Few expected the Detroit Tigers to enter the second half of the season in fourth place and nine games under .500. Many things have gone wrong for the team in 2017, and no single factor is solely to blame. While individual stats do not tell the whole story, they can give a glimpse into what has gone right and what has not this year. Below are four metrics where the Tigers lead the majors — for better or for worse.
Offense: Line Drive Rate
As a team, the Tigers own the best line drive rate in baseball at 22.8 percent. Proved intuitively and statistically, line drives have the highest return for batting average and wOBA. Unfortunately, these line drives have not been as lucrative as hoped for Detroit, whose .254 average and .323 wOBA rank 18th and 13th, respectively.
This is a surprise given the Tigers’ hard hit percentage, which also ranks first in the league at 41.7 percent. A team that ranks at the top in line drives and hard-hit balls should not be 15th in runs scored. Perhaps some bad luck is involved, or maybe some below-average base running, but either way, the advanced stats do not match the results.
Rotation: Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio
The Tigers starters did not enter 2017 expecting to relinquish many home runs, but they probably did not project to be this effective either. Their 64 homers are tied for the fourth-fewest allowed, and their 11.1 percent home run to fly ball ratio is the very best. While their ERA sits in the bottom 10, the long ball is not the culprit for the rotation.
Keeping this ratio low is important for the Tigers, as the starters rank in the top 10 in fly ball rate and own the third-lowest ground ball ratio. As opposing batters keep lifting the ball, the rotation has avoided the ultimate penalty most of the time. This is a little surprising given the fact that only one team in baseball has posted a worse hard hit percentage allowed.
Bullpen: Hard Hit Percentage
Continuing the theme of crushing the ball is the Tigers bullpen, who unsurprisingly leads the majors in hard hit percentage. At 42.0 percent, Detroit is over six and a half percentage points higher than the next group of relievers. This is a significant jump from last season, when they ended below average in hard contact.
Unlike the unlucky Tigers batters, the bullpen has seen direct results from their batted ball speeds. Ranking second to last in ERA and at the very bottom in FIP, there are not many positives to grab from this relief corps.
Defense: Likely Play Completion
Defense has not been the Tigers’ strong suit in recent years, but it has been less of an anchor weighing down the team in 2017. By DRS they are mostly average, but their 14.9 UZR ranks fourth overall. Advanced metrics often struggle to find a consensus, but the eye-test leans more toward the middle rather than elite.
Fangraphs tracks Inside Edge Fielding which categorizes each ball in play by its degree of difficulty, ranging from Impossible to Almost Certain. One area that sticks out for the Tigers is their performance on Likely plays, which Inside Edge describes as plays made between 60 and 90 percent of the time. No team has struggled more on these makeable outs, with the Tigers completing them just 68.5 percent of the time. While they do not struggle to complete the easy ones, the Detroit fielders are giving up too many outs that other teams are executing.
These four stats are only part of the reason why the Tigers have found themselves where they are in the standings, but they tell a story that has become far too familiar. The offense again is leading the way, but until the bullpen and defense improves, the Tigers will be unable to truly compete.