May 9th, 2012

Wednesday: Tigers at Mariners

It’s a lefty against lefty matchup on the mound, which means both managers had some decisions to make. For Jim Leyland, the decision was to sit red-hot Andy Dirks, move Ryan Raburn to left field and give a start to Danny Worth at second base. Raburn is 3-for-11 with two doubles off Jason Vargas. Dirks has never faced him.

For what it’s worth, left-handed hitters have actually fared decently well against Vargas since the start of last season, albeit in limited at-bats. Brennan Boesch, for one, is 7-for-12 with two doubles off Vargas, though Boesch hits a lot of lefties better than expected.

M’s manager Eric Wedge, meanwhile, has John Jaso leading off against Drew Smyly tonight.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Ryan Raburn, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Gerald Laird, C
  9. Danny Worth, 2B

P: Drew Smyly

MARINERS

  1. John Jaso, C
  2. Brendan Ryan, SS
  3. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
  4. Jesus Montero, DH
  5. Kyle Seager, 2B
  6. Justin Smoak, 1B
  7. Alex Liddi, 3B
  8. Casper Wells, LF
  9. Chone Figgins, CF

P: Jason Vargas

Ejection gives Leyland new angle on offense

For much of these first five weeks, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been watching his Tigers offense from the dugout and wondering why a team with so many dangerous bats has been struggling to get going. His first ejection of the season might have given him the angle to figure out why.

It came while he was watching the final six innings on TV.

“When you’re in the dugout, you can’t always tell [plate discipline], but one of our problems — and I was talking with [hitting coach Lloyd McClendon] after the game about it: One of our problems, and we’ve watched some of it, but we swung at a lot of balls,” Leyland said. “We’re not going to hit if we swing at the kind of pitches we swung at tonight after the third or fourth inning. I mean, we just did not show plate discipline, we did not grind out at-bats, and we swung at a lot of balls. We’re too good of a team to do that. Our hitters are too good to do that. We made a lot of outs on balls, and we swung at a lot of bad pitches. So that’s one thing we’re going to have to do a little better at, but we’re very capable of that, and we will.”

Is that a product of a team that’s pressing at the plate, feeling the pressure of expectations for a team that was supposed to pound the ball? Maybe, Leyland said.

“You’re getting a little anxious, wanting to do good,” Leyland continued. “You can’t wait, and that’s what it kind of looked like. But I watched this game like a hawk, sitting here, watching on television, and you can see so much more than you can see from the bench. And it was bad pitch after bad pitch. I mean, everybody that came up pretty much swung at some bad balls. We’ll talk about it. I’m not going to talk about it after this win.”

Of course, it’s the same angle most fans — and more than a few reporters who haven’t been at every game — have been watching all season. So now Leyland can say that he sees it the same way. It’s an angle available to players and coaches when they’re looking at video, but it’s different just watching the normal course of a game as it happens. In the natural sequence of a game, the regularity of the bad at-bats stands out.

It also costs a little perspective — there was one swing and miss from Raburn that Leyland particularly noticed, he said, only to find out later it was a hit-and-run play — but that was a one-pitch difference on the regular theme.

“When you’re just observing a game, sometimes you see things different,” Leyland said. “We’re just swinging at too many balls. We’re not even giving ourselves a chance. We’re not making a guy work.”

Of course, the stats sheet provides another angle, and for the season, they’re not even close to the top of the list in strikeouts. They’re fifth-lowest among the 14 American League teams with 207 strikeouts, compared with 252 from the league-leading White Sox and 239 from the second-place Mariners. Both of those teams are hitting for a lower batting average and on-base percentage than Detroit (.251/.312).

The Tigers rank in the middle of the pack among AL teams in plate appearances per strikeouts at 5.22, eighth-highest among the 14 AL teams according to STATS.

In other specialized categories from STATS, however, the difference shows. They’re taking just 52.6 percent of pitches thrown, the lowest percentage among AL teams. They’re swinging at the first pitch of an at-bat 29.1 percent of the time, which is a league high. They’re missing on 22.1 percent of their swings, sixth-highest in the league.

 

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