Second quarter/ Half time report: Tigers were almost average

Bless You Boys

Coming off an abysmal first 40 games of the 2021 baseball season where the Detroit Tigers were were on pace to lose 105 games after the first quarter, with the worst run differential in the major leagues. ranking dead last in more categories than not, the club needed to make some changes to improve. That, they did, and it showed, with a 22-19 record for the next 41 games through the end of June. What changed?

We’ll break down every category and each position to find the Tigers’ secret of success- if you can call it that- and we’ll look at where the weak points are that still need to be improved.

In fact, you could go back another week to May 8, 2021 and the Tigers have a 27- 21 record over the last 48 games of the first half of the season. But for purposes of this article, we’ve covered the first quarter, so let’s move on to the next. Here are some numbers for the offense.

Tigers’ lineup rankings 2021

Metric Q1 value Q1 AL Rank Q2 Value Q2 AL Rank 1st half rank
Metric Q1 value Q1 AL Rank Q2 Value Q2 AL Rank 1st half rank
Runs per game 3.48 Last 4.8 9th 4.00/Last
Batting Avg 0.221 12 0.245 10th .234/ 11th
On base Pct 0.291 12 0.319 8th .305/ 11th
Slugging Pct 0.355 Last 0.413 8th .384/ 13th
OPS 0.645 Last 0.732 10th .689/ 12th
wOBA 0.286 Last 0.318 10th .302/ 12th
Home Runs 35 Last 50 8th 86/13th
WAR -0.7 Last 3.9 13th* 2.7/ last

Note that fWAR includes a defensive component.

The good news is that the Tigers improved in each offensive category. An increase of 1.3 runs per game is solid improvement. The bad news is that they still rank at or below average across the board. What caused the improvement? A number of players had better second quarters than first, and a few were replaced in May and June.

Addition by Subtraction:

Catcher Wilson Ramos went on the injured list on May 7th, came back for a week and went back on the IL a second time, this time not to return. He was officially designated for assignment and released on June 15. Grayson Greiner also hit the IL on May 12, and after a rehab assignment, was optioned to Toledo. In their stead, the Tigers called up Eric Haase and Jake Rogers who have improved the catching department both at the plate and behind it.

In the outfield, Jacoby Jones was slashing .170/ .210/ 250 for an OPS of .460 and a wRC+ of 24 when he was designated for assignment and optioned to Toledo. He is a strong candidate to be non tendered in December. Victor Reyes was optioned on May 8, tore it up in Toledo and was recalled on May 24, before going on the injured list on June 3rd. He is currently on a rehab assignment.

The playing time has been spread between Akil Baddoo, Daz Cameron, Nomar Mazara and Robbie Grossman, with some reps in left field for Haase. While Grossman tailed off and Mazara has been awful, production in center field jumped from a .239 wOBA to .350.

Here are the numbers by position:

Tigers’ lineup rankings 2021 by position

Position Q1 wOBA Q1 AL rank Q2 wOBA Q2 rank 1st Half wOBA/ rank
Position Q1 wOBA Q1 AL rank Q2 wOBA Q2 rank 1st Half wOBA/ rank
Catcher 0.297 5th 0.308 7th .303/ 6th
First Base 0.251 13th 0.381 3rd .318/ 10th
Second Base 0.285 12th 0.324 8th .285/ 10th
Third Base 0.337 6th 0.287 10th .310/ 6th
Shortstop 0.284 12th 0.297 11th .289/ 13th
Left Field 0.346 2nd 0.333 8th .336/ 4th
Center Field 0.239 Last 0.351 3rd .290/ 14th
Right Field 0.246 Last 0.277 14th .288/ 14th
Designated Hitter 0.267 14th 0.289 12th .283/ 13th

Once again there is more good news overall, as we see improvement in the second quarter at seven of the nine positions. The improvement is marginal in some cases, but is quite significant in center field and second base, where Akil Baddoo and Willi Castro have brought offensive improvement. Offensive production at second base jumped from .285 wOBA to .324, which is league average. Jonathan Schoop was red hot in June which shows up at first base. That is to say nothing of defense at these positions.

Robbie Grossman in left field and Jeimer Candelario at third base declined in the second quarter, but they’re two of the few legitimate major league starters in this lineup and will contribute their share.

The glaring trouble spots are at shortstop and right field, where the likes of Harold Castro, Niko Goodrum, and Nomar Mazara continue to stink it up, making you wonder why the team doesn’t move on to the next prospect at those positions. Miguel Cabrera has at least provided replacement level hitting at DH.

Here are the offensive numbers by wRC+ for the second quarter. 100 is league average hitting. Minimum 50 plate appearances.

Schoop 172

Baddoo 158

Haase 117

W Castro 103

Cabrera 101

Rogers 95

Cameron 93

Candelario 82

Grossman 74

H Castro 73

Mazara 60

Goodrum 49

The Starting rotation was the strength of the team in the first quarter, and remains so in the second. Despite injuries to “veterans” Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull, the rotation remains ranked just above average, giving the team a chance to win most games.

Here are the rotation rankings:

2021 Starting Rotation Rankings

Metric 1Q Value 1Q AL rank 2Q value 2Q AL Rank 1st Half/ Rank
Metric 1Q Value 1Q AL rank 2Q value 2Q AL Rank 1st Half/ Rank
Earned Run Average (ERA) 4.04 6 4.3 6 4.20/ 7
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) 4.38 9 4.69 11 4.54/ 11
Wins above replacement (fWAR) 2.5 9 3.7 5 4.9/ 8
Innings per start (IP/GS) 5.02 9 5 6 5.02/ 6
Strikeout ratio (K/9) 6.84 Last 7.95 12 7.47/ last
Walks ratio (BB/ 9) 3.31 10 2.99 9 3.12/ 10
Home Run ratio (HR/ 9) 1.01 4 1.45 7 1.24/ 6
Walks + Hits ratio (WHIP) 1.28 8 1.28 6 1.28/ 7
Avg Allowed 0.238 6 0.247 9

The Tigers don’t strike out a lot of batters, and their HR ratio climbed in the second quarter, so that was a buzz kill on some of their advanced peripherals, but the BB rate is down and their run prevention is still better than average. They also manage five innings per start, despite their youthful rotation.

Tarik Skubal made eight starts with an ERA of 2.82, striking out 12.6 batters per nine frames.

Casey Mize has a 3.03 ERA for the quarter, striking out 8.02 batters per nine.

Jose Urena pitched four consecutive quality starts in the first quarter, but has been a poor starter since then, with an ERA of 9.10 in seven starts in the second quarter.

Matt Manning and Wily Peralta have made three starts apiece as the Tigers try to fill out the rotation with two starters out.

The Detroit bullpen was last in show in the first quarter, but again some shuffling showed positive results as they improved by leaps and bounds in the second quarter. Here are the bullpen rankings:

2021 Team Bullpen Rankings

Pitching Metric Q1 Value Q1 AL Rank Q2 Value Q2 AL Rank 1st Half Value/ Rank
Pitching Metric Q1 Value Q1 AL Rank Q2 Value Q2 AL Rank 1st Half Value/ Rank
Earned Run Average (ERA) 6.32 Last 4.05 4th 5.07/ last
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) 5.39 Last 3.87 4th 4.58/ 13
Wins above replacement (fWAR) -0.7 Last 1.6 4th 1.1/ 8
Strikeout ratio (K/9) 9.88 6 9.27 11th 9.55/ 6
Walks ratio (BB/ 9) 5.2 Last 3.76 8th 4.39/ 14
Home Run ratio (HR/ 9) 1.84 Last 0.82 1st 1.29/ 13
Walks + Hits ratio (WHIP) 1.7 Last 1.32 5th 1.50/ last
Batting Avg Allowed 0.275 Last 0.238 8th .257/ last

The improvement in performance of the Tigers bullpen in the second quarter is impressive. As a team, they have gone from dead last in several categories to a top five relief corps in several of them, including worst to first in home run ratio. If a pitcher can keep the ball in the park, he can get by with more walks, hits and even defensive miscues can be smoothed over.

To what do we owe this improvement? Some Tigers’ relievers simply improved from one quarter to the next. Michael Fulmer being inserted into the ninth inning role has been a big help. Removing Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, and Bryan Garcia from late inning roles- and giving them a guided tour of the minor leagues- has also helped. Jimenez may even be on the road back to respectability, with a 3.14 ERA, 9.42 K/9 and 0.63 HR/9 ratio for the quarter. That would be nice!

We won’t get into the small samples too much, but the trends are noticeable. Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto have been lights out, Kyle Funkhouser has been reliable, and most of the others have been limited to damage control.

The Tigers’ pen has nailed down 10 saves in the second quarter, blowing just two save chances. They have saved 63 percent of save opportunities for the season, which is league average.

Base Running

The Tigers are second only to the Tampa Bay Rays with 53 stolen bases this season. They are third in the league with an 82 percent success rate, and they rank fifth in extra bases taken, taking the extra base 45 percent of their chances (when a runner goes from first to third or scores from second on a single or scores from first on a double). Baddoo, Goodrum and Grossman are all in double digits in stolen bases.

Defense

We’ve saved the worst for last. The Tigers’ have negative 37 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) as a team this season, almost twice as bad as the second worst team. They are also dead last in UZR/ 150.

The infield defense is particularly poor, ranking 13th at first base with -5 DRS, 13th at second base/ -7, last at shortstop -15, and 8th at third base/ -2 DRS. They’re -4 DRS in right field, -8 in center, and -1 in left. Defensive metrics can play tricks in small samples, but the eye test for anyone who isn’t blind can see that the defense on this team is very poor.

Jake Rogers has been excellent behind the plate, Candelario and Grossman have been steady, and the rest is a bad movie. Schoop is a reliable second baseman but has moved to first where he struggles because the team didn’t bother to acquire a first baseman this season. Willi Castro moved from shortstop to second base and continues to struggle, though not quite as bad. He ranks last among second basemen defensively in the AL.

Summary

The Tigers showed improvement in the second quarter, going from being the worst team in the league to just about average for the 41 game span ending on June 30. The young pitchers that they’re counting on have been under pressure with injuries to Boyd and Turnbull, and they have stepped up. We look forward to seeing what they do with a full healthy rotation in the second half.

The bullpen has shown the biggest improvement, just by shuffling players into more suitable roles, and most likely coaching up some struggling pitchers. Others don’t seem long for this team and figure to be replaced at the first opportunity.

The lineup is still four or five players shy of a full deck. Grossman, Candelario, and Schoop are major league players, none of them stars. Baddoo looks promising and is fun to watch, Willi Castro is hitting after a slow start but can’t find a position to play. Rogers and Haase are doing well catching and with Dillon Dingler joining Tork and Greene as a rising star, catching might be the deepest position in the organization.

On the dark side, Mazara and Harold Castro have run their course. Time to move on. Niko might be a utility guy- or not. Reyes has options, so use one. The lineup has no legit middle of the order bats, and that needs to be addressed. Drafting a high school shortstop next week will not be sufficient excuse for not paying real money for a real shortstop this winter.

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