Game 2013.59: Indians at Tigers

32-26, 1st place, 2.5 games up on Cle.

Well, the Tigers are a frustrating 4-6 over their last 10, including 3 games where they failed to score a run in the first 9 innings of the game, but yet they managed to pick up a game on the struggling Tribe, losers of four straight. In fact, as stephen likes to allude to from time to time, the Central is so bad that the Tigers .400 winning percentage over the last 10 games is good for 2nd best in the division. CWS may be the worst team in the AL here soon, they are certainly playing like it these days.

Nice series against Tampa Bay, who had a better record than us coming into the series. We’ve got to win series at home.

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JV climbs the hill tonight for the Tigers, so this gives us an opportunity to examine his recent starts to see if we can identify some causes for his struggles. Thank you Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference for the research tools.

Over his last 5 starts, JV is averaging 5 1/3 IPs, 7.4 hits, 7.4 Ks, 2.2 walks, and 4.4 ER per game. That translates into a 7.42 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 12.5 K/9 and 3.71 BB/9. Concerning right?

Maybe not.

– Obviously, the ERA is egregious, and it could be explained by the outrageous 2 2/3 8 ER outing versus Texas. If we remove that game, however, his ERA over the other 4 is still a seemingly unacceptable 5.25. But if we look at his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), things come into focus a bit more. With the Texas game, his FIP over the last 5 is 3.59, which is a little above average.  If we remove the Texas game, his FIP over the other four games is 2.98, which is fantastic. As a barometer – his career FIP is 3.37; in 2011 in was 2.99, and last year it was 2.94. This year it’s still at 2.60 for the whole season. Salty. More on this in a bit.

– The 1.79 WHIP is, in my mind, even uglier than the ERA. But there’s an easy explanation. The BABIP against JV over the last 5 games is an unbelievable (and unsustainable) .446. This is for a pitcher with a career BABIP of .287. This can be partially explained by the Tigers’ general lack of infield (and recently outfield) range, but it’s also a function of good luck on the part of the opposing batters. If you took at look at BABIP on a game by game basis, 4 of his worst 5 games this season come from the last 5 games. (Note that game by game basis is not really helpful b/c of the small sample size, but looking at these last 5 games against his 12 starts this year does, in my mind, support the bad luck theory.)

– Finally, his K rate of 12.5 over his last 5 games is significantly better than his career rate of 8.53, and in fact, his 10.73 K/9 this year would be the best in his career. Yes, he’s walking a few more this year than usual (2.96 in 2013 v. 2.73 career), but it’s not a huge variance.

So, all in all, despite what has been an awful stretch by his standards, JV is arguably pitching better now that his career norm. It’s been some bad bloops and bad ballparks that have caused the spike in traditional pitching metrics. (Progressive, Oriole, & Rangers ballparks are all top 10 in HR this year). Now, FIP attempts to remove many elements of luck, and rewards Ks and low BB rates, which is why JV’s FIP over the last 5 is so different from this actual ERA. But high Ks and low BBs is a very good thing. And this is strong evidence that we should not be worried one bit about Verlander. (Well, I’ll admit that his 1 mph less FB velocity is intriguing, but I’ll save that for later).

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Tonight’s starter, Ubaldo Jimenez is, not very good anymore. In his last 10 starts he’s registered only 4 of the quality kind, including 1 ER over 6 IPs at Comerica on May 11th. His last outing was his best of the season, when he held Tampa Bay to just 4 hits and 1 BB over 8 innings. But on the season he’s posting a 4.83 ERA (4.21 FIP) and 1.26 WHIP. He strikes out lot of batters, his 9.05 K/9 this season is the best of his career, but he also averages 4+ walks per nine (2013 and career).  Cabby (.972 career OPS), Fielder (.814), VMart (1.002), and Peralta (1.094) all rake v. Ubaldo. So on screens, things look very promising for tonight’s match-up. But we’ve read that before.

I don’t really see Cleveland as a threat or contender, but a good three game set by them in Detroit coming off of a bad spell could give them a needless boost. I’d like to see JV put any worries about his recent performance to bed, and put us in a take 1/2 position over the weekend to take the series. It should happen.

Someone please post the lineups later today, as I’ve got a drinking event this afternoon.