Detroit Tigers: numbers that matter

The Detroit Tigers are 41-32, and have for the time being restored order in the AL Central, leading the division by three full games over Kansas City. But those aren’t the numbers I find most intriguing.

As we near the halfway point of the MLB season, here are some digits to chew on:

From 2009 through Jim Leyland’s last season in ’14, the Tigers were a consistently dominant team at home, winning an average of 50.8 games per year in Motown, never winning more than 52 and never less than 50. Road woes were often what troubled Leyland’s teams. Detroit averaged just 37.8 wins to 43.4 losses during that same five year stretch away from Comerica Park. Brad Ausmus has his team on pace for just 40 home wins but also an astounding 51 road wins. Will a team that has proven to be tougher on the road also perform at a higher level in the playoffs? Time will tell.

<strong/></a><p class=Victor Martinez” width=”211″ height=”320″ /> Victor Martinez

Despite being nine games over .500, the Tigers have outscored their opponents by just 13 runs through the first 73 games of the year. Detroit, given their bullpen woes, are a respectable 13-9 in 1-run games.

Victor Martinez’s career high in home runs is 25 set all the way back in 2007 while playing with the Indians. He currently has 19, is on pace for 42 and is showing no signs of slowing down. Talk about perfect timing. The 35-year-old Martinez will be a free agent this offseason and will be seeking a multi-year deal. At this point, how can the Tigers not give serious attention to re-signing him?

Speaking of Martinez’s, how about JD?! Last year in Houston, covering 86 games and 296 at-bats, JD hit seven home runs. Last night he hit his 8th of the year, a bomb to dead center, and he has played just 37 games and logged a mere 118 at-bats on the season. Credit Martinez’s renaissance to his dedication to rediscovering both right and center fields. Of his eight home runs so far, only three have been pulled to left field. Torii who?

[Related: Should the Tigers pursue Ben Zobrist?]

Wondering why the Tigers have struggled a bit this year? Look no further than their starting pitching. Quick, name the one Tigers starting pitcher who has seen an increase in his strikeout to walk rate from 2013 to ‘14…..If you guessed anybody’s name, then you’d be wrong. All five starters have seen their K/BB rates tumble from 2013 to this year. In 2014, Justin Verlander struck out 2.89 batters for every walk issued. This year it’s at 1.83. Max Scherzer has gone from 4.29 to 3.84. Rick Porcello: 3.38 to 2.67. Anibal Sanchez: 3.74 to 2.95. Drew Smyly: 4.77 to 2.58.

Indeed, the strikeouts are mostly down across the board. The only starter to increase his K rate this year is Scherzer, going from 10.08 K’s/9 innings pitched to 10.27, but he’s walking more hitters. Porcello is way down – 7.22 to 5.68. Same with JV – 8.95 to 6.62. Sanchez? Ditto – 9.99 to 7.62. Smyly was at 9.59 as a reliever in ’13 but is at 7.61 as a starter this year. The lesson remains the same: walks are for suckers and strikeouts are king. I suspect we’ll see a rise in the K’s/9 from the rotation going forward, and if we don’t, then expect more bumps in the road.

Why are the strikeout ratios so out of whack for an entire rotation then? There are a lot of theories but mine rests primarily upon decreased fastball velocity. I find it amusing that Verlander is constantly ridiculed for his drop in velocity. Why, you ask? Because all five starters have seen a precipitous drop in their average fastball velocities from last year to this season. JV is only down 0.6 MPH from 94 to 93.4. The biggest dip has been from Sanchez, who coincidentally has seen the biggest drop in his K/9 rate.

Sanchez averaged 92.8 MPH with his heater last year but is at just 91.8 MPH this year. Porcello, just now entering his early prime, has gone from 91 to 90.4. Scherzer is down from 93.3 to 92.4. Smyly was at 91.4 in 2012 when he was mainly a starter. Last year in relief he averaged 90.7 and so far in ’14 he is at just 89.8 MPH as he is throwing a heavier than expected dose of sliders. When fastball velocities drop, it essentially dumbs down the entire arsenal for that pitcher. The fastball is less explosive, creating a more hittable differential to the changeup speed, and a less biting breaking ball. Watch the radar gun, it matters. All stats referenced in this paragraph per FanGraphs.

<strong/></a><p class=Ian Kinsler” width=”213″ height=”320″ /> Ian Kinsler

In 129 innings covering the 2012 and ’13 seasons in Texas, Joe Nathan gave up just 30 earned runs. In 27.2 innings so far with the Tigers he has allowed 19. Fastball velocity? Down from 92.3 in ’13 to 91.6 this year.

In the 202 at-bats that have been used by shortstops Andrew Romine, Danny Worth, and Alex Gonzalez, they managed four doubles, one triple, one homer, and 13 RBIs. In 48 at-bats since joining the Tigers, Eugenio Suarez has tallied two doubles, one triple, three homers, and 6 RBIs.

Last year the Tigers stole just 35 bases as a team with a meager 64% success rate. They have already swiped 51 bags in ’14, but have been thrown out 26 times, for just a 66% rate, which ranks 26th in MLB. 26 outs from attempting to steal bases is a bunch at this point in the season. Only two teams have been caught stealing more. If the success rate doesn’t increase, then expect more red lights to be flashed at guys not named Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler.

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  • bigfoot

    Strikeouts could also be down due to better defense. They are getting more outs earlier in the countless more chances for strikeouts. Just suggesting another reason. I haven’t done the research.

  • happygo_1

    Great info Joe, thanks. The base stealing lack of success looks like the opposing teams are looking for the Tigers to try for an extra base regularly. Now the Tigers are going to have to become smarter at reading the pitchers.

  • burrwick

    Good research Joe. Some very head scratching stuff. The home/road percentages seem a bit fluky. Gotta believe they’ll start winning at home more and if they can keep the road pace the Tigers would end up with a very nice record.

    Velocity of every pitcher is down?! Every pitcher!? That seems very odd indeed.

    Players and managers can talk about being “more aggressive” but total steals don’t matter nearly as much as success rate. The game is always going to be about percentages and if your stealing efficiency isn’t good, your hurting (more than helping) your chances to win. Can’t run for running sake, the ability to actually have success determines steal opportunities. Seems like they had much more success early but teams have adjusted and are now doing a much better job of checking the Tigers running game.