How Was The Game? (April 23, 2014)

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One that got away.

White Sox 6, Tigers 4

Drew Smyly (2 GS, 15 IP, 3.60 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 0.2 fWAR) didn’t start on the right foot, but after a two run first inning, he settled in nicely and gave the Tigers six solid innings in which he allowed six hits, a walk, and struck out seven. The bats came to his defense in the fourth as JD Martinez knocked in a pair and Jackson followed with a bomb to left center to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead. You can probably imagine, however, that things didn’t stay cozy, as Evan Reed and Ian Krol combined to load the bases and allow a grand slam that flipped the script and left the Tigers with a two run deficit of their own. Justin Miller got them to the ninth with two scoreless but the bats couldn’t complete the rally and the Tigers dropped their second game of the series. Max Scherzer (4 GS, 27 IP, 2.33 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 0.8 fWAR) will get the nod Thursday afternoon looking for the split.

The Moment: Smyly starts a 1-5 double play.

One Quick Thing: The Smyly Transition

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Drew Smyly was a starter and then a reliever and now he’s a starter again. After spending a couple of weeks in the pen, Smyly makes his second start of the season tonight against the White Sox, so let’s take a quick look at how he performs as a starter compared to as a reliever.

We all know that Smyly was better on an inning by inning basis in 2013 while pitching out of the bullpen. That’s pretty common. When you’re only asked to go one or two innings, you do better than when you have to throw five to seven. Smyly increased his strikeout rate, decreased his walk rate, allowed fewer runs, got more ground balls, got batters to swing more often, and got batters to make less contact when they swung.

In pretty much every way, Smyly performed better as a reliever. But something that’s very curious about the whole thing is that Smyly didn’t throw harder out of the pen. Pitchf/x (per the classifications at FanGraphs) has Smyly throwing about a mile per hour softer on every pitch (four seam, two seam, cutter, slider, and change). That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s strange that he would move to the bullpen, throw softer, and get better. That’s not a typical progression at all.

Now it’s not as if this velocity change was dramatic or worrisome, but normally we think of guys moving to the bullpen and throwing harder because they don’t need to save as much energy for later innings, and as a result, they tend to pitch a little better. That isn’t how Smyly improved. It also doesn’t seem like he got much more bite on his pitches.

One potential explanation is that he did a better job in 2013 of releasing his fastball and breaking ball from the same spot, meaning it was harder for the batter to distinguish between them, but even those differences are slight.

Another explanation is that Smyly killed lefties in 2013 to the tune of a .212 wOBA against compared to .304 for RHH. The 2012 gap was .293/.327. In 2012, he faced lefties 31% of the time and saw them 43% of the time in 2013. That can explain some of the basic results because he had the platoon advantage more often, but it doesn’t explain why he got way better against lefties and only a little better against righties.

Perhaps we can turn to the times through the order penalty (TTOP). In 2012, Smyly allowed a .282 wOBA the first time, .359 wOBA the second time, and .315 wOBA the third time. In 2013, he was almost never asked to face batters multiple times in one game.

*If someone notices an error in that calculation, let me know. Used a shortcut. Could be a rounding error here or there.

Unfortunately, this isn’t super encouraging. The TTOP is a very real phenomenon and it appears that Smyly isn’t immune. He didn’t really get better, he just didn’t let guys get multiple looks against him. Pitchers have to struggle with this constantly and it will be important for him to mix his pitches and give different looks as he tries to pitch deep into games. He was still a solid starter in 2012, but we probably shouldn’t expect his 2013 gains to carry over.

How Was The Game? (April 22, 2014)

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Everything you wanted to see, if you didn’t watch the 9th.

Tigers 8, White Sox 6

Everything came up Tigers on Tuesday night as Justin Verlander (5 GS, 33 IP, 2.18 ERA, 2.89 FIP 0.9 fWAR) cruised after a first inning blast by Jose Abreu and the bats came alive in the in the third inning when they hung a five spot on the White Sox’s fill in starter. Cabrera found his stroke with a double and a bomb in his first two at bats, but they also had big contributions from Davis, Kinsler, and Avila as they ran away and hid, that is, until the bullpen gave up four runs just for fun. The big nights from Avila and Cabrera were most encouraging for the potentially concerned fan, but another fine start from Verlander should take center stage. After all of the concern last year, his last 14 starts, including the postseason have been incredible.

Drew Smyly (1 GS, 9 IP, 4.00 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 0.1 fWAR) will get the ball on Wednesday.

The Moment: Cabrera launches a two run homer to right.

One Quick Thing: Verlander’s Resurgence

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Verlander got off to a great start last April, but after a disaster outing in Arlington on May 16th, the wheels came off relative to what we’ve come to expect of the Tigers’ ace. In 20 starts from May 16 to August 27, Verlander had a 4.45 ERA and 4.12 FIP. Those aren’t so rough that you’re moving him to the bullpen or cutting him loose, but man, for the guy who was the best pitcher in the league over the previous four seasons, it doesn’t look good.

Then a funny, or perhaps expected, thing happened. Verlander came back. Since September 1, he’s been incredible.

Among qualifying starters since September 1 (including postseason), only Andrew Cashner has a lower ERA. Only Sonny Gray and Hyun-Jin Ryu have allowed a lower ISO. Only Liriano, Straily, and Scherzer have higher swinging strike rates than Verlander since then. He’s averaged 94.2 mph on his fastball, maxing out at 99.1. No serious platoon issues. Nothing.

I wrote extensively last season about Verlander’s release point mess during the middle of last year and that issue appears to be resolved. Verlander is Verlander again. Everyone can rest easy. He’s not going to be the best pitcher in the league for much longer, or maybe ever again, but he’s still going to be very good for a very long time. He’s going to get worse, which is something we have to accept, but he’s not going to be a below average starter.

Let’s hope the same translation applies to Miguel Cabrera and that his early season struggles are a similar issue requiring a simple tweak.

How Was The Game? (April 21, 2014)

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Great, if you removed one half inning.

White Sox 3, Tigers 1

This one was moving along at a pretty nice clip, with the only run of the game coming on an Avila RBI ground out, but then the seventh inning came along and messed everything up. Anibal Sanchez (4 GS, 20 ⅓ IP, 3.10 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 0.7 fWAR) cruised until that inning, where he allowed three doubles and a single to surrender three runs (two earned), ending his night after 6 ⅓ innings, 5 hits, a walk, and 5 strikeouts. The Tigers would muster a couple of baserunners after that, but couldn’t pull any closer as they fell to the Sox.  Justin Verlander (4 GS, 26 IP, 2.08 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 0.8 fWAR) will get the ball in game two on Tuesday, and boy is he on some kind of roll.

The Moment: Martinez hooks a double down the left field line.

How Was The Game? (April 20, 2014)

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Errant.

Tigers 2, Angels 1

Rick Porcello (3 GS, 20 IP, 3.15 ERA, 2,98 FIP, 0.5 fWAR) was mostly the story in this one. After two straight bad/unlucky disaster outings against the Angels in 2013, he came out and delivered a knockout blow of his own across seven innings. He allowed a run in the first on three hits (one of them a bunt single), but then allowed just two hits and a walk over the final six as he induced ground ball after ground ball, including a couple of broken bats against Trout and Pujols in the middle innings. The other story of the game was the Angels inability to throw the baseball. In the first, Kinsler scored from first on a walk and three throwing errors. You read that right and it isn’t a typo. They scored the winning run courtesy of a throwing error on a pickoff attempt that set up an RBI single, so pretty much the entire game came down to four throwing errors by a major league team. The series win lifts the Tigers to 9-6 on the year ahead of a four game set with the White Sox. Anibal Sanchez (3 GS, 14 IP, 3.21 ERA, 2.36 FIP, 0.4 fWAR) will get the ball in game one.

The Moment: Kinsler scores on a walk-error-error-error combo.

How Was The Game? (April 19, 2014)

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The catching of a white whale.

Tigers 5, Angels 2

They did it. The Tigers beat the Angels. After ten straight losses dating back to 2012, Max Scherzer (4 GS, 27 IP, 2.33 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 0.7 fWAR) led them out of the darkness with seven strong innings of work in which he allowed one run on a leadoff bomb and then allowed just four additional baserunners to go along with nine strikeouts. Three of those came against Mike Trout, who struck out three times against the same pitcher in one game for just the second time in his career. The Tigers scored on two sac flies, a Castellanos two run homer, and a VMart bomb and Joba turned in a dominant 8th inning to set up the win. With the series on the line, the Tigers will send Rick Porcello (2 GS, 13 IP, 4.15 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 0.3 fWAR) to the mound hoping that he has cured whatever allergic reaction he’s been having to the Halos over the last twelve months.

The Moment: Castellanos turns on one to put the Tigers ahead for good.

Bonus Moment: Bryan Holaday had an infield single and a bunt single today.

How Was The Game? (April 18, 2014)

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Disconnected.

Angels 11, Tigers 6

This is generally the place where I offer you the quick highlights of the night’s ballgame and identify the big moments. Today’s going to be a bit different because well, I had a very distant experience with this game. The game started as I was crossing into South Carolina on my way to Myrtle Beach. The At Bat app was grabbing the radio signal for about two batters. I remember a Trout double. Then nothing. Then it came back in and Drew Smyly (1 GS, 9 IP, 4.00 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 0.1 fWAR) was starting to struggle. 4-0. Uh oh. We finally reconnected at 4-1. Then it was 8-1, uh oh again. I don’t know how everyone looked, but it sure doesn’t appear as if Smyly or Putkonen had great nights against the Angels, but then the Tigers bats rallied back as I was hooking up the hotel WiFi. A five run inning! Back in the game, 11-6! By the time I was settled in, the last two innings were coasting to a close and the Tigers came up short despite a 9th inning threat. This won’t be a game I remember, but it will be one that sticks out. Sorry I can’t give you more analysis than, “Hey, that seemed weird!” The club will try to even the series on Saturday with Max Scherzer (3 GS, 20 IP, 2.70 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 0.6 fWAR) on the hill.

The Moment: A five run 7th, presumably…

How Was The Game? (April 17, 2014)

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Not exactly what you’d expect.

Tigers 7, Indians 5

Justin Verlander (4 GS, 26 IP, 2.08 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 0.7 fWAR) and Danny Salazar were all set to provide us with a Thursday afternoon pitchers’ duel, and well, we sort of got that if you squint and pretend certain things didn’t happen. Verlander walked four in five innings, but also delivered seven strikeouts en route to three unearned runs. Salazar cruised through four innings and then melted down in the 5th as the Tigers hung four runs on him mostly due to a Ian Kinsler 3-run home run. The Tigers extended the lead to 6-3 and the bullpen shrank it to 6-5 before adding a run and slamming the door to secure the series split. The Tigers will welcome the Angels to town this weekend with Drew Smyly (0 GS, 6 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.54 FIP, 0.2 fWAR) actually getting a chance to start on Friday

The Moment: Kinsler puts the Tigers ahead with a homer to left center.

How Was The Game? (April 16, 2014)

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A free pass.

Indians 3, Tigers 2

Anibal Sanchez (3 GS, 14 IP, 3.21 ERA, 2.42 FIP, 0.4 fWAR) got off to just a miserable start in this one, walking the first three batters he faced. He managed to hold the Tribe to a single run in the 1st, but then allowed a pair in the 2nd inning before settling down and firing strikes passed the Indians batters. The Tigers manufactured a run in the 1st and pushed one across in the 8th despite Torii Hunter getting behind 0-2 on a pair of awful bunt attempts and then grounding into a double play. Unfortunately, the Tigers were not able to find the equalizer in the 9th despite a one out double turned triple by Avila and dropped their season record to 6-5. For the fan of pitching, Thursday’s contest should be a real treat as Justin Verlander (3 GS, 21 IP, 2.57 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 0.6 fWAR) squares off against Danny Salazar.

The Moment: Avila doubles, takes the extra base on the bobble in the 9th.

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