The Tigers lineup – at least the way it looks from a newspaper stat sheet – is becoming sharply divided into a group of players that are doing their jobs and a group that are not. If we look only at the starting nine: who looks good? Austin Jackson, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Andy Dirks. Who doesn’t? Ryan Raburn, Brennan Boesch, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young.
We assign blame to the latter group – especially Ryan Raburn, who a lot of fans would like to see canned. We don’t assign blame to the first. Is that fair?
In certain cases, it obviously IS fair. Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson are having tremendous years – by their own standards – 212 and 170 OPS points over their career averages, respectively. Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn have been just awful – and 177 and 388 points under theirs. For the rest, it isn’t so clear. Avila is 18 points under his career average, but 99 points under last year. Miguel Cabrera is 149 points under his career OPS and 235 points under last year. Prince Fielder is 65 points under his career OPS and 119 points under last year. In the ‘blamed’ group: Peralta is 80 points below his career OPS and 148 below last year. Young is 143 points below his career number and 88 points below last year. Are those numbers so different?
That career OPS number is more or less what we ‘should’ have expected from a player, though we might have been more inclined to expect a repeat of 2011. The odd question here boils down to whether or not the dropoff relative to ‘expectations’ feels big or feels small. In psychology there is a known phenomenon relating to perception described by the Weber-Fechner law – that how noticeable a change in some stimulus will be is related to the proportional change in that stimulus rather than the absolute. That means a 1-mile an hour change in speed while running is much more noticeable than while driving on the interstate. It would also imply that a 60 point drop in OPS would ‘feel’ bigger from a marginal major leaguer than it would from a star. I suspect that this is what’s going on here.
I’ve done a bunch of statistical tests, maybe some day I’ll get around to doing more, to try to determine whether lineup “balance” has any impact on scoring above and beyond what you would get from average offensive talent. I haven’t found any impact at all – though that certainly doesn’t prove that no such impact exists. Until I get some evidence to the contrary, I’m going to have to assume that a 149 point drop in OPS [since OPS is actually quite a good predictor of run scoring for a team] from Miguel Cabrera has the same impact as a 149 point drop from Delmon Young.
So if you’re looking for someone to blame for an offense that has not met expectations… clearly don’t blame Jackson and Dirks, clearly do blame Raburn and Boesch. I, for one, probably wouldn’t put too much blame on Avila – he’s doing about what we should have expected, though that may be less than what we did expect. For the rest: Cabrera and Fielder (though it certainly feels like they’re still hitting) are every bit as responsible as Peralta and Young. And – in sum – a lineup with six underachievers, two overachievers and one ‘just enough’ doesn’t sound like a lineup that’s going to impress.