Thursday, May 23, 2013

Checking In on Toledo

Since the beginning of this month, I have spent a great deal of time attending games at Fifth Third Field and following the Tigers' Triple A affiliate in general. It's safe to say that the Mud Hens have struggled this year. They're 15-32, and while their pitching has been solid for the most part, their offense has struggled (though it has started to pick up the pace recently). This post will be similar to my winter ball reports, though not quite as formalized. I'll provide you with my observations on various players that may be of interest to Tigers fans who may not follow the minor leagues that closely (and by the way, if you want to know much more on the Mud Hens, start reading John Wagner's blog). Just for the record, I'm just going in the order that they appear on the Mud Hens' roster page, and instead of listing all their numbers, I'll link to their player page. By the way, if you'd like to see more pictures from Sunday's game, I have an album right here.

Al Alburquerque (RHP): I'm putting him in here for the sake of completeness, but he hasn't thrown a pitch in Triple A yet. He did not arrive in Toledo until Tuesday (according to Jason Beck, he was dealing with a personal issue), and I did observe him working out with the other pitchers that morning, but he didn't pitch in the actual game. I would guess he will pitch tonight (the Mud Hens were off yesterday and are set to begin a four-game series tonight in Gwinnett).

Jose Alvarez (LHP): You may remember this lefty from spring training (or from my winter ball reports). He has been, by far, the Mud Hens' best starting pitcher this season, sporting a 4-2 record to go along with a 1.98 ERA. He has 55 strikeouts against just nine walks, and has not issued more than two walks in any game. Going by performance alone, if the Tigers should need a starting pitcher for more than just a spot start, he's deserved the first shot at the job. However, the 40-man roster is currently full, he's not on it, and the two guys that I considered to be the most likely candidates to be DFA'd (Jose Ortega and Evan Reed) have been in the big leagues (and Ortega is still there, though I don't know how much longer that will last), so I have no idea who is at the bottom of the 40-man pecking order right now.

Casey Crosby (LHP): Crosby was just placed on the disabled list with shoulder soreness. I don't know how long they expect him to be out, but I did see him throwing a bullpen session on Tuesday morning along with Pat Misch, another Hens pitcher who is on the DL. Prior to his landing on the DL, his numbers weren't all that great. He's 1-5 with a 5.30 ERA, and command has been an issue. He's given up 28 walks in 37.1 innings. His best start came on April 21st, when he threw seven shutout innings against Columbus, only walked two, and picked up his only win of the season. His final start before hitting the DL was on May 12th. He lasted only 4.2 innings against Indianapolis and gave up four runs (and usually, in the minor leagues, it's pitch count that knocks you out of a game, not ineffectiveness). On the bright side, he has only given up two home runs this season.

Luis Marte (RHP): I'm including him in this report because I have seen people question why he hasn't been called up, given all the bullpen turnover that's occurred. The reason why he hasn't been called up is because he's only pitched two innings and has been on the disabled list with a shoulder problem since early April. He is not with the team right now (apparently he's down in Florida working with the trainers in Lakeland), and it's unclear when he's coming back.

Evan Reed (RHP): Reed has only made one appearance since being sent back to Toledo after the Tigers' series in Arlington, and it wasn't a good one. It was on Tuesday, the Mud Hens had a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning, and they brought Reed in to pitch the eighth inning, which is not his normal role (They've been giving Brayan Villarreal the eighth inning setup duties, but Bruce Rondon was not available on Tuesday, so they were holding Villarreal back so he could close). He could not throw strikes. A leadoff walk started his trouble, and that was the only walk he gave up (plus there was an error that compounded his problems), but he fell behind every hitter he faced. He did get two outs (one of which scored a run) before being lifted with a runner on in favor of Kenny Faulk for a lefty-lefty matchup. Faulk gave up a 2-run home run that gave Syracuse a 4-3 lead (and then had problems of his own with throwing strikes in the ninth inning, but we'll get to that later). However, this was only one game and so it's pretty hard to see where this is going yet.

Bruce Rondon (RHP): Rondon finally gave up an earned run in his last outing. He took the loss in extra innings against Syracuse on Monday when he issued a leadoff walk to former Tiger Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus. Kobernus then stole second and third on consecutive pitches and scored on a sacrifice fly. Other than that, he's converted all his save opportunities and hasn't given up any other runs, but it's hard for me to gauge his progress because he was putting up zeros in Toledo before he got called up and that didn't really seem to help him in the big leagues. From my observations, he's been pretty fastball-heavy. I have seen the slider and changeup occasionally (and I have seen guys swing and miss at them), but most of the time, he uses the heater. My assessment would be that on most nights, he's good, but not dominant. He's only walked six this season, but he does fall behind hitters a lot. He hasn't really paid for that yet, though. The one time I've seen him look dominant was on Sunday, when he got the save with seven pitches, all strikes, and that included two strikeouts. Generally, though, he gives up one baserunner, but gets the job done.

Brayan Villarreal (RHP): Villarreal's done pretty well since being sent to Toledo. The eight walks in thirteen innings doesn't look good on the surface, but consider that most of it comes from two appearances where he walked three. He had two other appearances where he walked one, and five appearances where he didn't walk anyone, so that line is not as bad as it would seem. The positive sign is the 16 strikeouts in 13 innings. His slider has looked really good since joining the Mud Hens, and it's getting lots of swings and misses. I've seen his fastball range from 93-98 MPH, with the majority of fastballs usually around 96 (though the Toledo radar gun tends to be a little slow). Curiously enough, he's not getting many swings and misses with the fastball. The majority of his strikeouts have come with the slider, and when he has struck someone out on a fastball, it's usually a called third strike. His last few outings have been rather fastball-heavy, but that might be by design, because he had an outing last Thursday where he could command his fastball at all (that was one of those aforementioned three-walk games). He did get through 1.2 innings without giving up a run (and stranded two inherited runners, and the Hens had a one-run lead at the time), but he wasn't happy with it. He's made two appearances since then, and has thrown almost entirely fastballs, but he is throwing them for strikes, and perhaps he's focusing on fastball command right now. He hasn't struck out as many in the last few outings, and that might relate to not throwing the slider as much, but hitters have also been putting the ball in play early into the at-bat recently (especially in his last two outings, which were both against Syracuse, a team that seems to have a lot of aggressive hitters). As I said before, the Mud Hens have been trying to use him as the 8th inning setup man, but the problem with that is that the Hens don't have a lead in the 8th inning very often, so they've had to use him in other situations just to get him work. He would have been the closer on Tuesday (something I would very much have liked to see), but as I already stated, Reed and Faulk blew the lead in the 8th inning. He did end up pitching in the 9th inning, but the Hens were losing and Kenny Faulk had lost sight of the strike zone and loaded the bases with nobody out. He only need six pitches (five of them strikes) to get the three outs, but he was unable to prevent Faulk's runners from scoring. That being said, while it's hard to tell exactly what the front office is thinking these days, I would think he should be the next call-up when the Tigers have a need for a reliever (which may be sooner rather than later).

Bryan Holaday (C): I'm going to mention him because of all the talk over Alex Avila's struggles. Holaday has always been known more for his defense than his offense (and he is a VERY good defensive catcher), but he's been swinging a hot bat recently. He's been hitting .389 over his past ten games, and his average currently sits at .286. The one caveat is that he doesn't walk a lot (only two walks in that 10 game stretch), but he also hasn't been striking out very much.

Danny Worth (IF): Worth has not appeared in a game since April 15th and has been on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his heel that he suffered while trying to lunge at the first base bag (This is the same injury that Avisail Garcia suffered in spring training). He is apparently close to coming off the DL (for the record, he is with the team), but he might be sent on a rehab assignment first. He was hitting .156 at the time of the injury.

Quintin Berry (OF): Berry has struggled at the plate all season. His average is currently at .184 and has hovered around there all year. He did miss a few games earlier this month after being hit by a pitch in the elbow. His struggles at the plate haven't caused too much of a decrease in playing time, but who knows what will happen if/when Avisail Garcia returns to Toledo. Interestingly, he began the season wearing uniform number 0 (which is not the first time a player has done that), supposedly because he didn't want to be in the minor leagues long enough to have a number. He's now wearing 2, which is being referred to as "deuce" and not "two" by the Mud Hens' public address announcer.

Nick Castellanos (OF): Castellanos has gotten off to a slow start with the bat in Triple A. His average currently sits at .253, but he has started to swing the bat better in recent days. Over his past ten games, he's hitting .314, and after having somewhat of a power outage (He has five home runs and three of them were hit during a four-game series in Durham), he did hit a monster three-run shot on Tuesday, the first time I've seen him homer. And from my own observations, his outfield defense is getting better. He still sometimes takes odd routes to the ball, but he generally catches what he should and there have been several occasions where an opposing player has hit what looked to be a double off the wall, and he's held them to a single. I don't think he's quite ready for the big leagues yet, but things are looking more promising.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Random Thoughts After the Off-Day

When you're in the midst of over 48 hours without Tigers baseball, you have a lot of time to think. As such, it's worth getting those thoughts organized and provide you with some more bullet points (albeit many of them about various Tiger alums):

  • You're probably wondering why I haven't weighed in what's going on with Brayan Villarreal, given my apparent unbridled enthusiasm for him. Well, after his outing against the Blue Jays, I did make some observations about a drop in velocity and inconsistent release points, and my gut feeling was that it was something related to pitching mechanics, but since this is an aspect of baseball that I am still learning, I couldn't really come up with enough details to get a full post out of it. Happily, Rob at Bless You Boys wrote an excellent post which largely confirms my initial observations and provides a detailed mechanical reason for them. But the best part is that a mechanical flaw like this can be fixed. For the record, I'm still reluctant to send him to the minor leagues because he only has one minor league option left and I don't really want it used up unless there's no choice. Besides, I don't really think that an ultimatum is the best strategy here. When you have a young pitcher who has gotten out of whack, you just want him to concentrate on getting his mechanics straightened out. You don't really need to add any pressure by making him think he's pitching for his very life.
  • Some of the other relievers have had their issues as well. I'm not going to get into the whole debate about Phil Coke against right-handed batters, but I will make a couple observations about Al Alburquerque and Octavio Dotel. They haven't had the ERA beating that Villarreal has, but they've had their problems. Neither has been particularly effective at stranding inherited runners. Alburquerque  has dealt with quite a few baserunners, but until Saturday's outing, none of his own runners had scored (some of that was pure luck, and I'm referring to his outing against the Yankees). He finally paid the price for all those baserunners last time out. I'm not angry with him. In fact, I'm hoping that last outing serves as a learning experience and will motivate him to do something to cut down on the baserunners. What I noticed from Dotel so far this season is a surprising amount of hard contact and long outs. He's missed the last few games with elbow soreness, which he says is inflammation, but I wonder if it's been going on longer than he says it has.
  • All this talk about hard-throwing relievers struggling in their second full season, as well as the debate over Jim Leyland's bullpen usage and the fact that the Tigers are now in Seattle (Home of that weird game last year where Dotel tried to close and couldn't throw strikes) made me think of this game from the 2007 season, particularly the ninth inning. The Tigers were leading the White Sox 6-0 going into the bottom of the ninth, and Leyland brought Joel Zumaya in to pitch. He did give up a leadoff single, but a double play got him out of that particular trouble. However, with two outs and nobody on, he proceeded to have a complete meltdown, hitting a batter and then walking four guys in a row. They had to bring in Todd Jones to get the final out. This was before Twitter was a big thing and I do wonder what the reaction would have been after this game (I'm also curious as to who would get more fan ire: Zumaya or Leyland). 
  • Out of curiosity, I took a look at Zumaya's game logs from 2007. This particular game was on April 25th and he was in a rough patch at the time, giving up runs and not throwing strikes consistently. The hit batter and four consecutive walks was the low point of this rough patch. He did get better, but it wasn't an instantaneous thing. He still gave up runs and/or walked batters over his next few outings, but each one did show some improvement. Finally, he looked to be back to his "old self" (i.e. the 2006 dominance) in a May 1st outing (Unfortunately, he ruptured a tendon in his finger while warming up a few days later and missed three months with the injury, but that is not relevant to this discussion). I'm not saying that's going to happen with any of the Tigers' current relievers, because everyone is different, but I will say that allowing a pitcher to work through his issues in the big leagues is not without precedent and that improvement may be a somewhat slow process (if you count four or five appearances as "slow"). 
  • I am also a bit curious as to what the fan/writer reaction was during this period. I was just starting to get into blogging baseball at the time and the only writers that I read were Jason Beck, Danny Knobler (who was writing for MLive in 2007), and occasionally Billfer of The Detroit Tigers Weblog. I wonder if there were a lot of people who wanted Zumaya sent to the minors, or if there was a lot of criticism over Leyland's use of him. I've had plenty of experience with the fact that Tigers fans have an unfortunate tendency to be kind of kneejerk and paranoid. It's almost like they're afraid that if a player hits a rough patch, he'll never be any good again. I know some of them were like that through some of Zumaya's later rough spells (In particular, I remember a game that Zumaya was pitching in where Mario Impemba mentioned that Zumaya was once clocked at 103 MPH, which was the Major League record at the time, and someone I was with responded by saying "It was probably ball four"), but once he got himself out of it, they'd usually be forgiving. Something else that I noticed is that even when Zumaya had rough patches, he never got sent to the minors. Granted, that might be because half the time, he'd end up getting hurt and going on the disabled list instead, but it is still kind of curious.
  • I'll end this post on a bit of personal happiness, so allow me to slip into "pure, somewhat irrational fan" mode for a moment. I went to the Mud Hens game on Sunday at Fifth Third Field. They were playing the Louisville Bats, the Triple A team for the Cincinnati Reds, and one member of the Bats' rotation (alas, not one that pitched in the series against the Hens) is none other than our old friend Armando Galarraga (If you're curious, he found his groove towards the end of the winter ball season, pitched well in the postseason, had a good spring, and is off to a good start with Louisville). Those of you who have read my various blogs over the years know just how fond I am of him and how devastated I was when he was traded (and he's still in my top 5 of favorite players), so to actually meet him and get to talk to him on Sunday was a dream come true. It's something I've wanted for a long time. And even though things haven't really gone the way he's wanted them to since 2010, he's still very nice and in good spirits (He even put a smiley face underneath his signature when he signed an autograph for me, and I love that). Unfortunately, he left his start in Columbus last night with some sort of injury, which I haven't been able to find any details on yet (He kept looking at his hand while walking off the field, which makes me think it's a blister), but hopefully it's nothing that will keep him out a long time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

West Coast Weirdness: A Retrospective

This is going to be a long post, but since I haven't posted since the home opener (Hey, there's only so many ways I can say "Wow, lots of hitters have gotten off to good starts" and "This bullpen is talented enough that they don't have to be a weakness"), so I figure a longer post might make up for it. I've been watching Tigers baseball full-time since 2007, and in that time, I've noticed that the west coast is a very strange place. Or, at least, strange things happen while the Tigers are there. Sudden pitching meltdowns, silly announcers, bizarre plays, you name it. And so, as the Tigers set off for their one and only trip to the west coast this year, I've decided to take a look back at some of the weirder west coast moments of the past five years (Note: I'm not listing every west coast game from the past five years, just the strange ones. And I'm not including the postseason):


  • April 23 @ LAA: The Tigers spotted Mike Maroth an early 7-0 lead but he was unable to complete five innings (the Tigers did win 9-5). Also, the Angels put Mario & Rod on the Kiss Cam and this was shown on Fox Sports Detroit. 
  • April 24 @ LAA: This time, it was the Angels who raced out to a 7-0 lead after three innings (which partially involved Carlos Guillen making errors on consecutive plays), and yet somehow Jeremy Bonderman managed to stay in the game and give six innings. Meanwhile, the Tigers slowly chipped away at their deficit and completed their comeback in the ninth inning when Magglio Ordoñez hit a two-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez (who was in his prime at the time) to give the Tigers an 8-7 lead. However, Todd Jones would blow the save in the bottom of the ninth when Vladimir Guerrero scored on a wild pitch (and say what you will about Todd Jones, but wild pitches generally weren't an issue for him), and then would lose the game in the bottom of the tenth through a combination of his own error, a bunt, and a fielder's choice.
  • July 15 @ SEA: The Tigers had five stolen bases. Gary Sheffield stole home. Sean Casey had a stolen base (admittedly, it was meant to be a hit-and-run and the batter swung and missed, but Casey still made it to second).
  • July 27-29 @ LAA: I'm only linking to the first game in that series, but the Tigers pitchers gave up double-digit runs in all three games.
  • September 2 @ OAK: This is somewhat reminiscent of what happened in the game yesterday, albeit without the walks. The Tigers had a big lead (7-0) at one point, and were leading 7-2 after five innings, but the Athletics slowly chipped their way back into the game against the bullpen, until finally Kurt Suzuki hit a game-tying two-run homer off Todd Jones in the bottom of the ninth (and again, home runs were usually not an issue with Todd Jones). He would escape a bases-loaded, none out jam to send the game into extra innings, but the A's would win in the bottom of the tenth after a leadoff single, followed by another single on a hit and run that got tangled up in the bullpen and allowed the runner to score.
  • May 17 @ ARI: Strictly speaking, this is not a west coast game, but the Diamondbacks play in the NL West and it's the same time zone. Besides, Interleague games in National League parks already start out being somewhat bizarre because we're not used to watching Tiger pitchers bat. At any rate, the Tigers were on a five-game losing streak and the players decided to all wear the high socks as a superstition rally thing, which gave kind of a silly mood to the game. It didn't exactly ignite the offense, but the Tigers did win 3-2. The most bizarre part of that game is that the Tigers scored two runs in the fifth inning on a two-out rally that started when rookie Diamondbacks pitcher Max Scherzer walked Armando Galarraga, of all people (And as much as I love him, I've seen enough of Galarraga in the National League to know that he is not an offensive threat at all). 
  • May 26 @ LAA: Kenny Rogers, Jon Garland, and the bullpen combined for an epic pitching duel that lasted into extra innings until Bobby Seay walked in a run to give the Angels a 1-0 lead (and if I remember correctly, Seay was severely squeezed by the umpire in that at-bat).
  • May 27 @ LAA: The Tigers had another walk-off loss to the Angels (this time 3-2), but what makes it strange is that when all was said and done, the Tigers left no one on base. Their two runs scored on a Miguel Cabrera home run, and their only other baserunner was caught stealing.
  • May 28 @ LAA: This one is actually strange in hindsight. Armando Galarraga came within two outs of a complete game shutout before giving up a two-run homer to Erick Aybar, and it was arguably his best pitching performance until the perfect game two years later. What was strange about it? The home plate umpire was Jim Joyce.
  • June 17 @ SFG: Ryan Raburn hit a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning off Jonathan Sanchez to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. It caused a bit of a stir the next day when Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle proceeded to call Raburn a "scrub" in his column about the game. Also, Marcus Thames was on a home run binge at the time, and after he hit a monster shot to the batter's eye, the TV cameras caught sight of a woman in the seats who had a life-sized cardboard cutout of Barry Bonds next to her.
  • July 6 @ SEA: This game lasted 15 innings. The Tigers finally won 2-1 when the Mariners ran out of pitchers and brought their backup catcher in to pitch.
  • April 17 @ SEA: For the first four innings, it not only looked like Justin Verlander would pitch a perfect game, it looked like he'd set a strikeout record doing it. He was flat-out dominant. And then something went horribly wrong and he gave up five runs in the fifth inning.
  • April 23 @ LAA: There was an earthquake in the middle of this game. Not a big one, but that's still gotta disrupt a guy's pitching motion.
  • April 19 @ LAA: This was a really frustrating game to watch. The Tigers lost 2-0 but it really doesn't reflect how good their approach was against Angels starter Joel Piñiero. They got themselves into good counts, read his pitches, and hit the ball hard, but they kept hitting the ball right at people for the whole game. I have never seen a game like that before where the offense did not seem stymied at all, and yet still got shut out.
  • July 5 @ LAA: Dan Haren outdueled Justin Verlander 1-0, but Verlander had a serious beef with Joe West, finally getting himself ejected as he was being taken out of the game in the eighth inning.
  • September 16 @ OAK: This is the game where the Tigers clinched the AL Central, and I was there to see it. But it had a couple moments of strangeness. At one point, a bank of lights went out and there was a 20-minute delay while they got the lights working again. It was also Star Wars night, and after the game they had a fireworks show that began with a stormtrooper declaring, "The Oakland A's empire will rule the galaxy!" All I could think was, "Do they realize they just made themselves the bad guys?"
  • September 17 @ OAK: There was one little strange thing about this game, and I only know about it because I was there. The radar gun was not working. During the first inning, Gio Gonzalez was clocked at 200 MPH on his fastball and 100 MPH on his offspeed stuff. They turned off the radar gun in the bottom of the first and apparently fixed it after the game, because it was working the next day.
  • May 7 @ SEA: Octavio Dotel only walked 12 batters all of last year (and four of those were intentional). Two of those walks came in this game. The Tigers had a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, and both Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit were unavailable. Dotel has been a closer before, so he was a reasonable choice to fill in and get the save. However, he absolutely could not throw strikes to save his life. He walked the first two batters, there was a wild pitch, a passed ball scored a run, and then Jesus Montero hit a double that scored the tying run (he would later score on a sacrifice fly off Duane Below to hand Dotel the loss).
  • May 10-13 @ OAK: Again, I'm only linking to the first game, but what characterized this series was that Brandon Inge (who the Tigers released only a couple weeks earlier) had himself a crazy good series, including a grand slam.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tigers Find Their Power, Blast Yankees

First off, let me congratulate the Tigers fans at the ballpark today. From what I could tell on TV, everyone was very appropriate and cheered on every member of the Tigers. You guys were a class act. Good job.

The game itself didn't start off very impressively. Doug Fister willed himself through five innings, but he didn't have the pinpoint command that he normally features. Two walks, two hit batters, and a wild pitch are uncharacteristic for him. He wasn't able to give the Tigers their first six-inning start, but I daresay it was better for him than his first start last year. At least he came out of this one healthy. Once he was done, Drew Smyly had about as good of a bounceback from his last outing as you could get: Four perfect innings and a save.

The offense began the game performing pretty much the same way that the games in Minnesota did. They were able to get themselves in hitter's counts against Ivan Nova, but they couldn't really do anything with them. Then the Yankees went to their bullpen and Prince Fielder blasted off. He would do so again in his next at-bat for good measure, finishing the day with 5 RBIs. Alex Avila also hit his first home run of the season. Meanwhile, Omar Infante didn't hit a home run, but he's off to a really good start, hitting .429 in the first four games.

Tomorrow the Tigers are on big Fox. Max Scherzer makes his season debut against David Phelps.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Random Thoughts on the Opening Series

Back in my introduction to this site, I said that I would probably not write about each individual game because there are times where I can't think of much to say about a particular game. That's been true to some extent over the last two games. Generally, when I write about a single game, I like to cover starting pitching, bullpen, and offense, and I don't feel like I had enough to say about each of those areas to merit a post for each of the last two games. However, I do have some thoughts and observations about aspects of the last two games, both from specific points and from general trends.

It's early, but the Tigers have got to get more innings out of their starting pitchers. They're going to kill their bullpen if they don't. Granted, Justin Verlander would have gone at least one more inning had it not been his first start (and really cold to boot), but he's the type of pitcher who should not be approaching the 100-pitch mark in the fifth inning. The same goes for Anibal Sanchez (although to be fair, he was done in by a lengthy first inning but was more efficient after that). Rick Porcello did a good enough job for what is reasonably expected of him (although what is interesting is that for all the talk about how he needs to improve against lefties, the big blows were from right-handed batters), but I think he can still manage six innings a start from now on.

My thoughts on the bullpen are a bit more extensive (Though I don't have a whole lot to say on Jose Valverde. I don't have a problem with a minor league contract as long as they don't bring him up just because, or displace someone who shouldn't be displaced). They got themselves in trouble yesterday with leadoff walks, even though those walks scored on both occasions with other pitchers on the mound. There was a lot of discussion about Phil Coke being left in the game to face righties. I can't really say if I thought that was a good idea or not, but I honestly feel like everyone on the Tigers pitching staff should be able to handle a switch-hitter who hit .216 in the big leagues with almost no power. Escobar hit the ball to the wall not because Coke is left-handed, but because it was a bad pitch. I think the reason he was left in there was because the next two hitters were a switch-hitting rookie who had not gotten a hit yet, and the lefty Joe Mauer. I will say that on the same day, both Chris Perez and Fernando Rodney blew saves and I don't think there was nearly as much discussion about them.

On a related note, three games is way, WAY too few to give up on anyone in the bullpen. Phil Coke, Drew Smyly, and Brayan Villarreal (who yesterday had a very similar outing to that of Al Alburquerque on Opening Day but didn't really get the same credit for it, for some reason) have had rough outings, but that's not an indication of anything beyond that, especially since none of them have gotten the chance to redeem themselves yet. Villarreal's outing was particularly strange. I'm not even sure I want to call it a meltdown, though the boxscore would indicate one. And I have seen a major meltdown from him before. It was in Toledo near the end of the 2011 season, and it resulted in him giving up seven runs in two innings (as a reliever, in case you were curious). This did not remind me of that outing at all. In that outing, there was quite a bit of wildness and a lot of hard contact (capped off by a grand slam from Pedro Alvarez that was one of the hardest-hit balls I have ever seen). Today's outing really wasn't like that. I think Justin Morneau battling him for eleven pitches and coaxing a walk kind of put him out of whack, but throughout most of the inning it seemed like he was so tantalizingly close to getting out of it with little to no damage (though I do think maybe the corner infielders need to start thinking about guarding the line while he's pitching, because hitters have snuck ground-ball doubles just fair down the line for two outings in a row now). He wasn't hit hard except for the ball hit by Parmalee that Prince Fielder misplayed, and the Hicks single (and by that point I think he was out of gas, because his velocity was down). Usually when he gets himself too amped up, there's at least one wild pitch or passed ball, but that didn't happen until Alburquerque came in to pitch (to tell you the truth, I honestly thought Alburquerque would and should have been brought in for the entire 8th inning because Villarreal pitched yesterday). The other thing I thought of was an outing that Bruce Rondon had in winter ball where he gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning. The opposing team made harder contact in that outing, too. Suffice it to say that both of them are much better than that. And then you have Drew Smyly, who definitely had his issues on Monday, but you generally wouldn't classify it as a meltdown because he was only charged with two runs. And yet, in some way I almost describe it as the opposite sense that I got from Villarreal's outing. Where I felt like Villarreal was tantalizingly close to getting himself out of trouble and couldn't do it, Smyly was tantalizingly close to having the whole thing blow up on him but somehow didn't (with some help from Alburquerque). But again, I know he's much better than that. They are both young pitchers who are still learning how to pitch in the big leagues. I know Jim Leyland is sometimes reluctant to use young pitchers in high-priority situations if they mess up once, but given the fact that Smyly and Villarreal are both important keys to the future of the Tigers, I do hope he does not lose faith in them.

I really don't have a sense of what's happening with the offense so far, other than to state the obvious by saying it needs to get better. Last year, I observed that the Tigers were actually pretty good against hard-throwing pitchers (particularly righties) who threw lots of fastballs. They struggled against the "art of pitching" types, guys who spot their fastball on the corner and thow lots of breaking balls. I really wouldn't categorize any of the Twins' starters in this series as "art of pitching" types. They weren't hard-throwers, either, but something they were doing stumped all the hitters. Some of it could be from unfamiliarity (since all three starters were in the National League up until now), but we won't know that until they face them again. You do get into the debate about whether it was the pitcher making good pitches or the hitter taking bad swings. I learned from a former catcher that one way to determine whether it's good pitching or bad hitting is to watch the catcher and see where he is set up and how much he has to move his glove to catch the pitches. If the pitcher is consistently hitting his spots, then there's a good chance that it's good pitching and you tip your cap. If the catcher is constantly having to move around, then the pitcher is missing with his location and it's probably bad hitting. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to do this during games and I will have this serve as a reminder to keep an eye on that in the next series.

I'd like to cover one more thing before I end this post. I am not so fortunate as to be able to attend the Tigers' home opener, but some of you will, and I just ask a small favor of you guys. Please behave yourselves and be polite. I know a lot of people will boo the Yankees because they're the Yankees and that's fine (although it's not something I do), but please don't boo your own players, especially when we're only three games into the season. At least, don't do it at the home opener. I remember cringing so many times in years past when that happened (and there were occasions where those fans ended up looking monumentally foolish for doing so, such as with Brandon Lyon in 2009). I can't think of any obvious candidates off the top of my head, but I've been surprised before (and not in a good way). I know that we Tigers fans are wonderful people (albeit a bit kneejerk and jaded), and I would very much like the rest of the country to know that, so I humbly request that you all put on a good show tomorrow.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Welcome Back, Tigers!

Photo: Reuters
Admit it. You missed all the stress and anxiety that comes with Tigers baseball. Your life felt empty without it over the last few months. And as fast as your heart was beating during the seventh inning, and as much obscenities as you were hurling at the TV, once Al Alburquerque struck out Chris Parmelee on that 3-2 slider, for a brief second, a voice somewhere deep down inside was whispering "Welcome back."

Justin Verlander finally got a win on Opening Day, although he maybe wasn't at his sharpest. His balls/strikes ratio wasn't as great as it normally is, but being Justin Verlander, he got through it. Maybe the cold had something to do with it. Several players were wearing those hoods that always make me think of Placido Polanco in the 2006 ALCS, and the gametime temperature was 35 degrees. I don't get cold easily, and even I'm wondering how you can pitch that long without your hands going numb (and I know they can blow into their hands when it's cold, but in my experience, that only works for a few seconds). Maybe that's what Drew Smyly's problem was, too. Before the game, there seemed to be quite a few people on Twitter who were advocating having the starters go seven innings and having Smyly pitch the last three. I'm not sure how they planned for this to happen every day (Smyly cannot pitch three innings every day, plus there are six other guys who do need to get work sometimes), but at any rate, once he came on to pitch the sixth inning today there was a lot of talk about "four-inning save." That talk lasted for about two outs and then Smyly got into a mess with a double and two walks. He got out of that jam but got himself back into trouble in the seventh inning by loading the bases with one out and allowing a run to score on a wild pitch. Al Alburquerque had to come in and bail him out, though he gave up an RBI single himself and kind of danced on the edge by going to a full count on Parmelee. One of these days, opposing teams will figure out that Alburquerque almost always throws a slider in a 3-2 count, and hitters will start to lay off that. Thankfully, today was not that day. For all the discussion we've had about closers and how difficult those last three outs are, today's ninth inning was probably the least stressful inning of the entire game. Playing matchups with Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke worked beautifully.

There weren't a lot of offensive highlights to speak of, although Torii Hunter made his presence known right away with a perfect hit and run single (which wasn't called; Hunter did that on his own). He also chipped in a double later in the game. Omar Infante also had a good first game with a couple hits and an RBI. Miguel Cabrera went 0-for-5, which is something he won't do very often, but he also had an RBI. Prince Fielder was probably the most entertaining player of the day with his...whatever that was on the wild pitch in the 8th inning. I don't want to call it a slide, because it wasn't. Belly-flop, maybe?

And now we must endure another off-day before seeing our beloved Tigers again. Anibal Sanchez goes up against Kevin Correia on Wednesday.

The 2013 Tigerology Season Preview

Baseball is back, and our long wait is over. In years past, my previews tended to have a theme loosely tying all my thoughts together. Those themes have ranged from expectations to redemption to potential. I'm having trouble coming up with a theme this year. Nearly every year I discuss ability and expectations, and the same is true this year. This is a VERY talented team, probably one of the most talented teams they've had in my lifetime (Okay, I was alive during the 80s but I really don't remember those teams). However, they've still got to get the job done on the field and stay healthy.

I'm going to admit, I really did not pay much attention to the position players during spring training. The only open positions were a couple of bench spots, and the only real concern among the starters was how Victor Martinez would bounce back from injury. Outside of some minor back issues midway through spring training, it appears he's good to go. There is a little bit of concern surrounding Torii Hunter regressing a bit at the plate from last year (both from age and from a high BABIP, and don't worry, I don't break out that stat very often), but he will be a HUGE defensive upgrade in the outfield. Miguel Cabrera can't really top last year's Triple Crown performance, but it's safe to expect another big year from the best hitter in baseball. Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta are looking for bounceback seasons. Peralta set career-highs in almost all offensive stats in 2011, only to post career-lows nearly across the board in 2012. He's only 30 years old, so reason would suggest that his 2013 numbers will be somewhere in between those two seasons. Avila's a bit harder to predict because he hasn't been around as long as Peralta. His struggles last year seemed to be some combination of his knee problems from the previous year and thinking too much at the plate. Has he made the adjustment? Only time will tell.

I was never a real big proponent of trading Rick Porcello, but as we got closer to spring training, I got more and more reluctant because I began to realize the lack of depth of starting pitching that the Tigers have. If he can carry over his really good spring into the regular season (and granted, that's a big "if"), it could turn out to be one of the best non-trades ever made. People forget that he's only 24 and that on some teams, he'd be the staff ace. Heck, on most teams, he'd probably be a #3 or #4 starter. Justin Verlander's spring in terms of pitching was fairly unremarkable. The most exciting thing regarding him is that he's going to be a Tiger for a very long time to come, and that's probably the best piece of news from all of spring training. On the flipside, Doug Fister had a spring training to forget. He says he starts slow. Of course, last year he got hurt three innings into his first start of the season, so we'll have to see how he does this year. Anibal Sanchez's spring was also kind of so-so (and it's pretty much impossible to judge anything from the World Baseball Classic, since he got chased by a rain delay and Venezuela made a really early exit). The important thing for him is to not feel pressure from the new contract he's gotten from the Tigers. I've been watching him with the Marlins for years, and I liked what I saw, even before he was traded to Detroit. And as far as Max Scherzer is concerned, let's not forget that as dominant as he was for most of the summer last year, he did get off to a rough start and he had the shoulder fatigue toward the end of the season. I am not necessarily a fan of extending him (which I know is not a popular opinion; I am not as emotionally attached to Scherzer as a lot of people are, but I do understand how it feels to passionately love a player. I will get further into my reasoning at some point in the future, but now is not the right time). I am curious to see if he can sustain that dominance throughout an entire season.

I already discussed the bullpen quite a bit at Walkoff Woodward, so I won't repeat myself here. The one thing I would like to reiterate is that I think the Tigers have more than enough talent to close games even without Bruce Rondon. I know the "closer mentality" concept is hotly debated. Personally, I believe that it does exist, but that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak. It's become a mental thing. Relievers nowadays hear about how those last three outs are toughest outs to get, and how the ninth inning is "different." And when you hear something like that over and over, you start to believe it. Those last three outs become difficult because the pitchers believe they're difficult. That mental aspect is very hard to block out, but as far as talent is concerned, this has the potential to be a very strong bullpen. I would very much like for Brayan Villarreal and Al Alburquerque in particular to both take advantage of this opportunity, be it closing games or getting some setup situations from the domino effect of having someone like Benoit close (As an aside, I know there's a large contingent of people who would like Alburquerque to close; I'm a little hesitant with that unless he can really cut down on the walks). And I'll hazard a guess that Bruce Rondon will be with the Tigers sooner rather than later. It's important to realize that Benoit and Dotel are both free agents after this season. If Rondon, Villarreal, or Alburquerque can nail down the closer role (yeah, I know my personal preferences are fairly obvious, but again, I will address that later), it would be nice for the other two to be able to take over the setup jobs for 2014. That way, the Tigers could still have a strong relief corps without having to use a lot of payroll on relievers and could instead use that money to extend Cabrera or address the upcoming needs in the infield. But I don't want to get into discussing 2014 too much. After all, we're just getting started on 2013. There's many months ahead of us.

And so there you have it. I'm not big on making predictions because I'm awful at that sort of thing. The Tigers get it started in Minnesota and my one prediction is that they're all going to freeze their butts off (Already two of them have remarked on Twitter about the snow and cold). I still don't know why the Twins didn't build a retractable roof stadium. Anyways, it's Justin Verlander against Vance Worley, whom the Twins got from the Phillies in the offseason for Ben Revere. The Twins are the consensus pick for last place in the AL Central, but they've still got a good 3-4-5 in Mauer, Willingham, and Morneau. Plus, weird things happen with the Twins (though not nearly as often as they did when the Metrodome was around). And before we begin, I think we should all take a moment to be thankful that Denard Span is no longer in a Twins uniform.

Happy Opening Day!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

An Introduction to Tigerology

At long last, Tigerology is up and running just in time for the 2013 season! Hopefully it's a sign pointing to that ever-elusive World Series championship.

I'm sure many of you are already familiar with me, but for any newcomers, I'll tell you a little bit about myself. My name's Erin, I'm a pharmacist, and I live in Toledo, Ohio, not far from the Mud Hens (which I have varying degrees of interest in, depending on the roster). I have a Bachelor's degree in Media Technology and Arts from Denison University and I just received my PharmD from the University of Toledo (yes, the same school that you keep hearing about in commercials during Tigers games on the radio). I've called myself a Tigers fan my entire life, but I didn't really get intensely into baseball until very late 2006 (It was always something that I meant to do, but never got around to doing). 2007 was my first full season and I have lived and died with the team ever since. My current favorites are Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera and I have a major soft spot for Brayan Villarreal (It's a long story, but suffice it to say I really hope he can take advantage of this "closer by committee" arrangement). Tiger alums that I'm fond of include Pudge Rodriguez (my all-time favorite), Magglio Ordoñez, and Armando Galarraga. I also consider myself a fan of Ohio State (deal with it), the Steelers, and the Red Wings, but it's exceptionally casual and baseball is really my only sports love. I went to my first Tigers game in 2007 (my 8th grade field trip had been to Tiger Stadium, but the game that day got rained out, so I can say I was at Tiger Stadium, but I never saw a game there). I've finally reached the point where listing off all the games I've been to would be way too cumbersome, but the two most noteworthy games I've attended were the game in Oakland where the Tigers clinched the Central Division title in 2011, and the game at Comerica Park last year where Doug Fister struck out nine batters in a row. On most days, you can find me driving Kurt, Al, and Rob crazy in the Bless You Boys gamethreads.

I've had a Tigers blog in some form or another since 2007, first on my (now defunct) personal blog before giving it its own dedicated site in 2009. For most of that time it was called Tigers Amateur Analysis (at first to reflect the fact that I was learning the game as I went along, and believe me, some of those early entries in 2007 are painful), and I kept the name probably longer than I should have. That blog came to an end in 2011 and I spent last year writing for Walkoff Woodward. I will be writing for them once again this year, along with running this site. As a result, I probably won't cover every single game here like I used to. Besides, there are some nights where I really don't have anything to say about the game (on the flipside, there are some games where I could go on for three pages about one at-bat). I tend not to be very stat-heavy in my posts, mostly by personal preference. I feel like I'm a better writer when I use a more narrative format. I do believe that all stats (both traditional and sabremetric) offer some sort of insight, but no stat can tell the whole story all by itself or is all-encompassing, mostly because it's a team sport and each player's performance is going to be affected by the other players (as well as the weather, the ballpark, and various other factors). I also feel that there are always going to be some elements of performance which can't be quantified (along those lines, I believe that results and performances have a deeper meaning than just "random variation"). I try to be the voice of reason during bad times, or at least a calming voice, though there have been times of heartbreak for me as well (usually involving individual players). But make no mistake, I can be as passionate as every other diehard fan out there. And I am just as eager for that World Series ring.

Bring on 2013!