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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)

Monday
Dec172012

To Thrive, Porcello Needs Out of Detroit

Detroit Tigers starter Rick Porcello has improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio each season in the majors while also inducing bushels of ground balls. Porcello turns 24 later this month, and he won't hit free agency until after the 2015 season. The right-hander's gradual improvement, youth and years of remaining team control make him potentially valuable commodity. So why is Detroit shopping him? Simply put, Porcello and the Tigers are better off apart. Porcello needs quality infield defense to reach his potential, and the Tigers' plus-sized plodders don't provide it.

Tossing his tailing fastball more frequently than every American League starter not named Bartolo Colon or Henderson Alvarez, Porcello posted a 54% ground ball rate during the 2012 season. That easily topped the 46% major league average, and ranked eighth among all qualified starting pitchers. All of those grounders helped Porcello keep the ball in the park (he surrendered 0.8 home runs per nine innings pitched), but they didn't turn into outs as often as they should have. With Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder manning he corner infield spots, Porcello's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) on ground balls was well above the MLB average for qualified starters:

Highest BABIP on ground balls among SP, 2012

PitcherBABIP
Max Scherzer .339
Phil Hughes .309
Matt Moore .294
Joe Saunders .290
Ricky Nolasco .286
Luis Mendoza .286
Bud Norris .285
Bruce Chen .277
Anibal Sanchez .274
Ivan Nova .274
Barry Zito .270
Tommy Milone .269
Josh Beckett .267
Ryan Vogelsong .266
Ubaldo Jimenez .265
Tommy Hanson .264
Homer Bailey .263
Josh Johnson .261
Cliff Lee .260
Ross Detwiler .257
Felix Hernandez .256
Derek Holland .256
Rick Porcello .250
Lance Lynn .249
Ricky Romero .248
MLB Avg.for Qualified SP .234

 

As a pitcher who misses few bats (his 5.5 K/9 last year was a career high), Porcello puts the ball in play more often than the rest of the guys on this list. That amplifies the effect that Detroit's less-than-rangy infield has on Porcello -- more grounders, more balls that squeak past Prince and Miggy for singles

Porcello has been linked to the Angels, Pirates and Padres, among other clubs. All three would be a better fit for his groundball-centric approach, as L.A. (.224 BABIP on ground balls), Pittsburgh (.234) and San Diego (.245) turned more ground balls into outs than Detroit (.260). With better infield defense, Porcello should be able to close the gap between his mediocre ERA (4.59 last season) and his more promising Fielding Independent ERA (3.91).

The Tigers' philosophy with Fielder and Cabrera at the corners is to score runs, range be damned. To mitigate the effects of that lack of range, Detroit has assembled a high-strikeout starting rotation. Porcello's pitch-to-contact, ground ball-heavy style just doesn't fit. A trade makes sense for both sides, as Porcello has more value to a club with airtight infield D than he does to the Tigers.

Wednesday
Dec122012

Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez: Closer Than You Think

Zack Greinke's megadeal with the Dodgers made him the highest paid pitcher on an annual basis, at $24.5 million per season. The second-best arm on the market, Anibal Sanchez, seems likely to settle for something closer to $15 million per season. Is there really a $10 million per year gap in performance between these two 29-year-old righties, though? When it comes to the holy trifecta of pitcher skills -- whiffs, walks and preventing homers -- Greinke and Sanchez are much closer than you might think.

Whiffs

Over the past three seasons, Greinke has gotten hitters to miss 22.2% of the time that they have swung. That's well above the 20.2% average for major league starters. Sanchez, however, has actually induced more whiffs (23.3%) over the same time frame.

Greinke gets many of his whiffs on pitches thrown below the knees and out of the strike zone...

Greinke's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12

...Whereas Sanchez does a better job of limiting in-zone contact...

Sanchez's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12

Greinke has managed to rack up a higher strikeout percentage (23.3% of batters faced from 2010-12), but Sanchez (21.1%) isn't too far behind.

Walks

Sanchez has thrown more strikes (64.8%) than Greinke (62.9%), whose rate is actually somewhat below the 63.4% average for starters. Sanchez pounds the zone, throwing a much higher percentage of pitches over the plate (52.5%) than the MLB average for starters (48.7%):

Sanchez's pitch location, 2010-12

Greinke, by contrast, throws more arm-side pitches out of the strike zone. He has tossed 46.3% of his pitches in the zone from 2010-12:

Greinke's pitch location, 2010-12

When you take intentional walks out of the equation, Sanchez has issued just slightly more free passes (6.7% of batters faced) than Greinke (6.1%).

Homers

Both hurlers have progressively scorched more earth, with Sanchez (47% ground ball rate) and Greinke (48.1%) besting the 45.5% average ground ball rate for starters. Sanchez and Greinke both get grounders on pitches that go below hitters' knees or tail in on their hands:

Sanchez's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12

 

Greinke's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12

 

With above-average worm-burning skills, Sanchez and Greinke have each allowed 0.8 home runs per nine innings pitched.

Overall, here are the totals for Sanchez and Greinke over the past three seasons:

Sanchez: 587 IP, 3.70 ERA,  3.40 FIP

Greinke:  604 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.16 FIP

You can certainly make the argument that Greinke deserves more dough. The most serious item in his injury history is some cracked ribs suffered during a pick-up basketball game, while Sanchez has Tommy John and shoulder surgeries in his past. Greinke also has the lower Fielding Independent ERA, suggesting he may reverse Sanchez's edge in ERA in future seasons. But the gap between Greinke and Sanchez hardly seems worth $10 million per year. Considering how close his resume is to Greinke's, Sanchez could be a bargain if he ends up signing for something like five years and $75 million.

Thursday
Nov152012

Trout, Cabrera Dangerous To All Fields

When it comes to fielding, base running and positional value, Mike Trout easily trumps fellow AL MVP contender Miguel Cabrera. But in the batter's box, L.A.'s fleet-footed center fielder and Detroit's burly third baseman bear a striking resemblance. Trout and Cabrera are arguably the game's most well-rounded sluggers, lacing extra-base hits to all fields.

Check out Trout's hit chart during the 2012 season. While he showed serious pop to the pull side, Trout also racked up plenty of doubles, triples and homers to center and right field:

            Trout's spray chart

 

Similarly, Cabrera crushed pitchers in every direction:

                  Cabrera's spray chart

Trout and Cabrera had a nearly identical distribution of pitches put in play. Trout pulled the ball about 40% of the time, went up the middle 26% and punched pitches to the opposite field 34%. Cabrera pulled the ball 39%, hit it to center 27% and went oppo 34%. Trout and Cabrera were prodigious pull hitters, but they were also terrifying to center and right field.

Trout and Cabrera's slugging percentage by side of field

BatterSlugging Pct. to Pull SideSlugging Pct. to Center FieldSlugging Pct. to Opposite Field
Trout .852 .811 .514
Cabrera .757 .672 .738
Avg. for Right-Handed Batter .588 .475 .464
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