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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)

Monday
May142012

Prince's Power Outage

The Tigers dished out $214 million this past offseason to get Prince Fielder's thunderous bat in the lineup alongside Miguel Cabrera. The 28-year-old, on Detroit's radar since he reached the upper deck during batting practice as a boy in old Tiger Stadium while father Cecil played there, averaged 38 home runs per season and slugged .541 during his six years as a regular with the Brewers. But that power hasn't been on display so far for the Tigers, who enter play Monday at a disappointing 17-17 while ranking eighth in the American League in runs scored.

Fielder has gone deep just five times this year, and an 0-for-22 stretch has dropped his slugging percentage down to .406. Prince pummeled most anything thrown below the belt in 2011, as his slugging percentage by pitch location shows...

Fielder's slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011

But so far this year, his heat map in Motown is awfully blue in those regions...

Fielder's slugging percentage by pitch location, 2012

Prince actually has a higher slugging percentage against changeups this year than last, but he's not putting those signature uppercut clouts on fastballs or breaking stuff:

Pitch2011 Slugging Pct.2012 Slugging Pct.MLB Avg.
Fastball .667 .436 .440
Slider .500 .455 .345
Curveball .510 .333 .340
Changeup .433 .563 .384

 

Fielder clearly isn't hitting with the same gusto as usual, as his average fly ball distance this season is down to 262 feet from last season's mark of 288 (the big league average is about 268 feet). While Comerica Park isn't as well-suited to Fielder's swing as Miller Park, he should start hitting with authority again soon. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system has Prince hitting 25 more homers and slugging .493 from here on out. There's plenty of reason to worry about Fielder's deal in the long run, but it's highly unlikely that his power stroke is already on the wane in 2012.

Monday
Apr092012

Alex Avila's Walk-Off

Right pitch. Wrong location. With two outs, two strikes, a runner on first base and a 12-11 lead over the Tigers on Sunday, Boston's Mark Melancon snapped off a curveball to Alex Avila. While Detroit's backstop is coming off a 2011 season in which he trailed just Mike Napoli among catchers in OPS+, he entered play yesterday with a career .149 batting average, a .234 slugging percentage and zero homers against curveballs (the league averages are .229 for average and .352 for slugging). Melancon, meanwhile, had held hitters to a .123 average and a .170 slugging percentage on curves.

In theory, throwing Avila a curve was a good idea. In practice, it gave the Tigers a walk-off win in the 11th inning and a series sweep. Melancon caught the fat part of the plate, and Avila made him pay:

Location of Avila's walk-off HR, 4/8/12

Avila can be beat high and away and low and away, but he pummels pitches below the belt and over the inner half of the plate. Check out his career slugging percentage by pitch location:

Avila's career slugging percentage by pitch location

Avila has already established himself as an elite hitter by showing great plate discipline and crushing fastballs (a career .512 slugging percentage, compared to the .435 league average). If he can start going deep on breaking stuff, he could overtake Napoli for the title of best-hitting backstop in the AL.

Monday
Feb062012

Brad Penny to NPB

For a player on the fringe of the majors, overseas leagues like Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball provide an alluring alternative. While the player might have to settle for a minor league deal and a slim guaranteed salary stateside, NPB can offer a better pay day, more playing time and, as Colby Lewis showed, a chance to re-establish value to MLB teams.

Case in point: Brad Penny. With the Tigers in 2011, the 33-year-old righty avoided the back and shoulder maladies that had threatened his career in recent years. But he was arguably the worst pitcher in the big leagues making 30+ starts, posting a 77 ERA+ in 181.2 innings pitched. In the U.S., Penny faced the prospect of a non-roster invite to spring training. Instead, he'll earn $4 million from the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2012, with another $3.5 million in incentives. Per Buster Olney, the deal also has a $4.5 mutual option for 2013 that becomes a player option if Penny pitches 150 frames or wins 12 games.

Penny's poor 2011 was mostly the product of his utter inability to make hitters swing and miss. He struck out just 9.2% of batters faced, the lowest rate among qualified MLB starters and a big decrease from his injury-shortened 2010 (15.1%). Penny's K rate figured to decline as he shifted from the DH-less National League to the American League, but it wasn't just that he could no longer beat up on his pitching brethren: he punched out 13.1% of non-pitchers in 2010.

So, what changed? Penny's miss rate with his fastball/sinker against non-pitchers was more than cut in half, from 16.9% in 2010 to 8.1% in 2011. He managed to miss some bats with his heater to the glove side in 2010...

Penny's miss rate by location with his fastball/sinker, 2010

But hitters connected with those pitches in 2011...

Penny's miss rate by location with his fastball/sinker, 2011One possible reason for the spike in contact is that Penny's fastball velocity fell from 93.9 mph with the Cardinals to 92.6 mph in Detroit. That may have hurt his secondary stuff, too. The decline in fastball velocity gave Penny even less separation between that pitch and his upper-80s changeup/splitter (his miss rate with the changeup/split fell from 21% to 16.6%).

Rather than fighting for a job in Arizona or Florida this March, Penny will get a nice paycheck and a platform to show he still has major league stuff with the Hawks. Watch his velocity readings on NPB Tracker -- they could determine whether we've seen the last of Penny in America.

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