It’s been a rough weekend series for the Tigers, as they’ve dropped the first three games against the Angels, with a couple of dud starting pitching performances and a quiet offense for the most part. But is this indicative of the fluky nature of baseball, or is there something deeper going on?
First off, do the Tigers really struggle there? Without question, at least recently, the answer is yes. Excluding this season’s games, over the last five years, the Tigers are 4-13 against the Angels in Los Angeles. A 24% win percentage would obviously indicate something is off no matter what, but when you look at the Tigers at home over the same span vs. the Angels, they’re 13-10, and obviously have been a comparable club in quality to the Angels over the past several years (last year the Angels were nearly ten wins better, in 2011 and 2013 the Tigers were nearly ten wins better, and in 2010 and 2012 they were virtually identical). So, the Tigers are losing most of their games in Anaheim, and it’s not because the Tigers are a much worse team than Los Angeles.
Now, obvious caveat, 17 games (or 20 if you count the few games in 2015) is not a huge sample size. So we’re trying to isolate something that amounts to roughly 2.5 weeks’ worth of baseball.
That being said, the easy first explanation is that the Tigers struggle going out west. There have been studies done to showcase the negative effects on the body of an east coast team going west. Could it just be that the Tigers really have difficulty on the left coast?
It doesn’t seem so. At least, it’s not impacting them much elsewhere. Over the last five years against the Athletics and the Mariners, the Tigers are an even .500. That’s not even factoring in the postseason success the Tigers have had in Oakland. So, this isn’t purely a time zone change issue. It could still have some impact, but being in the wrong time zone doesn’t result in a win/loss split that extreme, or we’d see it showing up against teams elsewhere on the coast.
So, is it an issue of scoring runs, or preventing runs? Well, there are bad games in both categories, but again from 2010 through 2014, the Tigers averaged 2.2 runs/game, while allowing 4.2 runs/game. That’s some pretty weak offense, and relatively average runs allowed. So, the pitching might not have been great, but you should win a fair number of games when you allow just over four runs per game, more than 24% at least.
Zooming in on runs scoring, there is a bit of flukiness to their lack of runs. The blended average on balls in play over the last five years is .254. That’s nearly 40 points below the league average, so the Tigers have had a bit of bad luck. But with a blended OPS of .568 over those five years, this isn’t just a few bounces here and there. Another 50 points in average only adds 100 points to that OPS, and .668 won’t get it done, either.
It’s not a walk issue, either. The Tigers took 50 walks over those 50 years, spanning 564 at-bats. That translates to a walk rate of about 8% - right in line with where the Tigers usually are.
Power however is down a fair amount. The extra base hit rate (extra base hits/at-bats) is only about 6% in that five years. In 2014, the team’s extra base hit rate was 9%. In 2013, it was 8.5%.
So, what gives? Why can’t the Tigers hit (or hit for power) in Anaheim?
Well, it’s hard to narrow it down further. Over that five year stretch, much of the lineup turned over. In fact, with Alex Avila and Victor Martinez on the disabled list and Austin Jackson traded last summer, the only player that has been in the lineup this weekend and was around for much of the Tigers struggles in Anaheim over those five years is Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, for what it’s worth, has a career OPS of .962, but comes in at just .873 at Angel Stadium.
Outside of Cabrera and among those that would have impacted things previously, but not this trip, V-Mart’s career OPS at Angel Stadium checks in at .736, compared to a career OPS overall of .842. Avila has just a .464 OPS (.750 career OPS), and A-Jax has just a .458 OPS there (career .732 OPS).
Of course, this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, especially for guys like Jackson and Avila who don’t have much of a track record at the park outside of that five year window – the team struggles because the players struggle, but do the players struggle because the team struggles? Only 17 games, hard to say.
Park Factors indicates that it’s a pitcher-friendly park, but it’s not extreme, with the multi-year Park Factor consistently in the low-to-mid-90’s (with 100 being average between favoring pitchers and hitters). So, players being below their average in the OPS category are to be expected, though not to the extent we see.
Basically, there’s no great explanation for why the Tigers struggle in Anaheim. They definitely have not performed well, especially offensively, but over only 17 games, there’s so much fluctuation in performance it’s hard to say why.
Being on the west coast could have a little to do with it. The Tigers stars not hitting well in that park probably has something to do with it. And some old fashioned bad luck probably has something to do with it, too. The Tigers don’t post a .254 average on balls in play during the season, so doing so in Angel Stadium is likely the result of only having a handful of games played and some bad bounces when they’re there.
Whatever the true cause is, it doesn’t make for enjoyable viewing for Tigers fans. But there also doesn’t appear to be an easy solve, either.