2011 ALDS: Previewing The Tigers’ Bullpen

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

With all the talk about how great Justin Verlander is and how well Doug Fister has pitched since the trade to Detroit, it’s easy to forgot that those guys have combined for just seven complete games out of 65 starts. Someone has to pitch after they leave, and that’s who we’re going to look at now.

The Best Closer In Baseball*

Known more for his celebrations than for his actual performance, Jose Valverde had a very nice year but hardly a great one. He did strike out 8.59 batters for every nine innings pitched, but he also walked 4.23 during the same time interval. A 42.9% ground ball rate isn’t great but it’s doable given the strikeouts and his home park. A fastball-splitter pitcher, Valverde has a pretty significant reverse platoon split because he rarely throws the splitter to same-side hitters.

* Assuming you think going 49-for-49 in save chances is meaningful.

The Best Setup Man In Baseball**

The guy that started all the multi-year contract madness for free agent relievers last summer, Benoit rebounded from a terrible start (7.98 ERA as late as mid-May) to finish very well (1.36 ERA thereafter). His peripherals weren’t as strong this year (9.30 K/9 and 2.51 BB/9) as they were last year (11.19 and 1.64, respectively), but that’s not surprising. Tough to repeat that kind of performance. Benoit’s a fastball-changeup guy, which really isn’t all that different than fastball-splitter. He gives up a ton of fly balls  (38.9% grounders) and has a reverse split like Valverde, but it’s not nearly as pronounced. The Yankees saw plenty of Benoit with the Rays last year, so they know what’s up.

** Assuming you’re talking about 2010 and not 2011.

The Best Strikeout Reliever In Baseball***

If someone comes up from the minors and gives up 21 hits while striking out 67 in just 43.1 IP, you can bet they’ve pitched their way into high-leverage relief work. That’s exactly what Al Alburquerque has done, though he’s offset his sky-high strikeout rate (13.92 K/9) with an equally high walk rate (6.02 BB/9). He’s the Luke Gregerson of the AL, getting an absurd amount of swings and misses (15.5%) by throwing a ton of sliders (52.4%). Albuquerque hasn’t given up a run since the end of June, though there was a DL stint in July.

*** Unless you’re talking about guys that threw more than 43.1 IP.

The Rest

The Tigers are carrying a dozen pitchers on their playoff roster, including all five of their starters. Either Brad Penny (5.02 FIP) or Rick Porcello (4.06 FIP) will start Game Four while the other serves as the long man, so that means no Verlander on three days rest. Phil Coke (.215/.289/.295 vs. LHB) and Dan Schlereth (.174/.273/.256 vs. LHB) are the two lefties, Ryan Perry (3.94 FIP) the spare righty.

SWB Yanks will play 2012 home games in six locations

Via Danny Wild, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees will play their 2012 home games in six different locations: Rochester (37 games), Syracuse (ten), Lehigh Valley (eight), Batavia (seven), Buffalo (six), and Pawtucket (four). All those cities already house an International League franchise except for Batavia, which is home to an NY-Penn League affiliate. There’s only one way to describe this: absolutely brutal.

“We appreciate the support of the clubs who will host our 2012 game, and are looking forward with great anticipation to returning to Scranton Wilkes-Barre for the 2013 season,” said Brian Cashman. The SWB Yanks have to play on the road next year because PNC Field is undergoing major renovations, and a deal to play in Newark fell through because the Mets are jerks invoked territorial rights. You have to feel for guys like Austin Romine, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances; they basically won’t have a home park next year. Also have to wonder if the Yanks will have trouble signing free agents to minor league deals given the stadium situation in Triple-A.

2011 ALDS: Previewing The Tigers’ Offense

Most of the attention paid to the Yankees-Tigers ALDS matchup has focused on the pitchers for the time being, and why not? Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia are worthy Cy Young candidates, Doug Fister’s been pretty great since the trade, and the Yankees have some questions to answer later in the series. Pitching  is only half the battle thought, the Yankees have to deal with Miguel Cabrera and the rest of their offense as well.

Shutting Down Miggy

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This will be the easiest section of the post. You know why? Because there’s no way to shut down Miggy Cabrera, he’s just too good. The guy hit .344/.448/.586 this season after hitting .328/.420/.622 last season. He’s also a .374/.439/.729 hitter in 30 career games against the Yankees. There’s just no stopping him, accept it. There’s also little chance of stopping Victor Martinez, who hit .330/.380/.470 this year (.281/.346/.507 career against the Yanks). These two guys are just too good, even the best game planning could prove fruitless.

Therefore, the best way to lessen the impact of Detroit’s 4-5 hitters is to keep the guys hitting in front of them off base. Thankfully, Jim Leyland helps out a bit with this. Leadoff man Austin Jackson got on base just 31.7% of the time this year and never topped a .333 OBP after the fourth game of the season. Three-hole hitter Delmon Young is a Grade-A hacker (.302 OBP overall, .298 with the Tigers); his value comes from the occasional homerun. Wilson Betemit has been hitting second of late and is easily the best hitter ahead of Miggy and V-Mart. His  .285/.343/.452 season line is buoyed by a .292/.346/.525 performance in MoTown. Jackson (22 steals) is their only stolen base threat, so keeping him and Young off the bases in front of he two big bats is imperative.

Don’t Forget About …

… Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta. Avila, a former teammate of David Robertson‘s in college, will garner some MVP votes after hitting .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers this year. He’s the only significant left-handed bat in the Tigers’ lineup, but he’s more than held his own against southpaws this season (.279/.349/.430). Avila also does most of his hitting to the opposite field (spray chart), which is good for the Yankees because a) that’s where Brett Gardner is, and b) left field is the biggest part of Yankee Stadium.

Peralta, the former Indian, had a sneaky good year at the plate (.299/.345/.478). He bats right behind Avila, who bats right behind Martinez and Cabrera. These two aren’t as dangerous as the two big guys, but they’re definitely not pushovers either, Avila in particular. They’re the ones the Yankees will have to be really careful with, since Miggy and V-Mart figure to spend a lot of time on the bases.

Everyone Else

Both Young and Jackson are pretty bad at getting on base, as are the two remaining spots in Detroit’s lineup. Magglio Ordonez has been both hurt and basically unusable (.255/.303/.331) this season. The second base platoon of Ryan Raburn (.274/.321/.486) and Ramon Santiago (.245/.301/.361) is solid at best.

Clearly, the Tigers’ offensive attack revolves around Cabrera and Martinez, with Avila doing a great job of being the third wheel. Keeping Jackson and Young off base will be pretty important, as will keeping Peralta under wraps when the three  guys in front of him inevitably reach base. It’s a potent offense (.336 wOBA), but there are definitely spots where the Yankees can pick their poison, so to speak.

Hello, Tigers. We’ve met before, haven’t we?

When the Yankees take the field against the Tigers tonight and CC Sabathia readies his warm up pitches, for fans who were in attendance on Opening Day, it will be a sight evocative of that cold afternoon in March. Nearly six months to the day since the season opened, the Yankees and Tigers will square off with a trip to the American League Championship Series on the line.

The Yankees and Tigers of course faced each other a handful of times this year. The one-time AL East club moved to the Central when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were granted a team in 1998, and the Yanks see the Tigers far less frequently than they used to. In fact, the two clubs have not met since May 5. Players have changed; club personnel have changed; but here we are.

It’s tough to draw many conclusions from the Yanks’ seven games against the Tigers. The opening set was played amidst some decidedly non-baseball-like weather, and the May series kicked off a stretch of the schedule in which the Yanks went 3-10 over 13 games. It was ugly. But we’ll relive them anyway.

March 31, 2011: Yankees 6, Tigers 3 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Joba Chamberlain
LP: Phil Coke
S: Mariano Rivera
HR: Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson

With winds at 12 miles per hour and game-time temperatures at 42 degrees, it felt more like winter than baseball season on Opening Day. Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia would face off against each other, but neither ace would last long enough to grab a win. Verlander struck out eight but walked four in six innings while CC struck out seven and walked two. With the game knotted at 3, the bullpens became key. Joba Chamberlain drew the win when Curtis Granderson homered against Phil Coke. Rafael Soriano and Mariano closed it out, and the Yanks would never be a .500 team this year.

April 2, 2011: Yankees 10, Tigers 6 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: A.J. Burnett
LP: Brad Penny
S: Mariano Rivera
HR: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson

A Saturday, 52 degrees, and yet the balls were flyin’ out of the stadium. Teixeira blasted a three-run job, and Russell Martin’s first Yankee Stadium homer brought in three as well. A.J. pitched just well enough over five innings to get the win, and while the Tigers tried to rally back against Boone Logan and Luis Ayala, they couldn’t overcome an early 6-0 deficit. It was Yankee baseball, as she is meant to be played.

April 3, 2011: Tigers 10, Yankees 7 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Max Scherzer
LP: Phil Hughes
S: Jose Valverde
HR: Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada (2), Brennan Boesch, Miguel Cabrera (2)

It was the first indication that Phil Hughes just wasn’t right. In the finale of the opening series, Detroit dopped a ten-spot on New York. Hughes lasted just four innings, and Bartolo Colon threw four ineffective innings of his own. Jorge Posada, defying age, blased two home runs, but Miguel Cabrera did the same. Jose Valverde danced off the mound, and the Tigers had their first victory of the young season.

May 2, 2011: Yankees 5, Tigers 3 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Joba Chamberlain
LP: Jose Valverde
S: Mariano Rivera
HR: Alex Avila (2)

At the time, we were expecting a good game as Bartolo Colon with his fountain of youth was to face Justin Verlander, and these two pitchers did not disappoint. Again, the Yanks tagged Verlander for four walks while the Tigers’ ace struck out eight over six innings. Colon K’d seven in as many innings. With the game tied in the ninth, though, Jose Valverde faltered. A run scored on a Nick Swisher single, and a passed ball allowed the Yanks some breathing room.

May 3, 2011: Tigers 4, Yankees 2 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Brad Penny
LP: CC Sabathia
S: Jose Valverde
HR: Mark Teixeira

At the time, we didn’t know the tailspin into which the Yanks would head after this game. It seemed like an ordinary loss. Brad Penny, who the Yanks had beaten badly in April, held the team to an unearned run over six innings while CC wasn’t at his best. Even though Detroit went 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position, they didn’t need to do any better, and the Bombers helped them out on the basepaths when Andruw Jones was thrown out at the plate. The Yanks would then lose three in a row and nine of their next 12.

May 4, 2011: Tigers 4, Yankees 0 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Max Scherzer
LP: Freddy Garcia
HR: Magglio Ordonez

Max Scherzer, 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K. ‘Nuff said. Freddy wasn’t bad, but he couldn’t touch that.

May 5, 2011: Tigers 6, Yankees 3 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Rick Porcello
LP: A.J. Burnett

This was ugly. The Yanks, up 2-1 after 5.5 innings, simply fell apart over the final frames of this game. In the pivotal seventh inning in which the Tigers scored three to take the lead, A.J. hit Ryan Raburn who was hitting .229 at the time, and an Eduardo Nunez error — shocking, I know — lead to a pair of unearned runs. Earlier in the game, A.J.’s own error led to a previous unearned run. This was a game best left to the growing pains of May.

The RAB Radio Show: September 30, 2011

We’re just hours away from Game 1 of the ALDS, so you know what’s going to be on the agenda.

  • We start from where we left off last week, with the AL playoff races coming down to the wire.
  • Hopefully well-rested troops are effective troops. It seemed to help down the stretch, after Girardi bought some guys a little rest mid-September.
  • It might surprise everyone, but Justin Verlander gets discussed at length.
  • Tigers offense: better than you might think.

Podcast run time 54:41

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[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow093011.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.