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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)

Friday
Jun222012

My All Star Starters: AL 1B

Next up is my choice for American League First Baseman. Voting totals can be found here.

The first baseman used to be the position where teams would shove the unathletic slugger and sacrifice defense for the sake of a big bat. With the game shifting back towards the pitchers, defensive first basemen are more important than ever. A first baseman can cut errors off from teammates by making smooth plays with quick hands and feet. The first baseman is as much a part of the game as anyone else, needing to be focused on every play in the event of a ground ball. First base in the American League is still a position of hitting strength, especially as two of the NL's biggest hitters made their way over to the AL to hook up with contenders. On to the analysis:

 

#1. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers 1,946,045

Prince Fielder has lived up to the hype. In a previous article, I questioned whether Prince was the next King of Motown, and he may well be on his way. I projected his stat line to be somewhere along the lines of a .287 AVG, .376 OBP, .617 SLG, .993 OPS, 50 HR, and 121 RBI. Here we'll analyze Fielder's success thus far and determine if he is on pace to meet that goal. 

Prince has showcased his durability by showing up in 69 games so far this season. Much to the disappointment of the Tigers, the power numbers have not quite been Fielder-like. Isolated power is a statistic that measures a players ability to hit for extra bases, providing some "pop" to the offense. From 2008-2011, Fielder was able to connect for power on pitches throughout the strike zone, but this season, it seems like he is missing a hitter's favorite pitch - right down the middle.

Fielder should be feasting on pitches in the middle of the zone, but he has yet to find his power stroke there, and it has cost him some home runs early on. Let's look at his stats to this point.

69 G, 80 H, 15 2b, 1 3b, 11 HR, 30 BB, 40 SO, 45 RBI, 1 SB, .309 AVG, .386 OBP, .502 SLG

The average and on base percentage are above my projections for Fielder, but the slugging is way down, as he has settled for only 27 extra base hits out of his 80. Compared to other first basemen in the American League, Fielder is absolutely all-star worthy as a middle of the order presence who has had a little trouble adjusting to the not so friendly confines of Comerica Park. If Fielder settles in and starts launching balls left in the middle of the plate, he will put up monster numbers in the second half.

 

#2. Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox 1,680,793

Has anyone ever been as quiet a productive hitter as Paul Konerko has been in his career. For fantasy fans, Konerko is your prototypical .300/25/95 lock every season, and so far he is by no means disappointing anyone. Did you know he leads American League qualifiers in batting average at .354?! Konerko is like a fine wine; he continues to get better with age. Some of his success this year can be attributed to his ability to hit pitches in the upper half of the strike zone. 

The right handed slugger has increased his ability to drive the ball in the upper part of the zone, leading to a higher batting average as he takes advantage of pitchers' mistakes. One of the tough breaks for Konerko is that he is in a lineup that has struggled to get on in front of him when he muscles up; runners have been on base for only four of his thirteen home runs. Here are Konerko's numbers to this point.

62 G, 81 H, 14 2b, 13 HR, 26 BB, 37 SO, 39 RBI, .354 AVG, .426 OBP, .585 SLG

In seven less games, he has accumulated one more hit than Fielder, as well as two more home runs. He is sixth in the AL in RBI and tied for second in home runs. He has the highest OBP and SLG among qualifying first basemen and has been all around one of the best hitters in baseball over the first half. Konerko is a stud, and with one week left in voting, he could easily overtake Fielder for the starting nod at Kauffman Stadium.

 

#3. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees 1,405,187

Tex has slowly been on the decline the past couple of seasons. Between 2008 and 2009, Teixeira played for three different teams, all the while averaging .300, hitting 72 home runs, and knocking in 241 RBI. After his first season in pinstripes, the average dropped off the table, as he has hit a paltry .253 since '09. The home runs and RBI have always stayed about the same, as he continued to have 30+ HR, 100+ RBI seasons. Teixeira is one of the few switch hitters in this league that you can say does not lose much power when switching sides of the plate, as evidenced by his .460/.484 right-handed/left-handed splits for slugging percentage. At this point in his career, it is safe to say that Tex has developed into a pull power hitter, as ten of his twelve home runs have been to the pull field, bolstering a .406 ISO when pulling the ball. Take a look below at Teixeira's pull field heat zones.

Tex has been a commodity at first base for a long time, coupling power form both sides of the plate with gold glove caliber defense throughout his career. His ability to perform in a big market and produce power numbers at a steady rate make him one of the best in the game, but not quite at all-star starter level this season. His stats are below.

65 G, 62 H, 17 2b, 12 HR, 28 BB, 37 SO, 40 RBI, 1 SB, .256 AVG, 336 OBP, .475 SLG. 

Overall, Tex's numbers are fantastic, and he should definitely be considered for a reserve role on the team.

 

#4. Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers 1,202,724

Now I think Mitch Moreland is as good as the next guy, but I believe there are plenty of players having a better season at the first base bag. Moreland only cracks the top ten in traditional stats for first basemen in HRs with ten. Every other statistic calls Moreland out as an above average first baseman in the league. Since he has been connecting on home runs, we will look at the general locations of where he is hitting the ball for out of the park power.

As you can see, Moreland has been taking advantage of balls left out over the plate on the outer half. As long as he continues to contribute at least HRs to Texas' lineup, the rest of the team will carry the load in other respects. Let's take a look at his stats.

55 G, 43 H, 8 2b, 10 HR, 12 BB, 31 SO, 25 RBI, .272 AVG, .326 OBP, .513 SLG

The power numbers are there, but I find it hard to believe that a guy with half as many hits at Konerko and Fielder should be given the nod in the Summer Classic.

 

Wild Card: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

So "The Machine" has finally flipped the switch to on, and pumped the volume up to eleven. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he turned on his stroke, but a horrific first month may have cost him a berth in the all-star game. After Pujols launched his first home run, everything turned around. Below, we look at his slugging percentage from before his first long ball, and after. 

Pre-First HR

Post-First HR

It was only a matter of time before Albert figured it out, and he is positively crushing the ball right now. After he hit that first home run, he started punishing mistake pitches left in the zone. Here is a look at his total stat line.

69 G, 69 H, 17 2b, 11 HR, 24 BB, 34 K, 43 RBI, 4 SB, .255 AVG, .312 OBP, .439 SLG

The numbers are not quite there for an all star appearance at the half, but to not be concerned; Albert Pujols will have an amazing second half if he stays the hitter in the second graphic.

 

MY RESULTS:

Starter: Paul Konerko

Reserve: Prince Fielder

3: Mark Teixeira

4: Chris Davis (Didn't discuss him but he is having quite the season out in Baltimore)

Monday
Jun182012

A-Jax Shrinks Strike Zone, Starts Slugging

During his first two years with the Detroit Tigers, Austin Jackson provided value with gazelle-like range in center field, high-percentage base thievery and occasional extra-base hits on balls splitting the gaps. Jackson is still playing good D and showing base running smarts in 2012, but his secondary skills have taken a great leap forward.

His walk rate has soared from 7.7 percent in 2010-11 to 13.7 percent this year, and his Isolated Power has increased from .116 to .228. With far more free passes and pop, Jackson's 163 OPS+ is tops among all MLB center fielders. The former Yankee prospect and Curtis Granderson trade bauble has shown Grandy-like game this year by shrinking his strike zone, getting in more hitter's counts and hammering the in-zone offerings he does pull the trigger on.

Jackson wasn't a hacker in 2010-11, but his plate discipline was pretty ordinary. He chased a little over 26 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the 28 percent league average. But this season, Jackson has cut his chase rate to 19 percent. Check out his swing rate by pitch location in 2010-11 and then in 2012. He's doing an especially good job of laying off pitches thrown way inside:

Jackson's swing rate by pitch location, 2010-11

 Jackson's swing rate by location, 2012

By cutting down on his chases, Jackson has benefited from having the count in his favor more often. He has gotten into a hitter's count in about 24 percent of his plate appearances in 2012, up from slightly under 18 percent in 2010-11.

Aside from the extra walks, getting ahead of the pitcher has allowed Jackson to tap into his power. Four of his seven homers have come in hitter's counts.  And, as his slugging percentage by location shows, he's killing inside pitches thrown over the plate this season:

Jackson's slugging percentage by location, 2012

Jackson was already an asset to the Tigers as a good defender and base runner at a premium position on the diamond. Now that he's showing a much sharper eye and putting himself in counts conducive to driving the ball, he could give Detroit yet another All-Star in center field.

Tuesday
May292012

Hitters Not Taking Bard's Bait

While reliever-to-starter conversions are proving successful on both sides of Chicago (Jeff Samardzija for the Cubs and Chris Sale for the White Sox), the same can't be said for Boston's Daniel Bard. The erstwhile set-up man, whose most recent starting experience as a pro prior to this season was a walk-a-thon in A-Ball back in 2007, has tallied more free passes (29) than strikeouts (28) for the Red Sox while posting a 90 ERA+.

A major reason why Bard is handing out so many base on balls is that batters aren't taking his bait on pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. In fact, Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez is the only starting pitcher with a lower opponent chase rate this year:

Lowest Chase Rates among SPs (min. 150 batters faced)

PitcherChase Pct.
Ubaldo Jimenez 20.0%
Daniel Bard 20.3%
Jeanmar Gomez 21.0%
Philip Humber 22.1%
Ervin Santana 23.1%
Brandon Beachy 23.9%
Brandon Morrow 23.9%
C. J. Wilson 23.9%
Yovani Gallardo 24.0%
Erik Bedard 24.0%
MLB Avg. for SP 28.4%

 

Bard has a below-average chase rate with his low-90s fastball and low-80s slider, but it's his hard, upper 80s changeup that hitters are really laying off:

Bard's Chase Rate By Pitch Type

PitchPct. ThrownChase Pct.MLB Avg.
Fastball 55 22.2 25.7
Slider 26 25 35.5
Changeup 19 11 35.8

 

Bard often locates his changeup high-and-away to lefty batters...

Bard's changeup location, 2012...But they're not biting. Take a look at hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Bard's changeup, and then the league average for lefty batters against righty pitchers: 

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Bard's changeup, 2012

Average swing rate by lefty hitters vs. right-handed changeups, 2012

Perhaps Bard's chase rate will get a boost when he takes on the Tigers tonight (7 PM EST, ESPN). Collectively, Detroit's disappointing offensive attack (ninth in the AL in runs scored) has a 30 percent chase rate. Here are the Tigers taking few pitches thrown off the plate in 2012:

Highest Chase Rates among Tigers Hitters

BatterChase Pct.
Delmon Young 39.9%
Brennan Boesch 37.3%
Andy Dirks 35.3%
Danny Worth 33.3%
Ramon Santiago 32.4%
Miguel Cabrera 31.9%
Prince Fielder 30.7%
Don Kelly 30.4%
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