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Whose fault is it when Tigers fail at getting the run home?

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So I'm reading the comments of the recap, and I come across this:

My one critical observance, however, is that the (Jim) Leyland era has not been one of stong situational hitting. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for, but I’d like to get a runner on 2nd or 3rd with 0 outs to cross the plate…without a hit…sac fly, sac bunt, productive right side of the IF out…gimme something.

Directly below it, this comment:

Not only RISP issues in general, but moving a runner up such as Cabrera last night is pitiful. He doubles and then watches as three outs are made by the ass of the lineup while he falls asleep with the D fans on second base

Given the fact Detroit has dropped two close games in the past three after failing to get runners home, I understand why this is a hot topic. It really does seem like the Tigers are not doing the best job getting runners home, which as a problem that plagued them last year as well.

It seems to me we're talking about three things: 1) The ability to move the baserunner without making an out. 2) the ability of the baserunner to move even when an out is made. 3) The ability of the batters to get them home from scoring position.

I'm not afraid to admit I'm not as good as some people with milking information from some of the databases out there, but I'll do my best to look at the question of whether Leyland's teams underperform with runners on.

How do the Tigers hit with runners in scoring position?

The first thing I wanted to do was compare how the Tigers hit with runners in scoring position with how they hit overall. I chose on-base percentage as my statistic because not making an out is important.

In general, teams hit better with runners in scoring position. The Tigers are no different. So to get a better feel of what this number is supposed to look like, I compared how the Tigers did to the Major League Average each year.

Tigers on-base percentage with runners in scoring position vs. MLB average

Year OBP overall OBP with RISP Tigers difference MLB difference Comparison
2004 .337 .356 .19 .19 Same
2005 .321 .335 .14 .20 Tigers are .06 worse
2006 .329 .342 .13 .20 .07 worse
2007 .345 .383 .28 .20 .08 better
2008 .340 .344 .04 .21 .17 worse
2009 .331 .340 .09 .18 .09 worse
2010 .369 .337 -.32 .15 .47 worse

Source: ESPN.com

So, interestingly enough, we learn the Tigers did worse than the average MLB team during the entire sample. Using ESPN.com's stats, I checked back all the way through the year 2000. They were worse than expected every year but 2001, where they were at the MLB average.

My snap conclusion is that this is not a Leyland problem so much as it is a franchise problem. While the number for 2010 is skewed quite in the wrong direction now, I believe that will even out as the season progresses. One thing I did find interesting: Even with the high-powered team of 2008, the Tigers did worse than expected.

How do the Tigers execute at running the bases?

How about team baserunning? Teams that execute well with runners on ought to be in the position to score more runs. After all, you're more likely to score from third than second, and more likely to score from second than first, right? Well, according to the run expectancy matrix, right.

One way of measuring that execution is to see how many theoretical runs a team earns by advancing on ground ball outs, fly ball outs and hits. The fourth category is other runs, such as a baserunner moving up on a wild pitch, passed ball and balks should also be included.. Baseball Prospectus records all of this. A positive number indicates a team is above MLB average.

Tigers base running by runs above average

Year Groundout runs Flyout runs Hit runs Other runs Total
2004 1.25 0.63 0.90 -0.31 2.47
2005 -4.76 5.66 2.83 1.05 4.78
2006 2.25 -5.50 8.63 -1.03 4.35
2007 0.04 -0.87 3.61 0.18 2.96
2008 -3.31 -1.17 -0.80 1.96 -3.32
2009 -0.38 -0.80 3.96 -0.2 2.58
2010 -0.19 0.34 -0.56 0.52 0.11

Source: Baseball Prospectus

So what we see here is that under Leyland's management the Tigers have tended to be worse than average on advancing on ground ball outs or fly ball outs. In other words, the baserunners haven't been as effective at taking the extra base when an out is made; they require hits to be most effective.

So this likely slows down the run production a wee bit.

Leyland's fault? Well, Detroit could certainly execute better. But I don't think you could say the manager has the most tools in the shed for being efficient in this area of the game.

How often do the Tigers get the run home from first, second or third base?

That question is the next I'd want to know the answer for when evaluating the team. In addition to getting the run home, no matter what the method. So now you can add sacrifices in.

Basically, I added up all the times a runner was on second and all the times a runner was on third. And I added up all the times a batter got the run home from second or third. So I got a percentage.

This isn't a team percentage per se. It's more of an indicator of what a random Tigers batter might be expected to do.

Tigers Batted In Percentage

Year BI% from second BI% from third
2004 17.7% 38.0%
2005 15.9% 36.7%
2006 18.8% 35.5%
2007 17.5% 43.8%
2008 14.9% 39.7%
2009 15.9% 36.2%
2010 12.0% 25.4%


Source: Baseball Prospectus

This one is interesting because you'd expect 2007 and especially 2008 to be the peaks with their superior offenses. Yet the Tigers didn't do too bad at getting the runners home in 2004 and 2006, either.

Again, I don't believe this to be a Leyland thing myself. I think the fact the 2009 and 2010 teams were built based more on defense than offense shows up in the stats.

However, one thing should make you a bit more optimistic about the 2010 season: Detroit will almost certainly start getting more of those runners home again. However Magglio Ordonez (7.7%, 21.4%) and Carlos Guillen (18.8%, 14.3%) will have to step up when Miguel Cabrera (23.5%, 50%) drops off.

Conclusion

The stats bear out what we all have seen: Detroit fails to do both the big things and little things necessary to score runs. And while it is tempting to try to squeeze blood from a turnip and blame the manager, I think equal blame has to be placed on the roster construction.

Which isn't to say it's a bad roster. The team was just a win away from making the playoffs in 2009. It would be a mistake to expect that glove-first mentality to score as many runs as the softball team of 2008, though.

Hopefully as new position players join the team, the numbers at least get a bit closer to average.

This year, expect improvement but the season will probably continue to resemble 2009 when it comes to frustrating fans.