Detroit Tigers: 3 hidden positives during this brutal start

Apr 21, 2021 - Wilson Ramos hits a double: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 21, 2021 - Wilson Ramos hits a double: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Things are bad for the Detroit Tigers right now. Very bad.

They are averaging just 3.05 runs per game, which is the lowest in baseball. Their 67 runs through 22 games is the 6th lowest total in franchise history, and the worst since the infamous 2003 season.

The 2021 Detroit Tigers have managed just 200 baserunners so far. That’s the second lowest 22-game total to begin a season in franchise history, just one better than the 2003 club.

There’s not much to make Detroit Tigers fans smile these days. We definitely understand if fans are feeling negative.

But, believe it or not, things aren’t ALL bad for this team. So we’ve broken out the mining gear and flood lights to unearth a few positive developments obscured by the brutal offensive performance.

Matthew Boyd’s Start

Yooper just took an extended look at Matthew Boyd’s early performance. It’s still too early in the season to make any definitive statements about Boyd, and we have enough history with him to know this level of performance won’t last. His strikeout rate is at a career low 16.7%, and his .220 BABIP suggests he’s been pretty lucky.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t at least enjoy what he has done. By ERA (1.82), this is the best five-start stretch of Matthew Boyd’s career. He has completed more than 7 innings just 9 times in his career, but 2 of those instances have come in his last 2 outings.

Matthew Boyd currently ranks 8th in pitching WAR to both FanGraphs, and Baseball Reference.

Boyd’s strong start deserves to be celebrated, but unfortunately the team’s offensive woes have overshadowed him.

Detroit Tigers Team Defense

If you’ve been listening to Dan Dickerson on the radio, or if you listened to the most recent Tigers SRD podcast, then you may already know this, but the Detroit Tigers have been playing good defense this year.

At least that’s the case by the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metric produced by Fielding Bible. The Tigers were tied for 1st as recently as a week ago, but now they’re tied for 7th. If that doesn’t sound particularly impressive, you have to consider the team’s recent history:

Tigers team DRS

Defensive Runs Saved has been calculated since 2003, and those 2017 and 2019 Detroit Tigers squads are the 2nd and 3rd worst in the stat’s history, ahead of only the 2005 Yankees. Getting anywhere close to average is progress.

Like any other stats, defensive numbers can fluctuate wildly over small samples, but this is one area where we can probably credit the new coaching staff. Last year the Detroit Tigers accumulated -1 DRS on shifts, but they’re +5 this season.

Wilson Ramos is Pretty Good

Wilson Ramos briefly led baseball with 6 home runs, and he has generally been everything Detroit Tigers fans could have asked for on offense. What’s interesting is Ramos appears to have been a little unlucky on offense, and he’s even grading out fine on defense.

Ramos looked bad on defense this spring, seemingly struggling to even catch the ball at times, but so far he’s grading out slightly above-average as a framer. He won’t win any Gold Gloves, but if he can just maintain his average defense his plus offensive production should make him a valuable player.

And speaking of that offense, Wilson Ramos currently owns a .222/.263/.514 line, which is good for a wRC+ of 115. But according to Baseball Savant he should be batting something like .273/.314/.526.

Ramos’s expected batting average is 50 points higher than his actual average, in part because of bad luck. His average exit velocity ranks in the top 10% of hitters, and just eight players have had a higher rate of hard-hit balls converted into outs.

Perhaps the best news about Ramos is his career-high launch angle this year. Balls are leaving his bat at an average angle of 13.1 degrees, which is three times steeper than his career average of 4.1 degrees.

Ramos is hitting line drives at a career-high rate, and ground balls at a career-low rate. If he can continue this batted-ball profile there’s a strong chance he bests his career high of 22 home runs.

So at least there’s that.

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