SCORECARD FOR JUNE

By:  Holly Horning

If you’ve been reading Totally Tigers regularly, you know we are charting a number of categories suggested by fellow readers as well as categories that have concerned us over the years. With the conclusion of Wednesday’s 2-game series, let’s see how June compares with the stats from May that help explain some of the patterns about the Tigers’ performance.

While some of these can be interpreted in more than one way, they generally give an idea of the frequency and patterns. And you know how I feel about patterns.

This is a compilation of issues that shouldn’t be looked at solely by statistical measures. It’s not as simple as black and white or the stats you see lined up neatly in columns online. Some of them are open to interpretation. Some of the stats need to be incorporated into the whole and not seen only on their own.

But what can be said about these stats is that they aren’t covered by the beat writers. They’re not highlighted as concerns or explanations about why the team is performing as it does. But I’ll bet you that the powers that be in the Front Office are keeping track of them.

Wherever possible, rankings within MLB have been included. If you don’t see them, they don’t exist formally. But maybe they should.


RISP

In June, RISP was the best month yet, rising from 20% to almost 30% April was 25%. The average number of runners in scoring position left on base was 9 per game.

In May, they were scoring fewer runs, generally bringing in 3 runners per game. In June, the runs scored were all over the board in contrast. While most of the wins had 2-3 runs per game, there were also a significant number of games that had either 4 or 7 runs apiece.

Six of their 11 losses for the month were games in which they were unable to push a single runner on 2nd and 3rd across the plate.

The overall LOB averages 8 runners per game. In May, most often seen was between 5-8 runners per game. In June, 6-10 runners per game which was an increase.


STRIKEOUTS

The team dropped their strikeout numbers from last month also. From April’s 204 to May’s 238 and now June’s 218. They also improved from 8th worst to 11th worst in MLB. They are striking out just barely over 8 times per game on average which is an improvement, albeit a microscopic one. In 1/3rd of their games in May, they struck out 10 times or more in each game. In June, yet another improvement to only 1/4th of their games with 10 or more strikeouts.


MANAGERIAL MOVES

This is a category that is highly interpretive but the main purpose is to show the habits and possible patterns of the manager. It is filled with the concerns that the majority of fans have expressed since the end of 2014.

Leaves starter in too long – 9 (7 losses, 2 wins)

Another improvement since May’s 12 opportunities for 2 wins, 10 losses.  Based upon starters who give up 4+ runs and create a minimum of a 4-run gap differential in a game considered to significantly decrease the odds of a comeback. Also considered is which inning and a situation where the pitcher gives up a minimum of 3 straight hits. Most importantly, the potential for a winnable game is considered as well and the Tigers’ offensive performance is taken into account.

Leaves reliever in too long – 8 (7 losses, 1 win)

More opportunities with increases in both wins and losses from May’s 6 losses. Based upon relievers who gave up 3+ runs and the criteria listed above for starters.

Bases loaded late in game, with a stronger batter not inserted to pinch hit and no runs scored.

In April, it happened 2 times. In May, just once. And in June, perfection! No wrong moves made.

Giving a hot player the day off.

Based solely upon batting stats, games in which the team struggled to produce more than 2 runs and the replacement player failed to produce. May’s number matched April’s – 3. June’s showed an increase to 5. But do consider that injuries and the typical cooling off period of early season can impact this figure.

“That’s baseball!” and “We’re a better team than that.”

Based solely upon newspaper reports, not radio or tv. After last month’s zero total, it was uttered 3 times, all after each game in the sweep by Cleveland.


BASERUNNING

Stolen bases – 14 ( a gain of 4 from May and 8 from April)

From last month’s ranking of 22nd to June’s improvement to 13th best. Caught stealing only 3 times (half of May’s number) and an improvement in their success rate from 62% to 83%.

Pick offs – 4 ( double the number from both April and May)

Failure (stopped short) to take expected base – 6

One less than both of April’s and May’s totals. Based upon speed of runner, opponent’s arm, location, type of hit and speed of hit ball.

Failed (cut down) attempt to take extra base – 5

One more than May but 4 fewer than April. Does not include attempts to steal a base. Based up the criteria listed immediately above.

Hit into double plays – 24

An increase from the19 seen in both April and May. The team moved to 6th place in most GIDP yet still 3 under the AL average.

The Tigers were better in taking bases. Getting better but still bad. In April, they gained 6 bases but lost 19. In May, they gained 10 but still lost 19. In June, they gained 14 bases but lost 15.

Tagged out at home – 3

Slightly better than May’s total of 4. April had 1.

Bases left loaded at the end of the inning – 14

An increase of 2 from May. April had 12. Is it better to have more runners on-base but unable to score? It’s a good question.


INHERITED RUNNERS

There were 82 opportunities given to the relievers in May. A whopping 25 more than May. Out of those 82, 60 were in situations where no runners were inherited. Out of those 60, 3 were due to HRs having cleared the bases. In May, that figure was 9. The other 57 were due to relievers starting the new inning. The majority of opportunities (73%) involved not having runners on base when the bullpen entered.

One inherited runner was seen 8 times (increase of 1). Two inherited runners, 10 times (decrease of 1). And 3 inherited runners were seen 4 times (decrease of 1). A total of 22 inherited runner opportunities (decrease of 1).

# runners/ # scored = times

1/0 = 7 times (+3)

1/1 = 1 times (-3)

2/0 = 4 times (unchanged)

2/1 = 4 times (+2)

2/2 = 2 times (-3)

3/0 = 2 times (+1)

3/1 = 1 time (-1)

3/2 = 1 time (unchanged)

3/3 = 0 times (0-1)


MISCELLANEOUS

Fielder collisions – unchanged from May with 2 (1 less than April)

Shuts Outs – 2 (same as April and May)

Games with 2 or Fewer Runs – 4 (2 less than May and 1 less than April)

Injuries: 8.5 (same as May)

Greene, VerHagen, Saupold, Maybin (2x), VMart, JD, Moya, Horning

May Holdovers – 2.5

Due to opponent – 0

Due to unresolved physical issue – 3

Unnecessary risk – 1

Stuff happens – 4.5


OVERALL RECORD

Shut out from scoring – 2 games (same as April and May)

Games with 2 or fewer runs scored – 4 (2 less than May and 1 less than April)

Individual games record:

Wins – 16 (5 better than May)

Losses – 11 (6 fewer than May)

Series:

Wins – 5 (2 more than May)

Win Sweeps – 3 (2 more than May with 1 being a 2-game set)

Losses – 3 (3 fewer than May)

Loss Sweeps – 1 (1 less than May)

Ties – 0 (same as May)

A much better report than the one for May! Next month, July’s totals will be added to the mix for comparison. It will continue to give us a clearer picture of the issues, improvements and lingering concerns about what is helping or hurting the team.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

This was the year the Tigers were coming to the party; a year when they would join the majority of the major leagues in using analytics to make baseball decisions.

Kurt and Holly will answer a question from Matt C. pertaining to the overall commitment that the team has made strategically.


The Tigers have finally joined most of MLB by introducing an analytics department headed by Jay Sartori and Sam Menzin. But given the stat showing the Tigers are not taking advantage of shifting situations, and the signing of Mike Pelfrey that did not use analytics, why does it appear there is a conflict between old and new strategies?


KURT

Ironically, I will fight my way through this question, which may be just how the Tigers are transitioning to a new way of operating both in the areas of “in game” strategy and of course player development and acquisitions.

In the dugout, it’s been evident that Brad Ausmus has often studied data that we can only assume has been provided by their analytics department. But are there certain times during the game that they access the data and times that they don’t? Unfortunately we are a slave to television coverage which has managed to catch Brad analyzing data, but it is certainly not something we have seen every game.

Shifting from a team that doesn’t use analytics at all to a team that does would seem to be a more gradual transition, versus an approach where a team jumps in with both feet.

And I think this was evident in the Tigers decision to sign Mike Pelfrey. You don’t have to do a lot of research on analytics and sabermetrics to determine that this was a decision where statistical information was thrown out the window versus an approach based on hunches and intangibles.

The Pelfrey move alone demonstrated a slow transition as the Tigers made their move towards incorporating analytics into their day-to-day and game to game operation. Many would argue that the Tigers playing a hunch cost them the opportunity to undue a historically poor decision to trade Doug Fister. I wonder if they used analytics or a hunch to determine that Doug Fister would not have been a better (and cheaper I might add) acquisition.

I didn’t want to have to do this but if you haven’t been keeping tabs on Mr. Fister; here is what we are missing: 8-4 / 3.36 ERA. Fister, because of an injury filled 2015 season, had  to settle for a smaller bag of money in 2016, but he is far from done in this league.  This indeed is Chapter 2 of a book we thought the Tigers had mercifully closed. But it just doesn’t stop does it? Not for a while as this topic deserves even more coverage in this forum (wink, wink).

So as we struggle through the peaks and valleys of this baseball season, there is evidence of the Tigers trying desperately to gain their sea legs. Analytics is clearly not yet entrenched as the standard operating procedure within the organization. There are too many inconsistencies; evidence of use and yet areas where they have thrown out the data and gone with their gut.

Successful baseball people do have good instincts based on their knowledge of the game and their ability to evaluate talent. Analytics just needs to support your decision when you are ready to pull the trigger, assuming you have reached a point where you are comfortable with the new strategy.


HOLLY

It’s a good question and may have to do with a transitional period associated with bringing in an official analytics department this year. It’s hard knowing what is going on when you’re dealing with people who are behind the scenes and haven’t gone on record yet with a single interview.

There was big fanfare when Jay Santori was hired away from Apple to head up analytics with Sam as his lead guy. But we’ve heard nothing since and can only go on Santori’s earlier background working with the Nats, Jays and with MLB on the CBA.

What we do know is that the Tigers were one of the very last teams to adopt analytics. Dombrowski was staunchly against them and when Brad was hired, he was able to bring onboard one part-time guy to help. Avila was the first to officially state they would have a full-fledged department.

At first glance, it doesn’t appear the Tigers are openly using analytics. I haven’t seen the tablets recently in the dugout when I used to see them all the time. Their presence would indicate they are looking at stats and I do see other teams with many of their managers and coaches constantly using them. For all we know, they could be cherry-picking a handful of stats instead of going all in.

Which brings me to the point that just because the Front Office adopts analytics, doesn’t mean the team will use them. There’s the infamous story from last year where Angels’ GM, Jerry Dipoto, wanted analytics to be used and manager Mike Scioscia refused to have anything to do with them, resulting in Dipoto resigning.

Ausmus is on record saying he likes analytics but doesn’t love them while also emphasizing his belief in the human element. And a number of his coaches and multiple players like Anthony Gose have been quoted blasting them which could also make them a hard sell. Age and the resulting difference in thought could also be a factor given that Santori is 36 and cutting edge while Ausmus is in his late 40’s and his coaches range in age from 49 – 70.

So what we’ve seen so far is possibly a very tepid and cautious approach to them. The official emphasis on Pelfrey being signed as solely a scouting decision was a unique statement combined with ignoring shift strategies and allowing pitchers to face hitters for the third time despite stats that strongly support significant disadvantages to the team are the more obvious examples of analytics being ignored.

But Santori’s claim to fame is software development and this potentially is where he is going with the team. It’s also been hinted at in the national press that this analytics department may be focusing on amateur baseball to assist the Tigers in finding better and stronger prospects.

JULY MAKE OR BREAK FOR THE TIGERS

By:  Kurt Snyder

Sparky Anderson always said that a team can’t think about future contention until reaching the .500 mark. That is your only goal going forward until you reach it and eclipse it.

But in 2016, the Tigers must be confusing the heck out of themselves when they consider their goals. They have been dancing around break even, never venturing far below or far above. They are the perfect example of an average baseball team.

It’s not the kind of baseball you can play for long and still hang in a race. You can’t count on constant company from the rest of the division.

Things were manageable when the Central remained bunched in mediocrity, but there was always that potential threat that one team would get hot and begin to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. Well, it’s happened. The Indians have ripped off 11 games in a row.

In doing so, the Tigers find themselves 7 games back of Cleveland by playing .500 ball, spinning their wheels and still waiting to beat the Indians even once. It’s a horrible combination.

But remember the line of thinking, no other goals can be considered until you eclipse .500, and the Tigers haven’t reached the break-even point in the most important area – their own division. The Tigers have broken even through 16 games against the East, have broken even through 20 games against the West and are 8-4 against the National League.

If you do the math, the proof is in the pudding. Struggle in your division and you are in trouble. Especially when you haven’t won a single game against the team leading.

The Tigers are not mathematically out of the division race. That’s not something you even calculate in June. But the math thus far does not support a division title for the Tigers. They don’t act like contenders and the numbers support that perception.

But what else contributes? What are the signs that maybe you’re just not equipped to contend? Well, teams that win championships dominate at home and at least break even on the road.

Both Cleveland and Kansas City have played well at home.  But the biggest difference between those 2 teams comes down to road records. Cleveland has been solid away from Progressive Field at 22-18, but KC has been awful when they hit the road, sitting painfully at 12 games below .500. Thankfully for them, their 27-10 home record has kept them within sniffing distance (5 GB) of the Indians.

So what about the Tigers? Well, Detroit has been OK at home (22-16), but certainly not dominant. And on the road they currently sit at 5 games below .500. None of this supports a division title. When you break even, you usually win nothing.

This is not the kind of post you would normally expect from me. I am supposed to be pounding my fist on the table and demonstrating a more fire and brimstone type of approach to the struggles of the home team.

But until the numbers start to support a winning atmosphere associated with a contender, then we don’t have a contender. And the excitement? Well, let’s just say it’s tempered.

Ironically, the Tigers have impressed with big offensive numbers. Lots of homers and exciting wins that mostly are supported by the long ball. But on the other side of the ledger, when they lose, they are getting pounded. The 4 homer inning against JV over the weekend was incomprehensible.

So, a lot has to change for this team to generate any excitement or anticipation. Their schedule coming up in July doesn’t really lend itself to future success.  The Tigers have 9 home games in July. So they had better get moving and fight the trends.

This is by far the most pivotal month of the season to this point. July will tell a lot about where this team is headed and there probably will not be much debate about what their position should be at the trade deadline, when all is said and done. They will have completed a long, road dominated month. July’s numbers will determine a lot.

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

It’s Tuesday, so two topics will be tackled by our writers. But it’s a different twist than you’re used to reading. We decided everyone needs a break from the current, less than pleasing, state of the team.

So, to take advantage of Monday’s day off, our writers took the time to dig into their own archives to share a little more about them. This will be a Tuesday edition like no other. This should be a fun one and we could use a little fun right now. Did our writers share?  Oh, you bet!

Here are this week’s Tuesday questions.


What 5 baseball-related “secrets” do you hold?

HOLLY

1. Bill Freehan’s daughters used to baby-sit me. You’ll never meet a nicer family or a baseball player who always had time for fans who approached him, no matter where he was. Hands down, my favorite all-time Tigers catcher for so many reasons.

2. Pete Rose was my pen pal while he was with the Big Red Machine. My mother worked for a Cincinnati-based company with ties to the Reds and they heard I was a big fan and loved Rose. They told him, he wrote me and we stayed in touch for several years.

3. When Ernie Harwell came to Washington to speak at the Smithsonian, I had the great honor to have some one-on-one time talking with him. To say he was the world’s nicest man is an understatement. What a huge treasure he was!

4. My first baseball-related “blog” was actually published in 1975 when the Tigers had the audacity to trade Mickey Lolich to the Mets. Even in my early teens, I had to let the world know how upset I was via a letter to the editor in the Detroit Free Press. And I’m still upset.

5. The job I’d most like to have in baseball is to help the Tigers strengthen their branding. The second job? To be the Phillie Phanatic mascot. And yes, I’m really serious. Philly is only 1.5 hours away btw….

6. OK, so Kurt will shoot me. But I have to include this extra one for my husband’s sake. In something straight out of Barry Levinson’s movie, Diner, I made my husband, then fiancé, memorize the entire starting lineup of the Tigers.


KURT

1. On a hot Saturday morning, with a trusted 100% chance of rain forecasted, my dad, during his days as Tiger Stadium Manager, took me and my brother down to the stadium to help pull the tarp off the infield. With the team out of town and a weekend of rain expected, only a skeleton crew was available. The infield grass did suffer some damage but nothing like it could have suffered if covered under that heat for an entire day.

2. Certainly one of the more unique fun facts was my mom’s finest hour at Tiger Stadium, besides, of course, meeting her future husband at the old ballpark. I believe it was on Lutheran Night, which the Tigers still celebrate today, when my mother got the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at Tiger Stadium. How did she get that opportunity?  Well, she knew a guy.

3. Dr. Clarence Livingood was the Tigers’ long time team physician decades ago. And his son, Bill, once served as the House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms. You may know him better as the gentleman who comes out prior to the State of the Union Address and announces, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!”

4. In my much younger days at Tiger Stadium, it was common for my mother and me to head up to the Mural Room which was located upstairs near the front offices off Trumbull Avenue. We would go there to wait for my dad to finish up closing up the park after another night game. I won’t forget the time when I played bartender while Jim Campbell and Ralph Houk sat across from me talking and smoking cigars.

5. My father left behind his 2 precious World Series rings. In a quiet raffle with my 3 brothers on the porch of an old cottage we rented in Petoskey 2 years ago, I was lucky enough to call the ’68 ring my own.  To my great surprise, I slipped it onto my finger and it fit perfectly, as if it was made for me. Talk about feeling closer to your dad at a very special time.

6. Hey, if Holly gets 6, I get 6. Richie Hebner once grabbed my dad’s butt in the dugout during a rain delay and told him he was a quart low. There ya go Holly, we’re even!


What 5 beliefs about baseball or the Tigers may be surprising for readers to know?

HOLLY

1. My opinions about players and Front Office personnel evolve and change. You don’t really know someone until you’ve seen their track record over time. Case in point, Dave Dombrowski, who I thought was terrific until the past couple years when I started to see the mess he was leaving behind.

2. I live in a world between old and new baseball statistics. Old stats don’t tell the whole story and many of the highly-advanced stats are so removed from reality and the eyeball test. If I use stats, I have a “rule of 3” which means I need 3 sets of stats to give a clear picture – and won’t suck the joy out of understanding the game.

3. Teams that focus on adding big stars and mega-wattage to their roster are at an advantage when it comes to the Hall of Fame but not when it comes to the playoffs. Teams with solid athletes at every position have fewer weaknesses and thus the playing advantage. But it’s much harder for individuals from those teams to gain entry into Cooperstown. Sound familiar?

4. Managers with either noticeable energy, or are original thinkers or inspiring messengers are the keys to winning in October. Just look at the managers who were at the helm when the Tigers were successful: Hughie Jennings (energy), Mickey Cochrane (leadership), Steve O’Neill (inspiring), Mayo Smith (original thinking), Billy Martin (energy and a couple other things not printable here) and Sparky Anderson (inspiring).

5. Fans shouldn’t be able to vote for any elections or awards. And the media should be restricted for many of the elections unless they can prove they are current with today’s game and can use due diligence in their research before voting. I’d rather see baseball executives, Front Offices, managers, coaches and players do the voting for all current-day awards because they are undoubtedly the most knowledgeable.


KURT

1. I don’t agree with any of the new rules put in place the last couple of seasons in the interest of protecting players from injury. I feel they detract from the makeup of what truly made the game great. Making a rule to protect catchers from collisions at the plate hurt the game; a rule to protect the second baseman and shortstop hurt the game; both stripping the game of physicality and excitement.

2. The days of dads teaching their kids how to keep score during the game or showing them how the professionals play, teaching them the rules; those days seem to be gone. I firmly believe baseball games are used for parents to entertain their children. They are no longer teaching tools for young athletes.

3. I long for the days when ballparks celebrated their team, not their city. I didn’t love Tiger Stadium just because my dad ran the place for so long, even though that certainly had an influence. I loved the Old Girl because when you walked in, it was like walking into baseball. It was a private paradise, paying homage only to the game. No buildings in the background to gaze at or distract. The game was enough.

4. Baseball now competes with cell phones.  It competes with ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds. Baseball has become about attendance, not interest. Franchises provide attractions for people with no intention of watching the players on the field; which disgusts me to no end.

5. Because of the monster baseball has created, catering to the non-fan, it’s only appropriate that fans lose their right to have any role in determining who plays in the All- Star Game. The last 2 seasons suggest the only fans who care about who starts the game are the cities that were and are starving for championships. The rest of them, stripping them of the right to fill out a ballot, would be greeted with a great big yawn.

THE MYSTERY CALLED MIGGY

By:  Holly Horning

Let’s face it – there are a lot of things going on with the Tigers this year that we simply don’t understand. Many readers in the social media threads are calling the Tigers a “Jekyll and Hyde” team. I tend to refer to them as Forrest Gump would. The Tigers remind me “of a box of chocolates because you never know what you’re gonna get.”

And no one is a better poster child for this team than Miguel Cabrera. He has been consistently inconsistent in 2016 which is troubling considering that almost everyone still believes he’s the best hitter in baseball.

Miggy’s stats still look decent for a top hitter – a .296 BA and .897 OPS. But if you divide up his stats by series, week or month, they represent a roller coaster of performance. During the last homestand (through Saturday), he’s hitting .174 with only 4 hits and a 25% strikeout rate. Out of 7 games, he went hitless in 3 of them. Two games saw 1 hit in each while only in 1 game did he have 2 hits.

And if we look at the bigger picture, Miggy’s BA and OPS have been in decline this year. More troubling is the jump in strikeouts. They are way up and if he continues this current pace, he’ll set his own career record. In June, his strikeouts were almost equal to the number of hits he got.

But to add to this mystery, Cabrera’s HR rate is up.

So what’s going on? Is there cause for concern or are we, as fans, simply spoiled by expecting him to be great all the time?

I think we can rule out injury as we have yet to see Miggy appear to be bothered in his running and movement. His track record at first base shows excellence and agility with a perfect fielding percentage.

Where we do see the problems is at the plate. More often than not, Miggy appears distracted during his at-bats. He simply doesn’t appear to be present at the plate and the end result is swinging at bad pitches, swinging late and sometimes half-heartedly.

What could be causing this?

The easy answer is vision changes. Last year, Miggy experimented with a number of different outdoor glasses that enhanced clarity depending upon the weather conditions. We haven’t seen him wear them this year.

And while a vision check would appear to be an easy solution, there have been stories about ballplayers who are loath to get them.

However, if it is a vision issue, it still doesn’t explain the increasing signs of disinterest or the lack of focus.

Maybe Miggy is bored. Or maybe he no longer has the support system around him that keeps him focused on the game. Jim Leyland is gone. So is Torii. And VMart has his hands full trying to keep this team playing as a unit. And Anibal Sanchez, Miggy’s best friend on the team, has his own worries which are keeping him busy.

Add to this, Miggy’s increasing schmoozing with opponents, fans and anyone else who is within range. Now, to give him some credit, this interaction is part of the cultural protocol in Venezuelan baseball, but Miggy has taken it to extremes. And with last week’s embarrassing blowing of kisses from the third base line to his teammate trying to score, he’s crossed a line.

Miggy is the extreme example of a team that, more often than not, loses its focus on a regular basis. Too many games where it appears the team has mailed it in. And that falls on the players, coaches, manager and GM – a lack of leadership and systems that other teams have to maintain discipline and focus.

Maybe the Tigers don’t have a system because they don’t recognize the intangibles. Maybe they think the only factors that matter are the ones that appear on stat sheets.

As we’ve seen throughout baseball history, there were many players, like Babe Ruth, with great talent but in need of a structure to keep them focused. It’s been said that one reason why Ted Williams was one of baseball’s greatest hitters was due to his disciplined nature and extreme ability to focus.

Just because a player has an immense amount of talent doesn’t mean he knows how to harness it effectively or perform to his maximum ability.

Are Miggy’s issues this year due solely to his need for a structured system? Or, is he just the most vulnerable and visible example of a team that is lacking in vision and leadership and allowing the players to figure out their own direction?

20 JUNE THOUGHTS

By:  Kurt Snyder

As June heads into the final week of baseball, we have reduced the list of Tiger problems to one. It’s become clear. The Cleveland Indians.

My 20 Thoughts for June begin and end with the Indians.


1. As the Central Division has struggled with mediocrity, one team has finally separated itself from the others; and it’s not the Tigers. It’s the Indians. The problem is, it’s the one team in the Central Division the Tigers have failed to beat. And that’s no way to stay in the race.

2. Were you happy with Anibal Sanchez’s first start in his return to the starting rotation? I only needed to see the first inning to confirm the answer. As suspected, he’s back too soon.

3. When I attend games, there are 2 players I look forward to watching. Miggy, of course, is one. And Iggy is the other. So to my disappointment on Friday night, who’s playing shortstop? Andrew Romine. The Tigers should have called.

4. In the interest of reducing the innings for Michael Fulmer, the Tigers have decided to move to a 6-man rotation. Everyone ok with that?

5. The injury to JD Martinez turns out to have hurt the Tigers more defensively than offensively. Don’t be mistaken, the Tigers miss his bat. But Stephen Moya hasn’t dazzled in right field.

6. OK, I am ready to join in now. Nick Castellanos, who has had a breakout season with the bat, is also having a breakout season with the glove. He’s made plays at third this season I have never seen him make and he’s shown a stronger arm I didn’t think existed.

7. What in the heck has happened to Mark Lowe? When the season kicked off, he was one reason I felt good about the pen. I didn’t think he would be the #1 reason why I don’t.

8. The Tigers most important starter? Anibal Sanchez. It’s real simple where we are headed if he doesn’t start to produce; (a continued carryover). Status on that? It’s not good.

9. A word about Stephen Moya’s offensive ability. There is a lot to love here. The guy has unmistakable power for sure and is now showing he has a future in this league. But when the team gets healthy, who knows what happens with him. Because once again, he will be a man without a place at the table.

10. Jordan Zimmermann has gone from a pitcher we thought might be our ace to someone so inconsistent, we are not sure what we are going to get from one start to the next. He’s been unhittable one start followed by getting smacked around the next. Pretty puzzling.

11. Speaking of aces? It’s Justin Verlander. My, oh my, JV has been good. Whoever gave up on him should be ashamed of themselves.

12. The Indians have shown us that they have the best pitching in the division. It’s been painfully clear this weekend as the Tigers still try to figure out how to beat them. Well, we can start by actually pitching well ourselves.

13. Count me out as someone who is concerned about Miguel Cabrera and how much time he spends goofing around on the field.

14. Exchanging Fielder for Kinsler was one of the best trades in Tiger history. (A continued hold-over because it becomes more true every day)

15. Shane Greene has found his niche on this team, and none too soon as Mark Lowe has fallen off the face of the earth. My jaw dropped Saturday when I realized that his ERA is over 10.

16. Jim Price continually pounds the drum about the art of pitching. It’s one of his favorite topics. But the art of pitching will always include not throwing the ball over the plate. Yeah that’s right, sometimes strikes are mistake pitches, and Mark Lowe is suffering from that more than anything else.

17. How good must it have felt for Rajai Davis to finish off the Tigers Friday night with that incredible play in centerfield? That game was getting away from the Indians real fast, but in bizarre fashion, Davis stole the show.

18. A reader pointed out this weekend a desire to keep Moya around when JD comes back; mainly for the purpose of spelling the corner outfielders and Victor at DH. It’s something to think about. But would this scenario still give him the at-bats he needs?

19. Chet Lemon was honored during June. It was good to see Chester again. It definitely brought back a lot of good memories of Lemon roaming centerfield. But I haven’t forgotten. Still waiting for the ultimate honor for Tram and Lou. When are we hanging those numbers? What exactly are the Tigers waiting on?

20. One final (repeat) thought. And the most important. The Tigers need to start beating the Indians starting Sunday. Because the formula has become real simple. They are falling out of the race real fast because of their inability to beat the division leader…even once.

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. With 74 (38-36) games behind us, readers have the opportunity to read and think about a number of different topics.

Kurt and Holly don’t share and it’s only for the readers’ benefit. It almost always translates into a wide array of thoughts. Suspect nothing different today.


KURT

CONCERN

Stephen Moya has gotten the opportunity to do 2 things. He has the chance to show the Tigers how much of a threat he is at the plate. And he has the taken the opportunity to show how much of a liability he can be defensively; inconsistent is a word I guess you could use, as he has made some good plays too, but the poor plays have come at the worst times.

CONCERN

When a guy like Noah Syndergaard comes out and claims that his workload is the cause of his tender elbow, it gives you great pause. It will be real interesting to watch how the Tigers handle Michael Fulmer, as fatigue was obviously in play this week in one of his weakest performances of the season. He’s emerged as a mainstay in the rotation, but in order to remain that way, the Tigers must be really careful with him.

COMMENT

Brad impressed this week with how he managed Fulmer’s struggles. He was ready with the quick hook in the 5th inning, acknowledging his pitcher was fighting his command right away in the first inning. He mentioned after the game that they were on “high alert” from the first inning on, when things were obviously not right with him; and Ryan made the decision to pull Fulmer look even better by coming in and slamming the door with the bases loaded.


HOLLY

QUESTION

How inconsistent will this outfield be now that JD is on the DL? While Moya has shown improvement and made some great catches, he’s still learning. Romine and Aviles are getting more playing time and Upton has proven to be very inconsistent with a week showing a great catch, another in which Maybin had to guide him and multiple examples where he pulled up short, allowing the ball to drop in.

COMMENT

I’m always hoping that a good series is an indicator of more consistent play and not of “consistent inconsistencies.” This week was a good one with the Tigers able to win in multiple ways; pulling out victories in the late innings and having different players every day contribute to the win. Seeing some growth in Brad as the manager who made some decisions outside the box, improved in his strategies and overall managed very well this week.

CONCERN

Despite having his first injury/surgical-free year in a couple of years, VMart’s knees have noticeably declined. Instances where they have buckled after an at-bat, difficulty leaving the plate to run, and pain that requires treatment and a day off after simple baserunning. I hope the Tigers have a plan they can implement taking this into account because it unfortunately appears to not be a matter of “if” Victor goes on the DL, it’s probably more about “when” it occurs.

IMAGES, INTERVIEWS AND OBSERVATIONS

By:  Holly Horning

Living outside of the Detroit area, I receive a wider variety of perspectives about the team from the national media. I do confess that I have every techie tool and resource known to (wo)man. Who else can say they can pull up the game via 4+ different broadcasts? Satellite, streaming, online, smart…let me count the ways I can conjure up a game or interview. It’s a baseball junkie’s dream.

So why do I bring this up? It’s because the message from the local Detroit media is very different from the national perspective. The analysts and hosts of the latter group don’t have (sic) hands to kiss, jobs to protect or locker room access being held over their heads.

And to be fair to all, a number of them are in a much more competitive and larger arena where scoops, controversy and out-of-the-mainstream comments earn them higher profiles and more air time. But it’s worthwhile to hear the different perspectives and the rationales for why they believe what they do which contributes to a healthy balance of where our team actually sits.

So in today’s installment, I want to cover some of the more notable stories about the Tigers that I’ve been hearing over the past week. And I also want to include some things I’ve noticed from the games. And in my biz, you learn to look and listen to the A, B, C’s – Appearance, Behavior and Communication – in order to get the big picture.

So let’s get crackin’, shall we?

APPEARANCE

Too Much of a Good Thing – Didn’t we love how many of the players were showing more sock, old-school style as a sign of team unity? But whomever decided to take it to the next level on the last road trip needs to be charged with a fashion felony. Those black socks with the red stripes looked just ghastly with the grey/navy and orange road uniforms.

BEHAVIOR

Miggy Needs Managing – Some find his schmoozing with runners at first base or in the stands endearing. Some don’t. But Miggy took it to a whole new level when one of his teammates came running home to score and Miggy stood near the baseline blowing him kisses. It was a theatrical performance. It was also embarrassing and a distraction – and someone needs to stop it.

Moya is a “Monster” – Analysts can’t stop raving about his improvements and pure, raw power, especially his “non-barrel” power. MLB Radio on Thursday morning was universal in their belief he will become a significant player. They called him a “monster” – in a good way, of course.

Invaders from the South – Out of all the teams in the Central, it is the Indians we should fear most. They appear to have the parts, including the manager MLB players named as one of the top 3 managers in baseball, Terry Francona. One of the winningest managers in the past decade and only 1 of 2 undefeated in World Series appearances.

COMMUNICATION

PMS – (Pitcher Management Substandard) Two former GMs on the radio were dissecting Ausmus’ management of his starters and especially of the bullpen. They pointed to inconsistent performances, underperformance and burnout as some of the characteristics of mismanaging. One said that if the ship doesn’t right, they would expect the Tigers to approach Bud Black, who has an excellent reputation handling pitchers, to take over management of the team.

The Votes Are In – Brian Kenny, never a fan of Detroit, hosted a panel of 5 different experts/analysts on dissecting teams considered to be underperforming. In the analysis of the Tigers, each one gave his argument for why performance is why it is. And each specialist, while giving valid points for what was happening, also pointed out that it ultimately goes back to the manager for not tweaking strategies or coaxing the best performances out of his players.

Social Media Buzz – Most big organizations have a couple people or department to monitor what is being said about their organization throughout social media. But did you know the players keep tabs as well? Several former players said all the players won’t admit it, but they do read the papers to see what is being said about them. And if they don’t, they have people who do. This may explain why Brad and the entire team have not uttered “That’s baseball!” at all this year.

Media Mess – The experiment with Mario and Gibby in the booth has to end this year. God knows they try to make it work, but the two have zero chemistry with each other. Kirk may offer a great analytical breakdown, but he cannot banter to save his soul. A torturous night of learning about the lunar cycle (once again) and the different types of clouds (once again), that ended in awkward and snarky repartee with Mario (once again).  No topic is too trivial for them as they desperately try to fill the airwaves. Expect FSD and the Tigers to either add a third man to the broadcast who will take over the bantering job while Kirk focuses solely on analyzing or for this year’s tv/radio mashup to get more test-drives. Especially since viewership is down and the Tigers have this big tv contract renewal looming.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

The Tigers have not lacked for home runs this season. A lot of their offensive production is fueled by power.

Normally a positive, our writers will analyze whether a home run driven offense is a good thing or not. No answers were shared. No dialogue was had beforehand, which makes for good, frank conversation starters. So, read on.


Do you find the Tigers reliance on the home run ball troubling?

HOLLY

The Tigers have evolved, marginally, throughout Dave Dombrowski’s 14-year tenure. From introducing established, and older players to big, powerful bats. Then came the power pitching. And when that formula didn’t work after years of failed World Series performances, the organization focused on strengthening defense.

So here we are in 2016, with a new GM. It may be the Avila era, but make no mistake; Dombrowski’s fingerprints are still all over this organization. Only 4 of the non-pitchers on the current 25-man roster weren’t selected by him.

Only teams that are in full rebuild mode will attempt to change their overall strategy significantly and even then, it takes at least a couple of years to do that. We can’t expect the Tigers to make any major inroads to change in Avila’s first year.

But the fly in the ointment is that starting pitching has regressed this year. Once part of the strategy for winning, it now impacts the team in a less positive way. While the Tigers may want to get away from being dependent upon the HR, they are now forced to rely upon it more, at least until pitching becomes more shut-down. It is a quick fix and a system that is already established and familiar.

And it is disconcerting to depend upon this “all-or-nothing” approach. The best teams have multiple ways of winning and if all you have is the ability to hit balls over the fence, it’s going to result in “all or nothing” run production, too. Notice how the Royals, during a recent pitchers’ duel, resorted to “small ball” means in the late innings in order to create runs. They have a bigger tool box with more options – and the Tigers don’t.

I’d love to be part of the Marketing Department because information points to the strategy of the home run ball being an essential part of creating and maintaining a strong overall business plan. To draw significant attendance, you need to appeal to the masses who are partial to big, splashy shows of power and performance.

Until the Tigers change their business plan, put a dent into the half billion dollars of future payroll which depends heavily upon attendance figures and add more players like Cameron Maybin, reliance upon the home run will continue.


KURT

Since the days of Juan Gonzalez, the Tigers have done little to tailor their team to their home park. Speed, defense and athleticism have always been in short supply despite a ballpark that screams for those types of players.

But Mike Ilitch has always gravitated towards excitement and star power. And what’s more exciting than the home run? Well, winning is, and the power game has served the Tigers well over the years, bagging them division titles and deep runs into the playoffs. Power hitters and power pitchers; they have been the DNA of a typical Detroit Tiger.

However, one constant over the years has been a reoccurring inability to manufacture runs when the home run ball isn’t there. If we were talking golf, ‘drive for show and putt for dough’ certainly applies.

But I won’t discount the great value of a team’s ability to hit a home run at any time either. One big blow can get a team back in a game quickly or blows open a close one. And you have to admit, this is a pretty intimidating line up.

Kinsler, Miggy, VMart, JD, Castellanos and now Upton have been lighting it up. It’s a rough night for a pitcher when these guys team up for a power display. The frustrating part though, is when it all gets shut down and the team can’t string together hits, move guys over or they continually leave the bases loaded.

Even with all the power, how many of those guys have speed on the basepaths? Most don’t. I heard a national broadcast where the term “lumbering” was used to describe the Tigers’ offense. But boy can they hit the ball out of the park. And all is right with the world when they are doing it every night, but when they aren’t, finding other ways to score becomes the challenge.

Sure there have been exceptions (even this week) and certainly more of it with the emergence of Cameron Maybin, but the home run is the Tiger way. Personally, I have come to prefer the wins where, as Gibby puts it, they “keep the line moving,” because if you’re in the playoffs, the teams that are able to “move the line” wear the rings.

PELFREY SHOULD EXIT ROTATION SOON

By:  Kurt Snyder

The announcement by the Tigers on Tuesday that Anibal Sanchez would be rejoining the rotation brought mixed feelings. Anibal has been solid in the pen. He’s responded and has seized the opportunity to, for all intents and purposes, start over.

Anibal needed to hit the restart button, because he was heading down a dead-end road; a road where pitchers go to die. At the end of that road, there is no confidence. There is no hope. There is little reward. Only disappointment and a sense that you can’t ever get back what you once had, what you once made look so easy.

So the bullpen was certainly the required medicine for someone who needed to regain some confidence, to convince Anibal that with a little bit of work, he could regain the form the team needs. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again. It’s imperative that he be part of the mix. The rotation doesn’t go on without him and still compete for the division.

The Tigers have tried. But a rotation devoid of an effective Anibal Sanchez is a very thin and fragile predicament. They’ve tried Matt Boyd, but it’s just not his time. They tried Shane Greene, but his value appears to be better suited for the pen, especially given his blister issues.

And of course, they have more than tried Mike Pelfrey. In fact the Tigers have, in essence, shoved Pelfrey down our throats; first by signing him to a 2-year contract and preaching to us the good news of Tommy John surgeries past.

We heard all of it. Pelfrey is on the rise, they preached; the further from that surgery the better. He’s ready to have success. We got him at the right time. We’ve heard it all, but we’ve seen very little. Even the most optimistic of fans are beginning to find it hard to defend him and defend his right to a continued spot in the rotation.

Even Pelfrey realizes he has been bad of late and has owned up to it, describing himself as “terrible.” And who are we to argue? He has been. And as we look at this rotation and determine where we need help; the holes are obvious and glaring.

Boyd has exited and Daniel Norris will finally find himself in a role he had earned in spring training. But I’m a bit uneasy about the timing of Sanchez’s return. I think it’s more about how bad Pelfrey has been than how good Sanchez has pitched in the pen. I think Anibal could use some more time; some more fine tuning. But the Tigers can no longer afford to wait.

It’s Pelfrey’s turn for a stint in the bullpen. And “stint” doesn’t even sound like the right word. It implies a short stay. But what’s the ultimate goal here?

Well, Brad wanted to dance around the rotation questions Tuesday night. He didn’t want to get into all the reasons behind Norris returning. He didn’t want to get into all the reasons Sanchez will start on Saturday.

The goal for Sanchez was to move to the pen, get himself right and get back in the rotation where he belongs. But the goal for Pelfrey? Well if he leaves the rotation, I don’t believe it will be for the same reasons. A return to the rotation may not be in the cards.  Spot starts are as far as we should go with him.   Guys like Norris and Sanchez will have to falter again to ever consider more starts for Pelfrey past Tuesday.

This is a 5-man starting rotation. And right now, I count 6 guys. So something has to give.

Pelfrey may be one and done after Tuesday, but you can never have too much pitching and Mike will be an important cog for Detroit when they need to start watching Fulmer’s innings. If the Tigers want to make a strong push for the playoffs, a strong Fulmer will have a lot to say about it. And yes, Mike Pelfrey will too. It’s what the word “team” is all about.