Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 5/23/12

Fixing the Detroit Tigers one player at a time, part 1 isportsweb

As of this writing the Detroit Tigers are 20-22 and in 3rd place in the very weak American League Central division. The team hasn’t won back-to-back games since April 18th, a day that capped off a 4-game winning streak.

In general, this team is in a funk. When you’re a team like the Kansas City Royals or San Diego Padres with total payrolls of about $64M and $55M respectively, funks are sort of expected. When your owner ponies up $133M to put a championship caliber team on the field, wins become the expectation. Slumps put everyone in a sour mood.

And so I’m here to help. One by one, in this 3-part series, I will take a look at each player’s trends and fix each of the Detroit Tigers that needs helping. I will use a blend of common sense and advanced metrics to get this team back on track.

Here in part 1 I will look at 8 of the regular offensive players and get them rolling.

Austin Jackson is all good

Austin Jackson – Sometimes there’s simply nothing that needs fixing. With Jackson, he just needs to stay healthy. He proved in his first 2 years that he can do this. Hopefully this latest setback is something we soon forget about. From 2011 to ’12, Jackson has improved his walk rate (8.4% to 12.6%), strikeout rate (27.1% to 18.2%), isolated power rate (.125 to .213), and is swinging at less balls located outside of the strike zone (26.7% to 22.6%). Not many people expected massive improvement in year 3 for Jackson but that’s exactly what we’ve seen. More please.

Andy Dirks – Dirks is on the Austin Jackson plan. From his rookie year to this year he has grown by leaps and bounds. He is walking more, striking out about ½ as often, and hitting for power. Assuming his hammy doesn’t tighten up with regularity Dirks should remain on a steady ride of production this season thanks to above average contact rates across the board.

Miguel Cabrera – Cabrera took 3 walks in Tuesday night’s game but the final one was only his 15th of the year. Through the same 42 games last year he accumulated 35 walks. In fact, this is the lowest walk rate he’s had since playing 87 games as a rookie back in 2003. The outlier is his O-swing %, which is the amount of pitches he swings at outside of the strike zone. He is at a career high of 36.4% right now, uncharacteristic of such a smart hitter. The odd part is he’s not missing these pitches as he’s only swinging and missing 7.7% of the time, a career low. Translation: he’s swinging at more bad pitches than ever and hitting them at a higher rate than ever, leading to less walks and more easy outs than he usually produces. Last year he hit .344 while taking 105 walks. Right now he’s on pace for about 60 bases on balls and is hitting .304. Patience is a virtue, Miguel.

Prince Fielder – Perhaps the promise of a deadly 3-4 punch has both Cabrera and Fielder expanding the strike zone more than usual. Fielder has a very impressive lifetime walk rate of 13.2%. This year he is walking just 8.3% of the time. He also has a lifetime isolated power rate average of .254, which is a measure of his extra-base prowess. This season he’s sitting at .180, a career low. Like Cabrera, he is also swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than ever before and is hitting those pitches at a career high rate, producing more outs. This is basically the tennis equivalent of unforced errors. Stop swinging at balls and the whole game changes.

Delmon Young – Delmon is the poster boy for impatience at the plate. He has a laughable 4.2% lifetime walk rate, which fuels his career .320 on-base %. Without a dramatic change in approach, Delmon will never be more than what he is right now, which is a streaky hitter who can also go into long droughts. The major league average for swinging at pitches out of the strike zone is 29.6%. DY does it 42.5% of the time. If pitchers catch on to how often he swings early in the count, and simply stop throwing him strikes, he will become useless at the plate. Shockingly, pitchers are throwing him pitches in the zone slightly more often than the major league average and the same goes for first pitch strikes. If the league catches on to this guy en masse, expect the worse. So for DY, he needs to have a group hug with Miguel and Prince and learn to work a count.

Brennan Boesch must find plate discipline

Brennan Boesch – Brennan Boesch’s walk rate is 2.9% or about 1/3 of his career rate. He is actually making Delmon look like a patient man and that’s an impossible task. Boesch is basically swinging way more than he should. The major league average of pitches swung at is 45.1%. Boesch is hacking 54.1% of the time. He’s only swinging and missing on 9% of his attempts, which is basically on par with the major league average. His problem is simply pitch recognition. Again, the major league average for pitches swung at outside of the zone is 29.6%. Boesch is at 39.1%, only slightly better than Young’s horrible rate. Is there room for one more in the group hug-a-thon?

Alex Avila – Avila has essentially maintained his career walk and strikeout rates as well as isolated power. He seems to be one of the Tigers most affected by bad luck. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is just .266. His lifetime rate is .322, which is high but not ridiculous. His .224 average should rise once his BABIP normalizes. Don’t expect him to hit .295 like he did in 2011 but a season ending line in the .260-.270 range seems attainable.

Jhonny Peralta – Peralta is basically right in line with his career averages with one great exception. He has nearly doubled his walk rate from a season ago and is taking free passes 11.6% of the time, a career high. This has helped buoy a very solid .352 on-base %, the 2nd best mark of his career. Fans may want more, and will probably get it in the power department, but his .262 average is just a tick below his career rate. At least somebody is showing patience! Give Peralta his due, he hasn’t let the free-swinging ways of his teammates drag him down.

We’ll save Ryan Raburn and the rest of the bench for part 2 of this series.

Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe or subscribe to our Detroit Tigers Feed

Fixing the Detroit Tigers one player at a time, part 1 isportsweb

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