Oct 11, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) celebrates after game five of the 2012 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. The Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland Athletics 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
I know, I know. We said the same thing last year (and also in 2008) and the team never panned out to be the division dominators that they were “supposed” to be. But this year we can base these sort of 95+ win claims on actual data and logic instead of emotion and arguments of “these guys all look like good hitters”.
The offseason isn’t yet over and the team isn’t finalized, but I wanted to take a first look at just how good this Tigers team – as currently constructed* – could reasonably be expected to be. To do this I did a sort of Marcels projection for each player’s 2013 WAR total (using both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference data). This type of 5/4/3 historical weighting isn’t designed to give the best results possible, but rather a reasonably good baseline with very little work involved.
*The roster I used was: Alex Avila, Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Cabrera, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Bryan Holaday, Ramon Santiago, Quintin Berry, Danny Worth, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Brayan Villarreal, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, and Darin Downs.
I won’t unload all of the data here (see the bottom of the post for some numbers) but I will say that, using the FanGraphs version of WAR, the Tigers players named above roughly project to combine for 54 WAR. That’s an expected 97 team wins (using Fangraphs’ 2012 replacement level of approximately 43 wins per team).
Doing the same thing with Baseball Reference’s data yields a team total of 48 WAR which equates to 100 team wins (using Baseball Reference’s 2012 replacement level of approximately 52 wins per team). These numbers aren’t going to be precise by the end of the season – just in the last three years the Tigers have had a gap between WAR wins and actual wins as large as five (on both the high and low side) – but it does provide a nice framework for expectations.
The really good thing here is that this method doesn’t predict any major improvements on an individual level. I mean, it expects one or two players to bounce back by one WAR or so, but it expects the sum of the individuals to combine for fewer WAR in 2013 than they did in 2012 (-1.8 WAR base on FanGraphs data and -4.2 WAR based on Baseball-Reference data). That’s how big adding in Martinez, Hunter, and Infante (for a whole year) for will really (probably) be. The Tigers simply have better players now than they did a year ago – we don’t need to hope on a guy like Brennan Boesch having a breakout year.
Our general problem last year was counting on career years to continue, young players to break out, and no one to fall off the cliff. We also made the mistake of assuming the team’s 95 win record in 2011 was real, when their WAR numbers suggested a true-talent level closer to 90 wins.
So, using the same method as above, I “projected” the 2012 season to see if the team really did underperform (as we said all along) or if they simply weren’t as good as we thought they were. So, adding Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, Gerald Laird, and Jose Valverde into the mix (and obviously removing Infante, Hunter, Martinez, Holaday, and Rondon) I came up with a team 2012 projection of 86 wins (FanGraphs) and 87 wins (Baseball Reference). A pretty accurate assessment and it didn’t include any data from the 2012 season, only what we knew going into the season.
In the end the Tigers may not actually win 95 or 100 games in 2013 – there’s a lot of randomness involved in these sorts of things – but we can say they might with actual confidence this year. Even if Hunter isn’t a 5.5 WAR guy this year (which he won’t be), even if it takes Martinez a little while to get back into the groove, and even if the club doesn’t bring back Anibal Sanchez they’ll still likely be one of the better teams in the American League.
Projected 2013 WAR (FG data)
Projected 2013 WAR (B-R data)