Or: The only way Jake Elmore is going to get this much ink on Baseball Prospectus.
What does it really mean to be a super utility player? I’m not talking about Ben Zobrist or Ryan Flaherty here. I’m talking about someone who can literally play any position the manager might need him to. What does that kind of player look like?
Four players have ever played all nine positions on the field in one major-league baseball game (assuming you ignore Will Ferrell, which we will do here). Bert Campaneris was the original, doing so on September 8th, 1965. A little over three years later, Cesar Tovar would accomplish the same feat for the Minnesota Twins during their final home game of the season. Fast forward more than 30 years and Scott Sheldon would accomplish the feat in a September game where his Texas Rangers got blown out by the Chicago White Sox. Last but not least, Shane Halter played all nine positions for the Tigers less than a month later, even scoring the winning run in the process.
Detroit's baserunning was a major contributor to the club's last-place finish. How they, and other AL teams, will look on the bases this year.
The 2015 Detroit Tigers won just 74 games, and that doesn’t happen to a team without significant flaws. A lot of things went wrong for them, from the prolonged absence of Miguel Cabrera to the catastrophic collapse of Victor Martinez, to yet another impossibly implosive bullpen.
If one thing most stood out about the Tigers, though, it was how old they played, especially offensively. It was back in 2013, when the team was running out (too generous a phrase, perhaps) Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, Cabrera, and Martinez, that everyone worried the Tigers’ offense would sputter to a stop because of its key cogs’ old, heavy legs. In 2015, though, with Hunter and Fielder gone, it actually happened. Detroit basestealers succeeded at a clip of just 62 percent. They grounded into the most double plays of any team in baseball. They racked up -21.9 baserunning runs (BRR), according to our calculus the second-worst in the league. They batted .270/.328/.420, raw figures that ranked first, second, and fifth in the AL, respectively. They were second in team OPS+ and seventh in TAv in the AL, but they finished 10th in runs scored. Baseball Info Solutions estimated that the team created 736 runs, but they only scored 689. Some of that, to be sure, is just bad sequencing—bad luck. Surely, though, some of it also must be chalked up to their miserable baserunning.
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The Guinness Effect, and why opt-outs are the only way for a true star to get what he's worth.
This offseason is starting to feel like an episode of Oprah. You get an opt-out! You get an opt-out! Yo gets an opt-out too! Opt-outs are the new must-have item this winter, and if you don’t have one, you can’t sit at the cool people table.
Like ballplayers, owners make decisions based on their own needs. Unlike ballplayers, owners are already soooooooooooo rich.
Free agency does a lot to clarify what matters to players. Some will opt for the highest average annual contract or biggest guarantee; others will take slightly less so they might preserve another bite at free agency down the road, before time completely diminishes their stars. Some are able to command both, because of savvy negotiating or some team’s desperate craving for a generational talent. Each outcome is revealing. Mega contracts make for surprisingly boring tales in this regard. The would-be lottery winner in all of us can imagine the satisfaction a nice, round number like $200 million might have as it rolls off the tongue. Many a player will take all the chips ownership will push into the pile and cash out, considering themselves satiated. It’s when those max contracts hit the tape only to be pushed aside by deals with virtues like flexibility or longevity or the promise of a World Series appearance, that we get to say something more interesting about what matters. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with the top of the pyramid drawn in bespoke terms, assuming the shape of the complicated mix of ingredients and tiebreakers that make up happiness. As Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh discussed on Episode 774 of Effectively Wild, those ingredients can be personal and perhaps a bit eccentric.
The most unpredictable division in baseball is particularly unpredictable this offseason. Breaking down how each team might (?) see itself.
If you set out to list the five most surprising and the five most disappointing teams of 2015, there’s a good chance you would name at least four of the five American League Central clubs along the way. The Royals, you know about, but don’t forget the Twins, whom Sports Illustrated foresaw losing 100 games, but who were eliminated from the playoffs only on the final Saturday of the season. The same publication also picked the Indians to win the World Series, but Cleveland went 81-80. Personally, I picked the White Sox to win the division on the heels of their aggressive winter—but Chicago won 76 games. And PECOTA’s pick to cruise into October was Detroit, but the Tigers’ competitive window closed a year early, and they went 74-87.
I mention this because, if confounding expectations was the theme of the 2015 season in the AL Central, utter inscrutability might just be the theme of the winter there. I wouldn’t know where to begin forecasting next season’s standings in that division, and the major reason for that is that it’s virtually impossible to tell what any of the five teams are going to do with their offseasons. In most of the other divisions, there are clear favorites or co-favorites, and the objectives of at least three or four teams are very clear. Not in the AL Central. Let’s examine these teams one at a time.
Opening the black box--which isn't a black box at all--to illuminate Justin Verlander's brilliance this year.
Justin Verlander has been through an interesting few years. How interesting, exactly?
Using Deserved Run Average (DRA), our new metric to describe pitcher performance here at Baseball Prospectus, we can track the trend. Because we want to evaluate Verlander across several seasons, we’ll also go one step further and use DRA–. DRA– is based on DRA, but is normalized to an average of 100 for each season, with lower being better. This allows you to compare pitchers across different seasons and different run-scoring environments.
Now that we’ve got our scorecard, let’s look at Verlander’s recent seasons.
Will Daniel Norris survive the 54-pitch first inning he threw Tuesday?
Daniel Norris threw 33 pitches in the first inning of his April 19th start against the Braves, back when he was a member of the Blue Jays. He threw 38 in the second inning on April 30th. After that start, he was demoted to Triple-A, and he didn’t make it back to the majors until after the Jays traded him to the Tigers in the David Price deal. In his second start for Detroit, on August 7th, he threw 39 pitches in the first frame. Last season, working mostly in relief as a September call-up for Toronto, Norris faced 30 batters and needed 138 pitches to dispense with them—an average of 4.60 offerings per plate appearance.
In other starts, Norris has flashed not only dominance, but efficiency. He has the potential to start successfully in the majors for years. Tuesday night was another one of those rough nights, though, when that future seems less likely. He threw 54 pitches in the first inning, and Brad Ausmus not only permitted that to happen, but sent Norris back out for the second inning. Norris proved that he simply didn’t have it, though, and failed to escape that frame. He finished with 71 pitches thrown, and as many runs on the board for the Rangers as outs recorded (five apiece).