This is why the Tigers are not winning as often as they should

So far this season in innings 7 through 9, Victor Martinez is hitting .202, and Torii Hunter is hitting .181.

So far this season in innings 7 through 9, Victor Martinez is hitting .202, and Torii Hunter is hitting .181.

Where are the fierce breed of Tigers hiding? Every time it seems like the Detroit ball club is finally getting its act together and going on the prowl, they go into a troubling mini-slump. It’s been a strange season: Detroit is always looking like they’re poised to break out but then a few days later, they stumble and lose much of their divisional lead.

Most troubling: this is the second straight season in which the Tigers have failed to meet expectations.

How have the Tigers managed to win just 53 of their first 97 games? On the morning of July 22, their winning percentage, .546, was sixth in the AL and tenth in MLB.

This club is so potent offensively and boasts such a strong starting pitching staff that it should win the division in a leisurely Tiger prance. Why isn’t it doing so?

A close look under the statistical hood provides some clues.

Let’s start with the broad brush strokes. The rudimentary measure invented years ago by Bill James, the Pythagorean won-loss record, shows the Tigers’ expected record, based on runs scored and runs allowed, should be 57-40. That’s a deficit of four wins.

In terms of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) figures, the picture is even more puzzling: The team WAR total for Tigers batters is 14.8 (led by Miguel Cabrera’s 5.6), and for all pitchers it’s 14.9 — (led by Max Scherzer at 3.8, Sanchez at 2.8, and Verlander at 2.6). Does that mean that the Tigers should be 30 wins above a team of replacement-level players (in other words, the Marlins or Astros squads)? That would mean 63-65 wins at this point in the season, which would rank at the top of MLB. But of course, the Tigs have only 53 victories. It’s hard to argue that the Tigers shouldn’t be soaring that high above the pack (just a few games above the Red Sox, which is not that great a team).

Fielding metrics are much harder to analyze, but by most measures Detroit is average to a little below average overall defensively. No huge culprit in that corner.

So where are all those extra losses coming from? Look closer: the club is 3-9 in extra innings, so that alone accounts for much of the underperformance, and it is 9-14 in one-run games. While the Tigers officially have 21 comeback wins, they also have 25 blown leads.
It’s been easy and popular to point the finger at the Tigers’ bullpen this season, and many fault Jim Leyland for mismanagement of it. The numbers do indicate, however, that the Tigers have two fairly reliable relievers: Drew Smyly with a 2.3 WAR and Joaquin Benoit with a 1.8 WAR. Unfortunately, no other Tiger reliever has contributed much at all, and most have proven on balance a detriment with small negative WARs.

But here’s a news flash: It’s not just the bullpen’s fault that the Tigers are failing at winning close games in late innings. They’re losing mainly because they aren’t producing on offense in the late stages of games. The Tigers are outscoring the opposition mightily in the first six innings of games, 387 to 258. But this same potent offense is being outscored 48-34 in the seventh, 40-38 in the eighth, by a whopping 36-20 margin in the ninth, and by an embarrassing 10-2 in the tenth. Yes, with so many strong relievers in baseball these days, you expect a fall-off in offense later in the game. But that kind of falloff isn’t happening in the late innings to the Tigers’ opponents, who are scoring about the same amount of runs throughout the game due to the Tigers less-than-dominant pen. But a bigger problem is that the Tigers’ hitters fall off a cliff after the sixth.

A perfect illustration was the Tigers’ 6-5 loss to the Kansas City Royals last Saturday. The Tigers had great chances in the seventh and eighth innings to get runs but failed to break through.

For whatever reason, the Tigers seem to lack the killer instinct, that intangible something that good clubs in any sport seize on to win a game that’s up for grabs. That’s an old-school, emotional way of looking at it. But the stats show exactly the same thing in stark terms: the Tigers score between 0.55 and 0.75 runs an inning through the sixth — and then less than 0.4 runs in the seventh inning or later.

When the game is on the line, the Tigers’ loud bats go relatively silent. And that, perhaps more than anything, is why the club is underperforming. That sound you’re hearing when the scoreboard strikes seven is not a roar — it’s more like a snore.


Batting Average in Late Innings of Games (7th thru 9th)

Alex Avila ……… .180
Torii Hunter ……… .181
Victor Martinez ……… .202
Jhonny Peralta ……… .216
Austin Jackson ……… .254
Miguel Cabrera ……… .255
Andy Dirks ……… .256
Prince Fielder ……… .263
Omar Infante ……… .337

TEAM ……… .228 (.304 through the 6th inning)

11 replies on “This is why the Tigers are not winning as often as they should

  • Paul Libke

    I enjoyed this analysis. And I agree. I also think Leland is much of the problem – no inspiration!

  • Paul

    This really does not answer the question. Yes Martiniez BA late in games is bad overall, but look at the last month and it has been pretty good. The Tigers problem lays solely on Leyland. He has terribly mismanaged the teams bullpen, and his strategy in late games is horrendous. It took him several months to figure out that Smyly and Benoit were his best answers for the 8th and 9th inning. And Leyland refuses to play small ball, something that is exceptionally important especially in late innings. I was shocked last night when he actually had a batter bunt with one on and no outs, not shocked at all when after that bunt worked because of poor fielding that he did not bunt again. The Tigers should not use anyone other than Putkonin, Smyly, and Benoit after the 6th inning. Rondon is still a work in progress and he should not be used later than the 6th inning. And Phil Coke should never be used unless the Tigers have a

  • LuvmyTigers

    I agree with you, totally, the pen, the offense, the “now gone” closer. But look at Leyland’s record. He has never taken a team that much over 500, and since he’s been with the Tiger’s, they’ve lived up to his record. So maybe the snore is coming from the manager in the dugout, who can’t seam to muster a roar from anybody! IMHO!

  • ignaciotrout

    I still marvel at the feat of going to the World Series constitutes a disappointing season to such pundits as yourself. Although, I do agree there is way more potential on this team to have the record they do… GO TIGERS

  • Bob Brontosaurus

    What in the name of sweet Jesus is Pythagorean won-loss record and WAR (Wins Above Replacement)???

    As someone w/o a an advanced degree in aeronautical engineering or whatever, it seems to me they need a reliable closer and more two-out base hits with men in scoring position. Also be nice if Ol’ Smoky would let guys throwing a shutout through 7 innings actually complete a friggin’ game once in a while instead of having the pen come in and blow it. Of course, then our starters might get a boo-boo on their throwing arm….

  • laura hall

    quite the opposite dude. Hunter and Martinez have contributed greatly Our low points have been Dirks and Avila both of whom are great players but are having real big problems this year…

  • C Frank

    Leyland should replace pitchers when they are giving away runs & have seen many games where he doesn’t take out the pitcher until they are losing, again. He needs to stir the troops into the momentum they need.

  • Michael

    I couldn’t agree with this article more. The team seems to lack an identity or passion in late innings. I didn’t realize the numbers on Hunter and Martinez in late innings were so low. It amazes me that considering how many years Leyland managed in the NL, he has ignored playing small ball and waits for the game ending homerun. Avila angers me every time he comes to the plate. Lazy swings and no passion.

  • Kevin

    A good pitching coach would help. No good pitching coach, or other coach for that matter, will come to a team with a manager with a 1 year contract. Get a great manager and hire a great staff around him.

  • Greg giniel

    Strong pivotal points are a must for stability and strength. One weak link affects the others by putting to much stress on them. Fix the bullpen situation and the structure is now a solid fortress to be dealt with. This team is almost ready to win it all, just finish the construction before it collapses!

  • King of Octiger

    Sometimes it even goes bad late when they win, like the last couple nights vs. the Sox. Sure they scored some monday when the Sox Defense was sponsored by Barnum and Bailey, but mostly its late fizzle. And what about those nights they are getting shut out when the pitching is holding opponents to one or two runs, there is probably 3 or 4 wins right there.

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