Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | February 12, 2010

Reviewing the 2009 Predictions

As we get to the point where we are now less than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, very soon all of the talk and speculation about 2010 will begin to turn into action. Even though there are still several weeks separating right now and the time when games count, very real things happen in Spring Training. Players emerge and injuries happen, which force moves to be made and wrenches to be thrown into the speculation and posturing of the off-season.

And so before we reach that point where the talk will be focused more on the 2010 season than the past, I wanted to revisit some of my predictions that were made in advance of the 2009 season. Roughly two hours in advance of the Tigers first regular season game I opted to record a video laying out my predictions for the season instead of writing as had become standard. I did the video mostly out of laziness but learned in the process of making it and editing in the proper information that doing an informative video is even harder work than writing, which may have something to do with why I haven’t made another on the Tigers as I planned originally.

I think it is good to look back on these predictions mostly for a sense of accountability. On a personal level there is little that I dislike more than people that speak simply to hear themselves speak, or write as the case may be here, and therefore do so without sincerity or seriousness to the topics they are discussing. Part and parcel with such behavior is the pattern of lack of ownership of opinions, particularly if someone claims to know a lot about the subject matter at hand.

Therefore I think it is important to periodically review things I’ve said or written not only to hold myself accountable to my readers, but also to myself. Also, seeing where we’re wrong about things always helps us grow in the future — Not just in talking/writing about baseball, but in all phases of life. Trying to determine how you’re wrong only helps you down the path of never being wrong again.

And so with that lengthy introduction into roughly what this post is about and why, I’ll get into the specifics. Essentially I watched the video over again and plotted every general point that I made in the video. Some of them overlap slightly, but I wrote down every single one. Again, the video was recorded two hours before the Tigers first game in 2009. Here I will transcribe those points (you can watch the video yourself if you want to double check my work, or if you’d just rather see me talking about it) and comment on them accordingly. There are quite a lot of them as the video was roughly 45 minutes long and so in some cases I’ll just throw out the point that was made and leave it to stand on its own.

 

 

* #1 – The Tigers upgraded their defense.

I got this one right in a major way. In 2008 the Tigers finished fifth from the bottom in the MLB in defense by UZR, at -39.1. They were 3rd to last in the AL. In 2009 they finished fifth overall and second in the AL to Tampa, saving 43.6 runs for their pitchers. That swing in defense was (theoretically) worth eight wins alone.

 

 

* #2 – The Tigers could receive some help from their bullpen arms late in the year.

As an absolute statement of fact I got this right, but in the spirit of what I meant when I said it, I did not. I thought a number of Tiger relief pitchers might contribute out of their system last year, but no pitchers that I didn’t call out by name contributed and of the ones that I did call out by name, only Fu-Te Ni was effective and Brett Jacobson was traded for Aubrey Huff, who was thoroughly ineffective.

 

* #3 – This is their last run at a title with this nucleus.

It depends on how you define nucleus. They traded Curtis Granderson this off-season and let Placido Polanco walk via free agency but the Verlander/Ordonez/Guillen triumvirate still remain from the ‘06 team and Miguel Cabrera still remains after having been added in ‘08. Depending on how you define the Tigers key players, that statement was more or less correct.

* #4 – They’ve improved their defense and bullpen.

I addressed the defense already, but in 2009 the Tigers relievers were 13th in inherited runners scoring (31%) and their 1.46 WHIP was 26th. Their 4.34 ERA was 22nd. By contrast in 2008 they were 26th in inherited runners scoring (38%), last in WHIP (1.58), and 27th in ERA (4.69). While the ’09 bullpen was still anywhere from lower mid tier to bottom tier, it was definitely an improvement over the bad 2008 bullpen.

 

* #5 – The Tigers could contend for the division title because the division isn’t very good. The division winner could have 88 wins.

They were in first place for most of the year and ended up playing a one-game playoff that they lost to Minnesota, who finished the season with 87 wins. I nailed that one.

 

* #6 – Justin Verlander will more closely resemble 2006/07 than 2008.

* #7 – Edwin Jackson is a complete wild card.

* #8 – For the Tigers to win, Jackson needs to do better than what he did in Tampa Bay.

Well, the Tigers had a winning season last year and managed to stay in first in a bad division for most of the year, so I’d consider that winning. I’m not going to waste the time listing all the ways that Jackson was better for Detroit than he was for Tampa Bay. I’ll just note that in virtually every important metric he was in fact better, and in most cases dramatically so. He also pitched 30 more innings to boot.

 

 

* #9 – Armando Galaraaga won’t be bad, but he will be closer to average than good.

Here’s one that I screwed up on. Galaraaga was bad for the Tigers in 2009. At the time he was deposed from the rotation due to injury, he was one of the worst regular starters in the American League.

 

* #10 – The Tigers should not bring Rick Porcello North straight from Lakeland. Don’t expect too much too soon.

Well, I was very very wrong about the first part of that and I was conditionally right about the second part, depending on what your personal expectations were. Clearly he was ready to make the jump.

 

* #11 – Porcello will be at best, a league average pitcher in 2009.

I redeemed myself for ten with number eleven. Porcello reached my maximum expectation for him last year. He was virtually the definition of a league average pitcher last year, if not slightly better than that.

 

* #12 – If Bonderman isn’t healthy, the Tigers won’t compete in 2009.

This would be the most inaccurate prediction I would make. Bonderman wasn’t healthy and the Tigers absolutely competed.

 

* #13 – Nate Robertson: Not that bad. Not good, but not that bad.

This one is again subjective and an argument can be built either way, but I’d say that I got this one right. Robertson by many measures improved on his 2008 though he didn’t pitch much due to his health. By some measures he performed worse, none more concerning than his BB/9 (5.1), as he completely lost control of the strike zone last year. If he can regain more acceptable command I would probably repeat this prediction for 2010.

 

* #14 – I’m excited about Ryan Perry.

* #15 – Fernando Rodney will do well as the closer if healthy.

Well, Rodney had his worst season as a Tiger since joining the team for good full-time in 2005 last year by virtually every measure. However, he entered the game in a save situation 39 times and left 37 of those games with saves. Therefore he completed the primary duty of the closer. He did not do it with the effective brand of pitching that I expected to see at the time I recorded the video, but he did it.

 

* #16 – No worries about the bullpen. A few worries about the rotation.

* #17 – Don’t count on Zumaya.

Joel pitched 31 largely ineffective innings for the Tigers in 2009 and found himself again stricken by injury. I was right, and this one is similar to #13 in that I will preemptively repeat it to apply for 2010 as well.

 

* #18 – The Tigers need one starter to step up and the rotation will be okay.

As it turned out, Jackson and Porcello both stepped up. Verlander also took a huge leap forward from where he’d been in 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately the back end of the rotation was less than adequate, particularly by the end of the season.

 

* #19 – Gerald Laird, Jeff Larish, and Josh Anderson will hit as well in 2009 as Gary Sheffield and Ivan Rodriguez hit in 2008.

This one is false. The 2008 crew came to the plate 810 times and posted a line of 254/331/407 between them with 24 home runs. The 2009 group came up 742 times and had a line of 229/305/333 with 8 home runs.

 

* #20 – Curtis Granderson will be an all-star if the Tigers are in first place. He will have a great year.

Part A was true, part B not so much.

 

* #21 – National media and fans don’t give Placido Polanco enough respect.

* #22 – Detroit Tiger fans overrate Placido Polanco.

* #23 – Polanco’s nagging back problems could hinder his performance. Tigers should not re-sign him after the season unless it is a cheap short-term deal.

* #24 Polanco will have a decent to good year this year.

This is another one of those subjective ones where it depends on how you define “decent” or “good”. For example, there were ten American League second basemen who got enough at bats to qualify for the batting title (Adam Kennedy is one, and he split time between second and third so he only loosely qualifies). Of those ten, Polanco finished last in wOBA at .321. If you expand it to include National League teams the list grows to 21 players and he was ahead of only Clint Barmes, Kazuo Matsui, and David Eckstein. Conversely, on defense he rated first among AL second basemen in UZR/150 at 11. League-wide only Chase Utley and Freddy Sanchez (11.3 each) were ahead of him, and only marginally so. So essentially you have a player who was the worst hitting second baseman in the AL that managed to not hit his way out of a job (or lose significant time to injury), and a player who was one of the top 3 fielders at his position in the league. By my estimation, that falls somewhere between a decent season and a good one. Therefore, I’m declaring this an accurate prediction.

 

* #25 Magglio Ordonez will be fine this year.

This was another prediction gone very awry.

 

* #26 Miguel Cabrera will have a great year for the entire year. A better season than 2008. An almost MVP caliber year. The Tigers will have the player that they traded for this season.

This was correct. Some may have forgotten that Cabrera got off to a slow start for the Tigers in 2008 and while he had a very good year overall, it was essentially his worst season as a full-time starter in the majors. It is also the case that after his slow start in 2008 that he got hot later in the year. I suppose it says something for his immense talent that his “worst season as a full time starter” culminated in being the American League Home Run champion, but that’s what happened. For the sake of comparison, in 2008 Cabrera’s OPS by month saw him go .829 in March/April, .809 in May, and .788 in June. In 2009, his *worst* month was September/October at .865. He only had two months where he was below .900, compared to three where he was well below .900 in ‘08. He had quite the bounce back year in 2009, vaulting himself back into the class of elite hitters from the class of “really good” hitters that he’d been a part of in 2008. For his troubles he finished fourth in MVP voting, which fits the bill of “an almost MVP caliber year”.

 

* #27 Carlos Guillen will perform and be fine.

Again, the conclusion on this one is subjective. Guillen was terrible in the first month of the season trying to play through an injury and then was out for a couple of months getting it taken care of. When he returned to the lineup though, he was as good as he’d ever been at the plate for the Tigers. He clearly was not “fine”, but an argument could be made that he performed. An equally compelling argument can be made that he did not.

 

* #28 Marcus Thames will finally get an opportunity to show what he can do once and for all. He should get a lot of at bats at DH. Even if he fails, I will feel better seeing it than having Jim Leyland tell it to me.

False. Thames battled injuries and didn’t see as much time at DH as I’d hoped. He did put up the worst power numbers of his Tigers tenure though, and based on his age (32 last season) and skill set (old people skills) I think that his best days may be behind him. The Yankees will find out whether or not that’s true in 2010. I will be forever convinced that the Tigers squandered the best years of a player with 40-50 homer per year potential playing a low priority defensive position in order to give extended playing time to Craig Monroe, Jacque Jones, and Josh Anderson. His role of “underutilized player who showed he was a starter in the minor leagues years before being brought up for good and is now destined to a lifetime of riding the major league pine until he no longer is an effective or useful player” will likely be filled by Ryan Raburn in 2010.

 

* #29 Gerald Laird should match Ivan Rodriguez’s production. He will take more pitches and walk more often.

Well, it depends on what we mean by “production”. Rodriguez had a 103 wRC+ for the Tigers in 2008 and Total Zone pegged his defense at +3.4 runs. He threw out 36% of would-be base stealers. Laird had a wRC+ of 72 in 2009. His defense was +15.4 and he threw out 42% of attempted thieves. So essentially he was well below average offensively and dramatically better defensively. I would consider Catcher to be a position where the bigger premium is on defense, but then it isn’t like Rodriguez was BAD defensively so much as Laird was great. The argument could be made convincingly that Rodriguez’s plus defense (opposed to Laird’s plus plus plus) and average hitting were more productive than Laird’s well below average offense and super defense. So I was wrong on the first claim. As to the second claim? Laird had 40 walks to Rodriguez’s 23 in a similar number of PAs, and Laird saw 3.55 pitches per plate appearance to Rodriguez’s 3.67. So it was only half-correct. He did take more walks, but he saw less pitches.

 

* #30 Laird needs to prove he can both hit and play over 100 games.

He failed that test in 2009. To me, this is still something he has to prove in 2010. He has shown an ability to hit decently in the past when his playing time is limited. With Alex Avila and Robinson Diaz aboard instead of Matt Treanor and Dane Sardinha, he should get more days off than he did last year and hopefully that will spur better results.

 

* #31 Keep an eye out for Alex Avila if he’s hitting in July or August and Laird isn’t.

Well, Avila had a wRC+ of 128 in Erie when the Tigers called him up in August. So he definitely was hitting. Laird was not. And Avila got the call. Of all of the predictions I made, this is the one that I’m most proud about getting right. And the Tigers got it right as well. His wRC+ in Detroit for the year was 151. That is not a typo, he really was 51% better than the average hitter for the year. Of course, it was in the tiny sample of 72 plate appearances and it would be unwise to expect similar output in 2010, but it was the right move for 2009.

 

* #32 I would rather have Brandon Inge as a super sub than as the starting Third Baseman.

* #33 The Tigers should’ve signed Joe Crede to be the starting Third Baseman. As a Twin, he will terrorize Tigers pitching.

Crede had a nearly identical season to Inge at the plate. He hit for little average, a decent but not great amount of walks, and great power while being limited by injury and playing great defense. So its pretty certain that he would not have been an upgrade, and unlike Inge he missed 72 games. However, the latter half of that prediction was mostly correct. In spite of a poor season overall at the plate, against the Tigers Crede was 235/257/529 with three home runs last year in seven games, including a walk-off Grand Slam. If the Tigers do not sign Johnny Damon and Crede were available for a minor league deal I would still endorse bringing him into camp for 2010 perhaps to compete for a reserve role.

 

* #34 Adding Adam Everett to Shortstop and keeping Inge as the starting third baseman will make pitcher ERAs fall.

A lot of things have an effect on ERA, so it is difficult to prove or disprove this with certainty, but I did note in point #1 how dramatically the team defense improved. Like magic, the Tigers team ERA improved from 4.91 to 4.34 (ERA+ from 91 to 106). Coincidence? I think not.

 

* #35 Everett is an all field, no hit player. He needs to stay healthy due to a lack of depth at Shortstop organizationally.

* #36 Josh Anderson is a not a starting caliber player but is a great reserve. He has assets that the Tigers can utilize. I don’t trust Leyland to use him properly.

 

* #37 I would rather have Inge as the backup Catcher and replace Matt Treanor with Brent Clevlen.

Treanor went out for the season in April with an injury to conclude what may be the worst career for a non-pitcher in Tigers history among players with less than 20 plate appearances. He came to the plate 14 times and managed to walk once, but he also struck out four times and grounded into three double plays. Four base runners tried to run on him. All four succeeded. Ouch. Meanwhile Clevlen took a mighty step back from an encouraging season at AAA Toledo in 2008 and played himself right out of prospect status and the organization. He’ll try and jump start his career again with the Braves in 2010. Essentially, I was right to prefer to use Treanor’s roster spot on someone else, but wrong to assume that “someone else” was Clevlen.

 

* #38 The Tigers are capable of winning the division, but not the wild card.

* #39 The Tigers probably won’t win the division. The Division winner will win 87-88 games.

Again I’ll note that the Twins won 87 games.

 

* #40 The Tigers are a 83-86 win team. They should remain in the division title race into the final 2 weeks of the season, all the way down to the wire.

The Tigers won 86 games. Considering they played a one-game playoff that featured several lead changes and extra innings, I think it to be an understatement in saying that the season went “down to the wire”.

 

* #41 Best case scenario: 90-91 wins. Worst case scenario: 72-73 wins.

* #42 Predicted order of finish: Minnesota, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago.

 

The actual order of finish was: Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City

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