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The Lessons of History: Will MoTown Ever Learn PDF Print E-mail
Masters of the NFBC
Written by Greg Morgan   
Tuesday, 21 February 2012 01:11

History teaches us that history teaches us nothing. With the signing of Prince Fielder in the Motor City, Mike Illitch, Dave Dombrowski, and Jim Leyland illustrated just how true this is. It was just four short years ago that those brandishing the English D rejoiced at the signing of Miguel Cabrera. With Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, and Placido Polanco forming an already formidable lineup, the front office stopped just short of printing World Series tickets in January. The media boldly predicted the Tigers would score over a thousand runs. In the eyes of many, playing out the regular season was just a formality, as the Tigers were destined to a division title if they could stay healthy.  Destiny had other ideas as Detroit lost the first seven games of the season en route to a last place finish in the division and the third worst record in the entire American League.

Scoring runs was not a problem before or after the addition of Miggy. In 2007 the Tigers ranked third in runs scored. The oracle of 1,000 runs prophesied for 2008 never materialized, instead they tallied 821, considerably fewer, but still good enough to rank fifth. The rest of the story lies on the other side of the ledger. The Motor City Kitties gave up 797 runs in 2007, but saw that total balloon to 857 in 2008. The signing of the mighty Marlin slugger set off a chain of events that would decimate the roto value of the entire Tiger rotation.

In 2007 the Tigers had the fourth best defensive team according to UZR with a 32.8 rating. In 2008 that rating plummeted to -60, next to last. Brandon Inge’s elite glove was bumped from third base so that Miggy, who ranked near the bottom in UZR for the 2007 Marlins, could take over. Carlos Guillen was moved from SS to 1B so that Edgar Renteria could boot ground balls up the middle in his stead. Cabrera’s defense at the third was so bad (UZR/150 of -36.8) he was moved to first after a couple of weeks, which forced Guillen to move again to kick balls around over at the hot corner. Defensive musical chairs ensued as the Tigers tried desperately to end the train wreck in the field.  It would never end until game 162 was put in the books.

What was the effect on the starting pitching? To avoid the errors of a small sample size, let’s look at the only two starters that were in Detroit’s regular rotation start to finish both in 2007 and in 2008. Jeremy Bonderman only started 12 times in 2008, and Kenny Rogers only started 11 times in 2007, so they were excluded from the tables, but their WHIP stats followed the same pattern:

Pitcher

2007 ERA

2008 ERA

Δ ERA

2007 WHIP

2008 WHIP

Δ WHIP

Robertson

4.76

6.35

1.59

1.475

1.660

0.185

Verlander

3.66

4.84

1.18

1.230

1.403

0.173

Avgerage

4.21

5.59

1.38

1.352

1.531

0.179

So what happened? Did they both fall apart?  Let’s look at FIP to isolate their pitching skills.

Pitcher

2007 FIP

2008 FIP

Δ FIP

2007_BABIP

2008_BABIP

Δ BABIP

Robertson

4.62

4.95

0.33

.308

.341

.033

Verlander

3.99

4.18

0.19

.279

.296

.017

Average

4.30

4.56

0.26

.293

.318

.025

Their increase in FIP was slight, but their ERAs increased more than a full run.  They pitched perhaps just a smidge worse, but their ERA’s got hammered because the fielders were converting fewer balls in play into outs, and these BABIP numbers can’t be explained by a significant rise in line drive rates as Justin lowered his 1% while Nate’s went up just 1%.

Turn the page now to 2012. Inge has been kicked to the curb again.  Cabrera has lost some weight this off-season, but his range will still be terrible.  Cabrera and Fielder both finished near the bottom of the 1B UZR ratings in 2011. Detroit gets a slight downgrade at 1B and a monumental one at 3B. Leyland is talking about moving Inge to 2B. This has all the makings of another circus in Lakeland this spring. The Tigers have 3 DH’s (Delmon Young the LF being the 3rd) and yet all of them project to be in the field on a regular basis, much to the chagrin Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Doug Fister. These pitchers still have very high ceilings, but with the added weight of the Prince their floor has lowered considerably. Verlander was my #1 rated starting pitcher before the signing.  I drafted him in a December draft, but at this point, unless something unexpected happens (ie. Leyland announces that Fielder will DH and Cabrera will go back to 1B and Inge to 3B) it’s safe to say I won’t be drafting the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner in any NFBC Leagues this year. FIP had already indicated Verlander was a candidate for regression. Last year he posted a 2.40 ERA and a 2.99 FIP. If you’re going to take him he’s going to cost an early 2nd round pick (ADP-20) and that’s just too expensive for my tastes. Scherzer is currently being drafted in the 10th round (ADP-148). There are much safer options available in the 11th and 12th round. Doug Fister has been going in the 12th round (ADP-174).  Fister is an interesting problem. One might gamble on him hoping that his high ground ball rate (48% last year, 50% in the second half) will force Leyland to start Inge at 3B and alternate Fielder and Cabrera between 1B and DH on days that Fister takes the mound. The caveat is that Fister had a soft schedule after the trade. In his 11 games with the Tigers he faced the Twins, Athletics, Rays once, and the Indians four times. So take his 1.79 ERA and 0.839 WHIP he compiled during 11 games in Detroit with a grain of salt as it skewed his 2011 ERA/WHIP down slightly to 2.83/1.06.  Nevertheless, his 3.02 FIP on the season was still very solid. Porcello is the cheapest of the litter, with a current ADP of 377.  He posted a 56% ground ball rate in the second half last year. That’s not someone I want in my active lineup with the extremely limited range of Fielder and Cabrera at the corners and possibly Raburn at 2B.  Porcello has been inconsistent the last couple of years, with his poor stretches often coinciding with dips in velocity. He says he’s starting his offseason routine earlier this year so that he can maintain better velocity right out of the gate in April.  There is nothing wrong with taking him as a ‘dart’ at the end of the draft, but I will be looking elsewhere. Even if everything goes perfectly for him this season, he still doesn’t strike out enough batters.Last year he posted a career high with 104 K’s in 182 innings.

What shall we expect from Prince this year? Truth is nobody knows.  One should expect an adjustment period as he learns the nuances of all of the new pitchers. Miguel fared quite well his first year up north, but his BA, OBP, and SLG % took slight hits. After posting .323/.385/.561 in 2005, .339/.430/.568 in 2006, and .320/.401/.565 in 2007, Miguel dipped slightly to .292/.349/.537 in 2008 during his first regular exposure to AL pitching.  For what it’s worth, over the last three years vs. the American League during interleague play, in 45 games and 163 AB’s Fielder hit .245 with 28 Runs, 13 HR’s and 37 RBI’s. He is going from a hitter’s park to a pitchers park.  I’ve seen some metrics list Comerica as a Hitter’s park recently, but as a season ticket holder 2007-2008 I say rubbish.  Fielder produced .326/.437/.659 with 24 HR’s at home, but only .272/.393/.476 with 14 HR’s on the road. The move to Comerica should cut into his production slightly, and that makes his 1st Round ADP (12) too expensive for my blood.

The biggest fantasy beneficiaries of this signing are Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch.  Miguel’s 3B eligibility (once he plays 10 games of course) and a smattering of extra runs with Prince’s presence easily push him ahead of Pujols on my list as the top Infielder on the board. Leyland has said that Boesch will hit second in front of Cabrera and Fielder. If you believe in lineup protection, that has to be music to your ears. Watch Boesch this spring to determine if his power is back and that the ligament in his thumb is fully healed. If healthy, Boesch should be a decent source of runs and modest power for someone with an ADP of 232.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 15:49
 

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