I was all ready to say one 2018 last place team is leaving the Bronx and another one is coming in, but then I realized the Tigers finished in third place last year despite going 64-98. Life in the AL Central must be nice. The second series of 2019 brings another rebuilding team to Yankee Stadium.
Their Story So Far
The Tigers did this year what the Yankees did last year — they opened the regular season with a four-game series split in Toronto. Detroit scored six runs in the four games, including four of the six yesterday, and still managed to win twice. The Tigers are relatively early in their rebuild, though they have much more talent than the Orioles team that just left town.
Michael Fulmer had Tommy John surgery a week ago and he’ll obviously miss this season and very likely the start of next season as well. That’s the big injury. Boy, did the Tigers miss their chance to trade Fulmer for maximum value or what? Regular center fielder JaCoby Jones is out with a shoulder issue and righty Drew VerHagen is dealing with arm fatigue. Jones and VerHagen are on the injured list and won’t return this series.
The Tigers had a rough time at the plate against the Blue Jays despite splitting the four-game set. Manager Ron Gardenhire joked his offense was driving him to “drink heavily,” and, as a team, the Tigers are hitting .156/.250/.230 (50 wRC+) in 152 plate appearances this year. That’s with the very good Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera too. Yikes.
After using the same lineup the first three games and scoring two runs total, Gardenhire changed things up in their fourth game yesterday. They scored four runs and won, so I imagine they’ll use the same lineup tonight. That seems one like one of those typical baseball things, you know? Here’s the projected lineup:
- 3B Jeimer Candelario
- RF Nick Castellanos
- DH Miguel Cabrera
- 2B Niko Goodrum
- LF Christin Stewart
- 1B John Hicks
- CF Mikie Mahtook
- C Grayson Greiner
- SS Jordy Mercer
When Hicks starts behind the plate, Cabrera plays first base and someone else takes a turn at DH. Gordon Beckham and Dustin Peterson are the reserve infielder and outfielder, respectively. Candelario and Stewart are promising second tier prospects and Goodrum had a sneaky nice season as a super utility last year. A league average bat who can play pretty much anywhere is a valuable piece. Some 2018 Statcast numbers:
Again, Castellanos and Cabrera are the headliners here. Miggy is no longer the hitter he was in his prime, back when he was historically great, but I still don’t want to see him at the plate in a big spot. Cabrera took a pitch to the hand Saturday and was in obvious pain, then he came back and hit two balls to the wall Sunday. Dude can still mash.
Ross had a nice little bounceback season with the Padres and Cardinals last year, throwing 149.2 innings with a 4.15 ERA (4.39 FIP). The peripherals (19.2 K%, 9.8 BB%, 45.9 GB%) weren’t great, though considering Ross barely pitched the previous two years due to various arm injuries, that’s a good rebound season for a dude who looked done not too long ago. The Tigers gave him a one-year deal over the winter and he’ll make his first start of the season tonight.
The fastball isn’t as lively as it once was and the slider isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but Ross can really spin the ball, and he’s always thrown a ton of sliders. Even at his peak it was close to a 50/50 split with the fastball and slider. Because he doesn’t really have a changeup, left-handed batters have given Ross trouble throughout his career. The Yankees are short on quality lefty bats the moment though, so they aren’t really in position to capitalize.
Last Thursday, Zimmermann did something that hadn’t been done in nearly 80 years: He had a perfect game bid through 6.2 innings on Opening Day. The last pitcher to do that was Hall of Famer Lefty Grove with the 1940 Red Sox. Zimmermann lost the perfect game and no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh and wound up with a no decision for his efforts. Bummer.
Opening Day notwithstanding, Zimmermann has not been the same guy since signing with the Tigers a few years ago. Last season he managed a 4.52 ERA (4.88 FIP) with a great walk rate (4.7%) but mediocre strikeout (20.0%) and ground ball (34.0%) rates in 131.1 innings, and that qualifies as his best season with Detroit. His platoon split has been quite small in recent years, which I guess is a plus.
It could easily be a one-start blip, though it’s worth noting Zimmermann went anti-fastball against the Blue Jays last week. He threw nearly twice as many curveballs and sliders (44) as fastballs (25). Zimmermann’s been more of a 50/50 fastball/breaking ball split guy the last few years. Could be a conscious change, could be small sample noise.
The biggest issue for Zimmermann the last few years has been the long ball. He’s been exceptionally home run prone. Last year it was 28 homers in 131.1 innings and the year before it was 29 homers in 160 innings. That’s a 1.76 HR/9 rate across two seasons. Last August Zimmermann stifled the Yankees for five innings then bam, three homers in the span of four batters in the sixth inning.
Last start (March 28th vs. Blue Jays): 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K
Wednesday (4:05pm ET): TBA vs. LHP Matt Boyd (vs. NYY)
Boyd is a really interesting pitcher. I don’t know whether he’s actually good — last season he threw 170.1 innings with a 4.39 ERA (4.45 FIP) and unspectacular peripherals (22.4 K%, 7.4 BB%, 29.0 GB%) — but he is interesting. Last year Boyd intentionally threw with less velocity in an effort to disrupt timing, then, when that didn’t work, he went back to throwing hard. Look at this:
Over the years Boyd has also toyed with different arm angles and breaking balls. He’s mostly fastball/curveball/slider these days and he produced better than average hard contact rates last season. When he’s on, Boyd can be really difficult to square up. When he’s off, he’ll give up some dingers, and right-handed batters can give him a real hard time.
As for the Yankees, they have this spot listed as TBA, though it is expected to be Jonathan Loaisiga (or Loaisiga with an opener). CC Sabathia’s suspension ends after tomorrow’s game, at which point the Yankees will put him on the injured list and recall Loaisiga for this start. He didn’t have a good spring (16 IP, 13 H, 13 R, 12 ER, 7 BB, 18 K, 4 HR) and has never faced anyone on the Tigers, so at least Johnny Loaisiga will have the element of surprise going for him.
Boyd’s last start (March 29th vs. Blue Jays): 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
The Tigers and Blue Jays played eleven innings yesterday, yet Detroit’s bullpen is in good shape going into tonight’s series opener because Matt Moore (?!?) gave them seven strong innings. Huh. Here is Gardenhire’s relief unit:
- Closer: RHP Shane Greene
- Setup: RHP Joe Jimenez
- Middle: RHP Victor Alcantara, RHP Buck Farmer, RHP Reed Garrett, LHP Blaine Hardy, LHP Daniel Stumpf
- Long: LHP Daniel Norris
Jimenez, Farmer, Stumpf, and Greene all threw an inning yesterday and needed no more than 17 pitches to do it. None of them has pitched back-to-back days either. Norris threw 2.1 innings and 36 pitches on Saturday, so maybe the Tigers don’t want to go back to him just yet. Otherwise it seems everyone will be available tonight.
Greene is miscast as a closer — on a contending team, he’s maybe the fourth or fifth best reliever in the bullpen– but he has A+ stuff and is effectively wild. Jimenez was the selected to the All-Star Game as the token Tiger last year and has allowed 20 runs in 21.2 innings since, including three runs in an inning yesterday. Seems bad. Alcantara, Farmer, and Garrett have live, power arms. Garrett is the token Rule 5 Draft pick on the rebuilding team.