Stats & Info: Detroit Tigers

Top stats to know: Rays at Tigers

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
2:37
PM ET

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsVictor Martinez’s 21 home runs this season are only four short of his career high (25 in 2007).
The Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers play the second game of their four-game series tonight (7 ET, ESPN/WatchESPN). We take a look at some of the things the broadcast crew will talk about.

Rays' offense on the rebound?
Tampa Bay is averaging only 3.76 runs per game this season, which ranks 26th in MLB and 14th in the AL. Since scoring 4.96 runs per game in 2009, Tampa’s scoring has gone down every season.

Tampa Bay’s offense has been especially anemic on the road this season. But the Rays are 6-2 on their current road trip and the offense appears to be making some progress.

Pitching matchup
Alex Cobb takes the ball for the Rays. He started the season off strong with a 1.89 ERA over his first three starts but has been inconsistent since coming off the DL in late May (5.16 ERA in eight starts). While Cobb has been up and down at times, he has the fourth-highest ground-ball rate in the American League (56.5 percent).

Expect to see plenty of changeups from Cobb. He throws it 32 percent of the time, the second-highest rate in the majors (with a minimum of 10 starts). Miguel Cabrera is hitting .412 against changeups this season, the third-highest rate in the AL.

For the Tigers, Drew Smyly looks to bounce back from the shortest start of his career. He allowed four runs and eight hits in only 2 1/3 innings Sunday against the Astros. Smyly had pitched well before that with a 1.44 ERA in his previous four starts.

Hail to Victor
Since July 1 last season, Victor Martinez leads the majors in hitting (.347). He already has 21 home runs this season, just four short of his career high (25 in 2007).

Despite the power, Martinez has the lowest swing-and-miss rate in baseball this season (8.2 percent). He is one of five hitters to miss on less than 10 percent of swings this season, and the other four have combined for six home runs.

Longoria lacking power
Evan Longoria has seen his power numbers fall off this season. His 10 homers would be his fewest before the All-Star break in any first half in which he played at least 25 games.

His slugging percentage has dropped to a career-low .390, which ranks 108th among 167 qualified hitters. Notable players with a higher slugging percentage include light-hitting speedsters Dee Gordon (.412), Alcides Escobar (.410) and Billy Hamilton (.400).

Power by Scherzer, bats too much for Rays

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
10:53
PM ET
Thanks to Max Scherzer and an early power display, the Detroit Tigers opened up a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays with an 8-1 win.

Scherzer dominates
Max Scherzer fell three outs short of the second complete game of his career, but he might have been even more dominant than he was in his shutout on May 12.

Scherzer allowed only two hits and one walk in his eight innings. It was only the second time in his career that he allowed three or fewer baserunners while recording at least 21 outs. He had an identical line – 8 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 7 K – against the Cleveland Indians last May.

He did it with a much more effective fastball than over the last month. While posting a 4.81 ERA in June, he threw fastballs at least half the time in every game and 27 percent of his heaters were up in the zone. On Thursday, under half of his pitches were fastballs and on 19 percent were up.

Due to the better location, opposing hitters were only 1-for-14 with four strikeouts against his heater. During June, opponents hit .263 against his fastball.

It was Scherzer’s fourth straight win against the Rays after going 0-2 in his first three starts against Tampa Bay.

It was over when...
The Tigers scored five runs in the first inning. The Rays have been held to four or fewer runs in each of their last 19 meetings against Detroit.

According to Elias, that’s the longest streak in the American League since 1996-98, when the New York Yankees held the Toronto Blue Jays to four or fewer runs in 23 straight meetings.

Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter all hit home runs in the first inning. The Tigers are just the sixth team to hit three homers in an inning this season and the second to do so in the first (the other is the Los Angeles Angels on April 13 against the New York Mets).

Wednesday Night Baseball: Tigers-Rangers

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
4:16
PM ET

Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Aníbal Sánchez takes a 2.33 ERA into Wednesday’s start against the Rangers.
The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers square off on Wednesday Night Baseball at 8 ET on ESPN2.

The Tigers have won five in a row and lead the Kansas City Royals by three games in the AL Central. The Rangers are 11 1/2 games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West and on a six-game losing streak.

Here are three statistical storylines of two teams headed in different directions going into the matchup.

Anibal Sanchez leads the way

Aníbal Sánchez, the Tigers’ starter Wednesday night, has been the best pitcher on a staff that features two of the past three AL Cy Young Award winners. Since joining the Tigers’ rotation in 2012, Sánchez has an ERA of 2.79. Only Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners has a lower ERA among qualified AL starters during that time (2.73).

Sánchez uses off-speed pitches 52 percent of the time, the fifth-highest percentage among AL starters (minimum 10 starts). Among the 65 AL starters with at least 10 starts in 2014, Sánchez ranks in the top 11 in opponent batting average (.185), on-base percentage (.219) and slugging percentage (.260) in at-bats that end with off-speed pitches.

J.D. Martinez stays hot

J.D. Martinez followed up his award-winning week with a 2-for-5 performance that included a two-run home run Tuesday. Martinez began his current 13-game hit streak June 9 and has raised his batting average from .242 to .314 in the process.

Martinez has 12 extra-base hits during his hitting streak, including five home runs. Both numbers are tied for the best in baseball over the past 16 days.

Joe Saunders struggles

Wednesday’s starter for the Rangers is Joe Saunders. Saunders is 0-3 with a 4.11 ERA in six starts this season and has not won a start since Aug. 31, 2013. Saunders is 0-6 in 10 starts since that win.

Opponents have a .346 batting average against Saunders this season, worst among MLB starters (minimum six starts). Teammate Colby Lewis has the second-worst batting average against at .345.

Saunders is 1-3 with a 5.20 ERA in 10 career starts against the Tigers.

Verlander's struggles continue

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
12:12
AM ET

AP Photo/Carlos OsorioJustin Verlander has allowed at least five earned runs in six of his past seven starts.
Justin Verlander has seen much better days in his career. The Detroit Tigers hurler gave up seven earned runs on 12 hits to the Royals on Monday, which tied or set season worsts.

Season-long struggles for Verlander
Monday’s outing is representative of Verlander’s struggles all season. For the first time in his career, he has allowed seven or more earned runs in consecutive starts. He’s now allowed at least five earned runs in six of his past seven starts, posting a 7.83 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP in that span.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Verlander joins Gaylord Perry as the only former Cy Young winners to allow at least five earned runs in six starts in a seven-start span (Perry did it in seven straight in 1975).

Verlander has allowed at least five earned runs in six of his 15 starts this season. Last season, he allowed five or more earned runs six times over 34 starts. Since winning the American League Cy Young and MVP in 2011, Verlander has allowed five earned runs in a higher percentage of his starts each season.

Verlander’s nemesis and declining fastball
One of the biggest plays in the game came when Billy Butler hit a three-run double off of Verlander in the fifth inning to put the Royals up for good. Butler has dominated Verlander historically, as his 33 hits, .434 career batting average and 14 RBIs against Verlander are the best of any player (minimum 30 plate appearances).

The pitch Butler doubled off Verlander was a low-and-inside fastball. In nine at-bats against Verlander this season, Butler has three hits, all of which came off fastballs.

Verlander has not been able to overpower opposing batters with his fastball the way he used to, as he’s allowed a .307 batting average with his fastball this season, all the way up from .215 in his Cy Young campaign in 2011.

Over the past six seasons, Verlander has lost a lot of life off his fastball. In 2009, Verlander’s average fastball velocity was 95.6 mph, second-best in the majors and best in the American League. This season, he’s down to 92.6 mph, which is outside of the top 25 qualified pitchers in MLB.

Scherzer finally a finisher

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
1:05
AM ET
Max Scherzer had done just about everything possible from a pitching perspective over the last two seasons. He filled in a missing blank on Thursday with his first career complete game, a three-hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox

Scherzer made 178 starts before finishing what he started.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that before Scherzer, the pitcher who had started the most games in baseball's modern era without ever completing one was Tony Armas (167).

Scherzer was in need of a start like this. He entered the night with a 6.84 ERA and .354 opponents’ batting average in his four previous starts.

The Tigers ace has won his last four decisions against the White Sox. This season, he’s 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA against them. He’s also 16-1 against AL Central teams over the last two seasons.

Key matchup: Scherzer vs Jose Abreu
Scherzer has done a nice job against Jose Abreu, holding him to one hit in 10 at-bats in the three meetings between the teams.

On Thursday, Abreu was 0 for 4. Scherzer threw 11 pitches to Abreu and all 11 were in the lower half of the strike zone or below.

That was smart, considering that Abreu is hitting .389 with misses on 20 percent of his swings in the upper half of the zone, but is hitting .199 with a 39 percent miss rate in the lower half or below.

Long-lasting stuff
Scherzer averaged 93 mph with his fastball and that velocity held through the final three innings of the game. His fastest pitch of the game was his last pitch of the game—a 96 mph fastball to freeze Dayan Viciedo.

Next-up: Bud Norris
Now that Scherzer has a complete game, the current pitcher with the most career starts without one is Bud Norris of the Baltimore Orioles (139).

Top stats to know: Red Sox at Tigers

June, 8, 2014
Jun 8
3:21
PM ET
"Sunday Night Baseball" features a rematch of the 2013 American League Championship Series with the Detroit Tigers hosting the Boston Red Sox and trying to finish a sweep.

Both teams have some positives and lots of issues to discuss, as each has had trouble meeting expectations in 2014. Here are some of the topics our broadcast crew will be talking about tonight.

Star watch: Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera has ripped Red Sox pitching this season, with 11 hits in 19 at-bats, including four doubles and a home run, along with three walks. He has more doubles against them than he has swings and misses.

Cabrera has 376 home runs, 1,311 RBIs and a .321 batting average in his career. Only five other players have ever amassed those numbers, with all five being in the Hall of Fame.

Matchup to watch: David Ortiz vs. Anibal Sanchez
Red Sox DH Ortiz enters today 4-for-10 in his career against Tigers starter Sanchez, combining regular-season and postseason play. Ortiz hit two home runs and a double against Sanchez in 2006 but is 1-for-7 with two strikeouts and two walks against him since then.

Left-handed hitters are 15-for-106 (.142 batting average) with zero home runs and 29 strikeouts against Sanchez this season and 4-for-44 against him in his last three starts. One reason is that Sanchez has four options that he can throw for strikes to a lefty. His strike rates with his fastball, curveball, changeup and slider are all 60 percent or better against left-handed batters.

Rookie watch: Xander Bogaerts
Each team’s third baseman is worth keeping an eye on. We wrote up Nick Castellanos’ recent success Saturday night.

But Red Sox infielder Bogaerts has him beat.

Through May 13, Bogaerts was hitting .252 with a .705 OPS. On May 14, he would go 2-for-4, and it’s been smooth sailing since. Bogaerts is hitting .362 with a .596 slugging percentage in his last 23 games, with four home runs and 10 doubles.

Bogaerts has improved the most against pitches on the outer half, as noted in the chart on the right.

What’s going on with the Red Sox offense?
The Red Sox are tied for 11th in the American League with 4.07 runs per game. Their .246 batting average and .375 slugging percentage are down 31 and 71 points from last season, respectively.

Boston has particularly been hurting at the bottom of the lineup. Its Nos. 6 through 9 hitters are batting .220 with a .628 OPS and 241 strikeouts. Each of those ranks worst in the American League.

What’s going on with Torii Hunter’s defense?
For much of his career, Hunter has been one of baseball’s top defensive outfielders, both via advanced defensive metrics and the eye test.

But Hunter’s best days appear to be behind him. Over the past two seasons as the Tigers right fielder, he has -23 Defensive Runs Saved (had 24 in the positive column in 2011 and 2012), with his -13 this season ranking last at that position in the major leagues.

Hunter’s Web Gem potential this season has been minimal. In 2011, he was credited with 36 Good Fielding Plays (think Web Gem nominee-type plays) by video scouts from Baseball Info Solutions. This season, in about one-third as many innings, he has only three such plays.

Top stats to know: Tigers at Indians

May, 19, 2014
May 19
11:18
AM ET
The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians begin a three-game series tonight (7 ET on ESPN) at Progressive Field.

The Tigers dominated the Indians last year, winning 15 of 19 games, their most wins against the Indians in a season since 1960.

Can anyone tame the Tigers?
The Tigers once again are atop the AL Central, leading by seven games, the largest division lead in the majors. They have the best record in the AL and only the Oakland Athletics (+95) have a better run differential than the Tigers (+55).

Detroit has reached the ALCS in each of the last three seasons yet has zero World Series wins in that span.

This year they'll try to become just the fourth team to make four consecutive ALCS appearances and the first since the Yankees from 1998-2001.

The Tigers have also been nearly unbeatable on the road this season with a MLB-best 14-4 record and wins in each of their last 11 games away from home, their longest road win streak since 1983-84.

Cabrera rounding into form
Miguel Cabrera started the season cold but has been on a tear over the past month. Through April 21, he was hitting just .206 with one homer. In 23 games since then he has hit six home runs and a .389 batting average in that span.

As you can see in the chart on the right, his numbers for the season are now on par or better than what he did in his first 39 games in 2012, when he won the MVP and Triple Crown.

What are some of the keys to his turnaround so far?

From 2011-13, no AL player had a higher batting average vs. off-speed pitches than Cabrera. Yet he started this season just 4 for 23 (.174) against soft stuff in his first 16 games. Since then he has been crushing those offerings, hitting .533 with three homers in at-bats ending in an off-speed pitch.

Cabrera is also hitting the ball with authority to all fields now. Through April 21, he had just one hit to right field, a double against the Royals on April 19.

In 23 games since then he is 14 for 30 when putting the ball in play to the opposite field, and four of his six homers in that span have gone over the right field fence. Over the last five seasons, only Joey Votto (47) has more opposite field homers than Cabrera (42).

Indians defensive problems
The Indians rank 26th in runs allowed so it’s no surprise that they are arguably the worst defensive team in the majors this year.

They have the fewest Defensive Runs Saved, the most errors, the lowest defensive efficiency, and have allowed the most unearned runs.

The Indians have negative Defensive Runs Saved at every position except pitcher and catcher this season, meaning every other position has cost them at least a run on defense.

The Carlos Santana experiment at third base has not worked well for the Indians on defense this season. He has played the majority of the team's games at the hot corner and has cost the team four runs, the third-most of any third baseman in the majors.

Top stats to know: Tigers at Red Sox

May, 18, 2014
May 18
2:22
PM ET
The Detroit Tigers go for the sweep of the Boston Red Sox as they look to extend their winning streak to six games on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 p.m., ESPN).

The Tigers have outscored the Red Sox 7-1 in the series and have the 2013 American League ERA champ returning to the mound tonight. Here are some of the storylines Dan Shulman, John Kruk and Buster Olney will be talking about on our telecast.

Inside the Pitching Matchup: Sanchez vs. Peavy
Anibal Sanchez has gone from a solid midrotation starter with the Marlins to front-line caliber with the Tigers. His ERA, which was 3.70 from 2010 to 2012, dropped to 2.63 combining 2013 and 2014, with a strikeout rate that increased from 21 percent to 27 percent of hitters faced.

What has changed about Sanchez’s profile? He is throwing his devastating changeup more often than he used to, increasing its use from 15 times per 100 pitches (2010 to 2012) to 23 times per 100 pitches (2013 and 2014).

Red Sox starter Jake Peavy has had his share of struggles this season, and the primary reason for this has been something uncharacteristic -- wildness. Peavy leads AL starting pitchers with a 13 percent walk rate this season.

Star Watch: Ortiz vs. Cabrera
What should we be watching out for from two of the game’s premier power hitters in David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera this evening?

With Ortiz, watch how Sanchez pitches him. If Sanchez throws him a pitch on the outer half of the plate, he’s living dangerously. Ortiz has a .364 batting average (best in the majors) over the past three seasons in at-bats that end with an outer-half pitch.

With Cabrera in the middle of a potent Tigers lineup, see how the Red Sox approach the situation should they face him with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Over the past three seasons, Cabrera is hitting .444 (56-for-126) with 15 homers in that scenario. Even when opponents try to avoid him, they can’t. He is 19-for-49 in those situations when the at-bat ends with a pitch out of the strike zone.

Red-Hot: Victor Martinez
Tigers DH Martinez got off to a slow start last season but has been one of the best hitters in the game over the past 11 months. Martinez’s .357 batting average since July 1 is the best in the majors over that span.

Martinez has hit safely in 18 of his last 19 games, with six home runs in 74 at-bats. He is 3-for-9 in this series, but the damage could be far worse. He has recorded six balls that our hit classification system charted as “hard-hit.”

What makes Martinez so challenging is that he is extraordinarily difficult to strike out. He has fanned in only 6 percent of his plate appearances this season, the lowest rate among any hitter currently qualified for the batting title.

Cabrera's dominant form reemerges

May, 14, 2014
May 14
1:45
AM ET
Pretty soon, you'll forget that Miguel Cabrera had any early-season struggles.

Cabrera’s go-ahead home run in the ninth inning off Tommy Hunter continued his red-hot play of late, as the Tigers snared a comeback win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Though the start to Cabrera’s 2014 season left a lot to be desired, he’s rounding into MVP form over the last three weeks, and is now hitting .298 with an .846 OPS this season, with the second-most RBIs in the American League (33). That’s in large part because he’s hit .372 since April 22.

Let’s dig deeper to found out what’s been the key to his turnaround.

Covering the outer half
The most noteworthy change for Cabrera has been in his ability to get to the pitch on the outer half of the plate -– as he did on the home run against Hunter.

Through April 21, Cabrera was hitting .167 with a .222 slugging percentage against pitches on the outer half. Since then, he’s hitting .371 with a .686 slugging percentage against those pitches.

You can see the difference in the hot zone images below.


This is more like what we're used to from Cabrera, who has ranked in the top 5 in OPS against pitches on the outer half in each season since 2009.

Mr. Clutch
Cabrera has 11 go-ahead home runs in the ninth inning or later since the start of the 2008 season.

No one else in the majors has more than eight such home runs in that same span.

Cabrera has racked up accolades, dollars

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
8:39
PM ET

Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesMiguel Cabrera hits almost everything.
The Detroit Tigers have reportedly agreed to a new 10-year deal with Miguel Cabrera that will be worth $292 million. It would be the largest deal in major league history.

Cabrera’s accomplishments


For his career, Cabrera has 365 home runs, 1,260 RBI and a .321 batting average. Only seven other players have ever amassed those numbers over an entire career. Six of them are in the Hall of Fame. The other is Albert Pujols.

Over the past 10 seasons, Cabrera’s average season is a .324 batting average with 35 home runs, 120 RBIs and 191 hits. He’s played 1,573 games in that span, which trails only Ichiro Suzuki's 1,588.

Cabrera has 227 homers and 737 RBIs over the last six seasons, both of which rank as the best in baseball.

Over the past three seasons, Cabrera has totaled a major league-best 22.1 WAR (wins above replacement).

Cabrera has also been clutch: His slash line with runners in scoring position and two outs over the past four seasons is .389/.545/.717.

His ability to drive the ball separates him as well. He hit home runs on 25 percent of his fly balls last season, a rate that trailed only Chris Davis (27.9) in the American League.

Cabrera can hit any pitch. Over the past five seasons, he has 35 home runs on pitches that were inside and out of the strike zone. No one else has more than 25.

The 10-year deal


There are not a lot of completed 10-year deals from which to draw upon. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter had one from 2001 to 2010, during which he accumulated 41.1 WAR and netted $189 million.

Troy Tulowitzki and Pujols are in the midst of 10-year deals. Tulowitzki’s started in 2011, and in the first three seasons, he’s missed 170 games and posted 11.8 WAR.

Pujols also had injury issues that caused him to miss 63 games in 2013, the second year of his 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Now-suspended Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez had a pair of 10-year deals, the first of which ran from 2001 to 2007 before he opted out. In that seven-year span, he averaged eight WAR per season. In the second iteration of that deal, one that runs until he is 42 years old, he’s averaged 3.6 WAR over six seasons.

Among those starting 10-year deals this season are Cabrera, Joey Votto and Robinson Cano.

What are the chances it’s worth it?


Let’s use Baseball-Reference WAR to take a quick look at the expectations for Cabrera.

If the Tigers hope that Cabrera will be worth 40 WAR over the course of the contract, that wouldn’t be unprecedented. There are 21 instances since 1900 of a player tallying 40 WAR in a span of a maximum of 10 seasons that began with their age-31 season.

These include some of the greatest players of all time: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Ted Williams.

Only nine players accumulated 50 WAR over that span.

However, Baseball-Reference lists Cabrera as weighing 240 pounds. The most WAR accumulated over a maximum 10-year span by a player listed at 220 pounds or heavier and age 31 or older is Jim Thome’s 32.4.

One potential comparable for Cabrera could be Frank Thomas. Over a 10-year period from 1999 to 2008, starting with his age-31 season, "The Big Hurt" averaged 23 homers and 74 RBI, with a .277/.390/.521 slash line and played an average of 109 games per season.

Another could be Andres Galarraga, who had the advantage of playing in hitter-friendly Colorado. Over the 10 years from 1992 to 2001, Galarraga had a .302/.361/.550 slash line, averaging 27 homers, 91 RBI and 119 games from ages 31 to 40.

KC looks for Infante to replicate success

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
7:07
PM ET
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsOmar Infante's specialty is making sure bat meets ball.
The Kansas City Royals made what they think is an upgrade to their infield by agreeing to a four-year deal with free agent second baseman Omar Infante on Friday.

They’re counting on two different things from Infante—that his offensive numbers from last season can be maintained, even though they’re a bit abberational, and that his defensive numbers from last season were an aberration, and will return to what they were in past seasons.

Offense
Infante hit .318, with a .345 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage last season. He had the fourth-highest batting average among anyone in the American League with at least 250 plate appearances last season.

He also ranked as the third-toughest hitter in the league to strike out, fanning in only 9.2 percent of his plate appearances last season.

Infante was among the game’s best two-strike hitters last season, hitting .272 with a .430 slugging percentage in those situations, each of which ranked fifth-best in the majors (among those with at least 100 two-strike plate appearances).

These numbers differ from his career totals and recent trends in a couple of ways. He hit .218 in two-strike situations from 2008 to 2012, and his five two-strike home runs were one more than he had from 2009 to 2012 combined.

Royals second baseman had a .243/.296/.304 slashline last season. Their .600 OPS at the position rated 28th among the 30 major-league teams. It marked the third straight season that Royals second baseman ranked in the bottom seven of the league in that statistic.

Defense
The one thing that the Royals did get out of their second baseman last season was defense. Their second basemen combined for 18 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of any team in the major leagues.

Infante normally rates as a steady second baseman. He had 13 Defensive Runs Saved at the position from 2010 to 2012. But last season, he finished with -5 Defensive Runs Saved.

Infante’s rating was hurt by issues handling line drives and popups. He may be helped moving to Kansas City and working with Royals outfielders Lorenzo Cain and David Lough, each of whom had positive ratings on balls hit to the shallowest parts of the outfield.

The contract
Infante will reportedly net $30.25 million over the course of the deal. He joins Jason Vargas, who received $32 million over four years, as the team’s two primary free-agent signings. It’s the first time in Royals history that they’ve signed two free agents to contracts worth $30 million in the same offseason.

He’s the 11th free agent this offseason to agree to a contract worth $30 million. The last offseason with more such deals was in 2006-2007, when there were 14.

Tuesday's priority: Upgrade bullpen, 'd'

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
7:03
PM ET
It was a very, very busy Tuesday in baseball and the priorities for the teams involved in making moves revolved around two areas- relief pitching and defense.

The Tigers made the biggest transaction of the day so far, signing free agent closer Joe Nathan to a two-year contract.

Nathan is the active leader in saves with 341, tied with Hall-of-Famer Rollie Fingers for 10th most all-time. Nathan comes off a season in which he had a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves. His four seasons with 43 or more saves rank tied for third-most all-time.

The upgrade in putting Nathan as closer ahead of Joaquin Benoit is tied to the history of each with regards to giving up home runs.

Benoit has allowed a homer every 30 at-bats over the last three seasons. Nathan has allowed one every 39 at-bats.

Athletics continue remake with Gregerson
The Athletics traded Seth Smith to the Padres for middle-relief specialist Luke Gregerson.

Gregerson brings durability, having made 70 or more appearances in four of the last five seasons. His 132 holds in that span are by far the most in the majors.

Gregerson succeeds despite not throwing that hard. His average fastball is 89 mph. He’s thrown nearly 1,800 sliders over the last three seasons. The only reliever to throw more is Carlos Marmol.

Gregerson will pair with Jim Johnson to form a new back end of the Athletics bullpen.

Bell will toll for Rays
Heath Bell will join his fourth team in as many seasons, as he’s headed to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade.

After three straight 40-save seasons, Bell has sputtered the last two years with the Marlins and Diamondbacks.

Bell did have 72 strikeouts and 16 walks last season, a ratio comparable to what the Rays got from their closer, Fernando Rodney, in 2012.

But the focus for the Rays will be on keeping Bell’s homer total down. He yielded 12 in 65 2/3 innings, or two more than he allowed in nearly 200 innings of work from 2010 to 2012.

Gentry goes to the Athletics
The Athletics obtained Craig Gentry from the Texas Rangers and could plug him into their outfield in a number of ways.

His best spot from a defensive perspective is centerfield. Gentry ranks 29th in innings at that position over the last three seasons, but rates tied for third with 32 Defensive Runs Saved in that same span.

Gentry doesn’t hit for power but does have a .365 on-base percentage over the last three seasons.

He also can net extra bases after reaching, as he’s 55 for 65 in stolen base tries over the last three seasons (an 85 percent success rate that rates 11th-best among those with 40 or more steals).

Hanigan to the Rays
A bunch of catchers changed teams, with A.J. Pierzynski signing with the Red Sox and Jarrod Saltalamacchia subsequently heading to the Marlins.

Those were offensive-minded moves in each case (as noted in the chart at right), but the Rays snuck in and made a prominent move for their defense.

The trade with the Reds for Ryan Hanigan gives the Rays a second catcher highly regarded for his pitch-framing (as noted in this Grantland piece) and throwing arm.

Opponents have 52 steals against Hanigan and have been caught 38 times by him (they were also caught nine times by pitchers) over the last two seasons. The 58 percent steal success rate was the second-lowest against a catcher, behind only the 56 percent success rate against Yadier Molina.

Hanigan hit only .198 last season, but he walked more than he struck out for the fifth time in the five seasons in which he’s had at least 200 plate appearances. He had an on-base percentage of .350 or better in each season from 2009 to 2012.

Top stats to know: Fister unrewarded, solid

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
10:56
PM ET
The Washington Nationals traded two prospects and a utility infielder to land Doug Fister in a deal with the Detroit Tigers. Fister may not have the awards on his mantel like former teammates Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but he’s put together a good run of numbers the last few seasons. Here’s a look at some of them.

Consistency
Fister is one of six American League pitchers to throw at least 100 innings and post an ERA of 3.75 or below in each of the last three seasons. The others are Jered Weaver, Verlander, James Shields, David Price and Felix Hernandez.

Comparable to high-end pitchers
Fister’s 4.1 Wins Above Replacement last season are more than any pitcher on the Nationals had last season. His 7.4 Wins Above Replacement over the last two seasons rank 23rd-best in the majors in that span, tied with Zack Greinke.

Fit for the NL
Fister has terrific numbers in a limited sample against National League teams. He has a 2.04 ERA and .226 opponents' batting average in 79 1/3 innings, including his World Series appearance against the San Francisco Giants in 2012.

Ground-ball machine
Fister had the third-highest ground-ball rate (55 percent)in the majors among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season . However, opponents hit .276 against him on ground balls and bunts, the sixth-highest such opponents’ batting average in the majors.

With that, it should be noted that Fister is going from a Tigers team whose non-pitchers had -26 Defensive Runs Saved in the majors last season (with significant issues at the corner spots) to a Nationals team whose non-pitchers were worth -10 Defensive Runs Saved last season.

Tough to run against
Fister is very tough to steal bases against. Over the last four seasons, opponents are 16 for 30 in stealing bases with him on the mound.

Fister had the fifth-lowest rate of steals allowed per 9 innings (0.2) among the 100 pitchers who have pitched the most innings in that span.

Fielder trade: Follow the money

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
12:40
AM ET

USA TODAY SportsThe Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade should open up playing time for young players Jurickson Profar and Nick Castellanos.
The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers agreed to a blockbuster trade Tuesday that might be as much about future salary as it is about current talent.

The Tigers will send Prince Fielder, who is due to make $168 million over the next seven seasons, to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. The second baseman is due to make another $62 million through 2018, a year in which he has a $10 million club option or $5 million buyout.

Fielder is the fourth player in MLB history to be dealt with more than $100 million remaining on his contract. He joins Alex Rodriguez, who was dealt from the Rangers to the Yankees, as well as Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, who were part of the same deal between the Red Sox and the Dodgers.

Big-time production
Fielder has had one of the best starts to his career by a left-handed power hitter. His 285 career home runs are the fifth-most in MLB history before the age of 30 by a lefty, behind just Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott and Adam Dunn.

During his two years in Detroit, Fielder was one of four players to hit 50 home runs, drive in 200 runs and hit .290 along with now former teammate Miguel Cabrera, free agent Robinson Cano and Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

Kinsler, who entered the league in 2006, has been one of the best second baseman in the game. His 34.9 WAR is the fourth-best among second basemen in that span behind just Chase Utley, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia.

One thing to watch for this upcoming season is how Kinsler adapts to playing in Detroit, as he was much more productive at the Ballpark in Arlington in his career than on the road, hitting 62 points higher.

Postseason pasts
One area where the two players have had different degrees of success is in the postseason.

Since joining the Tigers, Prince Fielder hit .196 in 92 postseason at-bats with just one home run. And in his past 18 postseason games, Fielder hasn’t driven in a single run.

Kinsler, meanwhile, has hit .311 in his postseason career.

Roster impact
For the Rangers, the roster change is fairly apparent, as they had three quality middle infielders for two spots last season, including Elvis Andrus whose eight-year, $120 million extension starts in 2015. Moving Kinsler allows Jurickson Profar to man second base, while Fielder provides a big upgrade over Mitch Moreland at first base. Profar was Keith Law’s No. 1 prospect heading into last season.

For Detroit, moving Fielder allows Miguel Cabrera to take over at first base -- where he won’t be as big of a liability on defense. It also opens the door at third for the Tigers’ top prospect, Nick Castellanos, who started his career as a third baseman but was moved to the outfield in 2012. Castellanos was a first-round pick in 2010 and was the 2012 Futures Game MVP.

Top stats to know: Miguel Cabrera, MVP

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
7:20
PM ET

Miguel Cabrera crushes the ball regardless of where it is pitched.
Miguel Cabrera won his second straight MVP award on Thursday night, in a season in which he nearly matched the numbers of his 2012 Triple Crown campaign.

That much you know. But here are a few things you might not know about Cabrera as it relates to his second straight MVP.

• Cabrera is the second Tigers player to win the MVP in consecutive seasons. The first to do so was not Ty Cobb or Hank Greenberg or any of the other Tigers all-time greats. Instead, it was future Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser, who dominated in both 1944 and 1945 (a time when many players were fighting in World War II).

There has been at least one back-to-back MVP winner at every position on the diamond, but Newhouser is the only pitcher among them.

• The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Cabrera hit .348 with 44 homers and 137 RBIs in 2013. Over the past 80 years, the only other player with consecutive seasons of a batting average of .325 or higher, with 40 homers and 130 RBIs, is Todd Helton for the 2000 and 2001 Colorado Rockies.

• The Tigers are the first AL team since the 1960-63 Yankees to capture three or more straight MVP awards. The Tigers are also the first team to win five of the six MVP/Cy Young awards in a three-year span in major league history.

• You could make a case that this was the best offensive season by a third baseman in major league history. Cabrera’s .348/.442/.636 slash line was duplicated by only one other third baseman in baseball’s modern era (since 1900). George Brett had a .390/.454/.664 slash line in winning AL MVP for the 1980 Royals.

• What makes Cabrera so much better than the typical major league hitter?

Cabrera had a major league-best nine home runs against pitches outside of the strike zone in 2013. Cabrera hit .263 with a .449 slugging percentage when an at-bat ended with a pitch deemed by pitch F/X to be out of the strike zone. The average major league nonpitcher averages .171 and .230 respectively.

Hand in hand with that, Cabrera hit .245 with a .447 slugging percentage and 14 home runs with two strikes. The average major leaguer hits .182 and .274 respectively. Cabrera’s 14 homers trailed only Chris Davis’ 19 (and Davis saw 114 more two-strike pitches than Cabrera).

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