Ken Singleton, after forcing in a run with a walk in the 1983 World Series:
"A man once told me to walk with the Lord. I'd rather walk with the bases loaded."
Let's dispense with the obvious issue stat-inclined folks will want to point out...the Tigers have played 10 measly games. All stats are small samples at this point. A 10-run offensive eruption could swing the numbers quickly for the time being. I certainly agree. But...so what? Let's take a look at a couple of early trends that stick out a bit and discuss where they're heading.
As noted in the quote from Ken Singleton, walks are an important part of any offense. Even in a world where walks in general are down in MLB, the base on balls is an OBP source to sustain rallies. However for this discussion the "small sample" point may not hold. Walk rates are said by many to be a stat that stabilizes quickly. Unfortunately if that holds true for the Tigers offense it could be a year with a definite paucity of free passes in Detroit.
Currently the Tigers are drawing walks in only 6.1% of their Plate Appearances (PA). That's the second lowest in the American League with Baltimore bringing up the rear. The AL as a whole is walking at a rate of 8.8% (according to Fangraphs). A year ago, the Tigers the offense was walking at a clip of 9.0% in the month of April and 8.4% for season.
The lack of walks thus far is being coupled with an uptick early on of strikeouts by the offense. Detroit is striking out in 19.0% of PAs which is up from last April's rate of 16.3%. (Alex Avila...we're looking at you)
Walks down and strikeouts up...it's not too shocking to see the club's aggregate slash-line (BA/OBP/SLG) has fallen significantly from last April:
April 2014: .253/.307/.406
April 2013: .282/.348/.415
The Tigers new emphasis on speed and base-running isn't being given a very good shot at contributing to this point. There are fewer balls being put in play by the Tigers and fewer base-runners to move around. It's really quite interesting to see that the Tigers power production has actually been close to last year's output at this point in the season in terms of slugging percentage.
The Tigers six wins have really been about extra-base hits to this point and not the speedy version of "Go Go Tigers" some may have been envisioning. Victor Martinez has hit a couple of big homers. Nick Castellanos' 3-run bomb in Dodger Stadium propelled the Tigers one night. Torii Hunter's homer binge played a huge role in Week 1. Austin Jackson's ground rule double in San Diego salted away a victory on Saturday night. Ian Kinsler's extra-base power has also been in evidence through the first 10-games.
Certainly there is plenty of season for the Tigers running game to gain traction and contribute more to the offense. But to do so, they'll need to increase their contact rate and boost their walk-rate toward the league average at least. Otherwise there simply won't be the base-runners available to put guys in motion.
The good news is that Miguel Cabrera has not started to really hit yet and it's a fair bet his 7.0% walk-rate will be on the rise once he does. Victor Martinez should draw more as things play out and Kinsler isn't walking at career norms yet either. So while walk-rate may stabilize early, it's still very early and the Tigers will hopefully not stay so close to to the bottom in this understated, yet vital, offensive area. "OBP is life"...they need those walks. They need them to unleash their running game or perhaps more importantly to have some runners to advance if they can continue to produce just enough extra-base power to sustain their early winning ways.
Let's look at some short topics by taking several ingredients and whipping up this week's edition of The Olde English Omelette. (egg whites only of course!)
Meat: Instant Replay
I don't think the current replay system will last over the long haul. The challenge system needs to go. I am 100% for getting calls right and using replay. But the teams shouldn't have to officiate the umpires. Ditch the challenge. Use the central command center to change calls when they're wrong.
Cheese: Roster Construction
The Tigers simply do not need 7 relievers and they certainly didn't need an 8-man ‘pen while Drew Smyly slid into a temporary relief role. The lack of work for Luke Putkonen is simply a waste of a roster spot for Brad Ausmus to utilize tactically. Detroit would be far better off with a six-man bullpen and an extra bat on it's bench. The Tigers have several players who should not be immune to being hit for in high-leverage situations. Alex Avila, Alex Gonzalez, Andrew Romine, Don Kelly, Rajai Davis, Bryan Holaday and Tyler Collins. These are all players who can be lifted liberally in pursuit of the platoon advantage.
J.D. Martinez has hit 5-homers in Toledo and he has some MLB experience. Ezequiel Carrera is off to a solid start as well. Either player could possibly contribute in a bench role in Detroit far more than the mostly unused last man in the bullpen.
Veggies: Miguel Cabrera's slow start
He'll be fine.