And now ...  

OcelotScratch 49M
112 posts
6/16/2006 3:40 pm
And now ...


... that I have suitably horrified everyone, it's time to talk about the really important things.

That's right. It's my first baseball post. Would you believe that my Detroit Tigers have the best record in the major leagues? This is a team that has had a losing season every year since 1993. This is a team that three years ago, lost 119 games, one short of the modern (i.e. post 1919, when the live ball was introduced) record set by the New York Mets. The Mets at least had the excuse that it was their first year of existence.

I had high hopes for this year's team, but as someone once said, everything is relative. "High hopes" meant that I thought they would win 85 games, have a winning record, and get set for the upcoming years, which I'm hoping are really bright. It certainly did not mean going to the playoffs, which Baseball Prospectus now estimates that they have a 79% chance of doing.

I still don't think that they are as good as their record. BP's methods are running a million iterations of the rest of the season, based upon a complicated set of parameters, and seeing how many of those million iterations show a team going to the playoffs. In those million seasons, the average number of wins for the Tigers was 96.5. I'm guessing that that's going to be about six higher than what they'll actually win. Still, it's tough to argue with them finishing 5 wins better than my expectations. Going to the postseason would be playing with house money.

The story of this season is the pitching. The Tigers' offense is at best average. They're eighth in the AL in runs scored, but that disguises a real problem getting on base. Largely, the problem is that they run 2-3 offensive zeroes out there every night. Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe are making too many outs, the Inge has at least some power, and Placido Polanco looks like he's hitting with a wet noodle. Fortunately (well, except for the pain) Monroe has missed about a week's worth of games with a leg injury, and he may have lost his job to Marcus Thames. (Think the Yankees would like to have him back about now?)

But the pitching. Oh, that's been marvelous. The Tigers have an ERA six-tenths of a run lower than anyone else in the American League. If the hitters' aggregate OBP is a little south of mediocre, their opponents' is absurdly low. They aren't giving up many hits, and they simply aren't walking anyone. If you don't walk anybody and keep the ball in the yard, you'll do all right.

They've accomplished this with a mix of luck and talent. Mike Maroth was pitching with smoke and mirrors, and went down with a serious elbow injury before regression to the mean could catch up with him. I still think that Nate Robertson is living on borrowed time; his peripherals are those of a pitcher with an ERA about a run and a half higher than what he's carrying around. Kenny Rogers is probably engaged in an effort to prove me wrong; he's 42 years old, and I thought signing him to a two year deal was a horrible idea. Shows what I know.

The real story, though, is the kids. Jeremy Bonderman, now 23, looks like he's finally putting it together. The strikeouts are way up, the walks are way down, and he isn't giving up the long ball. It's nice to see him establish himself. He has been the recipient of bad luck, though; roughly speaking, he should have Robertson's ERA, and Robertson should have his.

Justin Verlander, also 23, has a wicked fastball. He hits 100 mph on the radar gun at least a couple of times per outing, though that is with the ridiculous guns used at the park adding about 3 mph to it's real speed. He isn't striking anybody out, which is usually a bad sign in a young pitcher, but not so much here. He clearly has the stuff to be a strikeout pitcher if he wanted, and that's the real criterion; Ks are just (usually) a good proxy for stuff. Instead, I don't think I've ever seen a pitcher get so many weak pop-ups on the infield.

Joel Zumaya, 21, is out in the pen. There's talk of making him a closer, but if the team goes this route, I will reach through the Internet and strangle someone. Down the road, he belongs in the rotation, though I can easily understand going easy on a 21 year old's arm by only letting him 2 innings at a time. At least they're using him in high leverage situations.

With the draft of Andrew Miller in the first round, the Tigers could have a 2008 rotation of

Bonderman
Verlander
Zumaya
Miller
Some 5th starter filler.

If Miller develops as projected, that's a frightening prospect for opponents, and allows Dave Dombrowski to spend free agent dollars improving the offense.

Whew! That went on for a long time, didn't it? What can I say; I'm giddy about my baseball team.

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