A SweetSpot gone sour

Victor Decolongon

ESPN's David Schoenfeld declared the Tigers "overrated" after a ridiculously small 18-game sample size.

After the Tigers lost their three-game series to the Los Angeles Angels and fell out first place at the end of a nine-game West Coast trip, David Schoenfield, one of the poster boys for what is supposed to the new wave of sabermetric-friendly baseball media, decided the time was right to declare the Tigers "overrated" as part of his Weekend Wrap column.

Just like the sabermetric types do, let's delve deeper into Schoenfield's column.

4. As for the Tigers, they're 9-9 and that's with a lot of things going well so far: Miguel Cabrera is hitting .355, Torii Hunter is hitting .392, Prince Fielder is hitting .333 and slugging .638. Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta have been fine.

The big guns are doing their job, even if they struggled at the end of the West Coast swing. Even the Facebook and MLive types can see that.

Austin Jackson has not been fine, he's been great. Schoenfield even says as much in a SweetSpot post written today, calling him the best lead-off man in baseball. Consistency is a good thing.

Jhonny Pertalta has been fine ... at the plate. In the field, the term "fine" is rarely, if ever, used. Feel free to ask Rick Porcello.

Four starters have an ERA under 3.00. They lead the majors in strikeouts.

Breaking news: The Tigers have excellent starting pitching that is well known for missing bats. Deep analysis.

The bullpen hasn't been great -- 20th in the majors in ERA -- but the Tigers have lost just one game they've led heading into the eighth or ninth.

Which is the reason why closers are often thought to be overrated in the first place. But also keep in mind that in the majority of games the Tigers have won (as shown by just three saves in their nine wins), their lead was large enough to not warrant it being a save situation. They have won a single one-run game, losing three.

Again, it's early. Small sample size, and all that.

They've lost two extra-inning games, but those came in the 12th and 13th innings, hardly the fault of the bullpen, and have won a 14-inning game. The pen hasn't been great but isn't the reason the Tigers are .500.

The bullpen is not what ails the Tigers. It's made Jim Leyland's life difficult at times, but for the most part, the bullpen has been serviceable to good.

It's a lack of hitting with runners in scoring position which caused the West Coast swing to go from good to, uh, overrated. If you had watched the three games in the Angels series, you would have realized the Tigers couldn't buy a hit with a runner on second or third base.

That happens in baseball sometimes, but it doesn't make you a bad team.

5. Alex Avila: The new Rick Wilkins? Avila and the bottom of the Tigers' lineup have struggled -- the same problem as last year when Detroit's offense had two of the best hitters in baseball (and a superb Jackson) and was still inconsistent scoring runs.

Comparing Avila (a 26 year old with a career .354 OBP, a number most teams would kill to see from their catcher) to a career backup who played in more than 100 games in just three seasons is just plain dumb.

Why the comparison? To show off your knowledge of obscure National League catchers of the 90s and make Avila out to be a scrub at the same time?

Yes, the bottom of the order has struggled. But ... 18 games.

6. Rick Porcello [n.]: A mushroom whose legend grows in the absence of light and rational inquiry.

David Schoenfield [n.]: A mushroom whose legend grows in the absence of light and rational inquiry. Hey, it fits!

If you had watched Saturday's loss, where the Angels had more infield and seeing-eye hits in one inning against Porcello than Mike Trout had sabermetric backers for the AL MVP last season, you might not be so quick to dismiss him.

Yes, most Tigers fans believe the team would be better served with Drew Smyly in the rotation. Still, Porcello has been throwing the ball better than his numbers suggest. But that doesn't fit "Porcello sucks" narrative, does it?

Considering not all that long ago the Tigers were running a retread in Brad Penny out to the mound every fifth day and Porcello was in the middle of the rotation, I can live with the status quo for the time being.

We don't want to overreact to any of this.

Let's not overreact, but open with a lede of "Tigers overrated" anyway!

Let's not overreact, but saying any team is overrated after 18 GAMES defines the term "overreaction." Isn't a sample size of 18 games the sort of time frame metric baseball wonks rail against?

Going with such an absolute statement is the definition of overreaction. Then again, I'm not surprised.

Despite being influenced greatly by sabermetrics, SweetSpot is also part of the most mainstream of sports media websites, where attempting to separate what little wheat there is from the tons of chaff ... well, no one has that kind of time.

Thus, everything must be in absolutes, strictly black-and-white, no gray area whatsoever. So Porcello and Avila suck and the Tigers are overrated, all three weeks into the season.

The Angels are still throwing Blanton out there every fifth game,

Why wasn't Joe Blanton called a mushroom too? He's WORSE than Porcello. Oh, yeah, narrative.

and if they lose three in a row to the Rangers this week, we'll be right back asking, "What's wrong?" The Tigers have six games at home against the Royals -- that's the division-leading Royals --

Need I say it again? it's been 18 damn games.

Who was leading the AL Central after 18 games last season? The freaking Cleveland Indians. By the way, at this point in 2012 the Tigers were 10-8 and in midst of their maddening streak of being unable to win two games in a row, in the middle of a five-game losing streak on their way to losing eight of ten.

Yet they won the pennant. Again, it's been 18 games.

-- and the Braves, which will potentially tell us more about the Tigers than this weekend's fiasco in Anaheim did.

/head-desk

Then why in the Hell did you waste our time writing about a three-game series where almost everything went right for the Angels, and everything went wrong for the Tigers? WHY?

In the long run, I still believe the Tigers will end up benefiting from a weak AL Central, but after 18 games I don't think we can assume they're going to have an easy road to a third straight division title.

The circular logic is giving me a headache. We should assume the the Tigers are overrated, but you say not to assume anything that until the upcoming home stand comes to an end.

This what bothers me about this SweetSpot post (other than the fact the same damn things were constantly written about this team last season). If the Tigers had won Sunday's 13-inning marathon, pretty much the entire article becomes invalid. The Tigers would have had a winning record on their sole West Coast swing of the season and be 10-8 overall.

Even baseball wonks agree that teams are never as bad as they look during a slump nor as good as they appear to be in a winning streak. So why base your argument on the Tigers being overrated on three West Coast games in which they looked their absolute worst? Oh, yeah. Narrative.

After reading this one ESPN SweetSpot post, in the long run I declare David Schoenfield and the SweetSpot blog overrated.

Unless he performs better over the next nine blog posts and benefits from being compared to Skip Bayless and Chris Berman.

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