Now, no one was confusing the 2021 Detroit Tigers for the 1927 New York Yankees, but for a good three months — from roughly May 1st to July 31st — they were a slightly above-average offensive team.
But, as contributor Jon Erkkila first pointed out on our podcast, and then in some tweets…
The Detroit Tigers offense seems to be broken in August.
Things have gotten particularly stark for the bats over the last two weeks — essentially starting when Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie nearly threw a perfect game. Some impressive pitching has helped keep the Tigers afloat, but the numbers are pretty revealing:
For the last two weeks the Detroit Tigers offense has been worse than it was during the team’s brutal April. What’s most alarming about those numbers is they include the ten-run outburst against the Angels, and six runs scored in extra-innings.
From May through July the whole team hit like Jeimer Candelario (10.2 BB%, .152 ISO). But in the last two weeks the team has been hitting like Jose Iglesias (4.0 BB%, .116 ISO). That’s a tough way to score runs.
In the past 13 games they rank last in baseball with 15 barrels, and they’ve drawn just 19 walks. Two of those walks were intentional, and one was taken by pitcher Casey Mize.
So what exactly is happening here? We have a few thoughts.
The Detroit Tigers Have Been Hurt By Injuries
This doesn’t come close to explaining everything, but it has to play a role. According to FanGraphs, there are six players on the Detroit Tigers this year who have posted a wRC+ of 100 or better (min. 100 plate appearances).
Jake Rogers is not a true 114 wRC+ player, but he’s been injured since mid-July, and is certainly a loss. Meanwhile, the 4th and 5th members of that group, Eric Haase and Akil Baddoo, both hit the injured list in mid-August. Derek Hill, 8th in wRC+, also hit the IL for a bit.
Again, that’s not enough to explain all of the team’s issues. Baddoo, Haase, and Hill have all returned, and they’ve combined to go just 13-for-58 (.224) with two doubles, one homer, zero walks, and 17 strikeouts over the last 13 games.
Meanwhile, the team’s three most consistent hitters this year — Candelario, Robbie Grossman, and Jonathan Schoop — have been playing regularly and simply not performing. That trio is batting .219 with two home runs, 11 walks, and 33 strikeouts in the last 13 contests. There may be an explanation for that though…
The Detroit Tigers Have Been Unlucky
All teams and players go through stretches of good and bad luck during a season. It’s hard to blame the lack of walks on bad luck, but what about when the Tigers put the ball in play?
It certainly looks like Detroit Tigers hitters are suffering from some bad luck lately, both in terms of batting average and slugging. And for the first time all year, they have been performing worse with runners in scoring position than with the bases empty.
The double plays probably have a lot to do with that. Generally speaking, teams with a lot of baserunners are going to ground into more double plays. It’s the price of doing business.
But that’s not the case with the Tigers:
Chances = runner on first base with fewer than 2 outs
Over the last two weeks the Detroit Tigers have had the fewest opportunities to hit into double plays, and yet they’ve managed to ground into the 4th most double plays. That definitely feels like bad luck. But teams don’t hit in a vacuum…
The Detroit Tigers Have Faced Good Pitchers
Here are the starting pitchers the Detroit Tigers have faced in the last 13 games:
Triston McKenzie, Dylan Bundy, Shohei Ohtani, Jose Quintana, Robbie Ray, Hyun Jin Ryu, Steven Matz (twice), Jack Flaherty, Jon Lester, Alek Manoah, Jose Berrios, and Bailey Ober.
Starting pitchers across the majors own a collective 4.27 ERA this year, but the ERA of the above group is 3.96. If we remove Quintana, who was making a spot start, their collective ERA drops to 3.84.
That’s a quality group of arms. We can’t give them full credit for causing Detroit’s offensive woes, but they certainly didn’t help matters.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, things won’t be getting much easier. Tonight they welcome in the Oakland Athletics, who own the 4th lowest ERA in the American League. And September looks like a gauntlet, with 14 games against top-8 pitching staffs.
The Detroit Tigers have some talent, and they’ve made real improvements this year. With health and better luck they should continue to be competitive. But these final six weeks of the season may provide a sobering reminder of how far they still have to go.