By: Will Burchfield
As Brad Ausmus’ interview session was coming to a close on Thursday morning, a small group of reporters sauntered to his desk to collect their recorders.
Ausmus, tapping the screen of the tablet positioned in front of him, looked up.
“Here’s a stat for you,” he said.
It bears mention, before we go any further, that Ausmus was not offering up excuses for the Tigers’ 34-43 start. He wasn’t grumbling or groaning or seizing a forum for sympathy.
He was simply sharing some statistics, because the statistics speak volumes about his team. Namely, the Tigers might have the unluckiest group of hitters in baseball.
Among the statistics Ausmus mentioned:
- The Tigers lead the league in hard-hit outs, with 247. That’s 52 more than the Indians, the next-closest team.
- The Tigers lead the league in hard-hit percentage, at .443. That’s 26 percentage points higher than the Orioles, the next-closest team.
- The Tigers rank 13th in slugging percentage (.428). In expected slugging percentage, based on quality of contact, they rank first.
- The Tigers rank 11th in weighted on-base average (.324). In expected wOBA, they are tied for first.
- The Tigers rank 16th in batting average (.253). In expected batting average, they rank fourth.
This confirms what many have observed via the eye test. The Tigers have been woefully unlucky at the plate this season. Despite doing so many things well, they rank just 13th in baseball in runs per game (4.73).
At some point, the truth has to catch up to the evidence.
“It should correct,” Ausmus said.
A hitter can’t control exactly where he hits the ball, only how well he hits it. The rest is out of his hands, a combined product of defense and flat-out luck. Few hitters in baseball this season, if any, have been more obvious victims of misfortune than Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos.
Cabrera ranks fourth in the majors in hard-contact rate (48.4 percent) and first in line-drive rate (28 percent). He’s hitting .265 with an .814 OPS. Castellanos ranks fifth in the majors in hard-contact rate (48.3 percent) and tenth in line-drive rate (25.1 percent). He’s hitting .242 with a .727 OPS.
“I think Miggy and Nick are the two most unlucky of all our guys,” said Ausmus.
That’s not a complaint or an opinion. That’s a fact, substantiated by numbers.
The Tigers have played mediocre baseball through the first 77 games of the season. That’s a fact too. Considering their collective inconsistency, they largely deserve to be where they are: nine games under .500 and 6.5 games out of a playoff spot.
But they also deserve better results at the plate, much better, and a correction is bound to take hold soon.
“That’s part of the reason I’m optimistic, because we can’t continue to make outs like that,” said Ausmus. “We just can’t.”
The question for the Tigers is two-fold.
When will the correction arrive?
And when it does, will it be sharp enough to matter?
Only time will tell, and time is running out.