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Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Tigers’

Ron Washington’s decision to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera with the bases empty in the bottom of the eighth was the kind of move that could have become infamous in postseason lore, especially after Victor Martinez singled him to third base with only one out. At the time, the move was roundly criticized, including by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on the Fox broadcast, but because Cabrera was eventually thrown out at the plate, it will likely become nothing more than a footnote.

Ron Washington's decision to walk Miguel Cabrera with no men on in the 8th was a pivotal point in the game (Photo: AP).

Just because Cabrera didn’t score doesn’t mean Washington’s decision was sound. By the same logic, however, Martinez’ subsequent single doesn’t mean it was a foolish choice. Instead, the soundness of the move should be based solely on the context before the decision was made. So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what went into Washington’s unorthodox ploy.

Before his at bat in the eighth inning, Cabrera was batting .385/.529/.846, while Martinez was struggling at .083/.267/.333. Even though both lines were compiled in very small samples, it’s easy to see why the Rangers would want to be cautious with Cabrera, who has gained the reputation as one of the best hitters in the game. When you also consider Victor Martinez’ strained oblique as well as reliever Mike Adams’ success against left handed hitters, the case for walking Cabrera appears even stronger. Finally, when you factor in the lack of speed by both players as well as the presence of Delmon Young, another injured batter, behind Martinez, the idea of not letting Cabrera beat you under any circumstance seems like a wise policy.

When Martinez’ bouncer over first baseman Michael Young’s head sent Cabrera to third base with one out, McCarver and Buck framed the inning along the lines of the Rangers regretting the decision to walk Cabrera. Had the go ahead run scored, however, the real regrettable decision would have been holding Cabrera on because, otherwise, Martinez’ ball would have been a tailor-made double play. Of course, that assumes a pre-determined outcome, which isn’t necessary in this case. As mentioned previously, the case for walking Cabrera was compelling even before considering a subsequent outcome.

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Ever since Friday’s ALDS opener was suspended by rain, the specter of A.J. Burnett has hung over the Yankees like the Sword of Damocles. Now, with their backs to the wall, the team’s worst fears have been realized. Not only is Burnett making a postseason start that seemed improbable just a few weeks ago, but if he doesn’t pitch well, there’s a good chance the Yankees season will be over.

AJ Burnett was smiling before, but not after his 2010 ALCS start.

The Yankees have played 367 postseason games covering 71 series and 50 seasons. To say that the franchise’s October history is extensive would be an understatement. However, in all those games, only two have featured a starting pitcher for the Yankees with a higher regular season ERA (minimum of 100 innings) than the 5.15 rate Burnett will carry to the mound in tonight’s ALDS game 4. The last time the Yankees entrusted such an unlikely candidate with a playoff start was the fourth game of last year’s ALCS. Who was the pitcher? None other than A.J. Burnett.

Although it wasn’t an elimination game, the Yankees entered game 4 of the 2010 ALCS also needing Burnett to draw them even, but it proved to be too much to ask. Burnett, who posted a 5.26 ERA during the season, surrendered five runs over six innings in a 10-3 loss that pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination. This time around there is no margin for error. If Burnett turns in a similar performance tonight, the sword will fall.

Misery loves company, so joining Burnett in the exclusive club of ineffective starters given a playoff start for the Yankees is Irving Darius Hadley, better known as Bump. A journeyman right hander, Hadley joined the Yankees in 1936, and emerged as the team’s fifth starter. After going 14-4 with an ERA+ of 108, Hadley capped off his season with a 2-1 victory in the third game of the World Series.

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The Yankees and Tigers resume their ALDS showdown with what should have been the series opener, but has now developed into a pivotal third game. Entering the series, it was widely believed that the Tigers would need Justin Verlander to win two games in order to advance, but now that rain has limited him to only one full start, Detroit has been forced to a plan B.

One reason so much emphasis was placed on Verlander’s starts is because the other three pitchers in the Tigers’ rotation had never started a postseason game. Entering the series, the Yankees had been 54-33 in games featuring an opposing starter making his playoff debut, so at least from a historical standpoint, it’s easy to see why the rest of Detroit’s rotation might be a little vulnerable.

After Friday night’s rain limited Verlander’s first start to only one inning, it looked as if the Tigers would need a victory from their ace just to keep the series alive. However, thanks to Max Scherzer’s strong outing in game two, the team is now in position to take a commanding lead.

Top-10 Games vs. Yankees by a Starter Making His Postseason Debut, by Game Score

Player Date Series Gm# Opp Rslt GSc
Jack Sanford 10/5/1962 WS 2 SFG W 2-0 84
Ernie White 10/3/1942 WS 3 STL W 2-0 81
Fausto Carmona 10/5/2007 ALDS 2 CLE W 2-1 80
Jack Scott 10/6/1922 WS 3 NYG W 3-0 80
Don Newcombe 10/5/1949 WS 1 BRO L 0-1 79
Preacher Roe 10/6/1949 WS 2 BRO W 1-0 78
Joey Jay 10/5/1961 WS 2 CIN W 6-2 71
Joe Black 10/1/1952 WS 1 BRO W 4-2 71
Max Scherzer 10/2/2011 ALDS 2 DET W 5-3 69
Curt Simmons 10/10/1964 WS 3 STL L 1-2 69

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The first game of the ALDS between the Yankees and Tigers was supposed to be a battle of aces, but Mother Nature took center stage instead. With only 1 1/2 innings completed, the skies opened up and washed away the much anticipated showdown between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, leaving the two Cy Young candidates on the sidelines and their teams scrambling to rebuild the rotation around them.

Friday’s rain storm derailed a potential classic showdown between C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander (Photo: Getty Images).

Following the initial disappointment, most of the focus has been on which team, if any, will benefit from the postponement. Because the suspension all but ensures the Yankees will have to enlist A.J. Burnett in one of the five games, the obvious advantage seems to lie with the Tigers. However, Detroit’s best hope was believed to be Justin Verlander, who will now only pitch in one game if Jim Leyland’s plan to bring him back on Monday holds true. What’s more, because the game was suspended, not canceled, the Tigers are locked into a right-handed lineup against Ivan Nova. As a result, Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge (wOBA of .262 and .203) will be facing a right hander, instead of Brennan Boesch and Wilson Betemit  (wOBA of .352 and .396).

There really isn’t much point to focusing on which team “won the rain out”. As both managers stressed after the game, nothing can be done about the weather. The Yankees, who experienced 23 rain delays during the regular season, learned that the hard way in 2011. So, instead of worrying about who has the advantage, both teams would be better served planning for the rest of the series, provided the weather permits it to be played.

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It's been "win day" when Verlander pitches for the Tigers (Photo: AP).

Justin Verlander continued his late season run of dominance by recording his 12th consecutive victory in Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over the Athletics. During that span, the Tigers’ right hander has compiled half of his league leading 24 victories, the highest total by an American League pitcher since Bob Welch won 27 games in 1990.

Even though more advanced metrics place Verlander in close proximity to other Cy Young contenders like CC Sabathia, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, his inflated win total has all but assured he’ll go home with that award. What’s more, if the recent rumblings by voting members of the BBWAA are any indication, Verlander may need room on his mantle for more than just one piece of hardware.

Most Wins in a Single Season, Since 1990

Player Tm Year W L IP SO ERA ERA+
Bob Welch OAK 1990 27 6 238 127 2.95 126
Justin Verlander DET 2011 24 5 244 244 2.29 176
Randy Johnson ARI 2002 24 5 260 334 2.32 197
John Smoltz ATL 1996 24 8 253.2 276 2.94 149
Curt Schilling ARI 2002 23 7 259.1 316 3.23 142
Barry Zito OAK 2002 23 5 229.1 182 2.75 158
Pedro Martinez BOS 1999 23 4 213.1 313 2.07 243

Source: Baseball-reference.com

One often repeated fact used to advocate Verlander’s MVP candidacy is the Tigers’ 25-8 record in games that he pitches. According to the theory, the team’s comparative winning percentage (.758 with him versus .533 without) illustrates just how valuable Verlander has been to the Tigers’ division title, which makes him a leading choice for MVP. Of course, there are two obvious flaws in that logic. Obviously, without a contribution from the eight men behind him, Verlander would not have been able to compile such a high win total. Although Verlander has been the common denominator in the 33 games he has started, players like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Jose Valverde also deserve a share of the credit for those victories. Secondly, even with a .533 winning percentage, the Tigers would lead the Central Division by three or four games. If the end justifies the means, then it could be argued that the Tigers haven’t needed Verlander as much as some have suggested. (more…)

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On Monday, the Yankees will face King Felix for the third time this season (Photo: Getty Images).

The Yankees won’t be catching any breaks on their final West Coast trip. One day after being stifled by Jered Weaver, the Yankees will have to contend with the Angels’ co-ace Dan Haren. Then, on Monday, Felix Hernandez will be waiting for them in Seattle. What’s more, the Yankees shouldn’t expect much of a reprieve when they head back east because Ricky Romero, Jon Lester, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, and David Price are all in line to face them over the final two weeks of the season.

“Here come the Yankees” must be a popular rallying cry because regardless of the city, the Bronx Bombers have been unable to sneak out of town without facing down an opponent’s top gun. Although the luck of the draw often dictates the opposing starting pitcher, sometimes it seems as if teams lay in ambush for the Yankees.  The paranoia that comes with being a fan can sometimes distort perception, but when you see the Mariners give King Felix an extra day of rest just before the Bronx Bombers arrive, it makes you wonder if part of being the Yankees means having other teams save their best?

After looking more closely at the numbers, the Yankees have, in fact, faced more “aces” than any other team. Although the disparity with the Red Sox is only one, that gap should grow based on the upcoming schedules for each team. Otherwise, the disadvantage compared to all other contenders is at least four games, which, in a tight pennant race, would be significant.

W-L Records Against Opposition Aces

  W L W%
Tigers 11 9 0.550
Athletics 15 13 0.536
Red Sox 17 15 0.531
Rangers 14 15 0.483
Yankees 15 18 0.455
Angels 11 15 0.423
Twins 11 16 0.407
Rays 11 16 0.407
Royals 9 16 0.360
Blue Jays 9 19 0.321
Indians 9 20 0.310
Orioles 8 18 0.308
White Sox 8 19 0.296
Mariners 9 23 0.281

Note: Aces defined as the top-15 pitchers in the American League, ranked by ERA as of September 10, 2011 (minimum 150 innings pitched). Only intra-league games considered.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

By most objective standards, the Yankees have the best pitching staff in the American League. And yet, according to some, Brian Cashman’s inability to acquire another pitcher has branded the team as a “trade deadline loser”.  So much for perspective.

American League Pitching Staffs, Ranked by Average WAR*

Team bWAR fWAR AvgWAR ERA+
Yankees 18.5 16.6 17.6 121
White Sox 15.7 17.4 16.6 111
Angels 14.8 15.4 15.1 111
Athletics 17.7 12 14.9 118
Mariners 13.7 13.3 13.5 103
Rangers 13.9 10.8 12.4 115
Red Sox 11.8 12.6 12.2 106
Blue Jays 12.0 9.5 10.8 97
Tigers 8.6 11.3 10.0 92
Rays 7.2 9.2 8.2 97
Indians 6.4 9.4 7.9 96
Royals 8.0 6.9 7.5 88
Twins 4.0 7.8 5.9 90
Orioles 7.3 4.2 5.8 82

Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

Let’s be honest. The reason so few people seem to believe in the Yankees’ rotation is because the team’s second and third best starters were looked upon as veteran retreads less than four months ago. No matter how well Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon continue to pitch, that stigma will remain until they come up big in October. Based on the injury history of each veteran, it’s hard to criticize that perception. After all, if the Yankees were completely confident in the pair, Cashman probably wouldn’t have even entertained some of the discussions he reportedly had with other general managers.

‘I think they’re in trouble,’ said one scout. ‘I look at their rotation, and there’s CC [Sabathia]. And then there’s CC.'” – anonymous scout quoted by Jayson Stark, July 31, 2011

The second part of the above statement is a reasonable one. In fact, I’ve probably uttered it myself on occasion.  However, just because the Yankees do not have another pitcher on Sabathia’s level (very few in the entire league are), does that really mean the Yankees are in trouble? Even though Garcia and Colon remain legitimate question marks, is every other American League contender that much stronger in terms of rotation reliability? Let’s take a look.

Comparing the Rotation Depth of Main A.L. Contenders, Based on Average WAR* (click to enlarge)

*Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

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