05 May 2004

Apprehending An April Apparition

Rob Neyer's latest column discusses the relative merits, and potential futures, of the reigning AL-Champion NY Yankees and the reigning Worst Team Anyone Can Remember, the Detroit Tigers. As recently as Saturday, the Yankees and Tigers had the exact same 13-11 record, despite the apparent gaps in talent and the definite gap in payroll. (Of course the Yankees have done nothing but win since then and the Tigers have done nothing but lose, but that's beside the point, at least for now.)

Neyer made the points that the Tigers have

A) Scored more runs this season than every team but Houston, which is remarkable after they outscored only the anemic Dodgers last season


2) Scored almost exactly the same number of runs (156) as they have allowed (161), which means that their (now) 13-14 record is just about what you'd expect.

What Rob didn't mention, at least not explicitly, was that if they've scored more runs than almost everybody, and they've allowed even more, then it logically follows that their pitching staff must not be very good.

In fact, their pitching staff is horrific, having allowed an average of almost six (!) runs per game, earned or not. The team's 5.76 ERA is lower than only Colorado's 6.38, which is so bad that the Rockies have already decided to throw in the towel on the season and are now experimenting with a 4-man rotation! In the long run, according to Baseball Prospectus' Rany Jazayerli, this may be the best thing for the Rockies and for all of baseball, but in the meantime it smacks of hopelessness.

The Tigers have a 5.52 ERA at home, despite the fact that Comerica is supposed to be a pitchers' park. The first 20-game loser in over two decades (actually 21, if you're scoring at home), Mike Maroth has a 3-1 record this season, as does Jeremy Bonderman (who lost 19 games last year, and only didn't lose more than that because Tigers' manager Alan Trammell mercifully removed the 20 year old from the rotation in early September). However, their 6-2 record belies the fact that the two have combined for a 4.81 ERA this year. For that matter, no Tigers starting pitcher has more than one win to his credit, and no pitcher with more than eight innings of work under his belt has an ERA lower than Maroth's 4.26. This is not a good sign, but then we expected their pitching to suck, so why should this surprise us?

Mike Maroth is the best pitcher on a bad team.

The other thing that Neyer didn't mention was that the Tigers aren't likely to keep up their run-scoring pace.

The real danger here, especially for those few remaining Tigers fans out there, is that you'll get your hopes up and think the Cats will actually pull off this ~.500 record thing for the whole season. Well, don't hold your breath. Even though their 156 runs scored ties them for second place among all major league teams, their .771 OPS places them squarely in a tie for 12th place in MLB, among offensive jugger-nots like L.A. (122 runs scored), Kansas City (126) and Florida (127). So how did the Tigers, with a relatively mediocre "offense" manage to put up more runs than almost everybody in their first 27 games?


Seriously, look at their splits, overall as compared to their runners on base and (especially) runners in scoring position


Total 0.278 0.422 0.349 0.771
ROB 0.296 0.443 0.382 0.825
RISP 0.317 0.498 0.409 0.907

A team that goes from hitting like D'Angelo Jimenez to hitting like Carlos Beltran, just because there are runners in scoring position? They can't keep this up.

For perspective, from 2001-2003, teams that finished the season with an OPS around .771 generally scored about 800 runs on the year, which isn't terrible by any stretch. It just isn't the 936 runs the Tigers are currently "on a pace to" score. There simply is no evidence that anyone, a team or an individual, has any kind of special ability to "turn it on when it counts" or "hit well in the clutch" or whatever. Sure, there are teams and players who in fact do these things, but you can't predict it, and you sure can't plan your offensive strategy around it. And so it appears that all their current lead in run-scoring really means is that the Tigers have that much farther to fall when the law of averages catches up with them and they get drawn back into the pack.

Of course, having the worst pitching staff in the AL and a mediocre offense is a huge step up from having the worst pitching staff in the AL and the worst hitters, but it might still make them the worst team in the League, overall. Still, though, the Tigers (and their fans) should be moderately pleased with the possibility of being a league worst 63-99 instead of a league-worst 42-119.

You've got to walk before you can crawl. Wait a minute, strike that. Reverse it.

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