The Detroit Tigers have gone 3-8 thus far in June. The team’s lead atop the American League Central has shrunk from seven games on May 19 to a game and a half on June 14th. Pitching has been the primary culprit with mixed results from the starters and the bullpen. But the offense is not exactly clicking on all cylinders either. And the biggest problem to be found with the offense is a striking loss of patience at the plate.
Going back to 2011, the Tigers have walked between 8.4% and 8.8% each season. This year, that figure is down to 7.0%, a precipitous drop. Four of their regulars in the starting lineup can be found among the thirty worst walk percentages in the league. It has gotten even worse in the last seven days as the team has only walked 3.8% of the time. Not only is that hard to do, but it kills the offense.
So far in June, the team has only a .306 on-base percentage and that figure has dropped to .278 in the last seven days. It’s hard to score runs when you cannot get people on base. The Tigers have been fortunate to score 3.3 runs per game this month. And while that is not quite killer, it is when your pitchers cannot hold down the fort. The Tigers have a -17 run differential in June.
Here are the most active players on the team and their on-base percentages compared to their career averages. The first number is this year, the second, the career average:
- Miguel Cabrera: 7.4%, 11.1%
- Victor Martinez: 8.7%, 9.3%
- Ian Kinsler: 3.9%, 9.3%
- Alex Avila: 13.4%, 12.7%
- Rajai Davis: 5.1%, 5.7%
- Austin Jackson: 9.8%, 8.7%
- Nick Castellanos: 5.6%, N/A
- Torii Hunter: 3.1%, 7.0%
Only Avila and Jackson of that group are higher than their career averages. Jackson lost the lead off spot he once had because of strikeouts and the lack of walks. Now, his on-base percentage is ten points higher than Kinsler’s.
Ian Kinsler’s walk percentage is probably the real surprise of the group. According to PitchF/X data, his O-swing rate or the amount of times he swings at pitches out of the zone has gone up from a career average of 23.5% to 29.6% and his total swing percentage has gone from a career average of 42.3% to 46.4%. Both his O-swing rate and his total swing rate this year are the highest of his career.
Kinsler has also seen a huge jump in first pitch strikes. He has a 58.4% career average of first pitch strikes and that has jumped drastically to 66.7% this season.
Torii Hunter’s game has seemed to disintegrate. We saw this coming and his walk percentage has gone down for three straight years. But his on-base percentage caused by his refusal to take walks has aided in him being rated one of the worst five players in baseball thus far this year
The Tigers have an overall O-swing rate of 31.1% which is the 8th highest in baseball. This compares to 30.9% last year when they finished 13th in the category and it hearkens back to 2012 when the team’s rate was 31.5%.
One of my first thoughts was that maybe the team’s division was throwing a lot more strikes than most other divisions. I found that the teams they play the most–those in the division–are a mixed bag when it comes to allowing walks. The Twins and the Royals are in the top ten for best walk percentage for staffs, but the Indians and White Sox are in the bottom ten. In fact, White Sox pitchers walk more batters than any other team in baseball.
Perhaps this is a team slump that will break. The numbers for guys like Ian Kinsler are just odd and you figure he will bounce back in the second half. I would not put any stock in Torii Hunter getting any better. He looks to be done as an effective player. In either case, the Tigers need to get the team’s walk percentage back up over eight percent the rest of the way to have a decent shot at holding off the Royals.