How the Tigers lost so many road games to the Angels

Up until last night's start of a four-game road trip against the Los Angeles Angels, the Tigers had been owners of a 3-17 road record against the Angels going back to 2011. Take it back to 2010, and it doesn't get much better: 24 games, just five wins, seven years of sadness and famine.

There are actual reasons for this losing record, though, reasons that are like so many pieces of a tedious and boring puzzle that you don't really want to do, but you keep joylessly trudging through the task because dammit, you're not a quitter, and then at the end the puzzle picture turns out to be a hand flipping you the bird.

I'm so excited to do this, I can't even wait.

Let's start digging.

Road game disadvantage

This isn't just the Tigers, much less just the Tigers specifically versus the Angels, it's all baseball teams. In general, most teams are going to have a winning record at home, because home field advantage is real. In 20 games between the Tigers and Angels, we shouldn't expect a .500 split and a 10-10 record, we should expect something more like 9-11 or 8-12.

That's puzzle piece number one.

Quality of opponent

This 20-game sample that we're working with since 2011 spans some years when the Angels were a fairly decent baseball team. Jered Weaver was a really good pitcher for several of those years, Albert Pujols was crushing baseballs a lot, and Mike Trout has always been Mike Trout. You could reasonably expect this to strengthen the Angels' home field advantage even more.

That's puzzle piece number two, which leads to ...

Run differential

Over those 20 games, the Angels outscored the Tigers by more than 50 runs, and when we convert that run differential to wins and losses above/below .500, it suggest that the Tigers should be at -5 wins. If .500 means a 10-10 record, a run differential of -50 converts to a 5-15 record.

Now we're getting closer to what's actually taken place. But we're not entirely there yet, because the Tigers were not 5-15 over 20 games, they were 3-17.

So on we go to the next puzzle piece.

Underperformance suggests one big problem

Any time a team is either overperforming or underperforming against what their run differential projects, it comes down to this: they're either good (for overperformers) or bad (for underperformers) at close-scoring games. One-run games ... two-run games ... those will make the different between winning more games or losing more games than the run differential projects.

And if you're losing close-scoring games and coming up 3-17 instead of 5-15, what's usually the problem?

[50,000 sad trombones play at the same time]

Your bullpen can't hold small leads.

Last year featured a game that fit this category. The Tigers were down 9-2 in the sixth, then JD Martinez hit a dinger, Ian Kinsler hit a grand slam, and Victor Martinez cranked a solo shot, and just like that the game was tied in the eighth inning. That lasted all of eight pitches in the ninth, because the hand throwing those eight pitches belonged to Mark "Ugggghhh" Lowe, and the Angels walked off with a home run to win the game by two runs.

Joba Chamberlain yakked up an eighth inning home run in 2014, the Angels won 2-1. Phil Coke did the same thing in 2013 in the 13th inning, resulting in a 4-3 loss. Otavio Dotel gave up three singles in the ninth in 2012, and the Tigers lost 3-2.

That will put you below your run differential record every time.

And that, fellow fans, is how you take an expected 11-12 losses and turn them into 15 losses, then further tweak that to 17 losses in 20 games.

Either that, or the whole thing can be blamed on this:

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