Detroit Tigers: The science behind getting to 70 wins

Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch congratulates catcher Eric Haase.
Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch congratulates catcher Eric Haase. /
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The Detroit Tigers hit 70 wins yesterday. That number seems rather arbitrary considering there are a few weeks left in the season but it is quite the accomplishment.

For Detroit Tigers fans, it has been a long road back to respectability. The expectations heading into this season were admittedly by us as a staff, somewhat shaky. Then again, across baseball publications, the sediment was the same. Baseball Prospectus projected them to finish 67-95. Austin Drake, who provides the stats for Bally Sports Detroit, laid out the rest of the predictions here.

The Freep, our friends over at Bless You Boys, myself, and the rest of the staff here seem to aim at one magic number for win total for the season and that was 70. Only Rob of Bless You Boys had them at 75 wins.

Why is this such a big deal? It is because manager A.J. Hinch essentially took the same roster from last year and along with his staff, maximize every single player.  Which three areas of the roster. have shown the work of Hinch and his coaching staff?  Let’s start with the starting rotation.

Overcoming injuries to the Detroit Tigers starting rotation:

The starting rotation for the Detroit Tigers in the last few seasons has seen injuries to free-agent signings and this year was no different as Julio Teheran is out for the year and José Ureña has seen time on the IL.

This season has been a different story as rotation staples Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd are out for the season. Even Rony Garcia, last year’s Rule 5 pick, is also on the IL.

Fetter’s role has been having players use their best pitch more often. Tyler Alexander, for example, comes to mind. His cutter usage has increased and it has helped him become essentially move to the rotation and give the Tigers much-needed innings.

Identifying Wily Peralta as a pitcher who could help out the rotation from Toledo. He may be one of the best low-key signings done by the front office in quite some time.

Granted, is he an ace? No, but he has gone 6 or more innings in four of his 15 starts, and in 10 of his starts, he has given up two runs or less.

Matt Manning was placed into a trial by fire situation. One of his better starts came against the best offense in the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays back on August 27th and held them to just one run over six hits in six innings of work.

The Tigers starters are getting hitters to hit the ball into the ground to the tune of 46.1%, which is the highest percentage since the 2013 rotation. With the defense in the infield at times lacking, Hinch has made the most with shifting into the correct positioning but you have to wonder if the team was better in the infield, how many more wins it could have been.

The Detroit Tigers have a bullpen

The Tigers needed to figure out what they had in a bullpen that had some question marks heading into 2021. So Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter do? Back in November, Hinch gave the fans a prelude of things to come when it comes to the bullpen. They were not going to have set roles and have them pitch multiple innings.

"“We have good arms,” Hinch said. “We have some prospects that need to take a step forward. We also have some breakthrough guys. Again, I think there’s some opportunity to add to that depending on how the winter goes.”"

Fetter gave every Tigers pitcher a plan to follow and as a result, Kyle Funkhouser has emerged as an effective bullpen weapon and Gregory Soto has held down the back end, resulting in an All-Star appearance.  Even Alex Lange, who struggled to start the season, has been good lately, keeping his walks down, which was a problem for him earlier in the season.

Look beyond just the ERA of Joe Jimenez to see he has been effective. Hinch’s ability to pick and chose where he sets up his bullpen has been a big reason why the Tigers have done well.  Jimenez is back to having a K per 9 in double dights (11.2) and his FIP is 5.43, which does not sound good but considering last year he had a FIP of 6.72, there is an improvement.

The Detroit Tigers outfield

We all have had our jokes about the inconsistent play of Victor Reyes but his second half of the season has been highlighted recently by MLB.com’s Mike Petriello but one statline in his article pops out.

.313/.345/.542 since he was recalled from Toledo. Petriello breaks down the why in the link but the outfield is doing something better, led by Robbie Grossman and that is walk. They are walking at a 9.7% clip, the highest since the 8.5% rate in 2017*.

(In looking at these stats, I went back to 2010 per FanGraphs) 

When Nomar Mazara was not working, Derek Hill was given a chance and he has responded with his glove and some clutch hits. He has forced himself into the picture next year.  The JaCoby Jones experiment ended after 36 games and a K rate of 40%.

Akil Baddoo has been one of the biggest surprises in team history and before he was put behind the plate full time, Eric Haase in left field was a good experiment that paid off.

Considering where the Tigers were to start the season in the outfield, the growth among the core players has been exponential since early May.

There is time left in the season but worth noting what has been successful for the Tigers to get to 70 wins.  How many more wins do you think Detroit will get? Let us know in the comment section.

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