Previewing the Detroit Tigers
This evening the beat up and brokedown Rays will be home again, home again for one of their rare night games so far this year as they take on the Detroit Tigers. The routine of playing at 7:10 PM and at home can only do wonders for a team that looks to be losing a grip on their season only two weeks into play. They have had two offdays so far, and have faced a couple of awfully-timed minor injuries to Mallex Smith, Jake Odorizzi and Rickie Weeks Jr. with the latter managing to avoid the disabled list. That doesn’t mean he’s right. A healthy Rickie Weeks Jr. is a nice role player. A beat up version, however, doesn’t provide much of anything outside of the clubhouse. Should we start with the bad or the worse? Let’s go worse.
(All data current as of 4/18/17)
The Rays have been the worst offense in the game using my most recent research. They hit the ball well enough as their xwOBA* ranks fifteenth in the game, but when you add in the non-ball in play stuff they sink like a stone. They have the highest strikeout rate and most strikeouts in the game. A good comparison is the Houston Astros who have not exactly punished their balls in play, but they have the same number of walks as the Rays, essentially, and nearly half of the strikeouts. Avoiding all those zeroes ranks their offense fifteen slots higher from a total production perspective.
Then we get to the Tigers who lead the league by a massive margin when it comes to expected offense. No team is hitting the ball harder and/or at more ideal angles. They have four fewer walks than the Rays, but that has come with 51 fewer strikeouts. Obviously, that is a tradeoff every team will make. They’re going to be a nightmare for Rays pitching that has been more ok than good, let alone great, but I will get to that in a second. First, let’s drill down on these two teams to look at the contributors thus far starting with just the balls in play:
The Rays have seen better results than they probably deserve by around 12% so I would expect some giveback in that facet sooner than later. The Tigers offense showcasing a league best xwOBA* could actually be even better as they look like they have been a bit unfortunate on balls in play. Guys like Miggy Cabrera, Nick Castellanos and James McCann are seeing substantially worse results, and you can put Victor Martinez in that same stack, though his expectations are more average than the great shown by his teammates. Let’s bring the non-balls in play into this:
Detroit features four batters that have hit better than Logan Morrison, the best the Rays have to offer thus far. Additionally, the Rays have five guys, many of whom have a large number of plate appearances, that have been worse than the worst Tigers batter, Dixon Machado. The Rays will be severely under-gunned on the offensive side in this series so it will come down to the pitching. Here is where they might have a decent edge:
While the Tigers boast the number one offense in the game to date, you can see that the pitching has been every bit as bad. They’re giving up hellacious contact to go with the third highest walk rate and fifth lowest strikeout rate in the game. The Rays will need to be patient, and it will help to know that the Tigers struggle to get punchouts even with all the deep counts. Don’t offer at his pitch, wait until you get yours.
Speaking of the Rays, you can see the pitching rates quite a bit better compared to the offense, but still more middle of the pack than top-half. They have four fewer strikeouts than the Tigers despite 58 more plate appearances, for one, but they’re also one of two teams that have a lower K-BB%, for two. They have done well to avoid allowing big damage on balls in play, but when you walk guys and then give up dinkers and dunkers it still leads to runs. It should be noted that the team has seen multiple hits beat the shift thus far with quite a few of them driving in runners. The shift is a good thing in the aggregate, but it has a break-even point just like everything else.
The Rays have been a little fortunate on balls in play, but the Tigers take it to a whole other universe. The Tigers pitchers should expect some pretty solid regression overall, with each of their starters seeing better results than deserved to this point. Their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, goes the other way, but even his expected numbers are beyond gross. Let’s incorporate strikeouts and walks:
Tonight’s starter, Matt Andriese, has given up tons of hard contact to go with an elevated walk rate and league average strikeouts. Austin Pruitt and Erasmo Ramirez haven’t been much better out of the pen, but there are bright sides, too. Archer is a boss, as you’re well aware, but did you know that Jumbo Diaz, Alex Colome, and Tommy Hunter form one of the nicer pen nuclei in the league? Odorizzi is going to miss the next week or so, but he has been fine as a solid number two, and Blake Snell is finally on the right side of zero after a nice performance yesterday in Boston.
Justin Wilson has been a very productive reliever on the other side, but that’s about it. Everyone else with more than three batters faced has been worse than average, and many of them a lot worse. This is a pitching staff that should help the Rays get their offensive sea legs, and it will be a sight for sore eyes after the bullpens they have faced thus far. You will not want to miss the finish even if you think the team is out of it as these guys have almost nobody that can get a dude out.