Archive for the ‘ Analysis ’ Category

How did M-Cab lose Silver Slugger to A-Gon?

Miguel Cabrera (Getty Images)Nobody in the Major Leagues with enough playing time to qualify for a batting title hit for a higher average than Miguel Cabrera. Nobody even hit within five points of him.

Only one Major League hitter posted a better OPS than Cabrera, and it wasn’t Adrian Gonzalez. It was Jose Bautista. Gonzalez hit 76 points lower than Cabrera.

Cabrera posted higher on-base and slugging percentages (again, he led the league in the first category), scored more runs, hit more home runs and more doubles than his former fellow Marlins farmhand. He led such specialized stats as Wins Above Replacement (7.3 to 6.6, according to fangraphs.com), had a higher isolated power rate, had more runs created, had a higher win probability, and enough other numbers to keep going for a while.

Cabrera did not win the Silver Slugger at first base. Gonzalez did.

What gives? Well, the best explanation is that the Silver Slugger is very much like the Gold Glove. In some cases, it might be worse. This might be one of those cases, and I’ll explain why.

Like the Gold Glove awards, managers and coaches around the league vote for the Silver Sluggers. They make out their ballots toward the end of the season, but not at the very end. They have enough things to do at the very end of the season with their own teams.

With the Gold Glove ballots, that usually doesn’t matter. A great defender is seen as a great defender, no matter what happens from one week to the next, in part because defensive stats aren’t followed and aren’t changed that much in that short of a stretch. Hitting stats, of course, are a lot different, which makes the Silver Slugger a lot easier to critique.

Cabrera wasn’t leading the league in hitting with a week left in the season, and he wasn’t particularly close. Adrian Gonzalez was on his way, and his challenge was seemingly coming from Michael Young. Cabrera hit 17-for-29 with four doubles, four homers and eight RBIs over Detroit’s final eight games and turned a great season into an excellent one, maybe even MVP caliber. It was just in time to sway the batting race, too late to sway votes.

How can a batting champion not win a Silver Slugger? Pretty easily, it turns out. NL batting champ Jose Reyes was left out, too. No AL batting champ had been snubbed since Michael Young in 2005, but look over the 32-year history of the Silver Sluggers, and Cabrera is the 12th such victim on the AL side. In the National League, it’s even more common. Reyes is the 13th. Nobody, however, is going to argue that Troy Tulowitzki wasn’t deserving as the NL shortstop.

Add together the snubs, and a league batting champ makes the Silver Sluggers about 60 percent of the time. Conventional wisdom suggests that those who get snubbed usually don’t hit for more than batting average, but that’s not always the case. Larry Walker batting .350 for the Rockies in 2001 with 38 homers and 123 RBIs, and he didn’t make it. Nomar Garciaparra hit .372 in 2000 with 21 homers, and A-Rod still beat him out, just as he did when Nomar drove in 104 runs with a .357 average a year earlier. Terry Pendleton won an NL batting crown and NL MVP in 1991, but lost out on the Silver Slugger at third base because Howard Johnson led the league in homers and RBIs while hitting just .259.

Does that make it right for Cabrera to get snubbed? Heck no. But it does put some history on it.

Wrapping up the Tigers’ injuries

You had a feeling, didn’t you, that whenever the Tigers’ season ended, you would be hearing a more up-front report on all the Tigers’ injuries. And for the most part, we got that last night. Yet somehow, it wasn’t as bad as expected.

Alex Avila opened up a bit about the shape of his knees.

“I’ve had tendinitis building up in my [left] knee since July from a sprain that I had,” Avila said. “I felt I could continue to play with it, and I did. Without the rest, it just gets a little bit worse. And then, when I stepped on [Robinson] Cano’s foot [in the Division Series], everything kind of resurfaced after that.”

Playing through that, he said, brought on problems in the other knee, the right knee, because he was compensating. He underwent a cortisone shot during the playoffs that helped.

Surprisingly, though, he said that the team medical staff doesn’t think there’s anything that would require surgery.

“If there was anything structurally wrong,” he said, “I probably wouldn’t be able to catch. That was the reason why I kept playing, that I knew it couldn’t get any worse. I just had to deal with discomfort. Just get the MRI to make sure, and with rest, I’ll be good as new.”

As for Victor Martinez, manager Jim Leyland said he had “three or four things going on,” from the knee sprain in August to the toe injury that had to be drained to the intercostal strain. The only one that would seemingly be a major concern going into the offseason would be the knee, though we didn’t get any definitive word on that.

The injury you didn’t expect that we learned about last night was Miguel Cabrera. He injured his right shoulder when he tried to run over Mike Napoli at home plate in Game 4.

“It was all muscle,” Cabrera said, alleviating any concern he popped his shoulder out. It might have been more around the triceps.

Obviously, it didn’t affect him at the plate, where he closed out his season last night with a two-homer game, but he said he couldn’t throw. That explained why his warmups between innings were different.

He’s going to get it checked out, just to be on the safe side.

“I have to talk to a doctor,” Cabrera said. “They took good care of me with treatment. They did a good job.”

With bullpen gassed, it’s Verlander or bust

The Tigers’ postseason hopes are going to ride or die with Justin Verlander.

With manager Jim Leyland ruling out both closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit after three straight days of pitching, the only opponent that’s going to knock Verlander out of Game 5 in the American League Championship Series is his own pitch count.

It’s the opposite approach to the quick hook many managers use in elimination games in the postseason. But with a 24 regular-season wins, a pitching Triple Crown and a very strong case for AL MVP, he isn’t a typical pitcher, even in an elimination game.

“The only thing I’m worried today is his pitch count,” Leyland said Thursday morning. “I’m not worried about the results. If he gives up some runs, he gives up some runs. That’s just the way it is. Too bad, and [in that case] we’ll probably get beat.”

Given the pitch counts Verlander has piled up this season, he’s going to be out there a while. The only real concern Leyland cited is if Verlander throws a lot of pitches in the early innings and struggles to conserve pitches through the middle innings.

The only reliever Leyland mentioned by name for being on call today is left-hander Phil Coke, who mopped up the 11th inning Wednesday night after Nelson Cruz’s three-run homer gave the Rangers their 7-3 lead.

Leyland said Coke could pitch two innings “if he has to.”

“I hope he doesn’t have to,” Leyland said. “If he has to, we’re probably not going to win.”

In other words, Leyland continued, “I’m hoping Verlander can give us nine [innings].”

Verlander has thrown 13 innings over three starts this postseason, but two of those were shortened by rain. The one that wasn’t came in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees, and he delivered eight innings of four-run ball in that outing.

Valverde not only pitched three straight days, his limit during the regular season, he pitched multiple innings in two of those. His second inning of work Wednesday night was his downfall, giving up three hits and an intentional walk that led to four runs, three of them on Cruz’s homer.

When Leyland was asked about Valverde’s availability before Game 4, he had a one-word answer: “Postseason.”

Even the postseason, however, has its limits.

“I’m not pitching either one of them,” Leyland said. “Valverde’s going to say that he’s OK, but I’m not pitching him. We’re going to get somebody hurt if we’re not careful. We’ve got a guy that saved 51 games in a row, and you’ve got an option on him. I mean, people can bark, but they’re pitching on fumes and heart right now.”

Broken ankle ends postseason for Magglio, maybe more

Magglio Ordonez quietly worked like crazy to get himself to the point where the ankle was no longer. His happiness showed after his three hits in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, when he admitted he thought about quitting before deciding to slug it out through the season. He was swinging with a little more lower body strength, even if it wasn’t what it used to be.

One apparent twist of his ankle during pregame batting practice Saturday changed everything.

“My ankle is broke,” Ordonez replied in an email Sunday afternoon.

The Tigers confirmed the same later Sunday. He re-fractured the ankle in the same spot where he had it surgically repaired late last season. His season is over.

It’s not clear whether this is the same type of fracture he had last year, a vertical break that’s supposedly a lot trickier to heal. Even if it isn’t, though, he now has a history.

Just when he was feeling more like his old self, this happens.

“When I was in such good shape, this happens to me,” Ordonez told Venezuelan journalist Aflredo Villasmil on Sunday.

The quote is translated from Spanish.

“I was in BP before the game, I twisted my foot and it started to hurt. I thought it was because of the cold and the pressure I put on it, but nothing like that. It wasn’t that.”

You hope this isn’t how his career ends, that he can come back at age 38 and do it again. But if he’s going to have to go through the same rehab process to get back to this point, he has a decision to make — not just a baseball decision, a life decision. And at age 38 come next January, he’ll be making it without a contract for 2012.

Here’s hoping for the best for Magglio.

How the Tigers replace Magglio

At this time, it’s anyone’s guess. From a roster standpoint, the pickings are few. Other than rehabbing Carlos Guillen, who will start playing in games in instructional ball on Monday, the Tigers are out of position players with Major League experience who have stayed fresh and are on the 40-man roster. Though it was originally believed that Will Rhymes was sent to Florida, he was not, and he isn’t expected to be a consideration for a call up.

They could wait and see whether Delmon Young (oblique) or even Brennan Boesch (thumb surgery) recover enough to be available for a pinch-hit or two later in the series. If they want to add a healthy outfielder, the only option left on the 40-man roster is Clete Thomas, who went home with the conclusion of the Triple-A Toledo season around Labor Day weekend. Ryan Strieby has played some outfield, as did Rhymes in Toledo, but he was a first baseman this season.

Realistically, whoever they call up will be an insurance option and nothing more. The more pertinent question is who plays right field in his place. On that, they have two options.

Don Kelly was a hero in the Division Series and provides a hot bat. But his time against left-handed pitching this year has been very limited. He’s 4-for-21 off lefties this season, and had even fewer plate appearances off southpaws last year. The Rangers have two lefties and a righty going over the next three games.

Andy Dirks hasn’t played at all this postseason, and he closed out the regular season with limited playing time. but he has more time — and more success — against lefties: 10-for-31, two home runs, nine RBIs.

Kelly at third base, Magglio in right field for Game 5

Remember how closely Jim Leyland guarded his lineup and rotation leading in the postseason? With his team’s strengths and weaknesses pretty well known by now, he was much more open Wednesday when talking about Game 5.

“I’m playing Don Kelly at third base tomorrow, and Magglio Ordonez in right field,” Leyland said.

When asked about Al Alburquerque’s struggles in this series, Leyland admitted he’ll be tight with his bullpen tomorrow. And he named names.

“Basically, being totally honest with you, I would like to get through this game tomorrow with Fister, Coke if necessary, Benoit and Valverde,” Leyland said. “There’s no secret to that. That’s what we would like to get through the game with.”

In other words, he’ll go with his experienced relievers.

On the list of possibilities at third base, Kelly might have been viewed as Plan C. Wilson Betemit struck out three times over three plate appearances and 10 total pitches Tuesday night, dropping him to 0-for-8 in the series. That seemingly pointed to Brandon Inge starting Game 5. But as well as Inge has been hitting, so has Kelly, and he’s a left-handed bat.

Ordonez, meanwhile, provides a veteran bat in right field. If Kelly was going to play regardless, the choice would’ve been between Ordonez and Inge.

Rare hanging slider costs Alburquerque dearly

Alburquerque's pitches to LH batters (fangraphs.com)

Tigers fans don’t need to be reminded how important Al Alburquerque has been to the bullpen this season, and how nasty of a pitch his slider has been all year. For quite possibly the first time in his brief big league career, he threw one that was devastating to the Tigers’ fortunes.

“He threw a slider, and it didn’t do anything,” manager Jim Leyland said. “One of the best hitters in baseball hit it out.”

For that, all the Tigers could do about Robinson Cano’s sixth-inning grand slam was tip their cap. They had one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball this year throwing his best pitch. Cano was too good to miss a mistake.

Nearly three of every five swings at Alburquerque’s slider missed, according to STATS Inc., including a third of swings when the pitch was actually in the strike zone. It allowed him a lot of forgiveness for an upper-90s fastball that could be hit and miss.

Combine the arsenal, and he didn’t give up a home run in 43 1/3 innings in the regular season. But it was the strikeout potential that prompted Leyland to turn to him in that situation, with a 4-1 deficit and Cano up following Doug Fister’s two-out walk to Curtis Granderson to load the bases.

“If Granderson would’ve got a hit to make it 6-2, I would have brought in [lefty Daniel] Schlereth,” Leyland said. “But after he didn’t, we loaded the bases. Left-handers are hitting .177 off Alburquerque, .200 off Schlereth. Cano is [batting] .320 off of left-handers, .295 off righties. Alburquerque has had a tremendous ratio of swings and misses.”

Alburquerque faced Cano soon after his call-up to Detroit, in early May, and struck him out.

“That wasn’t the reason for it,” Leyland continued. “I felt that one of the reasons he’s been so valuable for us is he gets both righties and lefties out. He’s been tremendous, one of the best in all of baseball in swinging and missing. That’s the reason.”

Alburquerque, whose English is limited, politely declined comment after the game. Avila, who has caught Alburquerque ever since the Tigers called him up in late April, explained the setup.

“He’s got two sliders, one that he throws for a strike and one that normally goes out of the zone,” Avila said. “I think he just tried to make too good of a pitch there, and it just kind of stayed up. That happens.”

The first version, the one for a strike, was his first pitch to Cano, who took it. The second pitch was meant to be the sharper one, the one that falls out of the zone. He uses it when he’s ahead in the count and gets aggressive hitters swinging and missing.

It can be unpredictable, which is why he has the other slider. But when he misses it, it usually still breaks. This one spun, an 85 mph pitch about middle-up on the inner half.

“Normally it goes straight down,” Avila said. “That one didn’t really do anything.”

Cano belted it to right field for his first postseason home run, and the first by a Yankee since Ricky Ledee in the 1999 ALCS. He also improved to 9-for-19 with four grand slams and 31 RBIs with the bases loaded this year.

It was the far from a first for him. It was a first for Alburquerque.

“Tough spot for him to come in,” Avila said, “but he’s got the stuff to be able to get guys out there, and he will. It’s part of the game.”

Couple thoughts on the postseason roster

A few delayed thoughts on the 25-man roster the Tigers filed for the Division Series, and what it means for manager Jim Leyland’s decisions:

  • Leyland said last week one decision they had to make was whether to go with two or three lefty relievers, depending on the opponent. He also had an option in David Pauley, who held lefty hitters to a .194 average The fact that they went with two shows a ton of confidence in Daniel Schlereth as a lefty specialist. Take away some tail-end struggles, and he has earned it.
  • That said, don’t be surprised if Leyland turns to Al Alburquerque against a tough lefty at some point this series. His health makes him an equalizer in this bullpen.
  •  Victor Martinez catching was never going to happen, not even in a pinch. The Tigers had to have Omir Santos as a backup option. The fact that they had an extra spot to play with made it a no-brainer.
  • With both Andy Dirks and Don Kelly on the roster, it’ll be interesting to see what Leyland does in right field for Games 2 against right-hander Ivan Nova. He could stick with Magglio, knowing his postseason experience will give him a steady presence in the two spot, or he could play the matchups and go lefty against righty. But then, Nova has been stingier against left-handed hitters (.240 average, .681 OPS) than right-handed ones (.275, .730). Ordonez hits Freddy Garcia well, so I don’t think that will be a question.

Cabrera takes lead in AL batting race

Miguel Cabrera went into the weekend at least seven points behind Adrian Gonzalez in the American League batting race, and talking about how happy he’d be to see his old Marlins minor league teammate Adrian Gonzalez win the crown. He wasn’t even second at that point; Michael Young owned that honor.

As he came out of the weekend, Cabrera now has a three-point lead over Young and Gonzalez with three games to go against a team he has hit well this year. Put the matchups together, he’s potentially on the doorstep of becoming the second Tigers batting champ in five years, joining Magglio Ordonez with the honor.

Three days flipped the race. Cabrera went 8-for-12 in the last three games against Baltimore, raising his average from .333 to .341. Gonzalez, meanwhile, went 2-for-12, including 1-for-8 in Boston’s day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium Sunday. His average fell modestly from .340 to .338, but it was enough to give Cabrera a few points of breathing room. Young went 4-for-7 against the Mariners before getting Sunday off. He bumped his average up a few points.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Gonzalez has one more charge left in the race. As Cabrera points out, Gonzalez has a wild card race to play for, and a Red Sox offense to ignite after a week they’d like to forget. He’s batting .500 (31-for-62) with eight doubles this season against the Orioles, who finished out their season against the BoSox the next few days. He went 10-for-16 against them last week at Fenway Park, which allowed him to charge into the batting lead in the first place by bumping his average from .333 to .341. He 11-for-27 (.407) at Camden Yards this year.

Young, meanwhile, gets three games at Angel Stadium, where he’s batting .500 (14-for-28) this year.

The one big difference is that Cabrera has been the hottest hitter in baseball over the last month. Nobody’s batting batter over the last 30 days than Cabrera’s .427 clip or 1.280 OPS. He went from batting in the .3-teens in mid-August to more than 20 points higher, and he has just six hitless games all month.

His Sunday performance included a first-inning home run, a big two-out single that extended the fifth inning for Victor Martinez’s go-ahead three-run homer and a hard-hit line drive in his final at-bat. He left after that with dizziness, something manager Jim Leyland said teammates brought to his attention, but word from the clubhouse after the game was that it isn’t anything serious. He should be available Monday.

If he can keep on hitting, he’ll have pulled off a career Triple Crown with three league titles in four years as a Tiger. He led the AL in home runs his first season in Detroit in 2008, had an stellar year in 2009, then led the league in RBIs last year. It counts as a Triple Crown only if you do that all in the same year, but doing it this way still puts him in the company of Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

Updating the potential roster picture: Friday

What ended up being a regrettable finale for Jacob Turner ended up being a good day for helping the Tigers sort out their bullpen. Al Alburquerque got the inning he needed, and while he wasn’t as sharp as he’ll need to be come postseason play in a week, he was healthy. He’ll sit on Friday, then Jim Leyland hopes to test him with an inning each on Saturday and Sunday.

Assuming Alburquerque gets through that, I’d say he’s pretty much a lock for the postseason roster, leaving Leyland and the Tigers with one less bullpen decision. If you count the guys who are good to go (Valverde, Benoit, Schlereth, Coke, Alburquerque if he’s healthy), it could leave with maybe only one or two.

“I don’t think there’s any secret we’re looking,” Leyland said. “That’s as simple as it is. There’s no sense in trying to hide that from the players. There’s no sense in trying to hide that from the media, the fans. At some point, we’re going to have to decide on a roster.”

Some of that could depend on who the Tigers face. A meeting with the Yankees or Red Sox could place a premium on lefty relievers for a pitching staff that doesn’t have a lefty starter. Granted, the Tigers like some of their righties against left-handed hitters, especially Benoit and Alburquerque, but that doesn’t mean they’ll try to leverage that strength rather than play an opponent’s weakness.

Duane Below isn’t a lefty reliever by the stereotype, but he’s a lefty. And while lefties have hit him a little bit harder, his strikeout-to-walk ratio against them in his limited time is much stronger. It’s that skill that would be a stronger ticket onto the postseason roster than long relief, which becomes less of a necessity in a short series but still potentially useful for damage control later in the series. If the Tigers have to reliever Justin Verlander or Doug Fister early in one of the first two games, they have much deeper trouble than long relief.

That same issue seemingly doesn’t play in Pauley’s favor, being right-hander. But while he took the loss, Leyland said he looked better.

“In fairness to him, he really hasn’t gotten to pitch a whole lot since he’s been here,” Leyland said. “So we’re trying to get him some work as well.”

Perry, Leyland said, looked better as well. He’s had more good outings lately, Leyland said, than subpar ones.

“But he still needs a little more consistency,” Leyland said.

For a postseason pitching staff, if the decision’s on talent, there’s a spot for Perry, the former first-round pick with a penchant for quick, solid innings. But he might help his case just as much of he can avoid breakdowns like he had in Oakland, though that one admittedly came the afternoon after the Tigers’ division celebration.

The Tigers still need to know more on Wilson Betemit and Carlos Guillen before they can make decisions on the positional roster. If Betemit’s fine, their decisions whittle down tremendously. Guillen said he isn’t sure about his readiness for the postseason in a week. He can neither run nor swing a bat yet, and his Thursday work was limited to therapy.

Betemit, meanwhile, has hopes of playing Friday. Assuming he’s ready for the postseason, he slots in well as part of a third-base mix with Brandon Inge. Right field could be a three-man mix with Magglio Ordonez, Don Kelly and Andy Dirks. Yes, Dirks and Kelly both bat left-handed, but if the Tigers choose to keep Dirks, that could free up Kelly for a late-inning role in the outfield or third base. Dirks also brings some speed to him.

Add the Santiago/Raburn mix at second, and if the Tigers keep Dirks, they’re left with one more position spot, and a few different ways they can go.

- They could protect themselves at catcher by keeping Omir Santos. Yes, they have the option of making a roster move mid-series if Alex Avila were to be injured. But if they did that, by rule, he would have to miss the next round. That’s a huge conundrum if Avila were to have a day-to-day injury. Leyland said Thursday he can catch Martinez if he wanted, surprising all of us. But the fact remains that he hasn’t, not even for an inning in a blowout.

- They could go with another runner with Will Rhymes, and a batter who can lay down a bunt in a key situation. That might make better sense in the later rounds than it does now, but it’s still possible.

- They could add Guillen if he’s healthy. That’s sounding like a big if right now.

- They could add Danny Worth, but that would seemingly make more sense if Betemit or another infielder isn’t able to go.

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