How Was The Game? (April 30, 2014)
Tigers 5, White Sox 1
This was one of those afternoons where the team appeared to be on cruise control. Max Scherzer (6 GS, 39 IP, 2.08 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 1.2 fWAR) was more or less automatic and the team cashed in on a four run fourth inning, punctuated by another key Bryan Holaday hit. That’s right for all of your Miguel Cabreras and Victor Martinezes, Bryan Holaday delivered the key hit in both of the games during this short series. Max allowed four hits and three walks across six innings, but also punched out seven and handed the game over to the bullpen, who somehow, someway, didn’t give away the lead. The win pushes the Tigers to 14-9 on the season ahead of a three game set with Kansas City that starts on Friday with Rick Porcello (4 GS, 25 IP, 3.96 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 0.6 fWAR) getting the call.
The Moment: Holaday doubles in a pair.
How Was The Game? (April 29, 2014)
Safely squeezed in (Note: I’m so sorry for that).
Tigers 4, White Sox 3
After sitting around for more than 72 hours, the Tigers took the field behind Justin Verlander (6 GS, 40 IP, 2.48 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 1.2 fWAR) for all of about five minutes before this one was delayed by rain (after the top of the 1st), but it started moving after a 2o minute rain delay. Verlander was sharp outside of a rocky 3rd inning and coasted through much of the ballgame. Quintana put the Tigers down easily the first two times through the order, but they unleashed a parade of hits when the lineup came around the third time, tying the game at three heading into the bullpens. Joba got himself into and out of trouble in the 8th to set up a three base error that got Jackson to third. Bryan Holaday came up big and drove him in with a perfectly timed safety squezee two batters later. The win sets the Tigers up for a short series sweep Wednesday with Max Scherzer (5 GS, 33 IP, 2.45 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 1.0 fWAR) getting the nod.
The Moment: Bryan Holaday drops down a go-ahead safety squeeze.
How Was The Game? (April 26, 2014)
Not as bad as you’d have expected.
Twins 5, Tigers 3
The Tigers bullpen is a bit of an adventure, and Anibal Sanchez (5 GS, 23 IP, 3.13 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 0.8 fWAR) didn’t get out the third inning due to a blister, so the fact that they only lost 5-3 given that they needed 6+ innings from the bullpen is probably something on the order of a moral victory. They got a pair of runs in the 1st and one in the 9th, but a big, messy 5th inning sunk the Tigers as Ortega and Coke combined to allow four runs with another coming in the 8th. The Tigers were able to load the bases in the 8th, but Cabrera took a couple of poor swings ahead of a GIDP that ended the threat. They’ll still have a chance to take the series behind Justin Verlander (5 GS, 33 IP, 2.18 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 1.0 fWAR) on Sunday.
The Moment: Cabrera knocks one off the RF wall to plate a run in the first.
How Was The Game? (April 25, 2014)
Closer than it should have been.
Tigers 10, Twins 6
Picture a baseball game in which the Tigers score 10 runs and lead by 9 runs in the 5th inning. Does that game end with the Tigers bullpen turning it into an actual competition? You bet. Rick Porcello (4 GS, 25 IP, 3.96 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 0.5 fWAR) was solid through the first five innings, allowing just a single run, but let up a little in the 6th, allowing a home run and a pair of baserunners before Ausmus decided to yank him with the game so far out of reach. The bullpen surrendered his runners and two more of their own, but thankfully, the Tigers bats had provided a pretty sizable cushion. Castellanos got things going with a two run, opposite field bomb in the second and then almost everyone got involved in a seven run 3rd inning. Everyone except Miguel Cabrera, who actually made all three outs in the inning. That’s right, the Tigers had a seven run inning in which Cabrera made three outs. The game started out like a laugher and turned into a reasonably close one because the bullpen isn’t very good, but the huge offensive explosion carried the day. The Tigers will look to take the series on Saturday with Anibal Sanchez (4 GS, 20 ⅓ IP, 3.54 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 0.7 fWAR) toeing the rubber.
The Moment: Castellanos homers to right field, and then everyone else gets involved in the 3rd.
How Was The Game? (April 24, 2014)
Tigers 7, White Sox 4
The Tigers started the day needing a win to split the series and called on Max Scherzer (5 GS, 33 IP, 2.45 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 1.0 fWAR) to make that happen. Max gave up the obligatory second inning home run, but cruised the rest of the way, giving up two runs over six innings to go along with 10 strikeouts and a walk. The Tigers scored their runs on a pair of RBI singles from Cabrera, an RBI single from Castellanos and Holaday, and a bomb and double from Rajai Davis. The bullpen tried to give it back, like the bullpen tends to do, but they eventually shut the door with one of my favorite plays – a runner being called out because the batter interfered with a throw. The team will head to Minnesota tomorrow with Rick Porcello (3 GS, 20 IP, 3.15 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 0.5 fWAR) getting the ball in game one.
The Moment: The game ends on the ol’ strike-em-out, batter interference-em-out.
How Was The Game? (April 23, 2014)
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
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)
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
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)
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.