Many things could have gone better for the Detroit Tigers in 2016, and it hurt to miss the playoffs for a second-straight year. However, the Tigers did end up nine games over .500 and on the cusp of the postseason, a vast improvement from the lost season the year before. The Tigers’ 86-75 record came out to a .534 winning percentage, slightly lower than their .565 winning percentage from 2011 to 2014. Though these percentages equate to about a five-win difference over the course of a season, the gap between them is even bigger than it appears.
From 2011 to 2014, the Tigers were in complete control of their division rivals, winning four-straight AL Central titles. They racked up a .618 winning percentage during intra-division games, which corresponds to a 100-win season. During these four seasons, the Tigers had the advantage on every team in the AL Central, and no other team in the division was close to as dominant against their direct competition.
The tables flipped in 2016. The Tigers still won more than they lost within the division, but only barely: Detroit went just 38-37. Meanwhile, both Cleveland and Kansas City were over .600 against the AL Central, greatly eclipsing the Tigers’ performance. Understandably, many of their wins came at the expense of the White Sox and Twins, who struggled against most foes.
|Opponent||2011-14 Win%||2016 Win%|
The Tigers were able to take advantage of the two weaker teams, but they faltered greatly against their main competition. From 2011 to 2014 the Tigers never ended under .400 against a single AL Central rival; in 2016, they were significantly below this mark when playing both the Indians and the Royals. While the rosters have changed over the past few seasons, these are teams who the Tigers have blown by in recent years.
|Opponent||2011-14 RS||2011-14 RA||2016 RS||2016 RA|
The exact reason why the Tigers were less successful against the division can be hard to pinpoint. In many cases, their offensive output was the same or higher in 2016 than it was during the division-winning stretch. (Except when playing the Indians. Ugh). However, the pitching staff was much less fortunate, seeing a rise in runs allowed against every team except the Twins. From 2011 to 2014, the Tigers averaged a +0.89 run differential per game when facing AL Central opponents. This number dropped to below zero in 2016.
The Tigers’ struggles against the Indians and the Royals were a bit puzzling. Against all other foes, Cleveland allowed 4.2 runs per game, while Kansas City allowed 4.4 runs per game; Detroit landed below both of these numbers. Likewise, the Indians scored 4.7 runs per game against all other opponents while the Royals averaged 4.0 runs. Against the Tigers, these teams scored closer to six runs an affair.
For whatever reason, the Tigers could not get it done against their main division rivals. This was not the only thing that kept them out of the playoffs, but if they had maintained their .618 winning percentage against the AL Central, the Tigers would have easily locked down a Wild Card spot. Detroit dropped the ball this season in an area where they have traditionally succeeded and they paid the consequences for it.