Mark Sands and AD are back to preview the upcoming Detroit Tigers season. While the Bob Seger lead-in to our 2015 season preview still feels on-point, we missed pretty badly on our prediction that Detroit would post an 87-75 record and claim a fifty-consecutive AL Central crown. The Tigers did neither of those things, notching only seventy-four wins and a last-place finish in the division, 20.5 games behind eventual world champions Kansas City. Not great.
This year, we’re switching things up: AD will lead off with a look at the Tigers’ approach to run production, and Mark will clean up with the run-prevention analysis.
|Det||Record||wRC+||SP ERA-||RP ERA-||DRS||UZR||BsR||Pay – $M|
|2013||.574 (6)||114 (2)||85 (1)||99 (24)||-66 (28)||-13 (20)||-21 (30)||154 (5)|
|2014||.556 (6)||111 (1)||101 (16)||111 (27)||-65 (28)||-48 (28)||-9 (26)||172 (5)|
|2015||.460 (22)||103 (5)||118 (28)||108 (27)||17 (7)||13 (10)||-27 (30)||162 (6)|
Run Production – AD
How do they score runs?
In 2014, the Tigers were second overall in run scoring. Last year, they merely led the bottom half, finishing sixteenth. They actually posted the third-best wOBA in 2015, so something more than merely bad hitting was going on (although their sixteenth-best TAv is right in line with that runs-scored rank). What happened?
About a third of the way into the 2015 season, I noticed that the Tigers were putting as many men aboard as any other team (second only to San Francisco, in fact), but they actually were scoring at a rate significantly below the expected rate given the number of baserunners they had. At the time, I hypothesized that their high rate of grounding into double plays (GDP of the not-economically-productive variety) and getting caught stealing were to blame. While the rest of the league eventually caught up, Detroit still led all of baseball with 152 GDP in 2015, and they came from behind (i.e., second place) to lead all teams with fifty-one CS. The result? Strong hitting wasted on the basepaths.
Here’s a visualization of that relationship between runs and wOBA (data from FanGraphs):
The Blue Jays are up there in the top corner in blue, the Tigers in orange, and the Dodgers in red, the plotted linear trend suggesting that Detroit should have scored about fifty more runs in 2015 than they actually did.
It’s tough to know what to do about the GDP problem. As an initial matter, the degree to which players and teams actually have control over this isn’t obvious. FanGraphs added double-play information into its WAR metric last year, but I don’t find much elaboration on the subject there. Back in 2009, though, John Walsh wrote three articles on the topic for The Hardball Times. In the first, he acknowledged the probably obvious role of foot speed, but then tabbed avoiding hitting ground balls as a key factor in avoiding grounding into double plays (seems obvious when you write it out). The second includes a reminder that batter handedness is a significant factor (in favor of left-handed hitters), as well as an admonition that pure speed isn’t everything when it comes to avoiding the GDP. (The third contains some historical leaderboards and very brief commentary.)
While the GDP waters remain, from an analytical perspective, muddy, we at least can identify speed, ground-ball hitting, and batter handedness as factors relevant to the subject, and at least two of those factors are well-known weaknesses for these Tigers. The main offender on the speed front is Victor Martinez, who has been described as “legendarily slow” (he actually hit into a double play as I’m writing this), but nobody’s confusing Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, James McCann, or, really, anyone else on this team for Usain Bolt either. (But see McCann’s first career MLB homer.) Even Jose Iglesias, who seems like he’d be quick, had a very bad 2015 by baserunning metrics: he joined McCann, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Alex Avila among the thirty worst players in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus’ Baserunning Runs, and Castellanos and Cabrera were in the bottom thirty per FanGraphs’ Baserunning (and Iglesias would’ve joined them if he’d made enough plate appearances to qualify for the list). Batter handedness was and remains an issue for the Tigers, whose everyday lineup almost exclusively hits from the right side. The only GDP box they don’t check is ground-ball hitting; just three teams hit grounders at a lower rate than Detroit did in 2015. Still, the writing appears to be on the wall here, and the 2016 Tigers aren’t likely to be faster or more left-handed than the 2015 version, so elevated GDP numbers may prove an unavoidable reality in Detroit in the near term.
The caught-stealing numbers would seem to flow from a similar problem source, a lack of speed likely functioning as the main culprit here. Although he had essentially a career-worst year on the basepaths in 2015, the departure of the oven-mitted Rajai Davis won’t help in the base-stealing department. This is an area where a fix, or at least a mitigation of the damage, should be possible, however. Over the past few seasons, the Tigers have been significantly ramping up their base-stealing efforts. Those efforts are not working, though, and Manager Brad Ausmus needs to pull the plug on this hop project in 2016. Base stealing can be a component of a successful offensive strategy, but when your team can’t steal bases successfully, it ought to stop trying to do so.
As for the good news in the offensive department, it should be more of the same in the Motor City, which means big power. All accounts have Cabrera and Victor Martinez coming into camp with clean bills of health, something neither had last year. J.D. Martinez’s ceiling continues to elevate as well. Last season felt like a peak for him, but given that his newfound power is the result of well-documented changes in swing mechanics he made when he came over from Houston, it’s more difficult to estimate where he is along his developmental curve. Tigers fans probably should enjoy him while he lasts, though, because the team’s inability to sign him to a long-term extension this offseason means that J.D. is likely to leave Detroit in free agency after the 2017 season. (Absent an unlikely trade, only Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Jordan Zimmermann are certain to remain in Detroit after the 2017 season.)
To shore up the lineup, Detroit replaced the departed Yoenis Cespedes with Justin Upton. The acquisition of the younger, more successful, and more consistently named Upton brother reportedly was the result of a direct request from owner Mike Ilitch himself, who told new GM Al Avila that he was “worried about the offense” and wanted “more than a tweak” in that department. Having familiarized myself with Upton’s baseball capabilities during his time in Atlanta, I can confirm that he certainly is “more than a tweak,” especially when compared to the other non-pitcher acquisitions– Cameron Maybin, Mike Aviles, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia– the Tigers signed to major-league contracts in the offseason. Cespedes was in the midst of a career year in Detroit before the team sent him to the Mets at the trade deadline, leading many fans to clamor for his return (a possibility the trade actually made easier, thanks to a quirk in Cespedes’ contract). His decision to stay in New York on a one-year deal helped the Tigers avoid what could have been an expensive mistake, however, as Cespedes is very unlikely to replicate his 2015 performance in 2016. In Upton, Detroit is likely to find a player who hits for similar power, but who’s likely to be more consistent on a year-to-year basis than Cespedes, even if he has a reputation for being a streaky home-run hitter. He should be a lock for at least twenty-five homers each season, but the unusual distribution of those home runs over the course of the season may be the reason some consider his power to be inconsistent. While most power hitters heat up as the season progresses and the weather warms up, he tends to start strong, then quiet down in June and July (data from FanGraphs):
When it comes to new offense in 2016, Upton (along with health for Cabrera and Victor Martinez) pretty much is it. Of the remaining three additions mentioned above, Maybin offers the most hope, returning to the team that drafted him after a breakout season of sorts last year with the Braves. He’ll be twenty-nine next month (the same age Upton turns in August), well within what should be his baseball prime, but the fact that he really has had only two good seasons– 2011, when he was with the Padres, and last year– means many have dismissed the former tenth-overall draft pick. As measured by True Average, Maybin’s only been an above-average hitter in four of his nine seasons, and only one such season– 2015– is among the last four. He’s a definite offensive upgrade over presumptive center field incumbent Anthony Gose, though, so a platoon (Gose’s .713 OPS against righties was only a handful of points below average last year) at that position should be a net positive for the Tigers, at least within the context of their own resources, even if Maybin hits closer to his career .255 TAv than last year’s .264. (PECOTA isn’t optimistic, in case you were wondering.)
Saltalamacchia, whose batting history looks like Maybin’s without the peaks that suggest the possibility for something better, will be sharing time at the catcher position with McCann. Despite their apparent popularity with fans, neither hits nor catches very well, so if Mr. I’s foot remains “on the pedal, hard,” and the team is in a position to compete for a playoff spot in July, expect catcher to be a position they look to upgrade. (Of course, should-be third-string catcher Bryan Holaday hit a grand slam while we were putting this preview together, so who even knows.)
Finally, the outlook for Aviles, who may have been signed because his name is close to Avila and the new GM was missing having his son around, is not good. The Baseball Prospectus transaction notice was fairly direct: “Aviles is no longer useful in a baseball sense.” Want more? There’s not much: “his inability to reach base (.279 OBP from 2013-15) makes him a complete zero on offense, while what’s left of his defensive and baserunning abilities have become liabilities.” Neat.
Does the manager use pinch-hitters and platoons liberally? Does the team have the platoon advantage in an especially large or small percentage of their plate appearances?
The 2016 Tigers lineup already is somewhat famous for being so right-hand dominant, with Gose and switch-hitting Victor Martinez the only batters to log a significant number of plate appearances from the left side. That’s one reason I suggested the team pursue Denard Span, a lefty, to fill the outfield hole left by Cespedes. The good news here is that Upton’s platoon split is minimal, and he actually had a noticeable reverse split in 2015.
No one ever considered depth to be a strength of the Detroit teams of this era, meaning that any manager would be reluctant to consider pinch hitting, as a concept, to be an ordinarily viable option with this roster. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Tigers used just seventy-three pinch hitters last season (BP has the number at seventy-four), fourth-least in all of baseball. (The Royals, somewhat interestingly, brought up the rear by a wide margin.) The bench didn’t exactly reward Ausmus when he went to it either, as the Tiger pinch hitters’ .151 batting average was second-worst overall, reaffirming the inclination that going to that well was a bad idea to be avoided as much as possible.
Where are the pressure points? Who might need to be replaced? What will their optimal batting order be? Is it likely to be adhered to?
I’ve already addressed some key weaknesses above: grounding into double plays and unsuccessful stolen-base attempts, as well as the McCann/Saltalamacchia platoon.
A blend of likely and optimal batting orders looks something like this:
|vs RHP||vs LHP|
|2B Ian Kinsler||2B Kinsler|
|LF Justin Upton||RF J.D. Martinez|
|1B Miguel Cabrera||1B Cabrera|
|RF J.D. Martinez||DH Victor Martinez|
|DH Victor Martinez||LF Upton|
|3B Nick Castellanos||3B Castellanos|
|C Jarrod Saltalamacchia||CF Cameron Maybin|
|CF Anthony Gose||SS Iglesias|
|SS Jose Iglesias||C James McCann|
I’m not great at making these, and the lack of an obvious leadoff man confounds the whole exercise for me. What I do know is that, for the most part, Ausmus has treated lineup cards as Jim Leyland did before him, meaning that, once the order is set, significant changes over the course of the season are unlikely.
Are park factors a large or small consideration? Does the team’s park favor a particular batter type or handedness? Will the schedule or overall level of competition they face vary widely from the league average?
Comerica Park suppressed everything except for triples last year, which generally tracks the park’s reputation as a neutral park that favors triples. Last season’s park effects (pulled from ESPN), indicating that Comerica Park suppressed runs more than all but four other stadia, are somewhat out of sync with the three-year park factors presented in the latest BP Annual, which shows the yard favoring hitters across the board. As others have noted, some good news for Upton on the park effects front: Comerica suppresses strikeouts, a bugaboo of the power hitter’s, more than any other park, according to the latest numbers from FanGraphs.
Run Prevention – Mark
What is their balance between pitching and fielding? How is responsibility for keeping runs off the board apportioned?
One of the relative few bright spots for the Tigers in 2015 was a significant improvement in the team’s defense. The Tigers were 25th or worse in MLB in either UZR or DRS for three straight seasons going into 2015. But the team improved significantly in 2015, coming in at 10th in UZR and 7th in DRS. However, a big chunk of that improvement was thanks to automobile enthusiast Yoenis Cespedes, who is an amazing defender in left field by any possible standard (11 DRS, 15.0 UZR, 12.7 FRAA in 99 games with the Tigers). With Cespedes now riding his horse in LF for the Mets, the projections systems have gone back to hating the Tigers. Fangraphs has Detroit as the 8th worst defensive team in baseball; while BP’s FRAA has the Tigers as essentially tied with the A’s as the 2nd worst defensive team in baseball.
The usual suspect for the projection systems hatred of Detroit’s defense is third basemen Nick Castellanos, who was the 7th worst player in all baseball defensively by UZR (and the 3rd worst at the hot corner). The “good” news, I guess, is that he was only about half as bad as he was in 2014; when he apparently played games with the glove on the wrong hand. Castellanos improved significantly in DRS (-30 in 2014 versus -9 in 2015) and UZR (-18.4 in 2014 versus -10.3 in 2015) and BP’s FRAA actually had him above average (2.1 FRAA in 145 games). The eye test suggests that is probably too much to hope for, but Nick is still only 24 and so there is some hope his defense can improve to merely below average (or that FRAA is right and everyone else is wrong). Jose Iglesias is a human highlight reel at shortstop. But his defensive metrics don’t measure up to the eye test—he was average according to DRS (-2); 9th (of 23) in UZR (2.3); and pretty bad by FRAA (-6.6). The metrics also have a love-hate relationship with 2b Ian Kinsler—Fangraphs has him as the best 2b in MLB in 2015 by DRS and just behind Dee Gordon in UZR; while BP has him below-average (-0.2 FRAA). Miguel Cabrera is a consensus average to above-average fielder at first base (4 DRS, -0.1 UZR, 6.3 FRAA).
In the outfield, everybody agrees that Justin Upton is an average left fielder with perhaps a below-average arm. And that is the only consensus. First, you have the curious case of Anthony Gose. If you look at the advanced metrics, Gose is Castellanos-esque—he was the 20th of 23 CFers in DRS (-12); 22nd in UZR (-10.4). On the other hand, BP had him as mildly above average (1.7 FRAA). But if you watch enough Tigers baseball, you can’t help but think there is something fishy with those numbers. And there is some proof for that. Based on Statcast’s Route Efficiency rating, Gose was 6th among AL CFs, with a route efficiency of 88.0%. This suggests he might be better than either UZR or FRAA gives him credit for. Second, there is Gold-Glove finalist J.D. Martinez in RF. According to Fangraphs, Martinez belonged among the finalists for the Gold Glove. He was second only to winner Kole Calhoun in the AL in UZR (7.7, 3rd in MLB) and DRS (4, 8th in MLB). PECOTA, on the other hand, thinks he’s a butcher who is substantially worse than Matt Kemp. His FRAA in 2015 was -7.6, and PECOTA has him as a 2013 Torii Hunter-like -11 FRAA. Even the player comment to the annual, however, admits that Martinez has a plus-plus arm. Cameron Maybin has been a mostly above-average fielder in his career, but had a woeful 2015 for Atlanta (-16 DRS, -7.2 USR) or an average 2015 (0.8 FRAA) depending on who you ask. Overall, I think that the Tigers will be an average to slightly-below average defensive team, beating both projection systems.
Is the starting rotation generally a flat one, or one dominated by one or two aces? Does the manager allow his starters (or some subset of them) to go especially deep into games? Do the starters share common characteristics, or are there any philosophies the team’s pitching coach seems to drill into each?
Two years ago, the Tigers had a Super-rotation that probably should have led them to the World Series. Last year, the Tigers had one starter qualify for the ERA Title–“Big Replacement Pasta” Alfredo Simon and his 5.05 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 4.53 DRA–and gave 7 starts to 39-year-old Randy Wolf, who they got free with a happy meal in August. If things go well in 2016, the Tigers could find themselves back in the top-10 rotations in baseball. If not, well, they can still hit:
After an injury plagued 2014, Justin Verlander missed the first 2 1/2 months of 2015 with a right triceps strain. His first 6 starts back were rough–he gave up 8 HR, had a WHIP 1.50, and an ERA of 6.62. Some idiot even suggested the Tigers should try him at closer. But Verlander insisted that he was getting healthy and that fans should have patience. Verlander was right. After five seasons of decline, Verlander’s fastball stayed in the 93-94 range and he even hit 99 again. In his final 14 starts, Verlander was Verlander again, checking in with a 2.27 ERA and a K/9 of 8.35. Verlander was 4th in MLB in BP’s DRA in 2015 among starters with over 100 IP, behind the NL’s Cy Young trio of Greinke, Kershaw, and Arrieta. By FIP, he was 36th of 133 starters with 100 IP, just behind Cole Hamels and Sonny Gray and ahead of Johnny Cueto. If he can get back to throwing 200 innings, Verlander could easily find himself back on the Hall of Fame track.
The Tigers added Jordan Zimmermann to bolster their rotation on a 5 year/$110MM contract in the opening weeks of free agency. Given how the market for free agent starters panned out, this was a fantastic deal by new GM Al Avila. Zimmermann has been extremely reliable since he burst onto the scene in his second full season in 2012. In those seasons, he has thrown at least 195 innings, with a K/9 rate in the low 7s, a BB/9 rate under 2, and a generally low HR/9 rate. Even with a slightly-higher than normal HR rate in 2015 (career worst 1.07 HR/9), Zimmermann was still a solid #2 starter, with a 3.75 FIP and a 4.12 DRA. Going to slightly-less home run friendly Comerica Park (98 park factor for HR versus 105 for Nationals Park) should help bring his unusually high HR/FB rate back to around his career norms (his HR/FB was 10.9% in 2015 versus a career 9.1%).
In every way, 2015 was a disaster for Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez gave up 33 home runs in 503 2/3 innings from 2012-2014. He nearly doubled that number in a 157 innings more gopher filled than Caddyshack. Overall, Sanchez doubled his career HR/9 rate to 1.66 (from 0.82 HR/9) and his HR/FB rate to 16.0% (from 8.6% HR/FB). Otherwise, there was nothing to indicate that Sanchez had suddenly forgot how to pitch or was in deep decline. His K/9 (7.91) and BB/9 (2.81) were all in-line with his career norms, and his velocity was consistent with his Cy- Young-caliber 2013 season. If he can stay healthy (and he has already experienced triceps inflammation in the spring), he should bounce-back to a “normal” home run rate, which puts him back to being the 3, 3.5 win starter he has been for most of his career.
Lefty Daniel Norris is known for living in a van and being one of the most highly regarded young starters in baseball. Norris was the centerpiece of the David Price deadline trade and is rated by Fangraphs as a 60 FV pitcher. Norris started 2015 in the Blue Jays rotation, but found himself with a ticket back to AAA after he walked 12 batters in 23 1/3 innings over 5 starts. His control struggles continued in AAA, where he had an ugly BB/9 rate of 4.07 in 16 starts. After the trade, Norris had 8 very promising starts where his walk rate shrunk to a mere 1.7 BB/9 over 36 2/3 innings. Norris will need to build on his improvements in command from the end of the season if he is going to reach the utmost of his massive potential. If he can start generating the 9.9 K/9 levels of strikeouts he was reaching in the minors (as opposed to his 6.8 K/9 in 13 MLB starts in 2015), the sky might be the limit.
And then there is Mike Pelfrey. The Tigers gave the veteran righty a 2 year/$16MM, which GM Avila attributed to their scouting staff. Have the Tigers discovered something nobody else knows? Maybe, they did find J.D. Martinez off the scrap heap. And Pelfrey did see a significant increase in velocity after missing most of the 2014 season with elbow surgery, gaining 3 mph on his sinker (up to a maximum of 97.14, up from 95.32 in April 2014). Pelfrey also increased his groundball rate up to 51.0%, up 7% from his 2013 and 2014 seasons. If he can maintain the groundball rate, he should benefit from having Iglesias and Kinsler up the middle.
Waiting in the wings is top prospect Michael Fulmer, who came to Detroit from the Mets in the Cespedes deal. Fulmer is ranked at the #52 prospect in baseball by mlb.com and has a 45 FV grade from Fangraphs. Fulmer has an outstanding fastball with a potential plus curve. He was terrific in 21 starts in AA, with 8.90 K/9, a 2.29 BB/9, and a 2.24 ERA. Matt Boyd came to Detroit in the Price trade and had tremendous success in the minor leagues in 2015, with a 1.65 ERA, 0.855 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, and 2.1 BB/9 in 114 2/3 inning in AA and AAA. But he got shelled in the majors. In 12 major league starts, he gave up 17 HR in 57 1/3 innings to go with a 3.1 BB/9 and a 1.59 WHIP. Shane Greene looked like a Cy Young candidate after his first three starts, giving up 1 run and 12 hits over 23 innings. Then the wheels fell off and he ended up with the worst ERA among starters with 50 IP+ (6.88, with an equally bad 5.11 FIP and 6.33 DRA). Greene had surgery to repair a pseduoaneurysm in his shoulder, which was causing numbness in this throwing hand and affecting his grip.
When the middle and late innings come, does the manager have a long or a quick hook? Does he often make multiple pitching changes during innings? Is he aggressive and aware of matchups? Is the bullpen strictly hierarchical? Is it dominated by a set-up man and closer, or are there a large number of usable, interchangeable arms?
With a new general manager, the Tigers finally moved off their traditional bullpen strategy of “this is the year Bruce Rondon really breaks out!!” The Tigers made trades to bring in three quality bullpen arms, who together with incumbents Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy give the Tigers their best bullpen probably since Joel Zumaya trotted out to “Voodoo Child.” Once upon a time, Francisco Rodriguez was a flame-throwing reliever who saved 62 games for the Angels in 2008. But when age stole his velocity, K-Rod developed a new changeup and reinvented himself as a changeup specialist with plus control. And it paid off with an outstanding 2015 which saw him maintain a high K/9 rate (9.79), lower his walks (1.74 BB/9, about half his career total), and lower his home run rate from a career-worst 1.85 HR/9 in 2014 to a close to career average 0.95 in 2015. Manager Brad Ausmus has already indicated he would use LHP Justin Wilson and RHP Mark Lowe interchangeably in the 7th and 8th inning depending on matchups (though, Ausmus often calls the wrong guy out of the pen). After missing much of 2013 and 2014 with injury, Lowe stormed back to the majors with 98 mph heat and a slider that will fill the Alburquerque-sized hole in Tigers’ fans’ hearts. Lowe struck out 9.98 batters per nine, with just 1.96 BB/9 and a microscopic 0.84 WHIP. On any other team, Justin Wilson’s 2015 season would have made headlines. But he was buried in a Yankee bullpen featuring Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. On the Tigers, he might become a folk hero. In 61 IP, J. Wilson rung up 9.7 K/9 while lowering his walk rate to a career best 2.95 BB/9. Consistent with his career numbers, J. Wilson had a reverse split in 2015–lefties didn’t hit him (.236/.337/.292), but righties really, really didn’t hit him (.216/.270/.318). Bruce Rondon has been the “Closer of the Future” since 2012. Last year, things got so bad that he was sent home in August for not giving enough effort. But he throws 100 mph, so he will get every chance to make the team out of Lakeland. And unlike past years, the Tigers won’t be relying on him to do anything but pitch middle relief. Alex Wilson looks like Starlord and was one of the Tigers two competent relievers in 2015 filling every role from emergency starter through closer. A. Wilson threw 70 IP over 59 games in 2015 and was extremely effective (2.19 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 2.67 DRA). He significantly improved his walk rate to 1.41 BB/9 (compared to a 2.1 BB/9 rate over his career) and while he doesn’t strike out many (4.9 K/9), he did a good job generating ground balls (50.5% GB%) and kept opposing teams to a .258 BABIP. Now that the Tigers have competent relievers, A. Wilson will go back to a multi-inning role to which he is well suited. The other competent Tigers reliever in 2015 was LHP Blaine Hardy. In 100 IP over two seasons, Hardy has given up 3 home runs–joining Ken Giles and Wade Davis and the only relievers to do so over those two years. Hardy is a bit walk prone (3.2 BB/9), but generates a good amount of strikeouts (8.1 K/9). He’s also effective against LHB (.241/.310/.321) and will probably be slotted into a LOOGY role. The final spot in the bullpen is up for grabs; Buck Farmer has above-average velocity and a good changeup but no MLB success as a starter (7.36 ERA in 40 1/3 IP in 2015); Drew VerHagan had some success in 26 1/3 MLB innings (2.05 ERA), despite walking more than he struck out; Kyle Ryan is a middling SP prospect who threw 56 1/3 innings with Detroit in 2015 with indifferent success. Boyd and Greene are also likely to get a look at the last bullpen spot if they don’t crack the rotation.
Does the primary catcher frame pitches well? Does he control the running game? Does the backup complement him, either by being excellent all-around or by doing things the starter does poorly?
James McCann takes over as the Tigers primary catcher in 2016, after a very promising rookie campaign. McCannon displayed a big throwing arm in 2015, throwing out 41% of would-be base stealers. The good news is that McCann is average in blocking runs (0.3) and slightly above average in throwing runs and projected to improve (0.8 in 2015, with PECOTA projecting 1.7 in 2016). But he is dead awful at pitch-framing, checking in at a [insert dark metaphor here] -16.6 framing runs in 2015. Fortunately (I hope), McCann is young and his manager is the best pitch framer to play during the period (1988-2014) for which the skill presently is measurable, and he has a sizable lead on the competition. Backup Jarrod Saltalamacchia might be even worse defensively; his framing runs in 2014 were -34.0 and he is a worse blocker and thrower than McCann. But he hits RHP better than McCann does.
Mark’s Final Prediction: 86-76, first place in the AL Central. Yes, I know I said this last year. But both the rotation and bullpen are significantly better than they were in 2015 and this team should still generate a ton of runs. If the baserunning improves, I do not think the Indians have enough offensive weapons to win the division over the Tigers.
AD’s Final Prediction: As noted at the top, our joint projection missed pretty badly last year, but that’s not stopping Mark from going all-in again this year, which I like. The 2016 Tigers have to be better than the 2015 version, because they’ve improved their roster in all phases of the game this offseason, and part of their disappointing 2015 record is due to the trading away of key pieces– Cespedes, David Price, and Joakim Soria– at the deadline. Without those moves, it’s reasonable to assume last year’s team could have won seventy-nine or eighty games. Avila clearly is heeding ownership’s win-now message, so we’re unlikely to see a second-half falloff of the transaction-induced variety this year. At least the caught-stealing aspect of the baserunning-related problems should be an easy fix, so Detroit ought to do a better job of converting its strong hitting into runs. Like Mark, I’m not sold on Cleveland, but just to be different, I’ll call it 84-78 and a wild-card playoff berth.
The 2016 Arizona Diamondbacks in a Schrodinger’s Box
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