Tigers are free-swingers, and it pays
Hitters might not fit into 'Moneyball,' but they're effective
OAKLAND -- The Tigers apparently never got the memo about the "Moneyball" offense, and how effective it is to work walks and jack up the opponent's pitch count.
Here they are, one of the final four survivors in Major League Baseball, having finished 24th out of 30 teams in on-base percentage and 28th in walks.
These Tigers, who open the American League Championship Series on Tuesday against the Athletics, are tenacious with their bats, and they don't apologize for it.
"If I wanted to walk, I probably would have been a mailman," quipped Tigers outfielder Craig Monroe. "We're just an aggressive team. We're going to swing the bats. Who knows how it works. Sometimes it works for you, sometimes it works against you. We didn't get here by being patient;, we got here by swinging the bat and being aggressive. Why change that now?"
Manager Jim Leyland isn't necessarily an advocate of his team's free-swinging approach, but he isn't going to tinker too much with something that has worked.
"I wouldn't say I've grown comfortable with it because we're still trying to get guys to make some adjustments, even at this point," Leyland said. "I think we did a little bit of that in the Yankees series better than we have. Hopefully we can continue that in this series. But when push comes to shove, we are what we are, and here we are."
Here they are indeed, after hitting .309 in the Division Series conquest over the Yankees.
While OBP and walks seem to translate into success in the other categories in this day and age, the Tigers, without either of those things in their favor, managed to finish eighth in the Majors in runs scored, sixth in homers and 10th in average during the regular season.
Led by the likes of Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Monroe, Curtis Granderson and Marcus Thames, the Tigers will rake and hope for the best.
"We get the key hits, we get on base. We do exactly what it takes to win," said Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco. "Maybe we'll come out here and walk. Maybe they won't throw strikes. Maybe we'll just win by hitting home runs. We'll see what happens."
But they won't wait around and watch it happen. The Tigers are a team that likes to make it happen.
"We go up there and go after it," said Granderson, who leads off most of the time. "You have to assume that the pitcher is going to try to get ahead 0-1 and that might be the best pitch to hit. So if we're aggressive early on, maybe we get after that. If we sit back and wait, maybe we have to go after what he wants to throw."
Of all the Tigers, Carlos Guillen -- 71 walks and a .400 on-base percentage -- is the most patient. Sean Casey has been a good on-base guy in his career, but not so much (.286 OBP) since he got to the Tigers.
"I just think that's our style," Casey said. "Our style is we're going to get a good pitch to hit, swing at it, and hopefully do some damage. I think that's kind of the philosophy of this team -- be aggressive with a pitch in the zone and try and do damage. You're not going to change now. You are what you are. They are what they are; we are what we are."
The Tigers hope that their free-wheeling approach can work against the A's, who have a strong pitching staff, led by Game 1 ace Barry Zito.
"We came in here twice this year, very aggressive, didn't score a ton of runs, but at the same time we were aggressive," Granderson said. "The walks are just going to happen. We had a game here where we had a couple of late-inning walks to help us win. That just happens. You get them when you need them. You can't go up there looking to walk. That's when you run into a lot of the problems."
The big thing the Tigers have going for them is a thick lineup.
"I think that the whole lineup of 1-9, at any given time, anybody up there can hit a home run; anybody can come up with that big hit," said Monroe. "When you have a balance of guys who are able to do that, you don't need to put any pressure on one guy. Magglio doesn't have to hit the home run or have to get it done, Pudge doesn't have to do it. There's some guys that don't have the big names that are grinding at-bats out every day, myself, Brandon Inge, Marcus Thames, Granderson at the top."
The Tigers don't plan on offering at pitches out of the strike zone. But they also aren't going to get picky at this late juncture of the season.
"We're aggressive. We come ready to swing the bat," said Rodriguez. "This is what it's all about: To be aggressive and make sure you get a good pitch to hit and put the ball in play."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.