With a three game series beginning tonight against the Mets in New York, the Tigers pitchers will be asked to bat for just the third time all season (they’ll get one more shot in the season’s final series). Through some amazing quirk of scheduling, Fister and Sanchez pitched in the two game stints in Washington and Pittsburgh, so we’ve only see them at the dish this year. We know, through science, that Justin Verlander is likely the worst hitter currently in the major leagues and he won’t get a shot to redeem himself this time around, but we will get a look at Scherzer and Porcello in addition to Fister. The question that you’re likely asking, along with the Mets’ pitchers (especially Harvey) is clear. How in the world can we pitch to these guys?
Let’s start with some basic offensive numbers for these pitchers in their careers. For what it’s worth to you, I’ll include Fister’s 2013 numbers separately as well:
Scherzer’s numbers aren’t good, but he’s the only one of the group to take a walk and he limits the strikeouts compared to the group as well. He’s definitely the Tigers pitcher who works counts the best and he does have a BABIP that’s a good deal below average (.231). I’m not saying he’s going to break out, but he hits a lot of ground balls and doesn’t chase bad pitches too often. Some of those hits should start to fall in.
You can see that he works the middle of the field nicely and doesn’t get pull happy:
The real key to getting Scherzer out is to avoid his hot spots up and out over the plate. If you put one there, he’s likely to smack it to right for a hit. You need to come middle in or low and away to get him to roll over one to the SS.
Porcello burst onto the scene in his rookie year, but has really gone down hill at the dish since then. He doesn’t take his walks and he strikes out too much to have a ton of value at the plate. Just check out his year to year wOBA so far:
Porcello has shown the ability to use the whole field, but he doesn’t make enough contact for the bat control to play up.
Really the key to Porcello is to pitch him inside. You don’t want to miss away because he will make you pay.
Fister is a much different story. Fister can really hit, even if he doesn’t have a patient approach, and he seems to be getting better with age. In 2011 he had a wRC+ of 133 and this year it’s 286. He’s made the leap from top 30 hitter to all-time great. He’s Babe Ruth and then some!
To get Fister out, you have to make him put the ball on the ground because if he gets it in the air, he’s going to get on base.
And you really don’t want to miss low and over the plate, because that is where Fister eats.
You have to make sure you go up and in or get the ball away from him. Remember, Fister bats left-handed. In fact, Fister seems to have some really nice opposite field gap power based on that spray chart. Take a look at this great swing from 2011. Hey, look who’s pitching!
Fister got an 0-2 fastball down and away from Anibal Sanchez and drove up the gap. Here’s an approximate shot of the ball splitting the fielders.
Fister has become more of a singles hitter as he’s aged, but he’s shown this type of power in the past so you have to be careful.
Scherzer and Porcello are pitchable, but you have to be careful with the big slugging lefty. If you miss to Fister, he’ll make you pay. For a pitcher who is 9 feet tall, this is pretty good form. Notice how he has his head on the ball and isn’t off balance at the point of contact:
Followed by an important discussion:
Next came an interview with Fister about why he bats left-handed. “I’m kind of screwed up in a lot of ways,” is the direct quote.
Then Sanchez gave up a hit to Ichiro and Brendan Ryan to score Fister. Fister had a better day than Sanchez, but we’re getting off track. This isn’t a Marlins and Marines game recap.
The key here is that Fister is the Cabrera of the Tigers pitchers and is the one to watch for. Matt Harvey is probably really happy he won’t have to face him on Saturday because Fister has shown the ability to hit the best arms in the game.
Yesterday, beloved Tigers ace Justin Verlander turned thirty years old. He accomplished a great deal in his twenties such as winning two pennants, Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young, and an MVP award to go along with 124 wins (39.3 WAR) and the title of best pitcher in baseball. Sometime in the next two years, he’ll also likely sign the largest contract ever given to a pitcher.
Verlander is an extraordinary pitcher and we love him for that, but Justin Verlander is also extremely terrible at something. Hitting.
Put more clearly, Justin Verlander accumulated exactly zero hits before his 30th birthday.
He’s 0-24 with 9 sac bunts, 14 strikeouts and one GIDP. That is a very bad stat line if you’re not familiar with baseball. His triple slash line is all zeros and his wRC+ is -100. League average is 100 (notice the absence of a minus sign).
Well, so what, AL pitchers can’t be asked to hit, right? Well they have to hit a little bit.
In 2012, AL pitchers made 319 plate appearances (about half a season for a standard position player) and posted a .122/.143/.129 slash line. That is very bad by any field player standard, but it is a line of which Verlander can only dream.
Over the last seven seasons (JV’s career), AL pitchers hit a collective .118. He has hit .000.
So to even be average among his peers, Verlander should have between two and three hits in his career. Of course it’s a small sample, but this is a fun post, so we get to ignore that.
Let’s go further, since 2006, 29 pitchers have twenty or more plate appearances in an AL uniform. Guess how many don’t have a hit?
Two. Only Verlander and Jon Lester. Only Lester, Kevin Milwood, and Tim Wakefield have more strikeouts than JV.
So while, AL pitchers are rarely asked to hit, the AL’s best pitcher is probably one of the league’s very worst hitters, even among his peers.
Justin Verlander is spectacular at many things, but hitting is not one of them. He has two no-hitters and only four men have three. It would surprise no one if he joined that group this year. But could 2013 be the year he finally gets a hit?
That seems like a longshot.
The league’s best pitcher is quite possibly the league’s worst hitter. Now, who wants to tell him?