Having lost the series against the Rays on a tough loss on Sunday, the Boston Red Sox (23-24) welcome the Detroit Tigers (23-24) to Fenway Park for a four-game series. Detroit hasn’t had the start that most expected them to have this season, but the talent is there for the Tigers to climb in the standings of the American League Central.
Doug Fister (against Felix Doubront in Monday’s opener) continues surprising those who remember the beginning of his career. Before Fister’s breakout he relied on a (charitably) average 4-seam fastball (47.8% in 2008 and 62.3% in 2009). In 2010 Fister added a nasty two-seamer to his repertoire (throwing it 25.1% in 2011 and 42.5% in 2012 so far) and reduced the use of his four-seamer (34.3 % in 2011 and 10.5% in 2012). Thus Fister started missing bats. Fister’s BABIP dove from an average .302 in 2010 to .272 in 2011 and .261 in 2012, but if batters can’t square up on a pitch, hits turn into outs. Slightly worrying for Fister is that although his ERA is 1.84 in 2012, his FIP is 3.54 and his xFIP is 3.02, which would still be good but not as stellar as his ERA might indicate.
Justin Verlander (facing Daniel Bard) is, if anything, having a better season than his stellar 2011 MVP season. His ERA, FIP and xFIP are all down from 2011 (2.40/2.99/3.12 in 2011, 2.15/2.37/3.11 in 2012). His K rate is slightly higher (26.2% in 2012, 25.8% in 2011) and BB rate is lower (5.2% in 2012, 5.9% in 2011). His batting average against is lower (.171 in 2012, 1.91 in 2011) and his WHIP is lower 0.81 vs. 0.92). The only thing negative to say about Verlander is that his velocity is down a tick from 2011. Justin Verlander is sick. Just sick.
Drew Smyly (versus Jon Lester) flew through the Tigers’ minor league system after being drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Smyly relies on a 91 MPH four-seamer, an 86 MPH cutter, and 84 MPH changeup, throwing in a two-seamer, a sinker, and a slider. The calling card for Drew Smyly has been command of his pitches – the ball goes where he wants it to go. Smyly has a very nice K rate of 8.51 and a could-be-better walk rate of 2.77. His FIP of 4.02 is a touch higher than his ERA (3.14) but he’s still a rookie who is learning.
Max Scherzer (opposing Josh Beckett in the finale) was tagged to have a breakout season, but is it coming to pass? What I’m seeing is bad luck. His ERA is an ugly 5.67 but his FIP is an acceptable 3.95 and his SIERA is an excellent 2.78. He’s given up 10 home runs so far in 2012 but his xFIP of 3.11 indicates that he should have given up fewer homers. And to top it all off, Scherzer’s BABIP is an outstandingly unlucky .394. His K rate is a stellar 12.00 per nine innings but his walk rate of 3.17 could be better. Scherzer has always had the stuff to be a great pitcher. Now it’s time to make it happen.
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
Prince Fielder is heating up. In the last two weeks Fielder is hitting .442/.475/.692 with a .485 wOBA and a 213 wRC. Also hitting well in the last two weeks (and honestly, when does he not) is Miguel Cabrera (.358/.433/.547, .421 wOBA, 169 wRC). Also, watch out for Quintin Berry. Making his debut for the injured Austin Jackson, Berry is hitting .381/.458/.476, .444 wOBA and 185 wRC, with 3 stolen bases. He is striking out in 24% of his at bats but is walking 12% of the time. Not bad for his first five games in the majors. However, Alex Avila (.231/.333/.359, .309 wOBA, 92 wRC) and Jhonny Peralta (.200/.347/.300, .304 wOBA, 89 wRC) aren’t hitting well in the past two weeks.
In the bullpen, Joaquin Benoit has been getting the job done (2.70 ERA/1.64 FIP/2.55 xFIP) despite a tremendously unlucky .404 BABIP. Also pitching well are Duane Below (2.45 ERA/2.26 FIP/3.14 xFIP), Octavio Dotel (2.87 ERA/1.78 FIP/2.11 xFIP) and Bryan Villareal (0.00 ERA/1.76 FIP/2.91 xFIP). However, Phil Coke (4.50 ERA/2.84 FIP/3.74 xFIP, but an unlucky .350 BABIP) and closer Jose Valverde (4.66 ERA/4.59 FIP/4.85 xFIP) aren’t pitching to their capabilities.
LHP Sergio Escalona is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. LHP Fernando Abad (right intercostal strain), CF Austin Jackson (abdominal strain) and RHP Kyle Weiland (right shoulder infection) are on the 15-day DL.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?
In the last two weeks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.303/.361/.667, .434 wOBA, 175 wRC) is performing his annual “maybe he really is a good hitter” routine, while Scott Podsednik (.455/.455/.727, .533 wOBA, 243 wRC) has gotten off to a great start in five games. Also, Kevin Youkilis (.375/.474/.563 .451 wOBA, 186 wRC) has hit well upon his return from the disabled list. However, Adrian Gonzalez (.204/.245/.388, .273 wOBA, 64 wRC) and Dustin Pedroia (.226/.263/.245, .230 wOBA, 34 wRC) had bad fortnights and need to step it up.
As for the hurlers, Josh Beckett went 2-0 in three starts, with a line of 1.25 ERA/1.79 FIP/2.83 xFIP, but Jon Lester (5.68 ERA, 5.15 FIP, 3.67 xFIP, despite two wins) and Daniel Bard (6.10 ERA/8.02 FIP/6.46 xFIP) didn’t pitch well in the last two weeks. In the pen Alfredo Aceves (2.25 ERA/4.12 FIP/3.37 xFIP, despite the tough blown save on Sunday) and Franklin Morales (2.70 ERA/ a worrying 5.99 FIP/3.36 xFIP) have pitched well, while Vicente Padilla (5.40 ERA/2.39 FIP/4.08 xFIP with a .400 BABIP) has been a bit unlucky.
The Tigers are where they are in the standings because their pitching hasn’t been as stellar as in years past, but the tools are there for the Tigers to regain their traditional position at or near the top of the American League Central. If the Cleveland Indians cool off (which they should, right?), the Tigers will battle the also surprising White Sox for the Central crown.