On paper, the Tigers entered this season looking like they had their best team since 2007. (You could debate whether to use 2008 instead, as on paper that club looked great. It just didn't perform on the field.) With midseason trades for Wilson Betemit, Doug Fister and -- yes -- Delmon Young, the Tigers found another gear by the end of August and cruised to their first division title since 1987.
So some have brought up the question: Is this club better than the 2006 version? An obvious caveat is that it might be too early to ask that question if you believe a team must have postseason success to truly be considered great. We might have to wait a few weeks -- we hope -- to learn how deep these Tigers can go in the playoffs to make a true results-based comparison. However, we are two days away from knowing their win total. A sweep of the Indians would result in matching 95-67 results for the two iterations.
But I like to compare the players to answer the question. So today I'm going to do a 2 part series exploring how the 2006 and 2011 Tigers compared. The first part will be pitching, both starting and relieving. The second part will be position players. Then you can put it all together and decide which club you think is better.
The 2006 Tigers allowed fewer runs. Their ERA+ (normalized for league, season and park conditions, with 100 being average) was 119 while the 2011 club's ERA+ was 101. Is 2006 the runaway winner? Maybe. Maybe not.
2006 rotation ERA: 4.00: Top 5: Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, Zach Miner.
2011 rotation ERA: 4.11: Top 5: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Brad Penny
But it's not that easy, is it?
What the World Series Tigers had was consistency. What they did not have was the incredibly high level of pitching that Justin Verlander gives you every time he takes the mound, or that Doug Fister has given since arriving in Detroit. In fact, 2006's leading ERA was the 3.63 of a rookie Verlander. Lefties Nate Robertson and Kenny Rogers both weighed in at 3.84. Jeremy Bonderman finished at 4.08 and Zach Miner 4.84. The rotation's quality start percentage was 54%, with the top four rating: Robertson (63%), Verlander (60%), Rogers (58%), Bonderman (56%). The FIP and xFIP were almost identical at about 4.33.
This year, we have a clear Cy Young winner in Verlander, who currently leads the pitching triple crown and has a 2.84 ERA and 4.39 K/BB ratio. In Detroit, Fister's ERA is 1.79. (It's 2.83 total.) We then have Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer checking in with mid-4 ERA, though both have better K/BB ratios than any 2006 starter but Bonderman. The rotation's QS% is 56%, led by Verlander (82%) and Fister (80%, 65% total). Porcello comes in at 60%, and Scherzer a below-average 50%. Finally, the FIP is 3.97 and xFIP 3.91 for the rotation.
However, one area you might wish to debate is that 2011 is much more pitcher friendly than 2006. So this year the QS% is 4% better than league average, while the Tigers were 9% better in 2006.
If you compare the 5 vs 5, I think you take 2006's team. Still if you're putting the top-four of the two rotations head to head for the playoffs, I think you have to 2011 because of the top two alone. Plus on any given night, Scherzer could strike out 10, and Porcello has the ability to keep teams to 1 or 2 runs. However, you might prefer having the four stable pitchers from 2006. They obviously worked fine in the first two rounds of the postseason.
2006 ERA: 3.55. Main players: Closer Todd Jones, setup Fernando Rodney, 7th inning: Joel Zumaya; lefty: Jamie Walker
2011 ERA: 3.92. Main players: Closer Jose Valverde, setup Joaquin Benoit, 7th inning: Al Alburquerque, Ryan Perry; lefties: Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth.
For much of this season, the Tigers' bullpen was like Jekyll and Hyde. In May, it was hard to find a pitcher you could trust. Joaquin Benoit was falling apart. Jose Valverde earned a couple of losses. Brad Thomas was bad, Ryan Perry wasn't good. I could go on and on. Yet while we sit here looking back at the season there's a remarkable stat. Detroit is 71-5 when leading after six innings. They are undefeated when leading after seven innings: 76-0 after the seventh, and 82-0 after eighth. Valverde is 47-for-47 in save opportunities. Call me crazy, but aren't those the kind of stats you're looking for in a bullpen?
In 2006, Todd Jones was the closer. Fernando Rodney was the setup! I'm not sure if I need to say more. Jones had six blown saves out of 43 opportunities. OK, that's obviously a bit unfair, and Rodney actually had a pretty good season.
Of course, if you want to look a little deeper, 2006 gave us the enjoyable Joel Zumaya pitching at his peak. Jamie Walker pitched incredibly well, much better than the lefties on this year's club. In 2011, the lefties are a bit questionable. Daniel Schlereth walks too many, and Ryan Perry has been hideous at times.
Here's another way of looking at things: inherited runners. The 2011 Tigers allow 34% of inherited runners to score, 4% worse than league average. In 2006, 37% of inherited runners scored, 3% worse than league average. So neither team was great there.
How about xFIP? 4.22 in 2011, 4.63 in 2006. Or this year strikes out about an extra batter per nine innings, but also walks an extra batter per nine innings. But again, different eras.
Again, I still come away preferring the bullpen as it is this year. The lock-down late innings is the difference maker for me, luck driven or not. But 2006 was pretty solid, too, even in a tougher run environment.
Even considering the run environment, I guess I'm just a big fan of 2011. It's hard not to like a club with a Cy Young pitcher on the staff I guess. Maybe that's thanks to the efforts of four or five pitchers at the most. I don't know. So I can certainly see why you'd choose 2006.
Which team's pitching staff do you prefer? What differing stats or reasons do you use?