Archive for December, 2005

Happy New Year

It’s been a pretty good year. It was my first full year as a dad and while the transition involved with my wife going back to work was difficult, we’re managing. It’s also nice seeing my name in print. While I’ve helped out with legal columns that got me a mention in some obscure legal publication, I’ve also gotten my name in Business Week. But none of that compares to being able to go to Borders and seeing a book where you’re listed in the table of contents.

It’s also been a good year for the site. Following up on the 1984 Tigers diary, we took a look further back in the past at the 1935 Tigers. It’s hard for me to say which one was more fun. When I did the 1984 diary, I was able to relive the memories, but there was also something very cool when I took a look at one of the greatest teams in the history of the franchise. They had Hall of Famers out the wazoo, and a few more guys who were borderline and didn’t get in. And while the current day Tigers falters, there’s some hope that they’ll finally be able to get over the hump and put together a winning season.

In addition, it was fun doing a few joint ventures with other Tigers bloggers. DIBS will be a fun project going forward and I’m looking forward to be a part of this community.

In 2006, I’m going to take a break from at least doing a Tiger diary. I’m going to write a 1976 Reds diary for Reds Cutting Edge, but I’ve also had some correspondence with some other sites who are interested in doing diaries as well and I plan on assisting them. You’ll see a 1986 Mets diary at the Tom Seaver Fan Club. Probably one of the more ambitious projects will be the Black Sox Blog going back 100 years to document the White Sox first World Series win in 1906. In addition, I’ve been talking to a guy who hasn’t even started his blog yet, and he wants to do a 1926 St. Louis Cardinals diary (also their first World Series ever).

So with the popularity of the diaries and also with some of the other things that these sites are doing, I’m going to start a loose affiliation between all of these sites. Baseball Historians (the domain currently points to Tigerblog, but it’ll have it’s own stuff soon enough) is going to be a central repository for all of the historical writings from these various sites and it’ll also be a spot were the group gets together and discusses baseball’s past. This is probably my most ambitious project to date so I’m hoping to make it all work. The current plan is to have the site go live some time in 2007 (sounds like a long time) but hopefully it’ll be sooner rather then later.

So with that, I hope you’re as excited (or at least interested) as I am. Thanks for sticking with me this year.

Have a safe and happy New Year.

Jason Johnson Signs With the Indians

First, Rondell White signs with the Twins and now Jason Johnson signs with the Indians. I’m always leery of former players sticking in the division because that’s when they come back to haunt the Tigers. We’ll probably see Jason Johnson three or four times in 2006.

Jason Johnson is a solid pickup for the Indians. It doesn’t look like they’re going to re-up for Kevin Millwood so they needed someone to fill a spot in the rotation and that’s exactly what Johnson can do for a team. When I talked about Kenny Rogers improving the team, a lot of readers came to Johnson’s defense and said he was just as good as Rogers was last season. And while financial terms weren’t available, Johnson will come for a much cheaper price.

Johnson had an odd year last year. His first and second halves look almost identical. WHIP’s are close (1.31 first half vs. 1.39 second half) and his batting average against is pretty close as well (.281 vs. .291). So while both were down, they weren’t down that much to account for such a spike in his ERA (3.87 vs. 5.34). His season peeked on June 18 when he threw eight solid innings to improve to 5-5 with a 3.07 ERA. After that, he went 3-8 and his ERA ballooned to 4.54.

He’s never struck out a ton of guys, but he’s shown that the “lack of durability” tag he’s had is long gone. He also didn’t walk many batters last year. He’s thrown three straight seasons with at least 32 starts, and his innings pitched have gone up every year with 2005 being a career high 210. Jason Johnson is diabetic and last year he was allowed to wear an insulin pump during starts so this probably has a lot to do with the increase in his innings. It’s also a testament to a man with an apparant disability overcoming the odds to become an effective major league pitcher.

So I’ll be rooting for Jason Johnson unless he’s throwing against the Tigers. He was left for dead after a very rough spring in 2005, but he opened up a ton of eyes after he accepted the loss of the opening day start and got off to a nice first half. Now he’ll get a chance to play for one of the solid up and coming teams in the league.

Happy Holidays

I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.

Rondell White Signs With the Twins

I would have preferred White move out of the division, but I think the Twins made an interesting move. They were in need of a bat to fill the DH spot, and we all know Rondell can hit. Now we’re going to have to see him 20+ times, and I just have a feeling he’ll come back to haunt the Tigers.

It’s a pretty incentive laden deal, but no matter what happens, he’ll walk away with $3.25 million. At the end of the day, it he meets all of his incentive clauses, he’ll have a two year deal worth $8.25 million.

More on the 1901 Tigers

You can check out some interesting graphs of the 1901 season over at Baseball Graphs.

You can also read a bio on one of the 1901 Tigers, Kid Gleason. The biography was prepared as part of SABR’s Baseball Biography project.

Detroit Tigers Season Lookback – 1901

Record – 74-61, Finished Third Place in the American League
Pythagorean Record – 72-63

Starters (Note – I couldn’t find a set lineup, so I’m listing the players who got the most time at their respective positions)

Hitters (BA/OBP/SLG)

C – Fritz Buelow (.225/.269/.316)
1b – Pop Dillon (.288/.324/.391)
2b – Kid Gleason (.274/.327/.391)
3b – Doc Casey (.283/.335/.357)
SS – Kid Elberfeld (.308/.397/.428)
LF – Doc Nance (.280/.355/.373)
CF – Jimmy Barrett (.293/.385/.378)
RF – Ducky Holmes (.294/.347/.406)

Team Leaders

Homeruns – Jimmy Barrett, Ducky Holmes (4)
Batting Average – Kid Elberfeld (.308)
OPS – Kid Elberfield (.825)
Best Fielder – Ducky Holmes (22 Fielding Runs Above Average)

Pitchers (IP/W/ERA)

SP – Roscoe Miller (332/23/2.95)
SP – Ed Siever (288.7/18/3.24)
SP – Jack Cronin (219.7/13/3.89)
SP – Joe Yeager (199.7/12/2.61)

Team Leaders

Wins – Roscoe Miller (23)
ERA – Joe Yeager (2.61)
Strikeouts – Ed Siever (85)

On April 25, 1901, the Detroit Tigers opened their inaugural season with a win over the eventual last place Milwaukee Brewers. In front of a home crowd at Bennett Park, the Tigers scored 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to walk away with the team’s first win. First baseman Pop Dillon doubled twice in that inning, the second of which drove home the winning run.

The Tigers then went on to win their first five games but they eventually fell behind the Boston Americans and the eventual American League champions, the Chicago White Sox. Back then they didn’t have a World Series (it wouldn’t be until 1903 when the leagues would essentially unify) and they ended up 8 1/2 games back of the Sox.

Kid Elberfeld led an offense that was right in the middle of the league in most offensive categories. Elberfeld finished the season sixth in OBP (.397), ninth in OPS (.825) and seventh in walks (57). He was also a solid fielder (57 Fielding Runs Above Replacement) and in all, he finished the season with the team’s best WARP1 (10.1). While the Tigers finished third in the league in batting average (.279) and OBP (.333), they finished fifth in runs (741) and homeruns (29) despite player in a hitters park (park factor of 105).

Roscoe Miller led the Tigers rotation with 23 wins and he was in the top ten in several statistical categories. His 23 wins were the fourth most in the league and he finished eighth in ERA (2.95) and third in innings pitched (332). Joe Yeager also had a solid season, even if it didn’t equate to as many wins (12). He was third in the league in ERA (2.61) and second in ERA+ (147). The Tigers finished third in the American League in ERA (3.30) but they were only seventh in strikeouts (307) and actually walked more batters (313) then they struck out.

While the Tigers first season didn’t garner them a championship, they had a winning record the entire season. It also gave them a base that would eventually net the team three straight American League pennants later in the decade.

Mike Ilitch and the Blame Game

Alright, I’ve had a few days to think about the Ilitch interview. Probably the biggest thing that bothers me about the whole thing is how he seems to want to blame others while absolving himself.

I’m a CPA and I do quite a bit of work with start ups. One way to build a business is to buy your way in. This can be the easiest, but it’s also the most expensive. Another way would be to build it from the ground up. Here, it’s usually more of a time issue then it is having access to funds.

And while I know the baseball world doesn’t quite mirror the business world because you’re pretty much consigned to the team’s city, you can liken each of these approaches to particular teams. The Yankees (and now the Mets) would be the free spending businesses while the Twins would be the business that builds from within. In a lot of instances, they’re forced into a method based on their location. Then you have the teams in between that build from within, but when they think they’re close, they pull the trigger to make a deal. That’s what the 1984 Tigers did. They were on the verge of breaking through, and with some timely moves (Darrell Evans, Willie Hernandez) they bridged the gap between a team with the potential to a World Series Champion.

One of the Tigers problems the last few is they don’t appear to have a plan. One year we’re seeing what we have (which was a disaster in 2003) and the next we’re signing whoever will play for us (2004 and 2005). So while we’ve increased our payroll, the results have neglible. And in the process, we worked from a farm club that looked like it had a ton of potential, but never quite panned out.

Part of the problem is, we’ve never had a guy at the top who’s done a good job. Probably since Bill Lajoie. So we’ve had guys like Randy Smith who have set the team back on it’s face. But it also looks like Ilitch is willing to stick his nose into things to move things along (Juan Gonzalez trade and the Magglio Ordonez signing). For Dave Dombrowski, the verdict is still out there because we have to let his tenur run it’s course.

So for Mike Ilitch to get up there and say something about needing the team to show him something before he’ll spend, he also needs to hold himself accountable. He hired Randy Smith just like the Fords hired Matt Millen. He also hired Dave Dombroswki. So it seems like way too convenient of an excuse to just say that the GM hasn’t shown him anything when he was the one who hired him in the first place. And the fact that some of the worst teams in the history of the major leagues have taken the field in Detroit under his ownership has just as much to say about him then anything.

We then get back to the current Hot Stove excuse, and that’s the fact that players don’t want to come here. What’s interesting is, you never hear about an NBA player not wanting to come to Detroit and the reason is, they’re winners. If you show that you have a committment to winning, which at times the Tigers haven’t (i.e. the payroll freeze when Comerica Park opened, 2003), then things will take care of themselves.

And there is some optimism the last couple of years. While the results haven’t been good, we have made competitive attempts at bringing in some quality free agents. And it also looks like the Tigers are shoring up their scouting department. These are all good things, and the Tigers are fielding pretty much an equivalent team from last year, in which many people, including myself, expected them to finish with more then 80 wins.

Ilitch, and the people that he hires, have the responsiblity to keep it moving forward. No more excuses, because like you said, it’s been thirteen years.

Reining In Ilitch?

OK, so here’s my reaction to the Ilitch AP interview, sprinkled in with some thoughts I was already having about the Tigers’ off-season so far:

You see, I recalled a Jayson Stark article I read earlier in the off-season. Now, why was I thinking about an article that focuses on the Dodgers? Because of the quote of new Dodgers GM Ned Colletti that is highlighted in a separate block:

“If I wanted to fix things and have half a farm system, I could have done that yesterday. But that’s not the plan. The plan is to be better and still hold the course, to develop and win at the same time. That’s probably the hardest thing to do in baseball – develop and win at the same time. But that’s what we’re trying to do.”

It occurred to me that among the positives of the twin signings of nearly elderly free agent pitchers Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers was that we didn’t have to give up any draft picks as compensation for either of them. In the case of Rogers, the Rangers were contractually obligated to not offer him arbitration, and one wonders if Dombrowski still has enough contacts in the Marlins organization to at least have a hunch that they would decline to offer arbitration to Jones, thus eliminating the concern of losing draft picks (word around baseball is that the Marlins declined to offer Jones arbitration because they don’t feel they will be able to afford to pay for more high draft picks than their own plus those they will be getting as compensation for the Blue Jays’ signing of A.J. Burnett). This is in direct contrast to last year’s signing of Troy Percival, which continues to look worse and worse as time goes on. At least the Magglio Ordonez signing only costs us money.

Then came the Ilitch AP interview. At which point, I think, a thinking Tigers fan can begin to understand a piece of the dynamic going on in the front office of the Tigers. Ilitch is pressing Dombrowski to win, and win now. Thus, the sense of urgency as shown by the firing of Alan Trammell and hiring of the 2200+ games of managerial experience that Jim Leyland represents. Also, we can now understand a little better the signings of Ivan Rodriguez, Rondell White, Jason Johnson, and Fernando Vina in the off-season following the most embarrassing number in recent memory: 119.

So, what to make of this? I see it this way: Ilitch would like to spend like a drunken sailor and win now, throwing caution (and the future of the franchise) to the wind. On the other hand, he finally has a GM he trusts in Dombrowski, and Dombrowski has the authority to put the brakes on ill-considered moves (such as, let’s say, the proposed Granderson and Zumaya for Javier Vazquez trade, which sounds a lot like exactly the kind of idiocy that Randy Smith would have engaged in without hesitation).

So I return now to the Colletti quote. “That’s probably the hardest thing to do in baseball – develop and win at the same time. But that’s what we’re trying to do.” Well, I hate to break it to you, Ned, but you’re the new kid on the block. Get in the back of the line.

Ilitch Speaks Out

I’ve read this story a few times now and my reaction goes from somewhat understanding what Ilitch is saying to just being pissed about him. Things are crazy with the holidays, but I’ll try to put my thoughts down tonight.


Jeff commented on Ilitch’s comments, so rather then pushing his thoughts down, I’m going to save my comments for tomorrow.

Tigers Trade Kenny Baugh

Another first round draft pick gone without making a contribution. Kenny Baugh got traded to the Padres for 22 year old right hander Ricky Steik. Baugh missed most of 2002 and 2003 after labrum surgery but he helped lead the Toledo Mudhens to the International League championship last year.

The deal was mostly done to clear a roster spot for Kenny Rogers. Not much on Steik, but he only struck out 53 in 60 innings of work at the Padres A affiliate, Fort Wayne. Not bad for a guy who will turn 22 next year, but nothing too special either.

Holiday Shopping

If you have a baseball fan that you need to shop for this holiday season, there’s several books out there that I’d recommend (In no particular order).

Hardball Times Baseball Annual – Yeah, I know this is a little self serving, but this book is a gem. And don’t take my word for it, because it’s gotten some pretty positive reviews from less biased sources.

The Baseball Same Game – This has been out for a little while but it’s a fun book for baseball fans. And when I say fun, I don’t mean to diminish the historical aspects of the book, which are fantastic. I reviewed this book when it came out so be sure to check it out.

The Best of Dodger Thoughts – I’ve ordered this book and can’t yet give you a first hand account because it hasn’t arrived yet, but Jon’s a quality blogger so I have no doubt this book will be packed with useful information on the Dodgers.

Funnyball: The Art of Enjoying a Losing Season – When I did the 1975 Reds diary for Reds Cutting Edge, I made a point to keep up on the current day Reds as well. Red Hot Mama is an excellent Reds blog and this is her collection of posts throughout the year. Blade’s ordered the book and he’s promised to let me take a look at it, but I’m certain this one’ll be good just based on the quality of the blog.

John Sickels’ 2006 Baseball Prospect Book – Unfortunately this won’t be ready to put under your tree this year, but it’s available for preorder. This’ll be the first year I’ve purchased the book, but again, based on the blog, I know I won’t be disappointed.

Tigers Sign Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers

Whenever I hear about a move the Tigers make, my initial thought is negative. Then I think about things and try to put myself in the shoes of the decision maker while thinking “what was Dave Dombrowski trying to accomplish with this.”

And then I usually get people asking me what I think of the move. By the time that happens, I have a typical response. And that’s…..

….it depends on what they do next.

So the Tigers signed, for two years and $11 million, a reliever coming off a career year who’s going to be 38 next April. They then also sign an aging starter who just turned 41 years old for two years and $16 million. What did Dave Dombrowski accomplish?

I know people will argue vehemently about this, but he made the Tigers better. That’s somewhat simplistic, but let’s look at it. First off, Kenny Rogers was way better then any Tiger starter last year. One of my favorite stats to compare pitchers is Runs Saved Above Average, which you can get from Lee Sinin’s Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. Nate Robertson led all Tiger starters with a -5, and Jeremy Bonderman was a -6. For those of you who thought Jason Johnson was as good as Kenny Rogers, Johnson served up a -6.

Since Johnson is the guy who’s going out and Kenny Rogers is coming in, it’s best to compare the two of them. Kenny Rogers RSAA was 23, which is very solid, Prior to 2005, he had two rather mediocre seasons (8 RSAA in 2004 and 1 in 2003) but he had an even better year in 2002 when his RSAA was 28. All of those are better then what a Tiger starter has gotten in quite a while.

The other number I like to look at is pitching runs above replacement (PRAR), which is put out by Baseball Prospectus. Kenny Rogers had a 72 and Jason Johnson had a 41. Those 31 runs are worth about three wins.

Now lets look at Todd Jones. He had 15 RSAA and 59 pitching runs above replacement. The Tigers had a revolving door for their 12th pitcher, so if you assume whoever was there is of replacement quality, that’s another 5-6 wins.

Now I’m being optimistic up until now, because this all assumes that Jones and Rogers will perform at the same level they did last year. Todd Jones’ nickname was the rollercoaster, and he got it for a good reason. After having a solid 2000 season, he lost some face in 2001 by blowing some leads late in the game. He eventually lost the closer job to Matt Anderson (remember him) and was then traded for Mark Redman. And Kenny Rogers isn’t a spring chicken either, so you’d expect some kind of break down sometime soon (in years, not in days).

So we have two aging pitchers who “should” improve the team and Rogers is moving from a hitters park to a pitchers park, so I’m all for it. We would have had to pay Jason Johnson $5 million at least, so for another $3 million, we get a better arm. And with the price of closers this year, $5.5 million this year can’t be compared to the $6 million we paid for Troy Percival.

The final note is, we’re still having problems convincing free agents to come to Detroit. The only way we’re going to fix that is by the Tigers winning more games. If this time next year, the Tigers are coming off of a .500 season knowing they’re a player or two away from playoff contention with guys like Justin Verlander in the pipeline, you might be able to get a good player without paying a premium.

Finally, I have an idea. Why not throw a bunch of money at Roger Clemens? I know it’s not my money, but he might play for Detroit for $20 million for one season. He’s nine wins away from 350, so you’d get some hype there and while he wouldn’t completely pay for himself, it would create some excitement. And having a rotation of Clemens, Rogers, Bonderman, Maroth and Robertson doesn’t sound too shabby.

I know, it won’t happen, but a guy can dream.

An ancilliary benefit is we don’t have to rush Joel Zumaya or Justin Verlander.

Around the Blogosphere and Tiger Pick Ups

I was all over the place yesterday. I wrote my regular column at the Hardball Times and I did a Q&A over at Baseblogging about the tax implications that bloggers should think about.

If you’ve never stopped by Baseblogging, I highly recommend it. It’s a new site offering news and resources about blogs. There’s posts that’ll help you get your site recognized by the search engines, interviews with established bloggers and news on the blog networks out there.

The Tigers picked up Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers yesterday. I’ll have more on this tonight, but while my intial thought was a little negative (can you blame me, it’s the Tigers), I’m starting to warm up the signing. I’m also going to make an unrealistic plea to Mike Ilitch that could put the Tigers over the top, because sometimes it takes a Rocket to reach the stars.

Tigers Sign Todd Jones and an Aborted Trade

Hmmm, this is interesting. Looks like it’s a two year deal, but I haven’t seen the terms, so I’ll hold judgement until then.

I don’t have Insider, but apparantly Peter Gammons broke the news that Javier Vazquez had aborted a trade that would have sent he and possibly Troy Glauss (again, there’s a lot of stories floating around) to the Tigers for Joel Zumaya and Curtis Granderson. While I like both Granderson and Zumaya’s prospects, what a lot of people lose sight of is that while Javier Vazquez was pretty average last year (0 Runs Saved Above Average) and that he’s three years from removed from one his best seasons he still would have been the best arm in the Tigers rotation. Nate Robertson led all Tiger starters with a -5 RSAA to put things in perspective.

Houston declined to offer Roger Clemens arbitration, so he either has to wait until May to sign with the team, go somewhere else, or retire. I was looking forward to one more year of the Rocket, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Dan Dickerson Interview

Be sure to check out Detroit Tiger Weblog’s two part interview with Dan Dickerson. Double D had some big shoes to fill, and while I’m sure even he’d admit he’s no Ernie Harwell, Dan Dickerson does an excellent job, along with Jim Price, doing the play by play for the games. It’s a great read, so be sure to check it out.

Dan Dickerson Interview Part 1
Dan Dickerson Interview Part 2

The Final Season

I started Tom Stanton’s “The Final Season” this weekend and all I can say is “wow.” I know it’s a little dated, but I have a habit of picking up books and at times they sit. In fact I’m sure I have books on my shelf that I picked up ten years ago that I have yet to read. My approach is pretty random, but I’m really glad I picked up this book.

And while I’d like to avoid cliches, the only way to describe it is to say the book has heart. Tons of it. Stanton lays it all out there as he talks about a magical season (1999, the final season the Tigers played at Tiger Stadium) with his sons and father and he mixes in a little Detroit history along with a look at his grandparents. This is a must read for Tiger fans.

Stanton also has a new book out, “The Detroit Tigers Reader.” This is another book I’m going to be sure to pick up.

What, exactly, is Lynn Henning smoking?

Look, I hate to call out a guy who I respect, and who I actually think does a generally decent job of being the Tigers beat writer. But today’s column, man… Some of this stuff is just head-scratching.

First off, the fascination with trading Pudge Rodriguez… I just don’t know who else will want him, frankly. With the entry of the Japanese catcher, Johjima, signed by the Mariners, that just made the off-season market for catchers that much more of a buyer’s market. Certainly Henning, as the beat writer, is closer to the team than I and has a better feel for how serious the “trade Pudge” movement might be, but I just don’t see it. Not unless we’re willing to take on someone else’s problem contract, and we’ve already got plenty of those, thanks (not to mention we’re probably considering right now one or two more). I won’t even go into the severe hitting problems Brandon Inge has when wearing the tools of ignorance.

Then there’s the matter of Carlos Pena… Here it is, for the last time: Pena is arbitration-eligible this off-season, as he was last off-season. His salary in 2005 was $2.575 million, and the Tigers, by rule of the collective bargaining agreement, cannot offer more than a 20% reduction of that (or $2.06 million) in arbitration. Any team that Pena might be traded to will be under the same restriction. The team does have a way out of this problem, though: They can refuse to offer a contract for him to the arbitrator by a certain deadline (I think this has been Dec. 20 in the past), and the player becomes a free agent, who can sign for any amount with any team. Other teams are fully aware of this situation. Any of the other 29 GM’s would be foolish to trade for Pena under these circumstances. Pena absolutely will not be traded, he will be non-tendered. Write it down. In ink.

As to the outfield situation, my personal feeling is that Curtis Granderson seems to me like the type of player who is athletic enough to handle center field in his youth, but likely will wind up in a corner outfield position. Regular Tigerblog reader Dan has already expressed his disgust for Jim Leyland’s Nook Logan fascination (and while my opinion of Nook is not as strong as Dan’s, I do agree that we shouldn’t be counting on much from him), but if the purpose of the column is to predict what the Tigers’ off-season might look like, we all have to admit to Henning’s correct assessment that the preferred outfield combination will be Granderson-Logan-Magglio.

Henning does do a good job discussing potential starting pitching candidates in case all efforts to sign or trade for starting pitching fall through. People seem to have suddenly forgotten that Wil Ledezma was supposed to have a bright future, and that he obviously hid an injury through last year’s spring training. Then again, watching him struggle through 10 horrific starts will easily obscure that kind of thing in one’s memory.

Then there’s Roman Colon, who had a fantastic 3.27 ERA as a starter in ’05. That’s better than his distant cousin (OK, I don’t believe there is any relation, actually) Bartolo Colon.

And, of course, we are all aware of the very bright future that Justin Verlander represents.

But, still, that Carlos Pena thing just bothered me. There is zero chance of him being traded before the non-tender deadline. Absolute zero.

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