According to math from the minds of Bill James and the Greek mathematician Phythagoras, the Detroit Tigers are the best team in baseball. The Pythagorean expectation formula estimates winning percentage based on runs scored and allowed. Detroit, with a ratio of 603 to 453, should theoretically have a .628 winning percentage, or so says the variant of the formula found on Baseball-Reference.com, which uses a single-number exponent of 1.83.
The Tigers have been good—great even, for the past month. But with that Phyagorean winning percentage, they would have a stellar record of 74-44. In real life today, they stand at 69-49. Where did those extra five wins go?
For all they’ve been good at, the Detroit baseball club has not done well in the late innings. On the season, they’ve suffered ten walk-off losses. Meanwhile, they’ve won on a walk-off just twice. They’re 13-17 in one-run games, and 5-11 in extra-inning games, including a loss—their third in a row—in 11 last night against the Chicago White Sox.
Their first problem has been scoring runs. They obviously haven’t struggled offensively in general, averaging 5.11 runs per game for the season. But most of those runs have come in the early innings. They’ve averaged just 0.35 runs per inning in the seventh or later. Below is a chart showing their decline in scoring over the first nine innings, with a peak in the fifth:
What can be done about this issue is beyond me. Why a team might struggle in the late innings is a question akin to that of why one might struggle in the first or second half of the season. But the problem exists, and it’s a significant one: the Tigers can’t score late.
Secondly, their bullpen—or bullpen management—has proven problematic. In the club’s ten walk-off defeats, losing decisions have been given to Phil Coke (three times), Brayan Villarreal, Al Alburquerque, Bruce Rondon, Luke Putkonen, Jose Valverde, Jose Veras, and Jeremy Bonderman. In their three most recent losses, their best reliever, Joaquin Benoit, has watched helplessly with his team in critical spots. Manager Jim Leyland continues to keep him aside in case of save situations, refusing to call for him in tie games.
While I can’t suggest a remedy for the Tigers late-inning offensive woes, I will say that they could benefit from using their better pitchers when they’re needed. A win here and there might not matter now, but in October, every pitch counts.