A continuation of the series of retrospectives looking back at the regular season and how teams fared. They will be presented, from first to last, in order of their run differential as given by the BaseRuns formula and adjusted for strength of schedule, which I feel is the best measurement of a team’s actual talent level.
Number Nineteen: Detroit Tigers
With the acquisitions of Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cabrera to re-shape the left side of their infield coming into 2008, the Tigers looked poised to be an offensive behemoth and had some people saying 1,000 runs was even within reach. In a sense, that wasn’t terribly unrealistic, but it was certainly a high end estimate and needed to be treated as such. In reality, the 2008 Tigers ended up worse at offense than their previous years counterparts, scoring 66 fewer runs. BaseRuns supports their total, giving them a projected 826 runs to a real total of 821. That still was good enough to rank 4th in the Major Leagues as far as BaseRuns goes but their 841 projected runs allowed (which is 16 fewer than they actually gave up) was poor enough to rank 27th.
Offensively speaking, the problem for the Tigers in matching their 2007 figures was rooted in unsustainable performances. Namely, Magglio Ordonez who posted a pedestrian 19.2% line drive rate in 2007 but managed to record a ridiculous .385 BABIP. There was no way that was going to stay at that level and it didn’t, falling to a more believeable .338 mark this season. That drop sloughed about 40 points off his average and thus his on base percentage as well. His power and walk abilities also regressed a tad further dropping his OBP and really cutting into his slugging percentage which went down 101 points year over year. Add it all up and Magglio Ordonez alone was worth about 50 less runs with his bat than in 2007. That’s kind of a lot.
Placido Polanco and Gary Sheffield also suffered drops in production of around 20 runs each and so the problem begins to be clear why Miguel Cabrera alone wasn’t going to be enough. Now, if the run prevention unit had maintained their 2007 totals, the Tigers might have still been okay. That didn’t happen though, not in the slightest. First of all there’s the defense. Ranked as one of baseball’s better units last year, John Dewan of the Fielding Bible had them at 45 plays above average. According to The Hardball Times, they dropped to 54 plays below average this season which is supported by the team BABIP jumping seven points to .304 this year.
It obviously wasn’t just the defense however, there were actual problems with the hurlers themselves. Namely in the bullpen where Todd Jones finally collapsed and took most of the rest of the unit with him. One has to wonder if Joel Zumaya will ever be the Joel Zumaya of 2006 again. Moving backward in game time, the starters would seem like an easy target as well, and they did also get worse in 2008, but their degradation wasn’t as severe as in the other units. Chiefly, Jeremy Bonderman fell into below average territory in 2008 with his ill-favored party trick of turning strikeouts (down two per nine) into walks (up two per nine). But the Tigers also rid themselves of Mike Maroth this season which was a positive step. Of course they added Dontrelle Willis willingly and then gave him an extension so there’s that for the next few seasons to deal with.
The Tigers need to completely remake their defense and pitching while they hope their aging offensive core doesn’t age too quickly and they’re in a tough division to hope for many breaks.
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