Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Tigers as seen through Baseball Prospectus 2008

I received my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2008 in the mail yesterday. For those of you who don't know, BP 2008 is practically a bible for baseball fans. It previews the upcoming season, analyzing every major leaguer and basically any worthwile minor leaguer. A few of its unique qualities are its ability to predict a player's 2008 stats; compare that player to past players using stats, age, position, injuries, size; and its exclusize stats that adjust for level, park size, and opposition.
I thought I'd take a look at the Detroit Tigers section and see what stood out to me.

  • They show how the Tigers' defense in 2008 will be much better than the 2007 Marlins D. In fact, BP says, "Left side defenders Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, and Josh Willingham cost Willis at least a half-run in ERA more than average fielders would have, perhaps more." Even with Cabrera still behind him at 3rd, he gets Renteria at SS and Jacque Jones in LF. Those two are average and above-average on D, which should surely help Willis. So, when predicting Willis's 2008 performance, ignore that 5.17 2007 ERA and think a little lower. If he can lower his walk rate that has increased the last two years, Willis will be an excellent addition to our staff behind Verlander and Bonderman.

  • Curtis Granderson was recently signed to a long-term deal that will keep him in town until 2013. However, be cautious when looking for more of the same from Granderson in 2008. BP is skeptical about Granderson's continued improvement. They've projected him at a .267/.339/.467 (BA/OBP/SLG) line this year. That just about splits the difference between his '06 and '07 lines. Keep in mind, these projections I will mention are the mean projection of thousands that there system computes. So, Granderson can certainly outperform that, and likely will. It simply serves to remind us that he's not a complete player yet. His inability to hit lefthanders and his K/BB rate are big negatives. In fact, his top comparable is Andy Van Slyke. Van Slyke was a great player in the late 1980s-early 1990s for the Pirates. Like Granderson, he was a great CF who could steal bases, hit triples, HR, and 2Bs. But, he also struggled to hit lefties, and only once did he better his age-26 season. Granderson was 26 in 2007. Something to think about.

  • If you're looking for our top bench player, look no further than Ryan Raburn. As someone who can play all OF spots and 2B, I see no reason why Raburn shouldn't be on the major league roster in 2008. Over a full season of at-bats, BP projects him to hit 19 HR, 28 2B, and steal 14 bases. While he won't get enough plate appearances off the bench to see those types of numbers, it shows what he can do for the team. We can give someone the day off and not see much drop-off in talent. With the age in our starting lineup, Raburn is a terrific option off the bench.

  • I'm not too sure about my readers, but I was one of the biggest Chris Shelton fans. He was a solid hitter who could play a decent first base at a cheap price. In 2006, the Tigers gave up on the 26-year-old 1B who was hitting .273/.340/.466. It's not quite the power you want out of your corner infielders, but look who they replaced him with. Sean Casey slugged .364 and .393 the past two years. Well, what about his ability to get on base or play defense? According to BP, Shelton was the better fielder and Casey didn't reach base all that much better (.353). I think it's a shame Shelton didn't get a better chance in Detroit. Offense wasn't this team's problem in 2007, but there's still no need to make it worse. Shelton was and still is a better bet than Casey. Luckily Shelton is now in Texas where he will have a chance at the 1B job. Casey is in Boston where he'll try to find at-bats behind Youkilis and Ortiz. Good luck.

  • Another of my favorite overlooked players is Marcus Thames. Too often, Leyland looked to people like Timo Perez and Casey when he needed a pinch-hitter or a first baseman. Thames should have received much more time at first. Instead, Casey showed yet again that he has the weakest bat of any 1B in recent memory. Given the at-bats, Thames can slug over .500 and hit 25-30 HRs. Since he can't hit righthanders, the Tigers brought in Jacque Jones to do that job. Leyland needs to play Thames against all lefties and let him pinch-hit whenever possible. The man flat out rake. His top comparables are guys like Ron Kittle, Gus Zernial, Dave Kingman, and Glenn Davis. All of them were straight power hitters, nothing else. They weren't complete players by any means. But the men could hit HRs like it was T-ball. At age 31, Thames needs more chances sooner rather than later.

  • Quick, which pitcher had the worst year for the Tigers in 2007? I'm sure at least a few of you would say Jason Grilli. In fact, Grilli was actually a pretty decent pitcher. He lowered his walk and HR rate from 2006 while raising his K rate. It was his batting average on balls in play that affected his ERA and perceived performance. In reality, pitchers have little control on the balls hit in play. That average tends to fluctuate yearly. Stats like walks, HRs, and Ks, are under a pitcher's control. The rest tends to be reflective of the defense or park size. If Grilli continues his 2007 improvements, he could actually be a reliable later inning option with Zumaya out.

  • Our rotation is pretty solid and a good bet to stay healthy except for Kenny Rogers. At 43, the Tigers must be prepared to deal with a possible injury and/or ineffectiveness. Some of the contenders for the job are Yorman Bazardo, Zach Miner, and Macay McBride. Bazardo doesn't walk many batters, but he doesn't strike many out either. Others who have had that problem include Nate Cornejo and Todd Jones. One never made it, the other is barely hanging on. Miner is probably the best bet to be our "6th starter." He is a terrific groundball pitcher, rarely allowing a HR. He can also strike people out, something Bazardo can't do. But, watch out for McBride. Somewhat forgotten after struggling last year, he has all the tools to start in the majors. Converted to a lefty specialist by Atlanta, McBride has had control problems as a reliever. Now back to starting, McBride has the best pitches and K rate of the three candidates. Assuming he does well with a little refresher course in Toledo, McBride could be a solid league-average replacement for Rogers.

  • Interesting tidbits: Nate Robertson's top comparable is Kenny Rogers. Justin Verlander counts Josh Beckett and Don Newcombe among his most comparable pitchers. Not too bad, huh?

  • For all those concerned about Fernando Rodney: forget it. He's the same pitcher he was in 2006. His K, HR, and BB rates the last 3 years are nearly similar. Again, like Grilli, the only difference was his BABIP. In 2007, it was .306. In '06 it was .238. Assuming it regresses to the mean (and he's healthy), Rodney should have no problem as our top setup man in 2008. Still worried? Two of his four top comparables are Hoyt Wilhelm and Aurelio Lopez. Wilhelm was arguably the best reliever of the 1960s, while Lopez starred for the early 1980s Tigers.


Anonymous said...

I though Grilli and Rodney were our worst pitchers last year, but I guess I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Rayburn or Shelton fan. They have not consistently proved anything to me. Shelton was a one-hit wonder and Rayburn an over 25 half rookie. Casey proved he can play in the Bigs, albeit up in age. I think super-sub Inge will get any nod over Rayburn and don't discound Santiago.

Anonymous said...

No, enough of Santiago, he is no good. I see Rayburn being our next super-sub behind Inge. Those two men will prove valuable down the stretch with the age we have behind the plate and at first. But, ya, Shelton wasn't anything more than a one-year guy. I don't see him doing anything more in Texas that .230 and 15 HR.
The Red Sox have had a terrible off-season in my eyes. They didn't get Johan, haven't moved Coco Crisp yet, and signed Sean Casey.