Last year through 80 games the Tigers were 44-37. They weren’t particularly disappointing. This year through 80 games they are 39-41. They are disappointing. Other than the difference in the record, what exactly is it that this years Tigers aren’t doing that last years Tigers did?
Are we missing this guy? This may not jump out at you – but if you take a look at the numbers it’s actually pretty clear.
On offense the Tigers are failing to do two important things that they did last year (or at least not doing them as well) and there is one bad thing that they are not failing to do. The Tigers (in almost exactly the same number of plate appearances) have the same number of triples, one more double and four more singles than last year. Hits are falling. They have struck out 32 fewer times. They have been hit an amazing 19 more times and stolen 5 more bases (while being caught 4 fewer times) – this team has Quintin Berry. Nonetheless, they have scored 14 fewer runs through 80 games… why? Is it luck? Nope. Not luck. The Tigers have 7 fewer home runs, 27 fewer walks (which more than offsets the boost from getting nailed all those times and have grounded into an appalling 13 extra double plays. Add that up and all those missing runs are fully accounted for.
The Tigers have also allowed 7 more runs than at this point last year and here the statistical culprits are also pretty easy to identify. Tigers pitchers have allowed 35 more hits and 7 more home runs. BUT… they have also given up 40 fewer free passes (46 if you count the drop in hit batters) and struck out 118 more batters. Can you believe that? 118! Given so few balls are entering play to begin with, we can safely put some “blame” on higher HR/FB and BABIP rates that may or may not be Tiger hurlers’ faults. All together, Tigers pitchers have allowed 13 fewer earned runs than at this point last season. That “earned” is the kicker, though. The Tigers have allowed almost twice as many (20 vs. 41) unearned runs this year and that is the primary reason for the relative difficulty in keeping opponents off the board. If we give at least part of the blame for too many balls falling for hits to the Tigers team defense we get a picture of a pitching staff doing a stellar job, but hobbled by lead-footed bunglers in the field. There has been a dropoff at the corners from using Cabrera instead of Inge and Fielder instead of Cabrera – that is true. But most of the defensive degradation has come from existing players just not performing as well as in 2011: Brennan Boesch, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Ramon Santiago to name a few.
So there: now you have some more statistical ammo to make the argument you were already making. The Tigers aren’t winning because they lack pop, hit into too many double plays and play abominable defense. End of story. It doesn’t have anything to do with replacing Victor Martinez with Prince Fielder – Martinez hit into plenty of DPs and wasn’t launching any out of the park either.
I suppose one more thing is worth mentioning… the Tigers weren’t all that great in their first 80 games last year either (though better than the 2012 version). But in the following 82 they did go 52-30. If the Tigers can match that (big IF, obviously) they would win 91 games and probably the division too. A number of things had to happen for the Tigers to catch fire, though. First – they added an absolutely unhittable Doug Fister. Wouldn’t it be nice if our Fister suddenly became unhittable (or… maybe… our Rick Porcello)? 3 regulars who had been astonishingly bad at the plate finally started to contribute in a big way… Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez and (of course) Summer Raburn. If Boesch, Young and Raburn were to start raking like they are – in theory – capable of doing this whole team would look like a very different animal.