2014 Sox Preview: Who's Not Back

I threw out some predictions yesterday. Next? How about who isn’t back? Cool? That’s probably the best place to start.

If you bothered to follow the ‘13 Sox, then you know that Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton and Alex Rios were all moved in season. Since they were moved before the end of last season so there’s no need to talk about those three.

There are a number of guys who were on the Sox last year and aren't starting the year with the major league team, and thus I’m not going to focus on these players (e.g. Héctor Giménez is in the Sox system but he's not on the major league team, however, since he might see some time on the Sox at some point, no need to write “A Requiem for Héctor Giménez”. Sorry.)

Position Players

DeWayne Wise
Wise only saw 30 games and 66 plate appearances with the Sox last year. However, he managed to put up 0.1 WAR which made him the 8th best position player on the team in 2013. That’s hilariously sad and pathetic.
Will the Sox miss him? No. Wise has had a nice Sox career going back to 2008, but he’s a dime a dozen player.


Addison Reed
Reed was the Sox closer last year and was okay at it. His 3.79 ERA pretty much matched his xFIP. He stuck guys out and while he probably walked a few more guys than you’d like, he didn’t have a huge control problem. Reed’s young and still under club control for four more years, but the Sox we’re able to move him for a young, possibly above average third baseman who is under club control for six years. In what was probably Hahn’s best deal of the winter, moving a reliever in Reed and his soon to be more and more expensive contract (starting next year) for Matt Davidson was a bit of a no brainer.

Reed does have a bit of a flyball problem, and he was lucky with his HR/FB rate last year (6.8%) and BABIP (.260). The Sox seem to have sold high on Reed.
Will the Sox miss him? Not as much as you might think. Reed’s a decent reliever, but the Sox have proven year after year to be able to turn hard throwing young arms into decent relievers (Nate Jones, Dan Webb). Sure the bullpen took a bit of a hit by moving Reed, but it’s much easier to replace the value that Reed brought to the club than a 2 or 3 WAR third baseman.

Hector Santiago
Santiago ended up starting 23 games and giving the Sox 150 okay innings. He misses bats and there are some things to like since he’s only 26. But Santiago has control problems. He walked 4.35 batters per 9 innings. That’s not good. And the only reason why Santiago is still being given a shot in the majors is because he misses so many bats. Is there upside? Yes. If Santiago cuts his walk rate in half over the next two years, pumps that ground ball rate a few points while still striking out 8 or 9 guys per 9 innings, we’re talking about a borderline All-Star. But that’s a big if, and when you can grab a young centerfielder who gets on base you make the move.
Will the Sox miss him? Probably not, but depends on who you think is replacing him. Sure, Santiago gave the Sox 150 innings last year and decent value. But Erik Johnson should be able to replace Santiago’s innings and value, in fact, I think Johnson will be an upgrade over Santiago this year. Now if you always had Johnson penciled into the rotation with Santiago at the end of ‘13, then the Sox might miss him a little since Andre Rienzo has been a poor man’s Santiago thus far in his very early major league career and Felipe Paulino might not have anything left.

Gavin Floyd
Sadly, Floyd blew out his arm early in the 2013 season and the Sox were never able to replace his innings with anyone nearly as good. Gavin gave the Sox five solid years as a starter (with three of them very good). Floyd signed with the Braves this winter. Here is to Floyd bouncing back and pitching for another five or six years.
Will the Sox miss him? Nah. The Sox effectively moved on back in May when Floyd went down. So while it might have been nice to bring him back on a incentive based, one year deal, the Sox are better off figuring out what Danks is at this point, if Johnson is a someone who can hold down a spot in the rotation over the next half decade or more, and if Rienzo can figure out his walk issues, not to mention if there are any other cheap arms out there who can hold down a spot in the rotation (aka Felipe Paulino).


2014 Predictions

Woah. Been a while. But I've got thoughts a few things lined up. But might as well get the predictions on paper.

I really like the Sox off season. I know I'm not alone here, but Hahn made some really nice moves, selling 'high' and buying 'low' across the board. Eaton, Abreu, Davidson... I like all those moves. But more on those later. I hate bringing back Konerko, but I don't think the baseball guys had too much of a say there. And it's not like the Sox are competing for the wild card or division this year. There are bigger 'wrongs' in the baseball world.

  • I think a lot of Sox fans, myself included, thought that the Sox pitching was very good last year. This is a tad misleading. Yes, they were 8th in fWAR in '13, but their ERA was fairly pedestrian. Both their FIP says they were lucky, while their xFIP says they were slightly unlucky.  All told, the Sox gave up the 10th most runs in the AL last year. That's actually not that good.
  • The Sox were a bit unlucky when it came to the home run ball last year. They finished one standard deviation above the mean in HR/9 and had a HR/Fly Ball rate of 11.5% which was also above average. Yes, the Cell is a good hitting park, but it isn't incorrect to think the Sox can actually see some regression in home runs given this year.
  • Their strikeout and walk rates were both slightly above league average, but nothing that should scare anyone (or get overly excited about). I see them improving on their ground ball rate, and moving on from both Santiago and Peavy probably should help (Reed too).
  • Erik Johnson, if he can fit a bit more control, should really be a nice starting pitcher. Paulino had a really nice 2011, if he's healthy and Coop does Coop things... I can easily see the Sox rotation actually being better.
  • I'm making an educated guess more than running some sort of model here... I see the Sox giving up between 680-720 runs. I know that's a wide range, but I kind of think they'll be better in part because they won't be running guys out there in August and September just to see what they have.

  • The Sox offense was awful last year, no need to dwell on it. So the first move of the winter was to sign Abreu. Yay. The second was to bring back Konerko. This made negative sense. "HEY KIDS, COME SEE PAULIE GO 0-4 WITH TWO STRIKEOUTS AND A WEAK POP OUT TO THE FIRST BASEMAN!!!" That's where I thought the 2014 Sox where headed.
  • Then Kevin Towers called.
  • I can't stress how much I love the Eaton and Davidson moves. I'm overly bullish on both. Davidson’s K% should worry me more, but I’m forgiving because the power is real. Eaton was a great buy low by Hahn.
  • Abreu’s gonna get it done. Everything points to him having a number of nice seasons on the South Side.
  • Gushing about those three aside, the Sox are a bit of a mess after this. Viciedo isn’t an everyday major league player. I really do hope the Beckham to New York rumors come true. Garcia’s gotta start walking if he’s going to be a decent major league player. Catching is a black hole. Konerko is done. Dunn is Dunn, the less he plays in the field, the more value he’ll give the Sox.
  • The Sox did everything horrible last year. They didn’t get on base, they didn’t score runs, they didn’t walk… but I see hope. Eaton will walk. Dunn takes walks. I think Abreu will take a base. Davidson, when he arrives, will take a walk. De Aza’s walk rate isn’t offensive… I think the Sox will put more guys on base and thus score more runs.
  • I see the Sox scoring 650 runs this year. This might be bullish, it’s a 50 run improvement. But Vicideo should never see a righty this year. Dunn won’t see many lefties. Abreu alone is should be a huge improvement over Konerko. Eaton should be on base.
All this said, the two big things to watch, imo, will be how Ventura handles the lineup and if the team defense shows improvement. Defense first... it was bad last year. If it improves—and I think it will with Dunn, Konerko, and Vicideo all seeing less time in the field—the Sox might even get those runs allowed closer to 650. That would mean the Sox are a .500 team. I’m not ready to go there, but I can see things ‘breaking’ were they finish above .500.

However, I have little faith in Robin. Last year’s team was bad and made way too many mistakes. If he's giving Viciedo at bats against righties, or Dunn starts against a tough lefty, I'm going to start openly question if Ventura's a major league manager. The Sox are deeper this year, they can play the match-up game every day. Robin needs to show that he can do this.

So all said… I’ve got the Sox winning 75-78 games. I’ll go 77-85.

MLB Predictions:
AL East: Tampa
AL Central: Detroit
AL West: Angels 
Wild Cards: Boston and Baltimore

I don't really like the Angels, but they're not has hurt as the Rangers or A's. I could see those three teams plus Seattle winning the West. That division is sort of a mess. I'm not buying the Tribe again and I don't see the pitching or hitting for the Royals. They'll both be better than the Sox however. Tampa is more of a feeling than anything, same with the O's. 

NL East: Washington
NL Central: St. Louis
NL West: Los Angeles 
Wild Cards: Giants and Reds

Man the NL is top heavy. I have zero faith in that Reds pick, but I think the pitching will be good enough to hold off a banged up Braves team and regressed Pirates. I could maybe see the Mets surprising people? I don't know... very very top heavy league.

World Series:
Dodgers over Rays


Dog Days Thoughts

--With Rios now in Texas, the Sox have three major league average hitters in their lineup. And if you control a bit for BABIP, the Sox have two major league hitters: Adam Dunn and De Aza. Yikes.

--Adam Dunn is 13th in the majors in ISO (power) and his walk rate is 4th best.  Meanwhile his BABIP is up to .265, after a brutal first two months of bad luck, his BABIP is .367 the last 30 days—hey look, regression! And he’s hitting dingers. Basically he’s what you’d expect him to be. His wRC+ of 117 means he’s creating 17% more runs than the average hitter, that’s not great, but it’s good.  He’s really taken too much abuse.  Yes he strikes out too much, he’s a horrible defender and he can’t run. But Adam Dunn wasn’t signed by the Sox to do any of those things. He was brought to get on base and hit home runs; other than 2011, he’s done that. Dunn has value, the problem for the Sox is that he’s the best hitter on the team, and if Adam Dunn is your best hitter...

...Then Dayan Viciedo is your fifth best hitter (now fourth with Rios moving on).  This is a major problem as Viciedo isn’t a very good hitter and plays a position where you need him to be a good hitter. You might be able to live with Viciedo if you’ve got a great hitting second baseman and third baseman. But the Sox don’t (and haven’t). He’s got to go next year.

-- I was going to write nice things about Chris Sale, but he’s great and doesn’t need more praise.  So how about this, which is now my favorite state line of the year... John Danks ERA/FIP/xFIP in 2013:

ERA: 4.52
FIP: 5.13
xFIP: 3.94

Ummm, okay.  I have nothing to say other than Danks’ BABIP is .257 and his HR/FB is 18%. So he’s been lucky and unlucky. It’s pretty funny that it has completely washed out and his ERA is nearly smack in the middle of the two.

Danks year so far has been a disappointment; he's given the Sox innings but not a lot of quality innings. His strike out rate is down slightly from where it was in '09-'11, but I'm not going to worry about it too much. He's actually shown the best control of his career, walking the fewest number of hitters per 9. But Danks has been allowing too many fly balls, it's always been a bit of an issue but it's been worse this year, and they've turned into home runs at either an alarming (or unlucky) rate.

Looking a tad deeper into this, his fastball velocity is down slightly, about 1mph/1.5mph from last year when he was pitching through shoulder issues. That's the concern, he's now 2 or 3 ticks below where he was in 2010 and 2011. I think it's a tad too early to say that Danks might be closer to done than effective, but it's something to keep you eye on the last six or seven weeks of the season.


Rios Dealt

The Alex Rios Era ended on the South Side on Friday.  I’m not sure it ever really began.

Rios was never great, sometimes very good, usually fine and in 2011 horrible (and I guess in 2009 also). You could say he never lived up to expectations, but I’m even sure what they were considering the Sox got him for free in August of 2009.

Rios did/does everything well but nothing great. He can run, he has some pop, he’s okay at getting on base and he can field. However, he’s not outstanding in any one of those areas and he always leaves you (or me at least) wanting a bit more. There's nothing wrong with this of course, but it also is what it is.

But if you ignore 2011, he was a very useful player for the Sox and while never a bargain, was paid as one would expect for a 3 WAR player.  But since he does nothing outstanding, he doesn’t feel like he’s fairly compensated. I’m not sure if that makes him underrated, but on a team where he’s the, say, 4th or 5th best bat in the lineup, you probably have a really good baseball team.  The White Sox really never got to that point during his tenure here which is not his fault—the 2010 team was probably the closest, a decent DH away from winning the AL Central in all likelihood.

So what does this mean for the Sox?  We don’t know who they’re getting back, but everyone assumes it’s Leury Garcia. He’s 22 and plays up the middle (short, second and even a little center). However, he doesn’t walk and strikes out a lot. So he’s going to fit in too well with the Sox*.  

*Seriously, would it kill the Sox to obtain a guy who gets on base once in awhile?

So it’s impossible to say if this was a good or bad deal for the Sox. But I think getting a probably major league player (again, assuming it’s Garcia) while getting out of Rios’ contract was a good move. Not great, but a solid if unspectacular move (much like Rios).  Rios goes to a Ranger team that could use his jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none talents; I like the move for Texas.

And it frees up money for the Sox too. Hahn has just cleared $25 million off next year's payroll by trading Rios and Peavy.  That’s a big deal when you remember that Floyd and Konerko are also coming off the books this winter.  The Sox will have some money to play with, the question is: is there anyone to go after and if so, should they?

I’ll look at this more at a later date, but the reality is, probably not.

But Hahn does seem to have a plan... and if he’s thinking, what I’m thinking... well it’s an awesome plan.  But more on that later.


"You don't like it?" "No I don't like it..."

So I’ve now slept on the Peavy trade.  

And I still don’t like it.

I don’t hate it and maybe I’m overvaluing Peavy.  But the Cubs just traded essentially the same pitcher, arguably a tad better, for a nice collection of bats and arms. The White Sox didn’t get anything close* to the return the Cubs got for Garza, despite the fact that Garza’s a free agent in two months.

*I usually use a mix of Keith Law and Fangraphs rankings for prospects. Neither one had Garcia in the top 100 in baseball (Law had him #2 in the Tigers depleted system and Fangraphs had him #4). However, Baseball America had Garcia as their 74th rated prospect heading into this year.

Okay, let’s say I am overvaluing Peavy because of his injury history. Then why in the world a the White Sox going after a guy who looks too much like Viciedo—only without as much power (so far) and better speed. Yes, as the Fifth Feather already reported, Avisail Garcia is not Miggy Jr. Why?Miggy at age 22 was in his third major league season, and racking up 5.5 WAR and 146 wRC+ in the major leagues; Garcia at age 22 is bouncing between AAA and the majors racking up a -0.3 WAR and a 72 wRC+. This really says it all: “This year, Garcia owns the highest BABIP at the Triple-A level. He also owns one of the highest swing rates, and one of the lowest contact rates.”

I get it, the tools are there. If he learns to walk, he’s going to hit for more power and all of a sudden he may be a borderline All-Star. I get that’s the thinking. But there’s not much in the Sox track record that anyone can point to where the Sox turn these toolsy/free-swingers guys into average major leaguers let alone All-Stars (Vicideo, Mitchell, Walker, etc).  The last thing the Sox needs is another toolsy/free-swinging outfielder, they’ve got, now by my count, seven of them: Vicideo, Mitchell*, Walker, Thompson, Hawkins, Jacobs and now Garcia.

*I know, he’s no longer a prospect, but he needs to be included because the Sox are way too in love with these type of players.

The Sox have a system that is widely regarded as one of the worst in the game.  They need help pretty much everywhere. Hawkins is the only guy with All-Star potential but he’s 19 and has a ways to go (I’m excluding everyone drafted last month). Sanchez, yes young for AAA, hasn’t hit at all there this year. Thompson’s cut the strikeouts a bit, but hasn’t hit for as much power in AA. Walker probably isn’t going to make it. Those four guys were considered the top four positions players in the Sox system heading into the year.  Sure Garcia now slots in behind Hawkins, but the Sox already have a bunch of Garcia’s and the results haven’t been all that great.  Basically the last thing the Sox needed was another toolsy outfielder. But that’s what they got. I don’t get it.

As for the other three guys the Sox picked up... no one seems too crazy about Wendelken or Rondon.  Montas has a great arm but can’t find the plate.  Needless to say, I fully expect the Sox will turn him into a decent pitcher because that’s what the Sox do. For all the crap I just gave them about their inability to develop positions players; they are pretty damn good at turning pitchers into solid/good/great major leaguers (Santiago/Quintana/Sale).  But Montas seems to be destined for the bullpen... so lets fire up the 2016 rumor mill where Reed is traded and Montas moves into the closer role.

I was probably too high on Peavy and what he could bring back for the Sox. Obviously Garcia’s got talent and I fully expect him to get a good run in September.  But I would have liked to see the Sox get someone who has three tools which will grade out instead of another guy with a crazy high ceiling and extremely low floor who plays the outfield.

Other thoughts:
--Others disagree, but I don’t think the Sox had to trade Peavy.  They didn’t need the savings. And if the deal wasn’t there, it wasn’t there. They could easily have held onto him and traded him in the winter or gone into ‘14 with Sale/Peavy as your one—two and see how things play out.

--The major positive? It is starting to look like Viciedo won’t be the starting left fielder for the White Sox next year. What happens with Rios today will obviously affect the ‘14 line up, but if Rios stays, your outfield next year is probably Garcia-De Aza-Rios. And of course even if they deal Rios, they can sign a right fielder or roll the dice with Thompson.  However, the Sox will probably need a first base/DH next year once Konerko mercifully retires and I guess Viciedo could provide cover there.  I’m not crazy about that, but whatever. It’d be one year.

--I love this trade for the Tigers.  They’re trying to win a World Series in the next two, maybe three, years. And this deal makes them better this year and moving forward. Iglesias provides two things: 1) he can field 2) he provides cover if/when Peralta is suspended by MLB.  I think the Tigers BABIP problems are directly related to the fact that they have two of the worst defensive infielders in baseball and a shortstop whose glove is okay at best.  Now they’ve got really strong D at both second and short, and for their sake, will hopefully turn seeing eye singles into outs.  Iglesias is young too.  Two years ago Keith Law was calling him the best defensive shortstop he’s ever seen in the minors and I don’t think that’s changed much:

Sure he can’t hit, but the Tigers have Miggy, Prince, Austin Jackson and everyone else to do that. I think they’re the favorites in the AL and probably the Majors with this trade (assuming Peralta sits for Iglesias).  Oh, and they only gave up a free swinging, BABIP inflated, not even top 100 prospect for him.

--I really like the deal for the Red Sox as they didn’t give up much for a really good starter when healthy.  If Peavy’s healthy for the next year and change, the Red Sox are going to get the best player in the deal.  He makes the rotation better. And his contract is completely reasonable.  It may appear they’re giving up on Iglesias early, but really they probably sold high and they’ve got one of the top five prospects in the game to eventually play short.  Iglesias was going to get moved this winter anyway.  It doesn’t appear any of the guys in the minors they sent to the Sox will hurt them in the long run.  


Pre-Trade Deadline Thoughts

Thoughts on the Three Guys Most Likely to be Traded in the next 24 hours or so...

--With a possible Jhonny Peralta suspension* looming, the Tigers need a shortstop. I’ve already argued they need a shortstop who can field anyway, but if Peralta is going to be suspended, then they REALLY need a shortstop. Enter Alexei.  He can field.  The bat is done, but it won't kill you down in the order and since he can still field, he’s being paid fairly.  It’s not a steal by any means, but it’s not a bad contract either. And if you’re asking me why I’m trying to help the Tigers... I don’t know.

*My two cents on the Biogenesis stuff: MLB is way out of line and needs to slow their roll. I’m not saying I support PEDs in baseball, but unless these guys have tested positive, I’m not a fan of what they’re doing, which is the baseball equivalent of McCarthyism.

--It’ll be interesting to see if the Sox trade Rios and if so for what.  I’m all over the place in trying to figure out his value: a decent bat and a good fielder.  The good is that Rios has value, the bad, it’s not value that’s usually highly regarded.  And on top of that, he’s owed a good chunk of money next year with a team option in 2015.  That said, I looked at a bunch of past deals involving All-Star/near All-Star outfielders:

  • [2006] The Milwaukee Brewers traded Nelson Cruz and Carlos Lee to the Texas Rangers for Julian Cordero (minors), Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix.
  • [2006] The New York Yankees traded C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies* for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.
  • [2009] The St. Louis Cardinals traded Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson and Brett Wallace to the Oakland Athletics for Matt Holliday.
  • [2011] The New York Mets traded Carlos Beltran and cash to the San Francisco Giants for Zack Wheeler*.
  • [2011] The Houston Astros traded Hunter Pence and cash to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later, Jonathan Singleton (minors), Josh Zeid (minors) and Jarred Cosart. The Philadelphia Phillies sent Domingo Santana (minors) (August 15, 2011) to the Houston Astros to complete the trade.
  • [2012] The Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants for Seth Rosin (minors), Tommy Joseph (minors) and Nate Schierholtz. (2012)

Lee, Abreu, and Beltran are all better hitters, and thus are bad comparisons even if they couldn’t field at Rios’ level.  Holliday could, but was also a much better hitter.  Those trades were also all when those guys were in the last year of their deals.  

The first Hunter Pence trade (2011) he was hitting better than Rios, but isn’t the same fielder and was having a fluky season to begin with.  However, if the Sox are able to get a package similar to that of the Astros got, I’d be very happy. But it’s probably unreasonable that the Sox could turn Rios into two top 100 prospects—which the Astros did.  However, once you factor in age (Rios now is four years older than Pence then) and the contract the value of Rios is probably a top 100 prospect, especially if the Sox send/take on money in the deal. A top guy in the top 75 seems like a fair deal, especially when you consider that Rios isn’t a rental nor is his contract dead money.

*The Phillies did horrible in this deal; I still can’t believe the Giants gave up Wheeler for two months of Beltran.

--While I have no clue what the market for Rios will end up being and if they'll trade him, it appears nearly certain that Peavy is going to be traded.  His market if much easier to figure out since the Cubs just traded Garza, who is essentially the same pitcher but whose contract ends at the end of the years. Peavy is signed for next season at a reasonable/bargain price if he stays healthy.  I thought the Cubs did well, but not great, in their deal for Garza, and it’s reasonable for the Sox fans to think the South Siders can do better.

A few other deals with guys similar to that of Peavy:
  • [2012] The Detroit Tigers traded Brian Flynn (minors), Rob Brantly, Jacob Turner and 2013 compensation draft pick round B to the Miami Marlins for Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez and 2013 compensation draft pick round A.
  • [2010] The Arizona Diamondbacks traded Dan Haren to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for a player to be named later, Patrick Corbin, Rafael Rodriguez and Joe Saunders. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sent Tyler Skaggs (August 7, 2010) to the Arizona Diamondbacks to complete the trade.

The Tigers got Sanchez and Infante and in return gave up a top 40 prospect (Turner).  Peavy isn’t as young as Sanchez, but their numbers are similar and Sanchez was in a walk year.  Meanwhile, Peavy’s older than Haren was when he was traded nor is Peavy as good, but their contract situation are more alike. Skaggs and Corbin was a very nice return for the D-Backs.

Basically, the Sox should get a prospect back who is in the top 50, but really probably in the 30-45 range depending on if anyone else is involved in the deal.  Personally, I think the Sox should go for quality over quantity.  They’ve got a bunch of C/C+ guys in the system.  What they lack is top end talent. Adding two or three guys in the top 100 of all of baseball would be huge and set this team up for 2015 and beyond.

Oh and it’d make the rest of this season and next year a lot more fun to watch too.


Spreads! A not so brief second half preview

NOTE: All numbers as of the All-Star Break. I did most of the work prior to Friday's games. But all numbers as of the All-Star Break.

Something I enjoy looking at is the spread between a team's ERA, FIP and xFIP as it gives and idea of what teams are getting lucky and gives of an idea of who may come back down to Earth (or make a charge in the win column).  Seeing that we’re over halfway through the season, now is a good time to dive into this.

Let’s get this out of the way right away. When looking at team pitching staffs, ERA matters a lot. Last year, wins were most highly correlated to ERA—not FIP, not xFIP, not K/9, not WAR—it’s ERA. A good ERA = wins. This seems intuitive, but it’s important in this day in age, and there is a lot of good info in FIP, xFIP, K/9, and they are pretty highly correlated, but it’s ERA is more highly correlated*. Anyway, here are the correlations for 2012 team pitching (source for all this is fangraphs).


*As always, correlation does not imply causation.

Okay, with that out of the way... let’s go to the spreads!

xFIP and ERA: The best differentials


xFIP and ERA: the bottom differentials:


An easy way to think about this is that the teams with a positive differential are lucky and the teams with negative differentials have been unlucky.  However, just because a team is unlucky doesn’t mean they’re good, as the Astros have the worst ERA in the league, they’re unlucky, but still have the worst xFIP in the league.

Here’s a look at the statistical breakdown of only the differential:

Standard Deviation

Three teams really stand out on the list: the Tigers, Pirates and A’s.  The Pirates and A’s both have performed much better than you’d expect—in fact, the A’s and Pirates have a differential which is two standard deviations beyond the mean.  Meanwhile, the Tigers ERA is much higher than how they’ve pitched, and fall nearly two standard deviations from the mean in the wrong direction (and with FIP they are more than two standard deviations; I’m not going to post the FIP info, but it’s similar as you’d expect).

Let’s take this team by team.

Pirates: The good news is that their xFIP is 8th best in the majors and their ERA is the best in the league.  Their HR/FB rate is a tad below league average, but nothing that screams smoke and mirrors.  The Pirates are where they are by mixing skill and luck.

First the skill.  They lead the league in ground ball rate at 50.9%, this is two standard deviations beyond the league average. That’s really good.  I think ground balls is more of a skill than luck, but obviously there is a bit of both involved.  And in a way, it’s amazing their high ground ball rate has lead to an insanely low BABIP... the luck.

The team .265 BABIP is crazy low.  Between 2009 and 2012, only the ‘11 Rays had a BABIP below .270, and only two other teams had a BABIP below .275.  In other words, some sort of regression is probably going to take place, some of those ground balls are going to get through the infield for hits. That’s going to lead to more base runners. Base runners mean runs, unless...

You’re able to keep the strand rate (LOB%) high. And the Pirates lead the league in that too with a 77.7% strand rate (again two standard deviations beyond the mean).  So guys aren’t getting on base, and when they do get on base they’re left there... that leads to not many runs and you get the Pirates.  They’re doing this on some skill and a good amount of luck.

Odds are they can’t keep up the low BABIP and high LOB%, but I don’t doubt their ground ball rate staying high.  They’re a pretty good fielding team, so that’s going to help keep runners off base.  But the best news for Pittsburgh is that they’ve got 56 wins in the bank and a 5/5.5 game lead over the Nats, Phillies and Dodgers.  Last year, 88 wins got the Cards into the playoffs; they don’t even need to play .500 baseball to reach 90 wins. So while they probably won’t keep playing .600 baseball, they’re a really good bet to make the playoffs.

A’s: Hey they’re pretty good.  What’s interesting is their FIP-ERA spread isn’t nearly as great (0.24) which while still on the positive side, really highlights the A’s success this year: they haven’t allowed home runs.  

Their 8.5% HR/FB rate is the lowest in the majors and what makes it really amazing is that they’re also last in ground ball rate at 39.2%.  In other words, the A’s get a lot of outs via the fly ball and those fly balls leave the yard at a rate well below the league average/median (10.8%).

The A’s also have a pretty low BABIP (.272), and while you’d expect that to rise, it’s not as likely as the Pirates.  But the A’s have their work cut out for them still as the Rangers are right behind them and then the entire AL East (minus Toronto) and the Indians are in this wild card race. So Oakland has had some luck, but really it’s the BABIP more than the home run rate, since their HR/FB has been around that 8/9% the last few seasons, probably due to where they play their home games.

Tigers: And now, on to the most overrated team in the majors.  The Tigers are good, they’re really good. But the ‘27 Yankees or ‘05 White Sox they aren’t.  Sure the numbers look great because they strike out everyone—9.11 per nine which leads the majors and is two standard deviations beyond the mean.  They’ve got a slight above average ground ball rate and a slightly below average LOB%. They don’t allow a ton of home runs per 9, but their HR/FB rate is right around the league average.

Yet, their FIP and xFIP spreads are huge. Like only Seattle has sort of as large of a spread as the Tigers.  Many will say that the Tigers are unlucky with a BABIP of .312 which is tied for worst in the majors. But I disagree.

What were the Tigers expecting when they trot out Miggy, Prince and Peralta every day?  Miggy’s -11.9 UZR* is brutal and Prince’s -7.7 is barely better and rank last and second to last in the league at their position.  Peralta, who came over from Cleveland with bad defensive figures was solid last year by UZR, but I wonder if that might have been because he was getting to a few balls that a ‘normal’ shortstop wouldn’t get because the third baseman would have taken care of it.  This year his UZR numbers are outright average which leads me to believe that if you hit a ground ball against the Tigers, you’ve got a good chance for it to turn into a single. 

*Like everyone I don't put much stock in single season UZR, but these two have never been all that great in the field and they fail the eye test too.

And that’s how you beat the Tigers. You put the ball in play. The Tigers power arms will expose high strikeout teams more so than anyone else in the league.  But teams that don’t strike out as much are Detroits achilles heel because the Tigers can’t field.

I think the Tigers are too good and have too many games against the Sox to not make the playoffs.  But they should be worried because I’m not sure that BABIP is going to regress.  But you know what might regress? The Indians HR/FB rate of 12.9%, tied for highest in the majors (and don't forget, the Tribe make an appearance in the worst xFIP-ERA spread).  If the Indians pitching staff can stop walking everyone and then get some fly ball luck, the Tigers might find themselves in a one game playoff against the Rangers or O’s or Yankees.  Or out of the playoff picture entirely.

Of course, if I was the Tigers, I'd sacrifice Peralta’s offense for a slick fielding shortstop.  Last year, they upgraded their defense at second when they picked up Omar Infante.  I think the smart move would be to sacrifice whatever offense Peralta is giving you for a shortstop that can cover for Miggy’s horribleness at third, because it will matter in the playoffs.