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Tigers' June showed some improvements, but not enough

The month of June looked better for the Tigers than the month of May, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

May was not a kind month to the Tigers, and June wasn't exactly a welcoming month either, but at least things seem to be on the upswing (however slight it may be). Depending on the outcome of the game on June 30, the Tigers will either finish the month with a .458 or a .500 record, both options being an improvement on their .448 record last month. If May saw them averaging a sickly 3.65 runs per game, June has seen that number increase to 4.91 runs per game. The Tigers' run differential through June 29 is still a negative number at -2, but we'll take that over May's -11.

Who's hot right now? Let me give it to you both ways, first from the traditional stats angle, and then from the advanced metrics perspective.

Offense Rising

Cabrera .380 .484 .613 1.097 4 19
Cespedes .337 .362 .517 .879 3 14
V Martinez+ .324 .359 .486 .845 1 10
Iglesias .316 .361 .329 .690 0 4
Davis .304 .339 .536 .875 1 2
Collins .286 .310 .643 .953 2 6
J Martinez .276 .308 .655 .963 10 24
Holaday .259 .259 .296 .555 0 6
Romine .250 .267 .571 .838 2 3
Kinsler .239 .300 .304 .604 1 8
Castellanos .217 .270 .290 .560 0 7
McCann .213 .262 .388 .650 1 3
Gose .167 .214 .183 .397 0 0

+ Played 9 games

The return of a healthy Victor Martinez has been an incredibly good thing for the team, as the June numbers indicate. He may have only been back for a handful of games, but he's already driven in ten runs, and ten runs can certainly make the difference between a -2 run differential and a -11 run differential.

The "sleeper agent" on this list, of course, is J.D. Martinez, who may not have hit with consistency in June, but hit whatever he did hit with a lot of authority. His .276 average betrays the impact of that .963 OPS. The more advanced metrics tell that story a little better, when we analyze the June offense through the lens of RE24:

Player RE24 (Expected runs produced)
Cabrera 14.07
J Martinez 9.69
V Martinez 3.43
Cespedes 3.05
Collins 2.69
Holaday 0.91
Davis -0.04
Romine -0.72
Castellanos -1.24
Iglesias -3.72
Kinsler -4.08
McCann -5.5
Gose -6.18

This list is everything that's right with the world of Tigertown: Miguel Cabrera at the top, followed immediately by the power firm of Martinez & Martinez. Cabrera and J.D. Martinez have each been worth an extra win above average for the team, and if Victor Martinez can be worth a third of an extra win after only nine or ten games in the lineup, just imagine what he'll be worth for a full month of games.

There are real and obvious holes, however. Nick Castellanos has been on a downward trend all month, albeit with a few hopeful signs of life in his last few games:

Castellanos June

Anthony Gose can't continue to hit .167 for a month's worth of games and still be put in the leadoff spot. And Ian Kinsler? His run production relative to the clutchy-ness of the situations he's faced in June has made him the worst hitter under pressure for the month:

Offense in June

So much for the improving-but-still-easily-tripped-up offense, the upcoming bold header tells me we're about to look at ...

The Starting Rotation

There aren't necessarily any surprises here, because on a staff featuring David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and a rehabbing Justin Verlander, you should expect to see Price and Sanchez at the top of the performance lists. First, the traditional stats.

Player IP W L ERA BB/9 K/9
Price 35.66 3 0 2.02 0.76 9.34
Sanchez 37.66 3 1 2.63 2.39 6.45
Ryan 20.66 0 1 4.79 1.74 4.79
Simon 28.33 2 2 5.40 4.45 7.94
Verlander 11.66 0 1 6.17 2.32 3.09
Greene 7.33 0 2 11.05 3.68 6.14

Welcome back, Anibal. Keep up the good work, David. Watch it, you're slipping, Alfredo. And, uh, we'll call you, ok Shane?

The RE24 break-down tells much the same story, except for one important flip-flop.

Player RE24 (Expected runs saved)
Price 8.46
Sanchez 6.65
Ryan -0.58
Verlander -1.53
Simon -3.62
Greene -7.79

Alfredo Simon has taken an uncomfortably large step down from his May performance. He had five outings in June, and only in one of them did he give up fewer than four runs (two outings, if you're counting by earned runs). For the newbies among us, that's the opposite of good. His BB/9 is up to 4.45 in June from 3.51 in May, but on the flip side, his K/9 is also up from May's posting of 5.96 to June's 7.94.

We'll see what July brings, but given what happened with Simon last year, this initial downward trend doesn't exactly inspire warm and fuzzy feelings.

Bullpen Status: DEFCON 2

Carve up these numbers any way you like, it doesn't change anything about the fact that the bullpen got itself turned upside down in June. Soria's numbers for the month are absolutely not "lights out closer" numbers, Phil Coke is now pitching in Tom Gorzelanny's uniform, and Joba Chamberlain is still getting way too many high-leverage innings. (By the way, Soria performed worse than Chamberlain on the "under pressure" scale, so if you want to Wilhelm Scream now, go right ahead.)

Here are some numbers to go with your Topps bubble gum:

Player IP Saves/Holds Blown Saves ERA BB/9 K/9
Rondon 1.66 0 0 0.00 0.00 16.27
Alburquerque 9.66 0 0 0.93 4.66 11.18
Wilson 12.66 0 1 1.42 1.42 3.55
Hardy 11.33 2 1 2.38 3.18 6.35
Soria 9.33 2 1 5.79 0.00 5.79
Chamberlain 5.66 1 1 7.94 1.59 7.95
Gorzelanny 6.66 0 0 10.80 10.81 6.76

Is it too soon to look at that bright beacon of statistical hope in the (very) large form of Bruce Rondon, and dream that everything will be ok in the remaining three months of the season? Probably, but a sliver of hope is a sliver of hope, and come on, please, Bruce, be awesome this year. A healthy and consistent Bruce Rondon with a K/9 anywhere near 16.27 (heck, you can knock four points off that and I'll still be thrilled), paired with a Joakim Soria, who will (please God) get his crap figured out going forward, is a lethal one-two punch from the bullpen.

What does the Holy Grail of Bullpen Stats tell us?

Player RE24 (Expected runs saved)
Hardy 3.49
Alburquerque 2.32
Rondon 1.38
Wilson -1.13
Chamberlain -2.74
Soria -3.08
Gorzelanny -7.32

You see, this is what makes me just a little queasy. In terms of potential runs saved, given those opportunities, you do not want your ace closer sandwiched between two bullpen cancers, while Blaine Hardy is the guy giving you the most bang for your buck. I'm sure that Joakim Soria will sort himself out -- it's not like him to give up five home runs in less than ten innings. And in fact, his last three outings give some indication that maybe his troubles had more to do with under-utilization than anything:

Joakim Soria: Last 3 Games
3 0 0 0 3 3 0 9 1.000

So for now, the bullpen can remain at DEFCON 2. It's ugly, but there's maybe some reason to think it can get better. The Tigers might need to deep-six one or two of those arms and get something more reliable at the trade deadline, and until then, Brad Ausmus needs to stop putting Joba Chamberlain on the mound in high-leverage situations:

bullpen in june

But seriously, LOL Gorzelanny. He did recently change his delivery, however, and like Joakim Soria, has shown some improvement over his last three outings.

Tom Gorzelanny: Last 3 Games
1.66 0 0 2 2 3 10.84 16.27 2.410

Just remember: a sample size of less than two innings is ridiculously small, and even this sample size suggests that Gorzelanny hasn't fixed his command issues. Still, here's to undying hope.

TL;DR Version

The Tigers showed some improvements in the month of June, but there's still a lot of work to be done if they're going to overcome the odds against them. As of June 30, Fangraphs only gave the Tigers a 21.2 percent chance of winning the AL Central, and a 36.6 percent chance of making the playoffs at all. In other words, the safest best would be to put your money on not seeing any October baseball in Detroit this year.

That's a sobering thought.

History tells us not to pull the plug just yet, but even historical examples are starting to produce conflicting projections. For instance:

  • After 75 games, the Tigers are 39-36 and six games out of first; after 75 games in 2012, they were 36-39 and four games back, and still won the division
  • If the Tigers don't finish June with a monthly record of .500, it will be the first time since 2010 that they posted win records under .500 in consecutive months. They went 81-81 and finished in third place that year.

Yes, there have been injuries and bad luck, but the numbers also show some genuine weaknesses on all three fronts: Castellanos is a problem on offense, Greene did some major damage and left a gaping hole in the rotation, and the bullpen still isn't good.

There's still time to fix this, and lots of teams in history have leap-frogged from worst to first after performing major alchemy at the trade deadline. But time is running out.