Year of the Pitcher, Part 2

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The last question, before we put this all to rest and wait to see if that regression to the mean in 2011 actually happens, is why the Tigers seem to have missed out on the fun entirely. The Tigers run prevention didn’t improve in 2010, we went from a 4.29 ERA in 2009 to a 4.30 ERA while other teams carved 0.25 off theirs. As much as I like to complain about the Tigers’ bullpen, they weren’t the culprits. Bullpen ERA dropped from 4.29 to 3.96. Starter ERA, on the other hand, rose from 4.29 to 4.46. That can’t be blamed on health. If anything the Tigers got on the ‘good health’ bandwagon, four starters made 25 or more starts in 2009, and four in 2010 but the fifth (Galarraga) made 24 in 2010.

It wasn’t Justin Verlander’s fault: his ERA dropped from 3.45 to 3.37. It wasn’t Armando Galarraga, perfect game aside he did pitch well. His ERA dropped from 5.36 to 4.54. It wasn’t the Jackson/Scherzer trade. As well as Jackson pitched for us in 2009, Scherzer was just a hair better in 2010. In part it was Porcello’s BABIP regression (up) – but that alone was just about cancelled out by Galarraga’s BABIP regression (down). Starters other than those four were bad in 2009, and almost exactly as bad in 2010, with ERAs of 5.86 in both years. They pitched more innings in 2010, though, while the big four pitched fewer. Improved health gave us a stable #5 starter in 2010 that we didn’t have in 2009, Bonderman, but he pitched so badly that he was no better than the revolving door the year before.

But, then, putting blame on Porcello and Bonderman is really making mountains out of molehills. We don’t have to look that deep to find out why the Tigers pitching didn’t ‘improve’ in 2010. The fact is: it did. OPS allowed dropped by .026 from 2009 to 2010. The Tigers walked fewer guys and gave up fewer home runs (40 fewer home runs!) in 2010, just like everyone else in the AL. If we calculate how many runs the Tigers should have allowed based on their peripheral stats using basic Runs Created (plate appearances x OBP x SLG) the Tigers should have allowed 62 fewer runs in 2010 than in 2009, almost exactly what actually happened to the rest of the teams in the league. What explains this? Luck, plain and simple. We had some good luck in 2009, we had some bad luck in 2010, balls were dropping for hits at inopportune times.

On the offensive side, we scored 8 more runs in 2010 than we did in 2009. That’s not a big jump, but it’s certainly no 60 run decline. And it wasn’t ‘luck’ in the sense that our pitching decline was. Based on RC, we should have scored 19 more runs than in 2009. We didn’t hit as many home runs as in 2009, our drop of 31 was above the curve as well. We did hit a lot more doubles, though, and some more singles as well. We walked 6 more times (trivial, I know) in 2010, so whatever happened to decrease walks across the board didn’t affect us. We did strike out more, though, just like the rest. There’s some cause for concern here. Isolated power and walks are a lot more consistent from year to year than BABIP is, even for hitters. Given that we offset a drop in power with an increase in BABIP, we’re more likely to lose that BABIP bump without regaining the power than vice versa. A lot of this comes down to Austin Jackson, in the end. His high line-drive rate is what’s motivating a lot of this, and regression to the mean for him would mean a regression to the mean for Detroit.

In short… the year of the pitcher didn’t really pass us by, it just looked that way. If these changes are here to stay, we’ll probably start to notice it pretty soon. We did pitch better in 2010, but that was masked by bad luck on the timing of hits (or bad clutch pitching, if you prefer). We did lose power on the offensive side in 2010, but that was balanced out by some good luck (or skill, perhaps, to the optimist) with balls in the gaps.

Thanks for reading through to the end, comments are appreciated as is bitter and contentious debate.