAR, and see who the projected winner is? Obviously the outcome would never be exact, and probably rarely very close, but at least you’d have an idea of how far the teams are apart on paper.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

WAR is really more of a player to player comparison tool than an exact win projection tool IMO.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 6 months ago

The WAR itself is not a projection, but it is derived from stats that have already been projected (except maybe for defense). I don’t see any reason why adding up the WAR and adding it to 47 (or whatever the replacement level is for a team) shouldn’t give a better indication of a team’s approximate expected wins than the subjective judgements that all the sportswriters bombard us with each season.

Vegemitch
Member
Vegemitch
4 years 6 months ago

I do believe that FanGraphs does this projection in predicting W-L records and potential divisional and postseason breakdowns, and of course WAR does quite accurately reflect the actual standings (as well as being precisely the projected standings when all the noise is cleared). Otherwise WAR would be useless, would it not?

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

It certainly can be used to show who the better teams are. Clearly a team with better players will have more projected WAR simply because they are better. That said, it is not completely in line with actual W-L totals. It simply cannot be when you start factoring in positional adjustments which are done for player to player comparisons rather than actual runs scored vs runs given up reasons.

Vegemitch
Member
Vegemitch
4 years 6 months ago

That’s what those adjustments are for in calculating WAR. Actual results will always vary but the stat is designed to show how much a player’s performance contributes to winning games. So yes, it does add up to how a team performs in rus scored vs given up.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Disagree Vegemitch, those adjustments are not for calculating win contributions in an actual sense, just a theoretical sense between players. It might come close to an actual calculation but figuring out actual defensive run adjustments in a pure sense vs adjusted for player position and to league average would accomplish the run calculation much better. The reason that is not done is because you cannot really compare player value as well at that point.

j6takish
Guest
j6takish
4 years 6 months ago

I tend to agree with this, but this team also will not be giving 700 PA’s of negative WAR production to the corpses of Magglio and Inge

I Agree Guy
Guest
I Agree Guy
4 years 6 months ago

Ummmm, isn’t Inge is slated to be part of their third base platoon?

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
4 years 6 months ago

Which means he will likely get the lion’s share of PAs, unless Dombrowski does what he should do and make a significant move to upgrade that position.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Inge is the RH bat, Don Kelly the LHB, Kelly gets the lions share.

Joey B
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Papi. He’ll cost real money, but can actually hit, shouldn’t cost any prospects, and a one-year DH fits in with VMart returning next year. The RS should really just be looking for payroll relief.

JG
Guest
JG
4 years 6 months ago

So the Tigers overachieved and won’t win as many games in 2012. Fair enough. But you go and cite the Indians as a team that has a chance to win 90 games despite the fact that they overachieved to win 80 last year? I mean, weren’t they in the 20s in terms of ranked team WAR?

One thing about Avila: He won’t have the BABIP he had last year, but he doesn’t pop it up in the infield and he hits a good chunk of line drives (and his past numbers are consistent with that). He’s probably good for a .320 BABIP or so, with a great walk rate. Additionally, with his raw power, he’s a candidate for positive regression in HR/FB. 25 home runs (with slightly reduced PT) are likely from Avila. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t turn in another 4-5 win season.

And you do mention that Porcello and Scherzer are likely to bounce back, but you definitely downplay it in relation to the players you expect to not perform as well – of which, you really just mentioned Avila and Peralta.

Tigers are still far and away the best team in this division. If Mauer goes all “2009” on the league and Morneau comes back strong the Twins will contend, but you can use unlikely hypotheticals to predict anything. The Royals have a good young team, but neither their pitching nor their hitting are in the same class as the Tigers yet.

JG
Guest
JG
4 years 6 months ago

That came out wrong – you did also mention Verlander and Fister as regression candidates. I wrote that weirdly and erased something I shouldn’t have.

Still, they were both top 10 pitchers in all of baseball in WAR.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Largely agree JG, though I think you might be a little aggressive with your Avila projections. That said, the Indians are not as good as last year. The Royals still lack the pitching even if all their hitters develop as they hope. The White Sox are a mess and the Twins need a lot of things to not go nearly as poorly as last season to compete. Even with all Dave said the Tigers still have to be a fairly big favorite.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 6 months ago

The White Sox will win more games than people think this year. Ignore the ERA and look at the stats that matter, and their rotation could be very, very good. The Royals’ #1 starter is not as good as the White Sox’ #5 starter.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Hernandez, I agree they MIGHT not be as bad as last year because they did have some misfortune. That said they did lose a couple of somewhat productive players and were still a ways back of the Tigers.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 6 months ago

Porcello should bounce back? Yea, he’s young, but he’s basically been the same pitcher the last 3 years. bWAR 2.5, 0, and 1.0. SO/BB 1.71, 2.21, 2.26. That’s not huge advancements.

It’s a joke to think the Royals hitting can’t be in the same class as the Tiger, prospects break out all the time. So you apply the prospect logic to Porcello but not the Royals? The Royals with a year of Moose Taco and Hosmer.

Why is Scherzer likely to bounce back? He’s 27, so he’s about as good as he’ll ever be, Ks have been dropping at a pretty normal rate, it’s just how pitchers are.

I don’t think the Tigers are at all a sure thing. The AL Central is like the NL West where from year to year, there is a ton of variance. Adam Dunn could magically hit 40 home runs again.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
4 years 6 months ago

I think the Royals will hit, they just can’t pitch. They will give the Tigers fits on days where it’s starters #4 and #5 on the mound.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 6 months ago

Tigers as “far and away” the best in division, I just don’t see it. Why do people think Cleveland is going to suck, exactly? A more experienced Santana? A healthy Sizemore? A healthy Choo? A healthy Brantley? An Ubaldo with luck that doesn’t suck? Indians a much scarier team this year IMHO.

RationalSportsFan
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

One potential reason is how much the Indians’ bullpen overachieved last year. The top 5 guys threw over 300 innings and had a combined ERA of 2.72. That’s not likely to happen again.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 6 months ago

Yes that’s a good point that I hadn’t really considered. Pestano is the real deal, beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Because the Indians pythagorean W-L was lower than their final W-L just based on their run differential from last year before even factoring in overachieving by individual players. They would be expected to finish with 75 wins last year, not 80 just as a starting point.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 6 months ago

I get this kind of reasoning in Giants’ forums that I occasionally participate in.
–Everyone who was injured last season will bounce back, and there will be no new injuries.
–Everyone who was “unlucky” last season will bounce back, and no other players will get “unlucky.”
Hope springs eternal, but reality has a nasty habit of intervening.

Tom
Guest
Tom
4 years 6 months ago

It also bakes the previous year as a known baseline and ignores the “luck”/”upside” that may have helped that # out.

The Mariners are a classic example…. when they picked up Cliff Lee and Figgins a few years ago people said “AL West contender” … heck they were over .500 the year before and upgraded significantly. People overlooked that they were outscored by a bunch of runs and had no business being over .500. I know the Pythag calculation isn’t perfect but people played the “look at last year’s win total and add/subtract wins based on personnel changes and injuries” game.

If folks are going to do win projection it needs to either be a ground up analysis (start at replacement level and add everyone up) or the previous year’s win total needs to be carefully regressed before playing the addition and subtraction game.

Ben
Guest
Ben
4 years 6 months ago

“A healthy Sizemore.”

LOL!

NMark
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Why isn’t Derrek Lee ever mentioned as a possible 1b for Tigers? I guess Lee has no interest in Pirates, if the Buccos have even offered him a nice deal to come back to Pittsburgh.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

In reading this article again I knew I had a fundamental disagreement with something, and it is clearly this, “both the Indians and Royals have enough interesting young talent on hand to win 90+ games if things break right”.

In short, I don’t think the Indians have any better chance of that happening than most MLB teams even if everything breaks right. And while the Royals certainly have young talent namely in the lineup and bullpen, they would need a whole lot to go right in their rotation to win 90. Frankly I would be astounded if either team came close.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 6 months ago

Royals just don’t have the starting pitching. No matter how their young IF develops, their pitching cannot get them to 90 wins. Cleveland, however, probably has the most talented lineup top-to-bottom in that division, and their pitching is more than adequate given the low bar set by their division mates (except Detroit I guess). Equating CLE and KC makes no sense to me, CLE should be 10-12 wins better this year.

Uncle Randy
Guest
Uncle Randy
4 years 6 months ago

Yeah I agree with this and the other people who are touting Cleveland. Unless Detroit does something, the Tribe is my favorite in the division.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Gotta disagree here. Cleveland basically has made little in the way of significant upgrades. They grade out as an 75 win team last year under pythagorean. A full year of Ubaldo might add 1-2 wins to that, maybe Kipnis and Chisenhall get better and add 2-3 wins. That’s still nowhere near enough to be a favorite over the Tigers.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 6 months ago

Why isn’t anyone suggesting the Royals sign Oswalt or Jackson? I mean, they likely won’t, but if they sign Oswalt. Then Oswalt, Sanchez, Chen, Hochevar, and the youngins could put together a decent season. They have a strong pen so it’s not like they have to be spectacular. Great lineup too. If they were smart, they’d sign both Oswalt and Jackson. Jackson, Oswalt, Sanchez, then the back 2 slots are fought over.

Basically what I’m saying is, no team looks like a clear cut favorite. The likelihood of Verlander ever being as good as he was last year again is slim given his age and the history that players don’t typically stay really REALLY good. Course they still have Cabrera and a decent cast of other players.

Sort of a hypothetical. But what’s the chance that say the Rangers and Angels beat up on each other, then the AL East beats up on each other, and then 2 AL Central teams make the playoffs (with the 2nd wild card)? It makes sense to me that if it turns out there are 2 contenders, the other teams will sell and then it’s just fodder from there on out. The NL Central last year wasn’t very strong, but produced 2 playoff teams, in large part because they beat up on the awful Chubs and Astros.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 6 months ago

Cleveland’s upgrades (though not of the big-ticket FA variety): 1) a healthy Choo; 2) a full year of Ubaldo; 3) highly likely growth years from Kipnis, Santana, Chisenhall, Brantley (not to mention a healthy Brantley); and, dare to dream, a healthy Sizemore. When you have that much young talent locked up you don’t need to make big splash moves, you just let it develop. Unless they get slammed with injuries this will be a much better team than last year, and totally capable of competing with the Fighting Brandon Inges.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
4 years 6 months ago

@Bananas:

If you look at Verlander’s peripherals again, you’ll notice that last season was really more like his second best season in his career, or at best a virtual tie with his ’09 campaign.

All this to say, it’s not unreasonable to expect Verlander to perform right along the lines of ’09 and ’11 again in the upcoming season.

Pedagogy of the Depressed
Guest
Pedagogy of the Depressed
4 years 6 months ago

I’m a huge Tigers fan, but a team that has Delmon Young and (best cast scenario) Johnny Damon on the team is going precisely nowhere.

Pedagogy of the Depressed
Guest
Pedagogy of the Depressed
4 years 6 months ago

I can’t emphasize enough how, on an offensive level, the Tigers are a borderline wreck at every position except first base and catcher. Dombrowski does not know how to build an adept offence. He has no eye for nuance. And no panache.

ToddM
Guest
ToddM
4 years 6 months ago

OK, I get tempering the enthusiam, but that’s silly. Peralta is not a wreck. Boesch is not a wreck. Even AJax, factoring in defense, is not a wreck.

2b and 3b, yes, those are wreck-ish. DH could be.

Joey B
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

“All this to say, it’s not unreasonable to expect Verlander to perform right along the lines of ’09 and ’11 again in the upcoming season.”

His ERA last year was 2.40. His ERA in 4 of his 5 previous seasons varied tightly between 3.37 and 3.66. He’s a huge candidate to regress. There is no one else in the division, but virtually everyone on the team is more likely to have a worse season than a better season.

BX
Guest
BX
4 years 6 months ago

Well, umm, they just made their big move, I think.

Maybe even a little too big.

Jays_all_the_way
Member
Jays_all_the_way
4 years 6 months ago

hehe BIG move… PUN!

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
4 years 6 months ago

Well, I think they just made the move. As a Tigs fan, I’m scared about this contract, but it is hard not to be excited as all hell.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
4 years 6 months ago

Oops, sorry, didn’t see BX’s post above. :)

Joey B
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I don’t really get it. I had suggested they trade for Papi and his $13M+ salary for one year. Instead they pay Fielder $24M to be a DH, and make VMart a PHer at $12M per for two years?

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
4 years 6 months ago

I wonder if this is what Dave meant when he said he thought the Tigers needed to sign someone.

It looks like between the Tigers and the White Sox, the AL Central is trying to corner the market on DHs.

Joey B
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I don’t see how this makes sense. Let’s say that Papi could be had for next to nothing, and that VMart is healthy enough to DH in ’13 and ’14. Fielder is a real good hitter, but is a career .929. Better than VMart and Papi, but not by a crazy amount. Not enough to justify the incremental cost.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
4 years 6 months ago

Well actually, he will likely play 1B and (gulp) Cabrera will play 3B again.

wpDiscuz