It's as if the Detroit Tigers have forgotten how to play fundamental baseball. It doesn't take much to see the offense is struggling, its starting pitching is up and down, and most recently, the bullpen has been taxed. When they get on base, the offense can't stay out of its own way to stay there. The patient at-bats have all but disappeared. It's puzzling, and an answer for what's wrong with the team might not be easy to find.
Two of those first three factors have predominantly been the result of spot starts, due to unpreventable circumstances -- when Kyle Lobstein went on the 15-day disabled list and Alfredo Simon went on the bereavement list for his ailing father (who has since passed away, according to his Instagram). The offense, though, is another story.
The Tigers have an on-base percentage of .338, second-highest in the majors. Only the Dodgers are better, at .339. But the eye test can tell anyone that everything falls apart after that. Start with double plays grounded into. Detroit leads the league in them, with 53. True, the Tigers have consistently been high on that list because they're on-base more. But that's as far as it goes.
Hitting the ball hard has also been an issue, particularly of late. When Detroit does make more than mediocre contact with the baseball, it ranks 19th in making hard contact at just 27.9 percent of the time. It's affecting the team's ability to take extra bases, limiting scoring chances and running the team into situations like Friday night's bases-loaded situation that stranded all runners.
The Tigers are hitting the ball with regularity, but their slugging is slumping and it's only being masked by a high average. The Tigers may own a .409 slugging percentage (ninth overall), but Detroit's ISO sits at .137, only good enough for 19th in MLB. Their true power has been more of a wimper than a roar. And that average isn't producing anything because of their awful baserunning, which sits at 6.7 runs worse than average (per Fangraphs' BsR), second-worst in all of baseball. Only the White Sox have a worse BsR, with -12.1.
Essentially, Detroit can't get out of its own way when it gets on base to stay there. The Tigers have stolen 44 bases and been caught an MLB-high 20 times. For a comparison of power, while the Houston Astros may not be hitting for average, they are hitting for power, with an ISO of .179, good enough for second-highest in MLB. Of the 42 stolen bases, they've been caught 13 times, third-best in the American League at 76 percent.
Between the caught stealings, missed no-go signs, double plays, and TOOTBLANs, the Tigers are literally running themselves out of wins and wasting hits. Stringing clutch or key hits together for runs is all but non-existent in May, and Detroit ranks 29th on the cluster luck table this year.
The Tigers' baserunning woes extend to taking the extra base, or lack thereof. Their extra base taken percentage (XBT%) is just under the league average, at 36 percent. This compared to -- once again -- the Astros, who have an XBT% of 46 percent, second-highest in the AL. All of this points to the obvious: The Tigers aren't just having bad luck, they're playing like a bad team, too.
It's a trend that's been ongoing throughout May, and shows no tangible signs of changing. A good place to start would be the Tigers are approaching their baserunning, because right now, it's costing them games. Anibal Sanchez had his first solid outing in some time this year, but it won't matter if the offense doesn't show up. Unfortunately the answer isn't so simple. If it were, this wouldn't be a topic and the Tigers would be playing to their potential.