TDIB Monday (yeah, sure) - The AL Champs

Monday, October 16 2006 @ 11:55 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

I've been a little burnt out lately, and I probably need to take a long rest. But I do have some thoughts on the 2006 American League champions.

In the immortal words of Butch Cassidy, "who are those guys?"

The Tigers won 95 games this year, which is exactly what their Pythagorean projection would lead you to expect. Now 95 wins means 285 Win Shares, so let's see where the talent came from. Each player's Win Shares for 2006 are provided, while I hereby tip my hat to the generally invaluable Hardball Times.

C - Ivan Rodriguez (25) - Free Agent, signed to a four-year $40 million contract, February 2004.
C - Vance Wilson (5) - Trade, from New York Mets for Anderson Hernandez, January 2005.
1B - Chris Shelton (9) - Rule V Draft, from Pittsburgh, December 2003.
1B - Sean Casey (4) - Trade, from Pittsburgh for Brian Rogers, July 2006.
2B - Placido Polanco (13) - Trade, from Philadelphia for Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez, June 2005.
3B - Brandon Inge (18) - Amateur Draft, by Detroit in the 2nd round, 1998.
SS - Carlos Guillen (26) - Trade, from Seattle for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez (not that one!), January 2004
INF - Omar Infante (4) - Amateur free Agent (undrafted), signed in 1999.
INF - Ramon Santiago (0) - Free agent (released by Seattle), signed January 2006.
INF - Neiffi Perez (0) - Trade, from Chicago Cubs for Chris Robinson, August 2006
LF - Craig Monroe (14) - Waiver selection, from Texas, February 2002.
CF - Curtis Granderson (20) - Amateur Draft, by Detroit in the 3rd round, 2002.
RF - Magglio Ordonez (20) - Free agent, signed to a five-year, $75 million contract, February 2005.
OF - Alexis Gomez (3) - Waiver selection, from Kansas City, October 2004. Re-signed as a free agent, November 2005.
OF - Brent Clevlen (2) - Amateur draft, by Detroit in the 2nd round, 2002.
DH - Marcus Thames (12) - Free Agent, signed December 2003.
DH - Dmitri Young (2) - Trade, from Cincinnati for Juan Encarnacion and Luis Pineda, December 2001.
DH - Matt Stairs (1) - Waiver selection, from Texas, September 2006.
SP - Kenny Rogers (15) - Free Agent, signed to a two-year $16 million contract, December 2005.
SP - Justin Verlander (15) - Amateur draft, by Detroit in the 1st round (2nd pick), 2004.
SP - Jeremy Bonderman (14) - Trade, from Oakland along with Carlos Pena and Franlyn German for cash (to Oakland) and Jeff Weaver (to NYY), August 2002.
SP - Nate Robertson (14) - Trade, from Florida along with Gary Knotts and Rob Henkel for Mark Redman and Jerrod Fuell, January 2003.
SP - Zach Miner (4) - Trade, from Atlanta along with Roman Colon for Kyle Farnsworth, July 2005.
SP - Mike Maroth (4) - Trade, from Boston for Bryce Florie, July 1999.
RP -Todd Jones (7) - Free agent, signed to a two-year $11 million contract, December 2005.
RP - Fernando Rodney (7) - Amateur free agent (undrafted), signed in 1997.
RP - Joel Zumaya (12) - Amateur draft, by Detroit in the 11th round, 2002.
RP - Jamie Walker (4) - Free agent, signed November 2001.
RP - Jason Grilli (3) - Free agent (released by White Sox), signed February 2005.
RP - Wilfredo Ledezma (4) - Rule V draft, from Boston, December 2002.
RP - Roman Colon (2) - Trade, from Atlanta along with Zach Miner for Kyle Farnsworth, July 2005.
RP - Chad Durbin (1) - Free agent, signed in November 2005.
RP - Chris Spurling (1) - Waiver selection, from Milwaukee, September 2006.

Trades - 88 (30.8%)
Free Agents (professional) - 87 (30.5%)
Amateur Draft - 67 (23.5%)
Waiver selections - 19 (6.7%)
Rule V - 13 (4.6%)
Free Agents (amateur) - 11 (3.9)

It's early days yet, but the Carlos Guillen trade is looking like one of the most lopsided transactions in the history of baseball. Ramon Santiago went 8 for 47 over two seasons in Seattle and was released. Guillen would be a worthy MVP choice this season. This trade is going to be remembered like Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, or Ryne Sandberg thrown into a swap of aging shortstops.

As noted the Tigers exactly fulfilled their Pythagorean expectation. Nevertheless, there's something strange about their numbers. They improved by 24 games, and they did it on both offense (they scored 99 more runs than in 2005) and on defense (they allowed 122 fewer runs than in 2005.)

Much of the defensive improvement is fairly easy to see. Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson were both roughly league average, or maybe a bit below, in 2005. This year, they were both solidly above-average pitchers in an equivalent number of innings. Mike Maroth, also a little below average in 2005, was hurt for most of 2006 - his innings were taken by Kenny Rogers who was considerably better. And rookie Justin Verlander took over most of the innings tossed in 2005 by Jason Johnson - another significant improvement. All four major starters were considerably better than the top four men the year before.

The rotation - that's where the bulk of the improvement comes from. The Tigers actually had an effective bullpen in 2005 - while it lacked definition (after Percival got hurt, they went through numerous different closers), it had no shortage of people who pitched effectively.

But the offensive improvement - the more I look at it, the stranger it seems. There were two very positive developments - Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, both of whom missed more than 70 games in 2005, were healthy and produced outstanding seasons. But the rest of it just doesn't seem to add up - at least not to a 99 run improvement.

      G   AB   R    H   2B 3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP  SLG  SB CS GDP HBP SH SF IBB  OPS+
2005 162 5602 723 1521 283 45 168 678 384 1038 .272 .321 .428 66 28 138 53 44 52 24 100
2006 162 5642 822 1548 294 40 203 785 430 1133 .274 .329 .449 60 40 120 45 45 36 27 100

They hit 35 more home runs, and drew 46 more walks. That led to another 99 runs? And otherwise, what's different?

Or compare Detroit's offense to Toronto's Here is the Blue Jays offensive line.
  G   AB    R   H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP SLG  SB CS GDP HBP  SH  SF IBB  OPS+
162 5596 809 1591 348 27 199 778 514 906 .284 .348 .463 65 33 166 63 16 52 31 106

The Tigers scored 13 more runs than the Blue Jays - not many more, but more. But the Blue Jays had 43 more hits and drew 84 more walks. They had more men reach as hit batters. They had lots more people on base.

Did they move them around? Well, Toronto hit 4 fewer home runs, and 13 fewer triples - but the Jays did hit 54 more doubles which would seem more than enough to make up for it. The Blue Jays also stole more bases and had fewer runners caught stealing. They hit more sacrifice flies.

The Jays did hit into 46 more double plays, which really is a big deal. But it's the only significant offensive advantage Detroit had over Toronto. So how did they score more runs?

It's reasonable to suggest that Detroit's offense may truly be better than Toronto's - the Tigers do play in a pitcher's park, and the Blue Jays play in the other thing. But that's not the point I'm concerned with here. I'm wondering how these partiuclar offensive elements led to this number of runs crossing the plate.

And I think it's... fishy. I think the Tigers scoring 822 runs this year has F-L-U-K-E written all over it. All of which means that their hitters could be better next year but the team could very well score the same number of runs. Or fewer.

But that don't matter this year. No rules in a knife fight.