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The bright side of winning close, early games

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Wait, are you sure we can't trade bullpens? I mean, c'mon. Have you seen ours? Can't we have like an 'all time bullpen' where they just pitch for both teams? No? How about Bret Saberhagen? Do you have his numbers? (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Wait, are you sure we can't trade bullpens? I mean, c'mon. Have you seen ours? Can't we have like an 'all time bullpen' where they just pitch for both teams? No? How about Bret Saberhagen? Do you have his numbers? (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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Despite the loss against Kansas City on Wednesday (one that I thankfully couldn't see given my cable was out -- thanks Charter Communications! -- the Tigers sit at 6-3 on the season. Before the season, in our prediction thread, I had the Tigers at 79-82 this year. Call me Captain Pessimism, I guess, as I was 3 wins lower on the team than Kurt, and 5 lower than both Alli and and Al. But here's the beauty of baseball: the 6 wins in 9 games don't get taken off the board.

We all know (at least I'd hope) that the Tigers won't play 0.667 baseball this year. But, how should they have performed in these first three series before hitting up the left coast? Well, that's pretty easy to figure out.

Thanks to the internet, we have a bevy of smart people rolling up their sleeves and getting nerdy about baseball. This has resulted in four different projection systems of which we can check the relative strength of our opponents this year. There's CHONE, CAIRO, PECOTA and the FANS Projections from Fangraphs. If we average the projected records for the Royals and the Indians we should be able to remove some of noise in each of the systems -- probably not all of it, but a decent amount.

Tigers_early_start_medium

What we have here is the win total for each of our opponents and the Tigers from each system. "Average" is just that: the average of the four systems -- surprisingly close, eh? WinPct is the winning percentage of the averaged win totals for each team. The difference between the Tigers and Indians winning percentage is due to rounding. Detroit is actually at 78.8 wins and Cleveland is at 79.3 wins with KC at 73.5.

Now, the "adjusted" row is adjusting for home/road. Since we played the Royals both in Kansas City and Detroit, there is no adjustment. We played Cleveland at home, so we deduct 0.4 from their win percentage due to the Tigers home field advantage.

With a simple formula, we can see how many of the first 9 games the Tigers should've won:

Win = 0.500 + Tigers WinPct - Opp WinPct

Now, since we know the overall adjusted opponent win percentage is 0.451, all you have to do is plug in what you think the Tigers true talent level is in the formula. Think Detroit should win 82 games like Kurt? Sub in a 0.506 win percentage. Think the Tigers win 84 games like Alli and Al? Sub in 0.519 win percentage. Since the average of the four projection systems is 0.486, we'll go with that. Given the strength of our two opponents this year, we should've won 53.5% of the first 9 -- basically 5 game. So the Tigers got "lucky" for a game and won. I think we can all agree that playing the Royals 6 times, we got fairly lucky in that we got to face that awful, awful bullpen.

Now, if we move on to runs scored and runs allowed, we can use a formula to get a win percentage, as well. Including Wednesday's game, the Tigers have scored 49 runs and allowed 44. That gets us a Pythagorean win percentage of 0.549. If we substitute that into the table above instead of the 0.486, we were expected to win 0.598 of the first 9 games -- or about 5.5 which you can round up to 6. Right in line with where we are.

But what does this mean for the future? Well, I still think we're a 79 win team. But, getting off to a good start means those wins don't come off the board because the Tigers played soft competition or because they played over their heads (which Detroit didn't). If you thought Detroit was a 79 win team before the season like me, then just apply that win percentage to the remaining 153 games because you don't expect their talent level to be greatly improved based on 9 games. I'd expect Detroit to go about 75-78 the rest of the way and finish right at the 0.500 mark. Kurt, Alli and Al think Detroit were 82-84 win teams before the year. If they're right, Detroit should finish with 83-85 victories.