When the Tigers hit that curiously bad stretch many pundits aimed their arrows at the offense, which seemed to hit a collective slump. The Tigers were shut out three times during their 9-20 tailspin and scored between one and two runs eight times. For sure, it’s tough to win games that way. But it’s not difficult to wins games when you score five runs or more, which the Tigers did 10 times during their lost month. Of those ten games when the Tigers offense awakened, Detroit lost three. In this day and age that ratio just won’t cut it—certainly not for a team with championship aspirations.
Why? Because this is not your big brother’s major league baseball. It’s your father’s or grandfather’s. In 2014, runs per game have shrunk to the pre-steroid level. That means a .264/.328/.402 hitter (which was the average AL line in 1982) would be above average in 2014 (.255/320/397 is the average). It also means in any 29 game stretch just about every offense, even good ones, will endure 11 games in which it scores fewer than three runs, as the Tigers did from May 19-June 18. Many fans and writers seemed to lose sight of this as the Tigers’ troubles mounted. They still viewed the game through the prism of the steroid era, or even the era of five years ago when the average offensive line was .264/.336/.428. For some perspective, at no point during the Tigers slump did the offense (in key categories such as runs per game; OPS, OBP) tumble below seventh in the league (which meant they remained above average).
No, the offense was never the problem. After pounding out 34 runs in three games few are complaining about the offense right now anyway. The Tigers currently lead the AL in BA, OBP, Slugging, OPS, and wOBA. Oddly, they are only third in runs a game, which suggests more base running issues. Indeed, the Tigers are 12th in UBR (a catch all base running metric). But that’s an improvement from 2013, when they were dead last by a wide margin. Just for grins, the Tigers’ league-leading OPS of .783 would have put them seventh in the AL in 2003.
The main culprit in the Tigers’ massive slump of a month ago was of course the pitching and defense. At one point in June, the Tigers had dived to 11th in the AL in ERA. Alarmingly, both the pitching and defense remain inconsistent. The starters are middle of the pack in traditional and advance metrics and the bullpen mostly worse, although the pen’s xFIP (which strips out fielding) is a surprising fourth. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the defense has slipped as well. It has fallen to 24th in Defensive Efficiency in MLB. A bit of reshuffling, however, could improve the defense immensely, and a return to form of Justin Verlander would be a big step toward helping the starting staff regain its 2013 dominance.
When Dave Dombrowski looks to upgrade the Tigers for the stretch run he will likely focus on the team’s real needs. As it stands, the offense is in pretty good shape, even if the numbers pale in comparison to past seasons.