Tigers Candidates to Bounce Back: 2012
By Chris Hannum
Now ‘bouncing back’ is really just ‘regression to the mean’ in a positive direction for guys who had terrible years – but regression sounds inherently negative. You might think that just because the Tigers won more games than we all expected that they must have a lot of guys who are at risk to regress down and not so many who could regress up. Not quite true.
Follow through for the breakdown:
Let’s start with Brandon Inge:
Inge is owed a lot of money in 2012 and played well enough in September and October that it would be very surprising if we didn’t see him on the 25 in 2012. Inge was expected to put up an OPS of .702 (again according to ZiPS) in 2011, which isn’t all that great, but loads better than the .548 OPS we actually saw. Inge isn’t really old, and isn’t in what you’d call in terminal decline – the sad fact is that when a mediocre player is in a slump an OPS under .500 is very plausible. Inge seems to be back to his old self, so an OPS between .650 and .700 is what we ought to expect out of him next year – better if he gets to hit a lot of lefties and not a lot of righties.
Raburn’s projected OPS was .808 and his real OPS (despite finishing the season on fire, again) was only .729. Raburn is over 30 and by this point we know who his and what he should be able to do. He can play decent defense in the outfield corners, but not anywhere else. He’s going to start cold and finish hot. He’s going to mash lefties. He’ll strike out a lot and hit a good number of home runs. He’ll probably come closer to his 2011 projection in 2012 than his 2011 actual, since that is a number closer to his career averages. He’s also under contract (affordably) already and compares well to free agent outfielders that would cost at least 4 times as much and demand a draft pick in compensation.
Now I don’t really mean that Maggs himself is going to turn things around in 2012. I think it’s very likely that he’ll be out of baseball entirely. Maggs was, of course, one of the Tigers biggest disappointments in 2011 – his projected OPS was .796 (weighted toward much-needed OBP at the top of the lineup) but his actual OPS was a meagre .634 despite (like Raburn) finishing the season on fire. I don’t blame Ordonez for this, it just took him most of the season to recover from that ankle injury. If Ordonez hadn’t re-injured the ankle, I’d be agitating to keep him on and let Young go. But that OPS, combined with the worst defensive season of his career, meant that Ordonez was almost two full wins below replacement level in 2011 overall. While we may be Maggsless in 2012, any warm body (and I’m sure that warm body will be Delmon Young) instead of Ordonez makes the team that much better.
Though he’s still young enough to develop, Delmon Young is another guy with enough games under his belt to be a known quantity. Young hits for decent average, never walks and plays bad defense (even without any oblique problems). That combination isn’t really good enough to make a contribution to a major league roster by itself, so all of Young’s value to a team is tied up in his fluctuating power. Delmon Young was expected to give the Twins a .778 OPS with 18 homers. He hit 4 home runs in 4 months and the Twins sold him for a song. In two months for the Tigers Young hit 8, with 5 more in two weeks in the postseason. For the Twins Young may have posted an OPS of only .663, but for the Tigers (including the postseason) he beat his projection with .789. Again – he wasn’t getting on base at a better clip – he is never going to do that, this all boils down to balls going over fences. His 2011 projection wouldn’t make Delmon a star, but it would make him a contributor and that is about what we should expect from him in 2012.
Before the season the debate was over Jackson’s unsustainably high .396 BABIP in 2010, how much his BABIP would regress in 2011 and how many more walks, more homers and fewer strikeouts he would need to compensate. Projections systems have a notorious lack of faith in BABIP, so it shouldn’t be any great surprise that ZiPS forecast Jackson to drop from .293/.345/.400 in 2010 to .274/.329/.384. Well, in reality he dropped even further to .249/.317/.374. What do you notice there? A bigger than expected drop in BA (due to a bigger than expected swing in BABIP…) and a smaller drop in OBP and SLG. More walks than expected and more home runs – in other words more development – but a larger swing in the random component. If you take a quick look at Jackson’s minor league history he had a .331 BABIP in low-A in 2007, then a .391 BABIP in high-A in 2008. That dropped to a .346 BABIP in AA the year after and then rose to a .384 BABIP in AAA then a .396 BABIP for his rookie campaign in Detroit. This year’s .340 BABIP is Jackson’s low ebb, last year’s was his high. If we see a BABIP in the .360’s next year, coupled with the continued development we expect in home runs and walks, that will mean a Jackson contributing a lot more to the top of the order than we saw this year.
After a very good last 4 months of 2010, most of us had high expectations for Scherzer in 2011. ZiPS projected him to have an ERA of 3.44 – almost exactly the same as Justin Verlander. If there was a downside, it was his perceived injury risk.
Well, Max stayed healthy in 2011. And he didn’t lose his stuff or start throwing the ball “a little outside”. He just started getting hit, hard, and giving up a lot of home runs leading to an ERA a full run higher than we had expected. Fortunately, BABIP and home run to fly ball ratio are two of the peripheral stats most likely to regress to the mean so don’t give up on Scherzer yet. And, of course, if Scherzer pitches like we all know he’s capable of this isn’t a Detroit team with a good 1-2-3 this is a Detroit team with three aces.
I’m not going to quote any Porcello projections or Porcello stats here, I’m not a believer in Rick Porcello’s stats. But I am a believer in Rick Porcello. In the postseason (aside from that last relief appearance) I saw the Porcello that I saw in game 163 that I’ve been waiting to see all along. The Porcello that finishes at-bats with filthy breaking stuff, not the Porcello that pitches to contact in a 1-2 count with fastballs in the zone. I have been of the opinion for quite some time that the only problem Rick Porcello has had is the wrong mindset, and maybe too little faith in his stuff. He continues, as ever, to be a candidate for a breakout season in 2012.
Let’s ignore Coke’s projections too and focus on the lessons of the 2011 season. 1. Phil Coke is not a good starting pitcher. 2. Phil Coke is a very good relief pitcher. Coke’s ERA as a starter was 4.82 (still better than Penny), his ERA as a reliever was more than a full run lower despite bad ‘luck’ in the form of a .343 BABIP allowed. He started missing bats again and actually walked batters at a lower rate out of the bullpen. If we simply assume that Leyland has learned his lesson and keeps Coke in the ‘pen, expect him to be a big asset.
Perry hasn’t ever really met expectations, since he was such a highly regarded prospect coming up – but that was true in 2009 and 2010 as well and he finished with ERAs under 4 in both seasons. Perry’s K/9 went down in 2011 and his BB/9 went up and his splits stayed wide. Perry spent some time in Toledo and lost Leyland’s confidence even after he had returned. Despite a strong end to the season, Perry finished with a 5.35 ERA. In that strong finish (which even saw Leyland willing to use him in some higher leverage situations with Alburquerque on the shelf) Perry’s strikeouts stayed low and his walks stayed high, but he was able to put up a 3.07 ERA in the last 6 weeks by keeping the ball in the yard. Perry is a good candidate to bounce back to the Perry we were disappointed by in 2009-2010, but he’s also a good candidate to drop off the radar entirely. And given his lack of contribution in 2011, that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
Here’s another guy who played so badly with Detroit that he could help the team almost as much by not playing as he could by playing up to his potential. He’s a guy just like Schlereth and any number of other options, a power lefty with questionable control. If he does what you hope for from him, he’ll strike out 8-9 per 9 and walk 4-5. That should be good, at least, for an ERA in the 4s. That was, broadly speaking, what ZiPS projected for him – though a BB/9 projection over 5 led to an ERA projection of 4.84. He was better than that with the A’s, because he was showing good control, but as soon just about as soon as he arrived in Detroit that all disappeared. In Detroit Purcey walked more than a batter an inning on his way to a 7.23 ERA. In Toledo his peripherals weren’t as good as you might like to see, but his ERA was a more than acceptable 2.38. If we see him in 2012, he might make a real contribution – he does have the arm. That said, the Tigers have a lot of southpaw competitors for Purcey and if we see them instead of him you can be fairly certain that none will walk 9.6 per 9 and none will have an ERA over 7.
And last but not least, Joel Zumaya:
Maybe this is just for sentimental reasons, since Zumaya has been hurt so often, can offer no guarantee of health going forward and isn’t even under contract for 2012. Still, he’d like to be here, I’d like him to be here and if you don’t want him to be here I don’t see where you’re coming from. I have been hearing all season long that the Tigers have had a ‘charmed season’ with no big flops and no key injuries. As you can see above, the ‘flops’ argument doesn’t hold water. While it has been true that the Tigers haven’t had guys like Cabrera and Verlander go down – while, for example, the Cardinals have had to fight on without co-ace Adam Wainwright – it isn’t as though nobody has been hurt and some of those injuries really stung. Ordonez played like crap because of his injury during the previous season, we saw a revolving door of failure at second because Carlos Guillen was (as he usually is) injured. Injuries to Martinez forced Avila to start nearly every game and resulted in him being too banged up to swing a bat in the playoffs. Boesch’s thumb injury changed Delmon Young from superfluous to necessary. But none of those hurt as much as the loss of Joel Zumaya in Spring Training. The simple reason is that the Tigers middle relief was the Tigers weakest link, particularly prior to the all-star break. Zumaya’s career 3.05 ERA and strikeout per inning would have come in handy, alleviating the need to see Ryan Perry throw paraffin on flames in the 7th. If Zumaya can pitch in 2012 (and I know how big an if that is) the Tigers bullpen would be in solid shape even if Ryan Perry can’t get it back and Al Alburquerque stays ‘off’.
You’ll notice that there are quite a few players that you don’t see on either list – they’re just guys we can expect to give us just about the same production they gave this year. Will Rhymes was worse in 2011 than expected and he would be probably be better in 2012, but I have a hard time believing that he would be better than Santiago and an equally hard time believing that he’ll even get a fair shot in Spring Training. Sizemore is gone and he’ll be bouncing back for someone else. Benoit started slow but finished strong, and overall was very close to his projections. Brennan Boesch was expected to suffer the second-year curse, but he didn’t – hitting slightly better overall than in 2010 with peripherals that made him look more like something real. There is no reason to think that he’s going to tank in 2012 now just because prognosticators were put off by his weak finish in 2010. Cabrera, Santiago, Kelly and others did just what we expected. The same goes for Martinez, though he hit fewer homers and compensated with a high average with RISP.