The 2015 season began with the Detroit Tigers' offense roaring out of the block, posting 49 runs over their first six games. Jose Iglesias was hitting, Anthony Gose was hitting, everyone was hitting, and the Tigers' offense looked every bit the fast, well-muscled thoroughbred we expected.
Since that point, things have ground into lower gears. Over the last 29 games, the Tigers have posted just 80 runs, a measly 2.76 per game. Why has perhaps the best collection of offensive talent the Tigers have had in years struggled to light up the scoreboard since their 6-0 start?
First, the Tigers are doing a good job of getting on base and into scoring position. They rank 5th in at-bats with runners in scoring position (RISP), and 4th in OPS in those situations. With 26 stolen bases to nine failed attempts, they have added 17 total bases, the equivalent of hitting 8.5 more doubles in terms of position on the basepaths. The opportunities have been plentiful. Despite the meager run totals since the 6-0 start, the Tigers continue to put runners in scoring position at an excellent clip.
Secondly, their home run total is pretty low for a team with this much power. Despite J.D. Martinez's recent struggles, he has six home runs of his own. Yoenis and Miguel are doing their share as well, but overall, the bombs just haven't come often enough, nor with runners on base generally. The Tigers are just 8th in the American League in home runs with runners on base and 8th in total RBI with runners in scoring position with 95.
|Tigers||976 (10th)||.275 (3rd)||.344 (2nd)||.418 (7th)||129 (9th)||25 (14th)||30 (1st)|
|Tigers w/RISP||257 (5th)||.296 (7th)||.395 (1st)||.451 (7th)||105 (7th)||8 (T-8th)||13 (T-1st)|
It's notable that of the five top teams in home run totals so far, all of them play either in warm weather, such as the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, or in other notorious launching pads in Toronto, Cincinnati and New York. Some of this may be weather related. The Tigers have played most of their games in cool to downright frigid conditions for baseball, and some of that is probably reflected here when you consider the track record of power in this lineup. The balls should start flying over the fence at a better clip as the weather improves, and no doubt the Tigers will get their share with runners on-base.
Another major issue is that the Tigers are first in grounding into double plays, with or without runners in scoring position. There is no better way to kill a rally. Only five other teams have grounded into double plays with runners in scoring position 10 times or more. The Tigers have managed it 13 times. Maybe this has to do with facing a better overall crop of starting pitchers thus far, but this really smacks of bad timing. The Tigers generally hit a high percentage of line drives, and aren't nearly this prone to the twin-killing, and I expect we'll see a correction in these numbers pretty quickly as well.
There's no doubt that the Tigers need more out of Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos, but there are also signs that some of the Tigers' issue scoring runs is just the beautiful and aggravating randomness of the game at work. And it's really difficult to imagine any of those three hitters doing worse. Victor may take a while to show more power, but his .224 BABIP argues for some ugly luck beyond the irritation in his knee. In the series just past against the Chicago White Sox, there were encouraging signs that Victor at least, is coming around. But are these three hitters solely responsible for the team's offensive struggles?
Even without J.D. and Victor getting on track offensively, there's a pretty good case that the Tigers should be putting more runs up anyway. There are signs that the ball just hasn't bounced for them enough so far, and that evens out over the season. As long as the offense continues to put men on-base and into scoring position the way they are, the runs will come. And if J.D. and Victor can getting going soon, the Tigers will quickly put these scoring doldrums behind them and look much more the high-powered offense we saw in the first week of the season.