Toothless Tigers: The Missing O in Detr_it

Picked by many to challenge for the Central Division crown this year, the Detroit Tigers currently have the worst record in the American League, at 17-27. An offense that was supposed to be one of the best in baseball has scored only 192 runs, good for seventh in the American League. What’s gone wrong?

 

First of all, the Tigers have played a lot of very good teams so far this year. In fact, of their 54 games, 18 have been against the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, and Diamondbacks (even though the Yankees are struggling this year, they are still a difficult opponent to play against). However, in the remaining 108 games, the Tigers play these teams only six more times (and all of these games are against the Angels).

Additionally, the Tigers have been unlucky to score only 192 runs, given their team batting line. Although they are seventh in the AL in runs scored, they are third in OPS. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that, although they are hitting .262 as a team, they are only hitting .245 with runners in scoring position (only Toronto and Texas have a bigger discrepancy between their overall batting average and their batting average with runners in scoring position).

Once adjusted for strength of schedule and some bad luck, the Tigers’ runs scored rises from 192 to 203 runs (according to Baseball Prospectus’s third-order runs scored). In other words, given who the Tigers have played and the way the Tigers have hit thus far, they should have scored 203 runs instead of 192.

But even 203 runs would only be good for tied for fourth in the AL, still a far cry from the dominant offense the Tigers were expected to put on the field. Let’s look deeper and see what else is going on with the Tigers hitters.

Here is a chart including each hitter’s batting line, their expected batting average on balls in play (X)  and their actual BABIP (A).

Ordonez –      .307/.373/482         

X: .295

A: .325

Cabrera -       .270/.359/.465            

X: .245

A: .298

Renteria -       .263/.297/.353           

X: .363

A: .284

Guillen -          .284/364/.426               

X: .303

A: .316

Polanco -       .271/.342/.371             

X: .335

A: .279

Rodriguez -    .264/.307/.386        

X: .351

A: .310

Sheffield -      .189/.248/.302            

X: .231

A: .228

Inge -             .221/327/.368                 

X: .282

A: .277

Granderson - .233/.316/.465   

X: .241    

A: .246

Joyce -          .267/.324/.667                 

X: .191

A: .167

As you can see, Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria, and Ivan Rodriguez have been unlucky on balls in play, while Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera have been lucky. The sample size is small, so it’s not surprising that some players have been lucky or unlucky. However, it appears that, on the whole, the Tigers’s offense has not been terribly unlucky on balls in play.

Now let’s take a look at what was expected of the Tigers offense. Here is a chart comparing hitters’ actual lines to their PECOTA predicted lines (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus):

 

 

Actual

     PECOTA

Ordonez            

.307/.373/482

.307/.377/.485

Cabrera            

.270/.359/.465

.301/.376/.516

Renteria           

.263/.297/.353

.279/.344/.394

Guillen              

.284/364/.426

.293/.362/.465

Polanco            

.271/.342/.371

.306/.354/.402

Rodriguez         

.264/.307/.386

.267/.295/.390

Sheffield           

.189/.248/.302

.274/.372/.461

Inge                    

.221/327/.368

.245/.317/.408

Granderson       

.233/.316/.465

.267/.338/.465

Joyce                 

.267/.324/.667

.231/.294/.371

 

Ordonez is remarkably in line with his prediction. Cabrera is performing worse than expected, despite the fact that he’s been lucky on balls in play. Even though they have been unlucky on balls in play, Rodriguez and Polanco are performing approximately in line with what PECOTA expected. Guillen, Inge, and even Granderson are performing more or less as PECOTA expected as well (although each is slightly worse than expected).

Obviously, the big player that stands out is Gary Sheffield. However, despite his projection, Sheffield had an attrition rate of 21% - and this likely would have been higher if the system knew about Sheffield’s various ailments. So although Sheffield is performing worse than expected, it’s far from unexpected for a player like him to completely break down.

The other player who bears additional comment is Miguel Cabrera. With an 824 OPS, Cabrera has not been part of the offensive problem; however, after OPSs of 966, 998, and 957 over the last three years, Cabrera has certainly been a disappointment (even more so considering the fact that Cabrera played those previous three seasons in cavernous Pro Player Stadium). Even though he has not been unlucky on balls in play, Cabrera is still very likely to improve upon his hitting so far, and should end up with numbers more in line with his previous three seasons’ numbers.

The Tigers offense is better than this. They have been unlucky to score only 192 runs with their current batting line – they should have 203. They have also played an extremely difficult schedule thus far, and will have an easier go of it in the coming months. Miguel Cabrera has such an extensive and impressive track record that I’m inclined to believe that he is very likely to improve upon his numbers so far.

However, beyond that, the rest of the Tigers offense has only suffered from a relatively minimal amount of bad luck. As such, while the Tigers offense should be better during the rest of the season than it has been so far, their offense may not be as good as many people expected before the season. Because their pitching has many question marks as well, this does not bode well for Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs.

But their offense should improve enough to at least make the race interesting.

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