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Feng: How Tigers rank against AL Central foes

By Ed Feng, Special to The Detroit News
Brad Ausmus' bunch will carry a four-game losing streak into a three-game home series against Oakland that begins Tuesday.

At this point in the season, it's tough to evaluate the Detroit Tigers. On the surface, they have a 28-24 record through Sunday's game, which suggests they will exceed the 84 expected wins this preseason.

However, there are some troubling numbers for the Tigers. After getting swept by the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit has allowed more runs than they have scored (214 scored, 215 allowed). This suggests the Tigers will win roughly 81 games, a .500 record for the season.

But something else doesn't add up for this team. The Tigers have the second-best batting average and the fourth-best slugging percentage in the AL through Sunday's games. However, they are a lowly ninth of 15 AL teams in runs scored.

This should not happen. The Tigers have scored 214 runs. If we use the Base Runs formula that translates basic stats like singles and homers into runs, the Tigers are expected to score 243 runs, or 29 more runs than they have actually scored.

The Tigers have had poor cluster luck on offense this season. They tend to scatter hits across innings instead of clustering them into a single inning. Their run production should improve if they sustain their rate of getting hits.

To rank the Tigers among all MLB teams, I take expected runs from the Base Runs formula and adjust for strength of schedule. You can see the complete rankings, which update every morning, by clicking here.

The Tigers are eighth in these team rankings, better than their minus-1 run differential suggests. These rankings also predict the Tigers should have won 29 games, only one more than their current total of 28. The Tigers' underlying statistics suggest they can keep this current pace in the win column.

Let's see how the Tigers compare with the other AL Central teams.

Minnesota, 30-19, 20th in The Power Rank

Through May 12, Minnesota had scored 20 more runs than expected by the Base Runs formula. In addition, they allowed 11 runs fewer than expected. This plus-31 runs of cluster luck was by far the best in the majors.

My research has shown this cluster luck should not persist through the season. The Twins' cluster luck should regress to the mean of zero. This implies the Twins should score runs based on the Base Runs formula moving forward, not above this expectation like in the past.

This hasn't happened. Through Sunday, the Twins are now plus-48 runs in cluster luck. They continue to get lucky on both sides of the run production ledger. There is no certainty in regression to the mean.

The team rankings account for this cluster luck of the Twins. They are 20th, which predicts they will not be leading the AL Central in September.

Kansas City, 29-19, third in The Power Rank

In 2011, Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine predicted the Royals would win the World Series in 2015. SI's Joe Posnanski wrote this profile of how the Royals had the best farm system baseball.

This prediction looked ridiculous until last October. The Royals sneaked into the playoffs, won a tight one-game playoff against Oakland, and then went on a tear. They came within a super human pitching performance from San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner of winning the World Series.

The Royals have continued their excellent play this season. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are living up the hype, and the Royals are third in my latest team rankings.

Cleveland, 24-26, ninth in The Power Rank

The Indians landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated this March as the magazine's World Series pick. They haven't lived up that hype, yet.

Cleveland has been 13 runs unlucky this season. In my team rankings that adjust for cluster luck, Cleveland ends up ninth, right behind Detroit.

The Indians could be higher if they could catch the ball. They have allowed a .322 batting average on balls in play, by far the worst in the AL.

Chicago, 23-26, 27th in The Power Rank

The White Sox beefed up their lineup in the off season by signing Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche. However, they have scored fewer runs this season than any team besides Philadelphia, which doesn't have the advantage of the designated hitter.

Chicago is 27th in my team rankings. The White Sox will not contend for the AL Central unless they start scoring more runs.

Ed Feng has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford and runs the sports analytics site The Power Rank. Have a question about the Tigers you want addressed in this column? Email Ed Feng here.