Projecting Tigers’ 2012 Offense


Statistical projections are a tricky science. In recent years, baseball analysts have created numerous systems with the purpose of forecasting team and individual performances. Among the most commonly referenced projection systems are those developed by sabermetrics pioneer Bill James and the “ZiPS” system developed by Dan Szymborski. None of these are perfect of course, but they can provide a good baseline for evaluating performances against expectations. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at how the experts and their complicated formulas view the Tigers’ offense going forward. James’ projections for 2012 were made available on FanGraphs yesterday, and Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the Tigers were published by Baseball Think Factory last week.

Since James’ offensive predictions are generally very optimistic, I thought it best, in order to come up with a more realistic projection, to combine his numbers with those generated by ZiPS. This gives us much more conservative stats for hitters.

After coming up with an average projection by combining Bill James and ZiPS, I compared those numbers for each player to the actual stats that player posted in 2011. This gives a good idea of who should be expected to produce less or more next year than he did this year.

Much of the information this process revealed was not at all surprising. Everyone who follows the Tigers knows that Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, and Miguel Cabrera all posted outstanding numbers this year that will be very hard to duplicate or improve upon in the years to come. It’s also common knowledge that guys like Austin Jackson and Brandon Inge performed so poorly offensively this year that they will have to do almost nothing to improve on their numbers. For me, though, it helps to be able to see numbers to back up those sentiments. If you’re like me, you’ll appreciate the information I’ve gathered.

Here’s a link to the Google Doc I created with ZiPS and Bill James projections, actual 2011 stats, and the difference between actual production and expected production.

If you don’t feel like poring over the chart on your own, below are some things that stand out.

Two Detroit players are expected by the aforementioned systems to significantly improve their triple slash lines (batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage) across the board; Inge is expected to improve his from .197/.265/.283 to .224/.302/.365 while Delmon Young’s numbers project to go up from .268/.302/.393 to .285/.321/.444. Both player’s advances are significant, but they probably won’t mean a huge betterment to the Tigers’ overall offense; Inge, barring an upgrade at third base, will probably be used as the lesser half of a platoon, and trade speculation surrounding Young is quickly heating up.

Jackson also projects to see increases from his 2011 production. He posted a .249/.317/.374 slash line this year. ZiPS foresees an increase to .259/.321/.375 while Bill James is calling for a much more attractive .270/.335/.390. For comparison, the .335 OBP projected for Jackson by James would be slightly better than those posted by Maicer Izturis and Hanley Ramirez this year. As a side note, I believe Jackson can be made into a much better hitter than he’s been so far in his career. His plate approach is good; it’s his swing that’s flawed. If that issue is corrected, a task which I assume is high on the Tigers’ off-season priority list, Jackson has the potential to have a breakout year. He may also benefit from the lowered pressure of moving to the bottom of the order; an event that seems imminent.

The group of four players I mentioned before–Avila, Peralta, Martinez, and Cabrera–posted an average slash line of .317/.391/.510. Their numbers for 2012, according to James and ZiPS, are expected to fall all the way down to .289/.367/.474.

Overall, the 11 players likely, at this point, to be on the Tigers’ roster next year who had Bill James projections on their FanGraphs profile (all of the aforementioned plus Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn, and Brennan Boesch), are expected, according to the average of the two projection systems, to score 11 runs more than they did last year in 87 more games.

The main difference in the ‘games played’ column is Dirks, who is tabbed by Bill James to play 104 games in the majors this year. His ZiPS projection has him at 135, while he played just 78 games this year. Inge, Boesch, and Young are all expected to play at least ten more games next year on top of their 2011 total, while the rest of the team’s playing time should stay about the same.

Basically, what you can take from these projections is that the guys in Detroit’s lineup who led the club to a division title this year will probably require a bit more help from role players in 2012. Jackson and Young (or whoever else might be in left field) specifically need to step up. Potential additions to solidify the offense at second and/or third base will also help to make up for the production that will likely be lost by the middle of the Tigers’ order.

If all goes well in the off-season and the Tigers steer clear of too many major injuries, there is no reason to doubt that they will have a solid, balanced attack next year.