September 2, 2003

Battle of the Titans

I read something on David Pinto's "Baseball Musings" last week that really caught me off guard. According to David's blog entry on August 27th:

This should be a day of celebration in Detroit. The Tigers no longer have the worst offense in the majors.
Team      Runs  Runs per Game 

Dodgers 452 3.477
Tigers 453 3.484

I have to say, this development really snuck up on me. The Tigers were so extraordinarily bad offensively early this season (they hit .184/.258/.262 as a team in April!) that I guess I just had it in my head that they had "Worst Major League Offense, 2003" all wrapped up by May.

Heck, during the first few months of the season, back when I used to write the "Bi-Weekly Review" of the American League Central for Baseball Primer, I took every possible opportunity to make jokes about Detroit's offense. And now, after all that, they aren't even the worst in baseball. It's kind of sad really. Particularly if you are a Dodgers fan.

Here is an update with the current totals:

                 G      RS     RS/G

Detroit 137 486 3.55
Los Angeles 137 478 3.49

The Tigers have been able to maintain that lead they took last week and have actually increased it slightly, so it looks like it's going to be a real race (or limp) to the finish-line.

The amazing thing about Detroit's anemic offense is that they have one of the top offensive players in the American League playing for them.

Dmitri Young has played in 131 of the team's 137 games and is hitting .297/.371/.559 with 28 homers, 26 doubles and 7 triples. He ranks 7th in the AL in slugging percentage, 10th in homers, 16th in Equivalent Average and 15th in Runs Above Replacement Position. Among AL left fielders (the position Young plays most of the time), he ranks 2nd in RARP, behind only Manny Ramirez. In other words, he's having a very good offensive season.

How are the Tigers so bad despite such a good season from Young? Well, as you can probably guess, his teammates aren't doing a whole lot to help him. No other Tiger has an on-base percentage above .335 and 12 different Detroit hitters with at least 50 at bats have an OBP below .300. Along with Young, Carlos Pena is the only other Tiger with a slugging percentage above .450 and 13 Tigers with 50+ at bats have a SLG below .400. It really is a sad, sad group.

Just to put that into some context, the Boston Red Sox have 9 players with at least 350 at bats this season. Of those 9, all but Todd Walker have an OBP of at least .350, all but Walker and Johnny Damon are slugging at least .485, and 6 of the 9 are slugging over .525. But enough about Boston. It's not as fun talking about good offensive teams.

Here is how the Tigers have hit this year, as a team:

 AVG      OBP      SLG

.238 .298 .376

If you take Dmitri Young's contributions out of the mix, the rest of the team is hitting:

 AVG      OBP      SLG

.231 .287 .355

Now, that is a sorry bunch. Actually, that .231/.287/.355 line of Detroit's without Young looks an awful lot like the Dodgers' team offense:

 AVG      OBP      SLG

.241 .302 .359

Of course, the Dodgers have a little more of an excuse than Detroit does, because they play in a league where the pitcher hits. LA pitchers are hitting a combined .118/.135/.161 this season, which would even get them benched in Detroit.

Erasing the pitchers' offensive "contributions" from the equation, the rest of the Dodgers' lineup has the following numbers this year:

 AVG      OBP      SLG

.248 .313 .371

Unlike the Tigers, the Dodgers don't have a single hitter who I consider to be having a "very good" season offensively. While Dmitri Young has been 39.4 Runs Above Replacement Position thus far, the leading Dodger is Shawn Green, at 20.8 RARP. Paul LoDuca is second on the team with 19.0 RARP and Jolbert Cabrera (yes, Jolbert Cabrera) is third with 11.9. And those are the only 3 Dodgers who have been at least 10 RARP this year. In fact, the only other LA hitter who has been more than even 5.0 RARP this year besides those 3 is Brian Jordan (9.8 RARP) and he hasn't played since June 24th.

One could, I suspect, piece together perhaps the worst offensive team in the history of the world simply by using a combination of Detroit and Los Angeles hitters...

                          AVG      OBP      SLG      RARP

C Brandon Inge .209 .269 .370 -0.2
1B Fred McGriff .244 .319 .425 3.4
2B Alex Cora .233 .274 .323 -6.8
SS Ramon Santiago .215 .283 .273 -9.5
3B Adrian Beltre .223 .276 .393 2.5
LF Craig Monroe .226 .280 .435 -0.2
CF Dave Roberts .252 .333 .302 3.2
RF Bobby Higginson .239 .320 .377 1.2
DH Daryle Ward .183 .211 .193 -12.3

That lineup of 4 Tigers and 5 Dodgers has been 18.7 Runs BELOW Replacement Position this year. Which means Barry Bonds, all by himself and despite missing nearly 20 games, has been approximately 110 runs better offensively those those 9 hitters put together. Think about that for a minute.

And that's not some fake lineup where I have Shane Halter at first base and Andres Torres is left field. Every single one of those 9 guys have played that position for their team for a large part of the season, except for Daryle Ward, who obviously couldn't have been a designated hitter in the National League.

I could say a lot of things to try to describe just how awful that team would be offensively, but I think the best and easiest way to put it is to ask exactly how awful a team would have to be in order for Cesar ".246/.278/.309" Izturis to not be bad enough to crack the starting lineup? Enough said.

While the Tigers and Dodgers have almost identical offenses this season...

                 G      AVG      OBP      SLG      RS     RS/G

Detroit 137 .238 .298 .376 486 3.55
Los Angeles 137 .241 .302 .359 478 3.49

...their records are at vastly different.

Detroit is fighting to not lose the most games of any team in the history of the sport (a fight which they are losing, coincidentally), while the Dodgers are currently 72-65 and right in the middle of the NL Wild Card race. Here's the reason:

                 G      RA     RA/G

Detroit 137 771 5.63
Los Angeles 137 457 3.33

Despite what you may have heard from various cliche-wielding baseball fans, pitching (and defense) is, in fact, almost exactly 50% of the game. It's actually quite simple. If you score more runs than your opponent in a game, you win. That can mean scoring 15 runs and allowing 14 or it can mean scoring 1 and allowing 0. And the same thing pretty much holds true over the course of an entire season. If you score more runs than you give up (like the Dodgers have), you are most likely going to win more games than you lose. If you don't (like the Tigers have), you are most likely going to lose more than you win.

The Dodgers have been able to win this season, despite the worst offense in baseball, because their pitching-staff has been phenomenal all year.

The Detroit Tigers have a 5.17 team ERA.

Among the 14 Los Angeles pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings for the Dodgers this year, only Andy Ashby has an ERA above Detroit's team mark of 5.17...and his ERA is 5.18.

I don't know exactly what my point is, but the next time you hear Joe Morgan tell you that wins are far more important for judging a pitcher than ERA is, think of the poor pitchers on the Dodgers, try your hardest not to punch a hole through your computer screen or TV set, and then repeat after me...

Serenity Now...Serenity Now...Serenity Now...

SERENITY NOW!

Link of the Day:

Al's Ramblings - "Whatever strikes me as interesting, and serious Milwaukee Brewers thoughts."

Today's picks:

Atlanta (Ortiz) -150 over New York (Trachsel)

Milwaukee (Martinez) -110 over Cincinnati (Bale)

Minnesota (Balfour) -110 over Anaheim (Ortiz)

New York (Mussina) -130 over Toronto (Escobar)

Boston (Lowe) +105 over Chicago (Buehrle)

Total to date: + 2,740

W/L record: 222-220 (0-1 yesterday for -100.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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