Mensching: Tigers might be mediocre, but forecast more promising

By Kurt Mensching, Special to The Detroit News
From left, Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez and Anthony Gose trot off the field after the Tigers' win Sunday in New York.

At the end of the day Sunday, the Tigers sat 5.5 games behind the Royals in the AL Central and had a record of one game over .500.

Are they good? Are they bad? The games Saturday and Sunday -- a 14-3 loss followed by a 12-4 win -- provide ample evidence for either narrative you wish to push. Maybe the Tigers, like their record indicates, are simply average.

The team has a little more than a month's worth of games remaining to declare itself good, bad or ugly before the trade deadline to make president and general manager Dave Dombrowski's job a little easier.

In the meantime, we have a few different stats to look at that might provide at least a little guidance of what to expect the rest of the year.

The simplest of those is the Pythagorean win-loss record, which at its essence says the better a team's run differential, the more wins you expect it to have. This one is a problem for the Tigers.

Once the team with the best run differential, struggles have led to all of the positive being wiped out, and then some. The weekend's games finally did Detroit in, and its run differential sits at -5 today.

So by that calculation, the Tigers are about a .500 team, maybe a game below. That clearly would not be good enough to win the division, and the Royals, with the AL second-best +50 runs, would be expect to continue to cruise.

Yet if you go to a site like Baseball Prospectus, you'll find the picture is actually rosier for the Tigers.

That's because more advanced stats indicate Detroit has actually been getting a little unlucky -- while Kansas City has been playing above its head.

For the rest of the season, based on the projections for their current rosters, Baseball Prospectus pegs the Tigers to have the best record in the division, while it sees the Royals going nine game under .500 for the remainder of the year.

Another application at Baseball Prospectus uses second- and third-order wins to try to dig a little deeper. By both measures, the Tigers are underplaying expectations.

To figure out second-order wins, BP uses advanced statistics to determine how many runs a team "should" have scored and allowed.

As an example of why this is useful, the Tigers' offense has been mystifying. They have the second-best average and on-base percentage and sixth-best slugging average in the AL, yet they are eighth in runs. The team got caught in a funk where scoring more than two runs two games in a row felt like an impossibility.

The idea that some of that was just bad baseball luck -- that hard hits were finding gloves rather than grass more often than they should -- seemed like a realistic one.

So when speculating about the future, what "should" have happened takes precedence over what actually happened.

That, essentially, is why looking at second-order win percentage can be telling.

Third-order wins take that a step further by attempting to adjust based on strength of schedule, but using that changes nothing for Detroit.

So by either the Tigers are a .520 team by that figuring. True, that isn't entirely inspiring. It comes out to about 84 wins for the year. If the Royals fail to come back to Earth, 84 wins will not be enough.

Baseball isn't played in a computer, as has been frequently pointed out. It's not played by robots either. It's played by humans who certainly have an influence over how the rest of the year goes.

Stripping out luck isn't entirely realistic either. Then again, neither is trying to predict whether the luck will be pushing a team's sails or opposing them.

At the least, we can say the Tigers aren't a bad team. Looking at the roster alone should confirm that notion. There are above-average players all over the team and only a handful of holes that need to be paved over.

However, whether the Tigers are just an average team or one that can realistically compete for the World Series remains to be seen.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog ( He can be reached at