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2013 Preview: Detroit Tigers


Warm-Up Tosses: Featured in the Sunday print edition of the Los Angeles Times Arts and Books section is a review of Trading Bases.  You can read it here:,0,3027341.story

Bloomberg also reviewed the book here:

Despite the disappointment of having my CBS reschedule my appearance on The CBS Morning Show from last Friday to this coming Friday, I enjoyed my time on the Brian Lehrer Show later that morning.  You can listen to the interview here:

As my wife pointed out after watching The CBS Morning Show on Friday, there was no way CBS was going to allow Caroline Kennedy’s extended segment in which she announced the 2013 winners of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award to be followed by Joe Peta’s Profile in Gambling memoir.  That is a salient point.


*     *     *

Detroit Tigers

What They Did:        88-74, 1st Place AL Central. Lost in World Series, 4-0

     Actual Runs:        Scored 726 runs, Allowed 670.

                                  Expected wins based on RS and RA:  86.9 (1.1 below actual)

          Restated:        Scored 751 runs, Allowed 668.

                                  Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA:  89.6 (1.6 above actual)


(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed.  Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.

Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed.  In the case of the Tigers, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 90 games.)


The fans and front office management of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox, and maybe even if they want to dabble in a bit of delusion, the Kansas City Royals must feel an awful lot like the villain in a James Bond movie.  Last year, they had the Tigers wounded and vulnerable; they had their chance to take out Detroit but they let them get away.  Entering 2013 the Tigers are healed, recovered, and in control of a gadget-filled, sleek offensive machine and a third-straight division title looks far more likely this spring than defending their 2011 crown looked a year ago.

Last year the Tigers were coming off a 95-win season in 2011 and faced several challenges in replicating that performance in 2012.  Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta were coming off of career years and seemed certain to regress, and while defending AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander and defending batting champ Miguel Cabrera sported skill sets that didn’t necessarily demand regression there was very little room for improvement.  Prince Fielder had been added to the lineup but his signing resulted from the loss of Victor Martinez to an off-season injury and who was coming off an extremely productive in 2011.  Throw in the prospect of a horrendous defense and the Tigers looked vulnerable. 

Virtually every one of those projections played out as expected; Verlander and Cabrera, as good as they were in 2012, essentially matched their 2011 performances.  Fielder was even a little better than Martinez was in 2011 but the defense was horrendous and other than Austin Jackson, no one else in the lineup provided the offense with an above-average performance.  As a result, with a week to go in the season, the Tigers were alone in first place for just the fourth day of the season since April.

That shouldn’t happen this year.  The Tigers are adding a recovered Victor Martinez and defensive wizard Torii Hunter to replace more than 1,100 below-replacement level plate appearances from Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch.  Among players with at least 500 plate appearances, according to FanGraphs WAR, Young and Boesch were two of the six worst players in baseball last year.  Add in a full season of starts from Omar Infante and Andy Dirks, and the Tigers will be replacing other value-destroying “contributions” from Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago, and Danny Worth.  Consider this table which demonstrates just how much room for offensive improvement the Tigers have available:

                Plate Appearances by                     

            Batters W/ Negative fWAR               Total Negative fWAR

Astros              1,495                                                   -2.2

Twins                 961                                                   -2.8                 

Tigers              1,893                                                   -5.6

The Tigers won the AL pennant despite having more negative contributions from its everyday players than the worst team in either the National or American League.  Move over Boston, New York, and Texas – for the first time since the 2001 season, one of those three teams won’t lead the league in runs scored; the Detroit Tigers will be MLB’s highest scoring team in 2013.

Even though the Tigers rotation features Justin Verlander (ERA below 3.00, two years running) and Max Scherzer, whose 29.4% strikeout rate was 4% higher than third-best Clayton Kershaw – a bigger spread than Kershaw’s gap over the 26th ranked best strikeout pitcher – there is still room for improvement compared to last year’s performance.  Detroit’s starters had the 8th best ERA in the majors at 3.76, but based on a regression of their underlying skill sets (strikeout, walk, and groundball rates) they had the 2nd lowest expected ERA of 3.58.  The same is true of its bullpen (3.79 actual vs. 3.57 expected.)  To achieve an improvement in run prevention, and therefore to be a threat to win 100 games, the Tigers will need two things two happen: 1) Good health from the starting rotation and 2) An improved defense. 

The Tigers got 28 starts in 2012 from pitchers not in this year’s starting rotation and during those starts gave up 85 runs in 133 1/3 innings (5.74 RA).  If they get 150 starts from this year’s rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello it’s likely their runs allowed will decrease.

As far as defense goes, last year the addition of Prince Fielder to the infield in combination with Miguel Cabrera’s return to full-time third base duties for the first time since 2007, figured to saddle Detroit with one of the worst defenses in baseball.  That’s essentially what happened as the Tigers trailed only Kansas City in my calculations of American League defensive effectiveness.  Compare the Tigers to their nearest competitors in the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox:

                                                             Resulting                                Adjusted

                          Balls hit into Play      Baserunners     DP/CS/Kills    Baserunners

Tigers                          4,096                   1,311                  201               1,110

White Sox                   4,095                   1,216                  235                  980

That table explains why the White Sox had a chance to steal the division last year.  Despite having exactly the same amount of balls hit to their fielders, the Tigers allowed an extra 130 batters to reach base.  The difference in defense cost Detroit at least 60 runs and somewhere close to 6 or 7 wins compared to the White Sox.  The Tigers aren’t going to change that completely – they probably won’t even be an average defensive team – but they can improve based solely on the addition of Torii Hunter.  Here’s why: The Tigers faced a higher percentage of left-handed batters than any other team in baseball and its pitchers allowed the seventh highest rate of fly balls.  Think about what that means for a right fielder.  Across all of baseball, each team’s average right fielder caught 312 fly balls.  Tigers right fielders – blessed with the advantage of above-average fly balls and facing the most left handed hitters in baseball – caught an MLB worst 254 fly balls.  Torii Hunter may be 37 years old, but he’s a 9-time gold glove winner and he will undoubtedly be the primary reason the Tigers defense will be marginally more effective in 2013. 

As the Tigers showed in the AL playoffs last year, if they play just average defense they are a tough team to beat.  With an improved offense in 2013, a better closer, and if the rotation is healthy, I can see the Tigers winning 100 games.  They may have needed to get hot during the last two weeks of the 2012 season to win 88 games and make the playoffs, but this year there’s a better chance they’ll win 100 games than finish at .500 with 81 wins.  Thanks to the division they play in, the Tigers have a better chance of making the playoffs than any other MLB team. 


Oddsmakers’ expectations:  Last year the Tigers had a total wins market of 93 games and I led-off my preview series with them because I felt it was one of the easiest under bets on the board.  This year Detroit has opened at the familiar 93-game level but the outlook is different.  I’ve got the Tigers with the best record in the American League.  It’s not quite enough of a cushion to recommend taking the over but I’d stay far away from the under.  Even though I’ll take Tampa as my AL World Series pick, the Tigers have a better chance of winning 100 games than anyone else in the majors. 


2013 Outlook:

95-67 – First in AL Central

813 Runs Scored       673 Runs Allowed


Mop Up Duty:

Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball*  (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold.  Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:

He is also the author of Trading Bases, the Newsletter, a companion piece to the book.  If you have been forwarded this issue and would like to be placed on the mailing list, please send an e-mail to

All newsletter archives are located at

You can follow me on Twitter here:  @MagicRatSF

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