Archive for January, 2009

Hardball Times Season Preview 2009

The third installment of the Hardball Times preseason preview is now finished. There’s a little bit of self-promotion here because I wrote the Tigers section. You can check out all of the details by clicking on the link.

Hardball Times Season Preview 2009 This Is Spinal Tap dvd

Brandon Lyon Analysis

Here’s more then you probably ever wanted to know about Tigers future closer in waiting, Brandon Lyon.  Good stuff, and it’s just part one.

Matt Joyce Interview

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Lisa Winston at sat down with former Tigers outfielder Matt Joyce for an interview.  Looks like he’s a Heroes fan (as well as a fan of Angelina Jolie).

Tigers Sign Scott Williamson to Minor League Deal

One Hell of a Christmas dvd I missed this yesterday when Brandon Lyon signed, but the Tigers also inked Scott Williamson to a minor league deal and he’ll get a look this spring.  Williamson has had an interesting past.  He was a ninth round pick by the Reds in 1997, won the Rookie of the Year and was selected to the All Star Game as a setup man/part time closer in 1999, then the Reds tried to convert him to a starter in 2000 with mixed success.  In 2001 he was hurt and then in 2002 and 2003, he bounced back and had solid campaigns.  Midway through the 2003 season, he was dealt to the Red Sox for Phil Dumatrait and Tyler Pelland and made the postseason roster where he pitched in eight games including all three of the Red Sox wins in the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees.

From there, he bounced around and spent some time in the majors with the Cubs, Padres and Orioles as well their minor league affiliates.  Then in 2008, he spent the whole season in the minors, pitching for both the Mariners and Braves system without much success.

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Now he’s a Tiger.  His last really good year was 2002 but this guy was Joel Zumaya before Zumaya when he came up with the Reds back in the late 1990s.  He’ll be just 33 years old in February despite the fact that it feels like he’s been around for ever (I’ve had five jobs between then and now and that’s just if you count my time as an employee).  He touched the low 90s in a throwing session that caught the Tigers attention so we’ll see what he can do and it never hurts to throw another possibility into the mix.

Tigers Sign Stop Gap Closer

The Tigers inked Brandon Lyon to a one year deal and he’ll be the odds on favorite to close out of spring training. Lyon had a solid season in 2008 but after a very solid first half as the Diamondbacks closer, he melted down in the second half and eventually lost the job. Still, the Tigers probably looked at those 51 career saves and figured that someone on the team with closer experience (if you believe in such a thing) is better then what the Tigers are sitting on.

That’ll push Fernando Rodney down into a set up role and then when Joel Zumaya comes back, he’ll be a spot reliever/seventh inning guy.  It’s not a bad move, although Lyon’s numbers are hardly dominating.  Last year he struck out just 44 in 59 1/3 innings, although he walked just 13.  The seven homeruns are a concern.  I’d compare him to Todd Jones, but Lyon isn’t quite as percise and he has a better strikeout rate.

Of course this sets the stage for the Tigers to fast track prospect Dusty Ryan Ryan Perry who’s been pretty much deemed the Tigers closer of the future.  Assuming he pitches like he should, we should see Ryan in some capacity on the Tigers in 2000.

And Then There Was One

The Tigers signed four of their five arbitration eligible players before the figure exchanging deadline yesterday.  All four got one year deals and will be payed as follows:

Gerald Laird – $2.8 million
Edwin Jackson – $1.825 million
Bobby Seay – $1.3 million
Joel Zumaya – $735,000

That’s not too bad and I’d say we’re making out in all four of these cases.  I was particularly impressed with how much Edwin Jackson settled for.  I figured he’d go for more and despite some of his negatives, it’s hard not to feel that we’ll be getting our money’s worth even if he has just a mediocre season.

That leaves Justin Verlander.  The Tigers and Verlander exchanged figures and they’re just under a million apart.  The Tigers came in at $3.2 million while Verlander asked for $4.15.  The goal is to still sign the guy before they go to the table and that will probably involved a multi-year deal.

The Tigers signed Juan Rincon to a minor league deal.  He’s had two pretty bad years in 2007 and 2008 after being one of the best setup men in baseball for the Twins.  Rick Knapp seems to think he’s set to turn things around

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so if this one works, we could also have a bargain on our hands.

The Tigers are also still talking to Brandon Lyon so we’ll see what happens there.  He wouldn’t lead my list of closer candidates, but if it pushes Rodney (and eventually Zumaya) into a more situational role, it’s probably not all bad.  I just hope they don’t overpay.

The Inge/Everett Effect

There’s little doubt that the Tigers pitching staff disappointed in 2008. The Tigers 4.91 ERA was the twelfth best in the American League and while the 644 walks they gave up didn’t help, they also gave up 1,541 hits, which was eleventh best in the American League. In 2006, when they led the league with a 3.84 mark, they only gave up 1,420 hits. That’s a full 121 less then 2008. While some of that can be piled on the pitchers, the fact that the Tigers led the league in defensive efficiency in 2006 (.704 versus league average of .688 that year) and finished with a below average .686 defensive efficiency in 2008 (.691 was average) also has something to do with it.

Fortunately, the Tigers defense should get better in 2009. How much better do you ask? Well, we’ll focus on the left side of the infield and we’ll use a couple of different fielding metrics to figure out how much help is on the way.

First we’ll take a look at the Baseball Prospectus stats. Here’s a look at the Tigers who got time at third base in 2008 (the numbers represent fielding runs above a replacement level player adjusted for that season):

Carlos Guillen – 14 runs in 89 games
Brandon Inge – 10 runs in 51 games
Jeff Larish – 1 run in 12 games
Ryan Raburn – 0 runs in 18 games
Mike Hessman – 2 runs in 12 games
Ramon Santiago – -1 runs in six games
Mike Hollimon – 0 runs in two games

I know that doesn’t add up to 162 games, but it’s because some games had multiple third basemen. Anyway, if you add up all of those numbers you come with 26 runs. In 2006 Brandon Inge played 159 games at third and he logged 36 runs above replacement. That’s pretty good for a third baseman because the American League gold glove winner at third base had 28 that year (and for that matter, Chavez never finished with a higher mark then 30). That’s a ten run difference and while it’s not an exact science, ten runs usually equal about one win.

Now lets look at shortstop:

Edgar Renteria – 19 runs above replacement in 138 games
Ramon Santiago – 3 runs above replacement in 33 games
Mike Hollimon – 0 runs above replacement in 6 games.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. The Tigers 2008 total was 22 RAR. That’s not good. In fact it’s below average. Now the question is, how do we value Everett. The last time he played a full season was 2006 and he had an outstanding season with 40 FRAR. To put this in perspective, Omar Vizquel, who’s touted as probably the second best fielding shortstop of all time, never had a season above 35 FRAR. In 2007, Everett had 12 FRAR in 66 games in an injury marred season and then in 2008, he had 16 in only 44 games as a reserve.

So let’s do some back of the envelope math. For Everett to get to 40, he’d have to have another outstanding season. In 2007, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he would have gotten to 30 had he played a full year and then if you look at 2008, he could have fallen in the 35+ range if he had gotten to play every day. So let’s keep it simple. 32 isn’t out of the realm of possibility and it keeps the math simple because once again, Everett is 10 runs better then the Tigers compliment in 2008. That’s another win so if you use my sweet and simple method, the Tigers should be two wins better in the field with Inge and Everett at third and short respectively.

This also assumes that Inge and Everett play the entire year. For Inge, this is possible because he’s done it in the past few years. Everett hasn’t played a full season since 2006 so then the question is, how will Ramon Santiago, who would probably get those missed games, play in his place. While Ramon Santiago is a solid fielder, he’s not gold glove quality so the more games Everett misses, the more that the two game advantage will get chewed into.

The fielding measure I also like to look at is the +/- version that John Dewan created for his The Fielding Bible–Volume II. While this doesn’t give us a nice clean run or win number like FRAR does, it should help validate our findings above. The first volume of the Fielding Bible has 2003 through 2005 +/- figures and the short explanation of the figure is how many more plays that fielder made above what an average fielder at his position would have gotten too. For 2006 through 2008, you can find the numbers at Bill James Online. Keep in mind that we’re now talking about an average player and not a replacement player.

Anyway, using the Fielding Bible figures, Adam Everett is a stud. He led all of baseball in +/- in every year from 2003 through 2006. Even with the injury marred 2007, he still finished sixth and there wasn’t enough data to give him a rating in 2008. One interesting thing to note about Everett is, his numbers going to his right have come down considerably (from very good to just above average). Going to his left, he’s still great even if you just look at 2007. In 2008, Renteria was the 28th best fielding shortstop with a -9 ranking. He was good going to his left (but not nearly as good as in year’s past) and he was still bad going to his right.

At third base, Carlos Guillen was the 26th best fielding third baseman with a -8 rating. Inge was the second best third baseman in both 2006 and 2007 with a +27 and +22 rating respectively. Fortunately, Inge’s strength is going to his right so that should make up for any diminshed range that Everett has going to his right.

So again, let’s do some back of the envelope math. If you add Guillen and Renteria’s figured together we get -17. If Inge gets to +20, it’ll still be a good year and even Everett slides a touch and plays a whole year at +20 (his worst figure from 2003 through 2006 was +21, his best was +41 in 2006). That’s 67 plays more that you’ll see from Inge and Everett then you got from Guillen and Renteria. That’s more then one play every three games and while that doesn’t sound like a lot, I bet if you asked the pitchers, they’d definitely take it.

So there you go. Two measures and both show a big improvement. And that’s only two slots. Guillen should be an upgrade over the left field revolving door last year and something that went under the radar was that Curtis Granderson didn’t have as good of a year in the field as he did in 2007 or 2006. If both of those guys improve their positions, then it’ll just get better for the pitching staff.

Brandon Lyon, John Parrish Still on Tigers Radar

We talked about John Parrish the other day and now it looks like the Tigers have their eyes set on Brandon Lyon.  Lyon has that intangible closer experience (Yes, I’m being sarcastic) and he saved 26 games for the Diamondbacks last year.  2007 was probably his best season when he was a setup man and he finished with a 2.68 ERA in a career high 74 innings.

I guess I just don’t know why the Tigers don’t give a guy like Casey Fien a shot.  The kid has had some very good years in the minors and would probably make a good one or two inning reliever.  I guess the Tigers just don’t have the confidence in Fernando Rodney or they wouldn’t still be shopping for a bargain closer.

It’s definitely some time to give some Super Bowl Props with the playoffs over and done with.  I haven’t seen any Super Bowl Odds yet, but it looks like this Super Bowl is going to be one for the ages.  And the fact that the Cardinals finally got in means they’ve made it a lot further as a franchise then the Lions have.

Five File For Arbitration

Five Tigers filed for arbitration as the latest deadline in the process has come and gone.  Gerald Laird, Joel Zumaya, Justin Verlander, Bobby Seay and Edwin Jackson all filed and now, the two teams have until Tuesday when they exchange figures.  The hope is that it never gets that far and all five guys are in the fold by that time.

I’ve already talked about Justin Verlander, but how the Tigers treat the other five guys will give fans a glimpse at the Tigers future.  I can’t see Zumaya getting more then a one year deal with all of the injuries, but a guy like Edwin Jackson carries some risks and rewards.  If 2008 is a good indicator of what he can do, then he should be able to get the money that a back of the rotation guy should get and the Tigers might try to lock him up.  If the Tigers sign Laird to a longer (2-4 years) deal, then it goes to show what the system thinks of Dusty Ryan (and Alex Avila for that matter).

Regardless, it’s cold outside but things are going to be heating up in the front office and it’s expected (based on the fact that Dombrowski has never let a case go to arbitration) that all five guys will be signed by late Monday.

Marcus Thames, Fernando Rodney Signed to One Year Deals

The Tigers settled with two arbitration eligible players today as both Marcus Thames and Fernando Rodney signed one year deals.    Marcus Thames got a $1 million raise and he’ll make $2.275 million   Rodney got a raise as well and he’ll make $2.7 million.

That leaves five guys left to sign, with of course Justin Verlander leading the list.  If an arbitration eligible player isn’t signed by Monday, then the two sides exchange figures and if a deal isn’t reached by the early February, it goes into an arbitration hearing.  It’s likely it’ll go that far though because Dave Dombrowski hasn’t let a player reach actual arbitration since he took over in 2002.

Tigers Look at John Parrish

At this point, I’m anxious for any Tigers news.  The latest came at the end of an “On the Beat” column by John Perrotto where he talks about the Tigers having an interest in left handed relief pitcher John Parrish.

Last year, Parrish was mediocre as a swing man for the Blue Jays.  His career 221/184 strikeout to walk percentage doesn’t grab me all that much considering those 221 strikeouts came over 271 2/3 innings.   He’s only pitched more then 52 major league innings in a season once and his only good season where he threw more then 30 innings was back in 2004 when he had a 3.46 ERA and 71 strikeouts (55 walks though) in 78 innings.

On top of that, his platoon split isn’t all that impressive.  Over his career, he has a .256 batting average against versus left handed pitchers (.271 versus righties).  To put that in perspective, Bobby Seay’s batting average against lefties is .266 so we’re not getting too much of an upgrade here when you factor in all of the walks.  I think the Tigers can do better then this by staying home.

With that, what’s the over/under for the date that Ryan Perry makes his major league debut?  He’ll probably start in Double-A but if the Tigers pen runs into problems and he has good numbers in the minors, you could see him up by the break.

Tigers Sign Taiwanese Lefty to Minor League Deal

For the second year in a row, the Tigers tapped Taiwan as a baseball resource.  A year after signing outfielder Chao-Ting Tang to a minor league deal, the Tigers have not brought Fu-Te Ni, a left handed relief pitcher, into the Tigers minor league fold.  The Tigers at least think that he has major league potential so it’ll be interesting to see how the 25 year old works his way through the Tigers minor league system.

What Do We Do With Justin?

Derek Lowe just signed with the Braves to a hefty four year, $60 million deal.  While Lowe has had a solid career, that sounds like a bit much.  Yeah, he’s a 21 game winner, but so was Dontrelle Willis.  And while his past four seasons have been solid for the Dodgers, he hasn’t garnered a single Cy Young vote nor played in a single All Star Game and while his numbers look nice, he has the advantage of playing in Chavez Ravine.  He has been durable and while he’s been above average, I question whether he’s that much above average to warrant $15 million per year.

Which brings us to one of the biggest decisions the Tigers face this offseason, and that’s what to do with Justin Verlander.  He’s eligible for arbitration, but no Tiger has ever gone to the table since Dave Dombrowski has been in the front office.  What the bigger question is, do the Tigers sign him to a one year deal and take their chances, or do they lock him up for four or five years now.

The economy is one big question mark because the Detroit area has been particularly hard hit.   You also have a double whammy in that people don’t have money AND the Tigers flunked out last year so demand isn’t going to be there like it has the past two seasons.  Throw in the fact that the Tigers have a lot of committed money over the next three years and it makes for an interesting conundrum.

With that, I could see Verlander getting $15 or even more in some of those later years (the free agent years) if he signed a long term deal.  Then you just have to hope that 2008 was a fluke and that Verlander turns into the ace that everyone expects him to.

2009 Hall of Fame Thoughts

Well, the ballots are in and as expected, both Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice made the cut.  Rickey was a no-brainer (despite the fact that 28 people left him off of their ballot) and he’s one of the best players to lace them up.  Jim Rice comes with some controversy, but you can find as many reasons for him to get inducted as you can to keep him out.

Andre Dawson came in third place and the Hawk may have set himself up for a 2010 or 2011 induction.  Ditto for Bert Blyleven, who came in fourth place.  Jack Morris was sixth on the list with 44% but, as I’ve said before, it’s hard to think of Morris getting in until Blyleven does.  Alan Trammell continued to flounder with 17.4% as his chances look more and more bleak every year.

2010 has a few interesting names.  Roberto Alomar is probably a first ballot Hall of Famer but with that, I’m sure I’ll start bringing out my Lou Whitaker arguments.  Barry Larkin is probably also destined for the HOF, but my bet is, he doesn’t get in on the first try because his career, while exceptional, wasn’t on par with guys like Rickey and Robbie.  Andres Galarraga would probably be a fringe candidate (did you know he’s fourth all time in strikeouts, because I didn’t).  I wonder if Fernando Vina will get any votes.

With that, the window will be open for Dawson and Blyleven to get in next year with Alomar.  Then that will free up those top spots so guys like Jack Morris and Tim Raines can make their move over the ensuing years.

Still Waiting and the Hall of Fame

If you’re a Tigers’ fan and you’re waiting for the team to make a move, any move, you may be waiting for a while.  Baseball Prospectus’ John Perrotto ran down a revised list of the top 20 free agents still out there, and not once did the Tigers get a mention.  Of course Chad Cordero isn’t on the list and that’s the last guy I’ve heard the Tigers mentioned with.

Tomorrow, we’ll find out who the new inductees into the Hall of Fame will be.  Rickey Henderson is a lock, and if I were a betting man, I’d say Jim Rice gets in as well.  After that, it’s kind of a crap shoot.  I think Bert Blyleven just misses, but sets himself up for a 2010 induction.  Home Run Derby has been keeping track of the ballots that have been publicized (with 51) and it looks like another guy who could slip in is Andre Dawson.  It’d be nice to see Blyleven get in because there’s a better chance Jack Morris could make a run.  I’m kind of disappointed with the attention Tim Raines has been getting though.  I’d put him in over Andre Dawson and I think he’s just about on par with Rice.

One problem with the data I linked to is it’s still a small sample size.  Last year, there were over 540 ballots so the 51 that were tracked is a pretty small sample size.

Chad Cordero, Alexis Gomez and Joel Zumaya

The Tigers are still on the lookout for a closer and after Derrick Turnbow signed with the Texas Rangers, the Tigers have their eyes on another pitcher coming off of a big time injury.  Former Nationals closer Chad Cordero will be showing his stuff this week and the Tigers are one of several teams who have their eyes on how his arm holds up.  The big question is whether he’ll be ready for opening day or not.  Based on his rehab schedule, it’s a possibility but I can’t imagine he’ll be 100% for the first half of the season.  Still, this is one of those high risk, potentially high return type of moves that the Tigers are faced with.

The Tigers inked former outfielder Alexis Gomez to a minor league deal and he’ll get a chance to show his stuff at spring training.  Gomez has bounced around two different minor league systems since he had his impressive ALCS for the Tigers back in 2006.  Odds are good, with the Tigers depth at outfield, that Gomez will find himself at Toledo to start the season but with the departure of Matt Joyce and Gomez being left handed, there’s a solid chance that we’ll see him in Tigers uniform in 2009.

Joel Zumaya looks to begin throwing within a week as he once again tries to come back from an injury.  Even with an optimistic time table, it’s unlikely that Zumaya will be fully ready when spring training fires up but it’d be nice if we could see what he could do late in March.  With the Tigers leaving the pen alone so far, that puts even more pressure on the Zumaya to come back strong to help the team.

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