Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Line 'em up

I know there have been many studies done about the effect of batting orders on success, and many suggest a batting order itself has little impact on wins and losses. That math is far beyond me, but I figured I could look at this in more simple terms. Following is the Tigers' most frequently used lineup in 2009 and the number of times each player led off an inning, in actual numbers and as a percentage of their total plate appearances.

1. Curtis Granderson: 264 (37%)
2. Placido Polanco: 123 (18%)
3. Magglio Ordonez: 89 (17%)
4. Miguel Cabrera: 159 (23%)
5. Carlos Guillen: 73 (23%)
6/7. Brandon Inge: 131 (21%)
8. Gerald Laird: 133 (28%)
9. Adam Everett: 78 (20%)

Granderson, who did not bat No. 1 exclusively, had 130 PAs leading off the game and 134 otherwise as an inning's first batter. The players above represented 72% of Detroit's inning-leadoff PAs.

If nothing else, I think this shows the importance of leadoff hitters is often over-rated because aside from their first PA of the game, they might not lead off an inning with any more frequency than anyone else. Batting order would seem to matter most because players at the top get more PAs over the course of the season than players at the bottom. (No. 1 usually gets about 150 more than No. 9). But simply having a lineup of good hitters is much more important than where they bat in the lineup.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wait til next year

AccuScore's AL playoff projections give the Tigers a 22% chance to make the postseason while the Orioles are given about half a percent.

Rolling the dice

The Tigers have traded LHP Nate Robertson, along with cash, to the Florida Marlins for a minor league pitcher. That means Dontrelle Willis will get the No. 5 spot in the rotation. D-Train went out today against the Orioles and pitched 4.1 innings and gave up 7 hits, 4 walks and 5 runs.

Spring Forecast

It looks like a stormy April on the horizon for the Baltimore Orioles. Of the 22 games on the schedule, 16 are in the AL East with 13 of those against the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees against whom the O's were 16-39 last season. Those 16 games are sandwiched around a 6 game west coast road trip where the O's have long been poor performers.

Although not officially announced, the starting rotation appears to be set. Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez.

Millwood has had the worst spring of the group by far. Given his track record, though, he gets a pass and is reasonably expected to be ready to pitch on Opening Day.

Guthrie has also had a bad spring. He looks just like he did last season, walking batters and then giving up the home run. I expect another long season for him and suspect he may be ruined (mentally) for Baltimore. O's management has always had more patience than I in these situations, and I hope it pays off this time.

Matusz (rookie), Bergesen (sophomore) and Hernandez (sophomore) have had solid springs. While this is a bright spot, it is unreasonable to expect the youngsters to carry the load, but that is what will be needed for the Orioles to weather the month of April with their heads above water.

In the bullpen, Koji Uehara will most likely start the season on the DL with a bad hamstring (the same problem that put him on the shelf in 2009). Nagging hamstring problems at his age may mean he won't pitch again. This is a significant loss because of the flexibility a healthy Uehara could have provided to the bullpen in terms of long relief, short relief, closing and spot starting.

Kam Mickolio impressed last September and was expected to be in the bullpen in 2010. He's hurt and will likely not make the team.

In the field, Brian Roberts missed most of the spring with a herniated disk. He's been in the lineup the last several days and appears to be healthy.

Nolan Reimold (expected to be the starting left fielder) is nursing a sore achilles heel from offseason surgery. He started the spring o for 21 at the plate and limping. His bat has heated up lately with 5 multi-hit games and no noticeable limp. There remains some question as to whether he's strong enough to play every day. Felix Pie will likely be the Opening Day starter in left.

Other than that, the O's are healthy. Adam Jones (CF), Nick Markakis (RF) and Luke Scott (DH) have posted solid springs and appear ready to play. Miguel Tejada (3B), Garrett Atkins (1B) and Cesar Izturis (SS) are veterans, healthy and can reasonably be expected to deliver their standard performances once it counts.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lineup set

Jim Leyland announced the Tigers' lineup, and there were not many surprises. It'll be 1. Austin Jackson, 2. Johnny Damon, 3. Miguel Cabrera, 4. Magglio Ordonez, 5. Carlos Guillen, 6. Brandon Inge, 7. Gerald Laird, 8. Scott Sizemore, 9. Adam Everett. Leyland said the only possible change on Opening Day could be flipping Laird and Sizemore.

Meanwhile, there is talk that Detroit is going to make Dontrelle Willis the No. 5 starter and is shopping Nate Robertson. I'm sure the Tigers would like to unload one of the pitchers, particularly their contracts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Plate Phillers

I was looking at Jimmy Rollins' stats, particularly his plate appearances, and came across the realization that of the top four PA seasons in history, three belong to Phillies: Rollins with 778 PAs in 2007, Lenny Dykstra with 773 in 1993 and Dave Cash with 766 in 1975. The other belongs to Cincy's Pete Rose, with 770 in 1974. Rose, of course, later played with the Phillies.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Special order

If the Phillies constructed a batting order based on on-base percentage, it would look like this: Utley, Werth, Howard, Victorino, Ruiz, Ibanez, Polanco, Rollins, pitcher. I think I would like to see a week of this. It also is a very balanced lineup going L-R-L-S-R-L-R-S. Of course, it will never happen, in large part because Rollins would never go for it. But I think even though it appears unorthodox, it makes a good deal of sense. I'd say you could move Ibanez up to the No. 4 spot based on slugging and drop Victorino and Ruiz down a notch, but I think I like Victorino at 4 and Ibanez giving that extra pop down lower.

I tried to come up with a OBP lineup for the Tigers, but cannot because it's hard to gauge what they're going to get from Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. Based on their minor league stats, I guess the lineup would be: Sizemore, Johnny Damon, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Jackson, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird and Adam Everett. Cabrera has the best OBP, but needs to hit 3 because of his slugging. This probably is not far off from what Leyland might send out there, except with Jackson batting leadoff because of his speed and Sizemore dropping down to hit behind Guillen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Everything is rosy

After reading Lynn Henning's column today, I say the Tigers are a lock for the AL Central title and trip to the postseason.

Glad to see Max Scherzer coming around. I loved the trade to get him. I think he pitched better than his stats last season (.323 BABIP) and strikes out a batter an inning. He should only get better when he masters his control. The Tigers are a slightly better defensive team than the D-backs and he goes to more of a pitcher's park.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mr. Robertson

Nate Robertson has pitched well this spring as he tries to reclaim a role in the Tigers' rotation. Will it last? Who knows? His slider is reportedly snapping. In 14.2 IP, Robertson has allowed 13 hits and 6 walks while striking out 14. The whiffs are encouraging.

In 2006, Robertson went 13-13 with a 3.84 ERA. He's never reached that level again. His K/BB ratio has dropped and his BABIP the last two years has been right around .343. His groundball and popup rates have also suffered. He has struggled with injuries (back, elbow, groin).

Now, back to the slider. Robertson threw his slider 23% of the time in 2006. The last two years he threw his slider 25% and 27.5% of the time. Meanwhile, the velocity on his fastball dropped from 89.7 mph to 87.8 mph. So Robertson either fell in love with his slider or lost faith in his fastball, or both. And given his trouble throwing strikes, hitters were probably teeing off on fat fastballs or sliders that didn't move.

It will be interesting to track Robertson's fastball/slider this season, if he gets the chance to return to the rotation.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Interesting note on Fangraphs about the lack of No. 5 starters. Phillies fans are gnashing their teeth over the 5 spot in Philly's rotation. I've always figured that if the No. 5 starter is among your chief concerns, you're in good shape. This would confirm that.

Twenty-two teams had three starters make 24 or more starts last season. Only 9 teams had four starters reach that number. Less than 10 percent could claim they had a No. 5 starter.

Last season, Detroit had three starters surpass 30 starts: Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Edwin Jackson. Armando Galarraga reached 25. Eight other pitchers made at least one start.

The Phils had two starters surpass 30 starts: Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. Jamie Moyer reached 25 and J.A. Happ reached 23. Cliff Lee had 12 after he was acquired via trade. Pedro Martinez made 9 starts in his part-time role. Six other pitchers made at least one start.

Baltimore had one starter surpass 30 starts: Jeremy Guthrie. Jason Berken made 24 starts and 10 other pitchers made at least one start. Eight of those made at least 8 starts.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Grand beginning

Two of the biggest questions for the Tigers is whether they will be able to adequately replace the production of Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco with rookies Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. So far so good.

Jackson, one of the key pieces in the three-team deal that sent Granderson to the Yankees, has impressed everyone in spring training. He is batting .424/.513/.667 in 33 ABs. He has struck out only four times while walking six. You can't read too much into spring stats, but I'd rather see this than see him struggling. His defense has been reported to be very good, as advertised.

Last year at Triple-A, Jackson batted .300/.354/.405 in 504 ABs. The previous year, he posted a .285/.354/.419 line at Double-A. He totaled 43 SB (10 caught) those two seasons. His RC/27 last year was approximately 5.2, which is not bad, but one might prefer a little more at that level.

Sizemore, returning from a broken ankle in the Arizona Fall League, has struggled this spring, batting .200/.351/.300. At least the OBP is decent. Sizemore has been a solid hitter throughout the minor (the knock on him is with the leather). Sizemore batted a combined .308/.389/.500 last year in Double-A (228 ABs) and Triple-A (292 ABs) with 21 SB in 25 attempts. His approximate RC/27 was 7.1, which I would consider a very solid.

Granderson and Polanco ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in RC for the Tigers last year, behind only Miguel Cabrera. It should be noted their production was good, but not great, so the pressure to fill those shoes is lessened a bit. Still, Detroit needs for Jackson and Sizemore to produce at decent levels to make up for the departures.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tub of Laird

There is no question Gerald Laird is a very good defensive catcher. Offensively, he was challenged in 2009. He got more than 400 PAs for just the second time in his career and his OPS+ was a dismal 64. Coincidentally, the other time he got more than 400 PAs, his OPS+ was 64. If nothing else he is consistent.

Hopefully, Laird can improve on his numbers this year. His OPS+ was above average two of the first three months of last season and took a significant tumble as the year went on. The bottom third of Detroit's lineup was a black hole the second half of last season: Brandon Inge's OPS+ for that stretch was 45, Laird's was 48 and Adam Everett's was 43.

It is unreasonable to expect much from Everett, but hopefully Inge is healthy after offseason knee surgery and Laird has improved his endurance. This team missed the postseason by a game even with one-third of the lineup failing to produce anywhere near average, much less above average, for nearly half the campaign. Even modest improvement could go a long way in 2010.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bad News, Good News

The bad news is that Brian Roberts ailing back, which he has repeatedly claimed is not a serious problem, but has, nevertheless, kept him out of the lineup all spring, now has him in Baltimore seeing a back specialist.

The good news is, not having Roberts in the lineup in no way hinders the O's chances of winning a pennant.