April 23, 2007
The rate of posting on this blog has been slower than usual recently, for obvious reasons, but I think one way to remember Brian is to talk a lot about one of his favorite subjects. So here’s installment number two in the semiregular series about Tiger walk rates.
Through 18 games, the Tigers have coaxed 62 walks, an average of 3.4 per game. That total puts them at No. 16 in MLB, tied with four other teams. They’ve struck out 126 times, a rate of 7 per game. Their K/BB ratio of 2.06/1 is actually pretty good. And I suspect their numbers will improve once they start getting more base hits. Right now, pitchers must know they’ll have it pretty easy facing the Tigers, who have about three guys hitting consistently right now and two hitting for power.
Even with the team-wide BA slump, the plate discipline picture is looking rosier this year than it did in 2006. Last year they drew 430 walks for a shockingly bad rate of 2.65 walks per game, and struck out 1133 times for 6.99 per game. That’s a K/BB ratio of 2.64.
So in the early going, the Tigers have added almost an entire walk per game while holding their strikeout rate steady. There are a lot of things not to like about the offense so far, but selectivity is not one of them.
April 17, 2007
My good friend and fellow contributor to this blog, Brian Bluhm, was among the 32 students killed in the massacre at Virginia Tech on Monday. I knew Brian exclusively through the Internet — I never met him in person or spoke to him on the phone. Still, I considered him an important person in my life and I am deeply saddened by his death.
It feels solipsistic to indulge my own feelings when so many people who knew him in “real life” are more devestated than I can imagine. But this great tragedy serves to remind me how people who otherwise wouldn’t know each other are able to forge meaningful bonds through the most unlikely of ways — like a shared passion for baseball or Uncle Tupelo.
Brian was an incredible person; I knew that much without the benefit of shaking his hand. He was kind and honorable and intelligent. He will be missed.
April 10, 2007
If both people who read this blog haven’t noticed, we’re somewhat preoccupied with the Tigers’ need to improve their team plate discipline. With that in mind, let’s introduce a semiregular new feature that will track how the Tigers compare to the rest of the league in drawing walks.
Through six games, Tiger hitters have coaxed 21 free passes, including 9 on April 4 against Toronto, which not coincidentally was their finest offensive performance of the season.
That total places the team 13th in baseball and fifth in the American League. The total is more impressive considering that nine of the 12 offenses that have drawns more walks have played one or two more games than the Tigers.
Of course, this newfound patience isn’t putting more runs on the board — the Tigers have been outscored so far and are hitting a paltry .231/.302/.362. That’s ugly. But the hits will come eventually, and it’s good to see the Tigers working counts and collecting baserunners more efficiently.
Five regular players — Sean Casey, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, and Gary Sheffield — and reserve Marcus Thames have acceptable walk rates thus far. Curtis Granderson has walked twice in 24 at-bats, but he’s slugging .750, so he’s alright. I assume he’ll take more free passes when he’s not hitting lasers nearly every time up.
The small sample caveat applies here, as it does with every observation made during the first six weeks of the season. But if the Tigers can keep this up, they have the ability to make solid offensive gains this year. The base hits and home runs will happen more frequently if the team continues to show patience
April 9, 2007
Despite their best efforts, the Tigers staggered out of Kansas City with a series win this weekend, a happy result that seemed unthinkable until late Sunday afternoon.
After looking cold and confused Friday and barely ekeing out a victory Saturday, the Tigers were not inspiring much confidence heading into the rubber game. When the pitching was strong, the offense disappeared, and when the bats perked up, the bullpen was nearly blowing the lead.
Sunday had all the makings of another good-pitch, no-hit affair through eight innings. The Easter afternoon game seemed lost until Pudge Rodriguez smacked a three-run homer in the ninth off David Riske (insert semi-blasphemous “Tigers rise from the dead” joke here).
So the win-loss column looked good as the Tigers headed to Baltimore, but the story on the field was a blend of good and bad. Bonderman looked strong, save two mistakes to Mark Teahen, with no unintentional walks and eight strikeouts. He also demonstrated some guile and intelligence by escaping a couple tough jams — the kind of situations that in previous years may have ballooned into big innings. Bondo doesn’t have a decision after two starts, but his early season performance is encouraging.
Perhaps more heartening was a relatively trouble-free inning from Fernando Rodney. He was a key player in last year’s bullpen and is arguably more important this year with Jamie Walker in Baltimore. Hopefully his Sunday performance is more indicative of the season to come than were his prior two outings.
The offense was nearly stagnant again, although it’s hard to determine how much Brandon Duckworth had to do with that. The Tigers weren’t and will never be a very disciplined team, but they didn’t seem to swing at too many awful pitches Sunday. Duckworth was not flashy but threw a lot of strikes, and he deserves some credit for that.
In all, the series was unimpressive, but the Tigers escaped with a pair of wins. One trait of the 2006 Tigers that had been absent in previous years was the ability to win on the days when the team just doesn’t “have it.” Jim Leyland’s guys showed this quality again on Sunday; let’s hope it’s a recurring theme.
April 7, 2007
The previous post was late to appear because the computer froze as I wrote it Wednesday night. In the interim, the Tigers proffered an offensive performance so feeble, it pretty much invalidated everything I said there.
Against Jorge de la Rosa, a hard-throwing lefty with a career BB ratio of 6.5/9 innings, the Tigers were foolishly aggressive, swinging early in counts and making feeble contact most of the night. Even Gary Sheffield, the team’s most discriminating hitter, was weirdly impatient.
Yes, the temperature was near-arctic, and sure, the Tigers’ at-bats were probably very uncomfortable last night. The Tigers are a division contender, but they are not so clearly better than the rest of the division that they can afford to throw away games played in inclement conditions — especially since there may be another month of this weather in store in Detroit.
As I write this, the Tigers are stepping in against Gil Meche, an eminently beatable pitcher who nonetheless can dominate teams who don’t make him work. Let’s hope for better results this afternoon.
April 7, 2007
Despite the dogged efforts of Jason Grilli, the Tigers managed to eke out a win in game two of the young season, thanks to an offensive explosion that included a grand slam from Curtis Granderson and two hits from Carlos Guillen. But one again, the offensive highlight was not a long hit but a slow walk — nine slow walks to first base by unusually discriminating Tiger hitters.
Five of those nine free passes came around to score, and the Tigers’ patience no doubt allowed them to get better pitches to hit when they weren’t jogging to first. My analytical side keeps reminding my home side that it’s only been two games, it’s not a trend, but I can’t but be encouraged by the team’s approach at the plate thus far.
I had been frightened by the organizational maxim issued this winter that called for players throughout the system to strike out less. While it’s true several Tigers could benefit from making more contact, players who are trained to focus on not striking out often sacrifice walks and solid contact in an attempt to simply “put it in play.”
That may still be a concern, but at least in the opening series, the Tigers were able to balance patience and power and were rewarded for it. Granderson, a favorite whipping boy of the anti-K crowd, sizzled a line drive out to right-center for the game-changing grand slam, and he later a drive into the right-field corner for a triple. Add those ropes to several solid ABs on Monday, and it seems Granderson may just be able to make more contact without foregoing his considerable sock. Striking the combination there would instantly make him one of the best young centerfielders in the league.
April 4, 2007
Opening Day has come and gone and that means it’s time to get this blog moving again (by which I mean “moving at all.”) A lot of Tiger fans have a bitter taste about Monday’s result, with Rodney’s tenth-inning meltdown a sour denoument to a sunny afternoon that appeared promising until 4:10 or so.
I’m a bit sour like the rest, but I also found a few things to like about the game. The Tigers, whose lack of patience has been well documented by almost everyone who writes about the team, pieced together several tough at-bats against Roy Halladay, one of the premier righthanders in the American League. Halladay threw 106 pitches in six innings, which isn’t a remarkably high number, but he certainly didn’t breeze through the Bengals’ lineup. Of particular note to me was the Brandon Inge, who drew a walk after falling behind 0-2 and eventually scored, and Curtis Granderson, who started the game with a solid, two-strike single and made solid contact on several occasions.
Magglio Ordonez and Sean Casey also coaxed free passes, which wouldn’t be noteworthy for most offenses but is a pretty good sign in this case.
Craig Monroe, on the other hand, looked terribly overmatched and reminded everyone who called for a left-field upgrade just how frustrating he can be.
On the mound, Jeremy Bonderman fought Opening Day jitters and some shaky defense in the first inning, but acquitted himself nicely afterward. I had feared Bonderman’s critics would use his early struggles to revive the goofy “Bonderman is immature” meme, but fortunately that seemed not to happen. Maybe those playoff starts really did cement him as an elite young pitcher in the minds of his skeptics.
Yes, the day ended badly, but there was a lot to like about this year’s opener. Remember, last year the Tigers needed two Chris Shelton homers just to beat the hapless Royals on Opening Day. They played much better this time, although the result was not as pleasant. There’s plenty to take away from today — now it’s up to Nate Robertson to neutralize the Jays’ right-handed mashers and give the Tigers a chance to hit Burnett this afternoon.