Recapping 2018: Detroit Tigers Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Detroit Tigers Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET

The cycle is about to be reborn. At least, that’s the hope for Tigers fans. After one of the worst all-time seasons in 2003 when the team won fewer games than even this year’s Baltimore Orioles squad you can see how the team flirted with some success by winning 95 games in 2006 and then falling back to 88 the next year before swimming around .500 for a few more years. Then by 2011 the team really started to put it together as they would go on to average more than 90 wins over the next four seasons. The last few years, however, have seen the window slam shut despite throwing money at the talent problem, a recipe that rarely works out without a solid foundation to build the house upon. Converting payroll figures to 2018 dollars shows a team that has not been shy about ramping payroll up for most of the last decade. This past season plummeted back toward the median, and considering the horses left in the stable at this point it would not be surprising to see that trend continue.

While the team wasn’t a strong pitching unit it proved to be their less bad facet in 2018. The tails of the season leave a lot to be desired, but there was a fairly pronounced stretch in the middle where things seemed to be clicking. Unfortunately, the good times did not last as they went back to being a worse than average unit, and occasionally frightfully so. Many teams that find themselves in an alsoran position tend to dump guys at the deadline, and the Tigers were no different as they jettisoned Mike Fiers around that time. Fiers proved that there can be value in one-year, make good contracts for pitchers even if you know all of them will not work out. Replacing his performance might have been difficult, and helped exacerbate the team’s finish, but for their efforts the team was able to get a mid to back of rotation pitcher’s performance and then a couple of wild cards before he walked for nothing. A shrewd move that stands out due the few others being made despite the team knowing they have got a ways to go.

One guy that should not be going anywhere is Matthew Boyd. The young player has four more years of control and is coming off a season where he obliterated lefties while still putting up better than average marks against righties, a group that had flummoxed the blossoming arm in the past. Outside of a stretch in the middle of the season his actual and expected results hugged fairly tightly, and that outlier period looks to have came as he was really putting the pedal down on a strong stretch. Perhaps this is evidence of an in-season adjustment that took a bit of time for him to fully figure things out. After that period he continued to be pretty good before closing the season on a slower note. A big reason for that improvement stemmed from a reduction in his walk rate that, while simultaneously goosing his strikeouts up a notch. Without reading into this too much, it’s quite likely that his commitment to throwing the ball in the zone was greeted with initial hostility by batters before he began to sharpen his command. Going from not throwing strikes to throwing strikes to throwing good strikes is the exact progression you want to see from a young, still developing hurler. It’s especially crucial when he gives up so much contact in the air, albeit at soft enough exit velocity that he’s usually generating harmless fly balls.

Matthew Boyd

The team reaped fairly strong performance from a couple of relievers in Drew VerHagen and Joe Jimenez, as well. The former showed fairly pedestrian actual performance early on with the underlying data showing a bit of underperformance, but he was able to get dialed in to put up a very strong second half of his season. Fewer walks helped, but were never much of an issue. However, the real gains were made in his ability to limit exit velocity as the season wore on. In the past he had shown an inability to keep the ball in the yard, though that was hardly an issue this season. Perhaps regression is due, but past heights might be an overfit as the reliever has started to gain confidence in his ability, and truly didn’t allow much in the way of no doubt dingers. For his part, Jimenez was every bit as dominant with absurd strikeout rates, and at least early on, a strong ability to avoid the walk. Unfortunately, when you’re one of the few good options you tend to get run out there a lot, and it looks like the workload caught up with him this year. The walk rates advanced into untenable territory by the end of the season taking his total performance along for a ride, as well. Managing the player’s rest better in the future should lead to more of the good and less of the bad for a pitcher that looks like a decent deadline chip.

Drew VerHagen

Joe Jimenez

Similar to Jimenez, the team ran Shane Greene out there an awful lot, though he was better able to sustain his good performance until things really started to fall apart over the last few weeks of the season. His strikeouts went from a strength to more around the average and he gave up slightly harder contact towards the end of the season. The spike in launch angle towards the end was the main driver for his poor finish, and likely an artifact of fatigue as he found it harder to finish his pitches, which resulted in leaving them up just that little bit more where batters can get into it. Likely another trade chip the team will need to manage his workload to ensure they get something nice rather than something at all. In a swingman role this year Blaine “The Train” Hardy showed that crafty old lefty lives matter, too. He put in a wonderful season despite the mixed usage that made routine a luxury, and he did so by pushing down his walk rate compared to past years. The gains there stuck around all season, and they served to make a pedestrian strikeout rate play up a little better. His value to others is likely nonexistent, but even rebuilding teams have to get through a season. Hardy should be able to help there in 2019.

Shane Greene

Blaine Hardy

The aforementioned Fiers was fairly middle of the road overall, but got there with a good bit of variance thanks to a rough start, but a smooth middle. Adding in Michael Fulmer and Jordan Zimmermann you see three guys who had essentially the same exact performance as something like mid to back of rotation starters, which is quite useful for any team, but especially one that found a pseudo-ace in Matthew Boyd. They got there a bit differently, though. Fulmer walked the most, but also ran a good strikeout rate. Zimmermann walked the least AND struck out the most, but gave up hellacious contact. He also banked most of his production during a very solid second or third month to the season when he was still getting a solid number of punchouts, but as that well ran dry so did the total production. Fulmer’s performance is completely pegged to health, a thing that has seemed to come and go at a moment’s notice. The spike in exit velocity early on tells you that something wasn’t right, but he was able to calm things down over the rest of the season. Further giving comfort that he was less than alright was the spike in walk rate that seemed to coincide during this period, though that, too, moderated over the rest of the season. There’s a pretty good pitcher in there somewhere, but the team is going to have to figure out how to keep him rested and ready. Perhaps that comes from limiting his pitch count with a quicker hook.

Mike Fiers

Michael Fulmer

Jordan Zimmermann

The arms showed some things to like with a couple of guys cementing their roles for the seasons to come, but the offensive side of the game is still showing a lot to dislike. The team had one pronounced spike in production early in the season and flirted with the average for a bit before giving up the ghost for most of the rest of the season. Part of this was driven by the season-ending biceps tear suffered by first ballot Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, but even with the stalwart slugger it is difficult to see this as anything approaching an exciting offense.

One player that absolutely stands out is Nicholas Castellanos. While there will always be gripes about his below average walk rate he murders the ball with consistency. He showed a negligible platoon split and garners his production through both strong exit velocity, but also ideal angles that often lead to liners and productive flyballs. You can see how that jumps out in his spray below, which shows thick densities on the shorter end of the nitro zone and all throughout that liner area just below. Unfortunately, the player retains merely one more year of control meaning he is the kind of guy the team should be looking to cash in. Doubly unfortunate is that his utter inability to don a glove means teams aren’t likely to give up the kind of dreamy return that the bat may elicit. As such, while a trade is likely, fans are unlikely to be over the moon once it’s time to bid adieu to a player that is easy to watch half the time.

Nicholas Castellanos

Another player that will become a free agent after this upcoming season is Leonys Martin whose season was cut short due to a severe bacterial infection that put this child’s game in perspective as he fought for his life. A rough bit of life comes at you fast for a player that started to capitalize on all the promise many have held for him for some time. Of course that dwindling control was a major driver in the team’s decision to turn the rest of his season and the next into Willi Castro, a switch-hitting shortstop that forced his way to AAA despite being only 21 years old this year. Perhaps due to the illness you can see Martin’s performance start to drop off mightily prior to the trade with a major pickup in strikeouts a likely cause, but you can also see a bit of a shelf in his exit velocity towards the end of his tenure. Fans of all teams will be pulling for this guy to get back on the field, though Tigers fans have to feel that they got their money’s worth.

Leonys Martin

Being a resident of Rochester, NY I had the good fortune of watching this next player from time to time. The pop was evident, but the tradeoffs to get there were equally so, and you always wondered where the glove would fit at the highest level. Niko Goodrum came out of the gates like a house on fire once given his first real opportunity in MLB. Pitchers, man, pitchers can adjust so quickly, though. They started to pick apart his aggressiveness that led to a rapid fall off in walks, though one he was able to overcome. However, the strikeouts didn’t really go anywhere. You can see a bit of a cliff in his exit velocity once he started getting the business, and it mostly manifested as below average production from there on out. Yes, he can get into a ball, but he looks more like a mistake hitter than the kind of lineup anchor he needs to be to justify the glove.

Niko Goodrum

This next group is going to focus on a couple of outfielders who aren’t quite so young anymore, and haven’t really shown any sort of sustained production that would excite the team to continue to run them out there. The former, and also formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, Mikie Mahtook probably isn’t a center fielder, and the total line is fairly ugly, but when digging a little deeper you can find a lot to like. He buried any chance of a graceful line with his woeful start, but once he got things going he showed a strong run of above average production that should be enough to pair with a decent glove in the corner outfield. It’s likely the team continues to carve out time to see what they truly have here, but it is safe to say the player is on thin ice. On the other hand, JaCoby Jones might have fully broken through that surface. He so rarely puts the ball in play due to a strikeout rate that approached 40% for much of the back half of his season that it is difficult to see him being a productive member of the team even if he can play an ok center. He shows fairly good ability to hit the ball on a line, but his harder exit velocities are often lower, and therefore easier for the defense to turn into outs. He had a few nitro zone pokes, but there is entirely too much trade off to get there as the whiff is two black eyes, a broken nose, and fractured jaw on an already not great looking face.

Mikie Mahtook

JaCoby Jones

One of the few feathers in the cap for the front office was turning Justin Wilson and Alex Avila into not only Isaac Paredes, a fast-moving prospect who saw his stock rise this season, but also Jeimer Candelario. The young bull stepped into the corral with so many other well-trod cattle that the team had to prioritize giving him some time so that the promise could start to turn into reality. It looked like a good call early on when he came out raking, but a wrist injury sapped most of his production for the rest of the season. For fantasy leaguers there should be plenty of tarnish in the line to make him less costly, but if the bum wrist was the root of his struggles then it would not be surprising to see a healthier version maintain the strong offensive production he lead out with. There is some whiff here, but he’s also showing an advanced approach that leads to walks. The loft he generates seems inherent to his abilities, and should lead to not just extra base power, but also over the fence shots. There is some risk due to the stated poor performance, but he will get every chance to shine next year, and could be staring down a breakout season to come for the just turned 25 year old.

Jeimer Candelario

 

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

 

Miguel Cabrera

 

 

Louis Coleman

Buck Farmer

 

 

 

John Hicks

Jose Iglesias

 

 

Francisco Liriano

Dixon Machado

 

 

James McCann

Daniel Norris

Victor Reyes

Ronny Rodriguez

 

Victor Martinez

 

Alex Wilson

 

 



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