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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)

Wednesday
Oct122011

Rangers Can't Resist Fister's Fastball

Doug Fister pitched the Tigers into the win column in the ALCS last night, surrendering two runs in 7.1 innings while striking out three and walking none. The former Mariner got 73 strikes in 102 pitches (72 percent), but he didn't do it by flooding the zone with strikes. Rather, he baited Rangers batters with fastballs off the plate.

Fister threw his fastball three-quarters of the time against Texas. Manager Jim Leyland praised Fister's approach: "In and out, moving the ball around, moving the ball both sides of the plate." Facing a lineup with seven right-handed hitters, the NBA-sized righty mostly pitched inside but did hit the outside corner to keep 'em honest:

Location of Fister's fastball vs. Texas, 10/11/2011

Seventy percent of Fister's fastballs were thrown inside, 21 percent were tossed outside and just nine percent caught the middle part of the plate. Rangers batters got very few cookies, and they couldn't really back off the plate to better handle those inside pitches with Fister also working the outside corner at times.

You'll note that most of those fastballs were thrown out of the zone. In fact, just one-third of Fister's fastballs were over the plate. But Texas hitters couldn't lay off, chasing 32 of 51 out-of-zone heaters (63 percent). That's nothing new for Fister, though: he leads all MLB starters in fastball chase percentage this season.

While he's not a power pitcher, the former non-prospect has improved his fastball velocity considerably -- he sat at 91 mph Tuesday and hit 93 -- while still featuring lots of movement. On average, Fister's fastball tailed in on righties by about 10 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin. The average for righty fastballs is slightly more than half of that.

Combining average velocity with that much movement makes Fister's fastball a plus offering. Opponents have slugged just .319 against the pitch this season, the lowest clip among qualified MLB starters.

With each passing start, the six-player swap that brought Fister (under team control through 2015) to Detroit in July looks like even more of a masterstroke. Armed with a darting fastball that has climbed from the high-80s, Fister is no novelty act. He's just one of the best starters in the DH league.

Tuesday
Oct112011

Cruzin' for a Brusin'

Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers hit two home runs and a double Monday night, tying the game with his first home run and winning it in extra-innings with the first walk-off grand slam in playoff history.*

Cruz's power envelops the top and inside halves of the plate.

 

Nelson Cruz, in play slugging percentage, 2011 regular season.It makes sense then that pitchers try to work him low and away:

Nelson Cruz, pitch frequency, 2011 regular season.The Tigers did not seem to get the memo, as they worked Nelson inside:

Nelson Cruz, pitch frequency, 2011 ALCS game two.Three of those pitches ended up in his wheel house.

Nelson Cruz, in play slugging percentage, 2011 ALCS game two.Note that working him well inside was a good idea, as the only out he recorded was on an inside pitch off the plate.  Whether the pitches he crushed were meant to be more inside or more away, Tigers hurlers missed badly three times, and Nelson made them pay.

 

*Robin Ventura hit a walk-off grand slam in the playoffs, but due to a base running blunder, it only counted as a single.

 

Tuesday
Oct112011

Catching Grind Leading to Grounders for Avila?

Detroit's Alex Avila squatted behind home plate for 1,157 innings during the regular season, the second-highest total in the major leagues. All of those backswings, foul tips and even small fires could be catching up with the 24-year-old as he plays deep in the playoffs following his first season as a full-time starter with the Tigers.

The lefty hitter had a .295 average, a .389 OBP and a .506 slugging percentage during the regular season, leading qualified MLB backstops by a wide margin in the latter two categories. But in the playoffs, Avila has a ghastly .080/.148/.080 slash in 28 plate appearances. It's a very small sample size, of course, but the catching grind might be leading to lots of grounders for the convert who began his college career at Alabama as a corner infielder.

Avila has put 16 balls in play during the postseason, and he has chopped 12 of them into the infield grass. He's either pulling the ball to the right side or weakly tapping back toward the mound:

Avila's ground ball spray chart in the 2011 playoffs (one grounder is missing from the chart)

By contrast, Avila hit a ground ball just 38 percent of the time during the regular season, well below the 43 percent league average. Considering that Avila, whose knees seem to snap, crackle and pop with each step, might not be able to beat Jim Leyland in a foot race right now, hitting the ball on the ground is a surefire way to end up limping back to the dugout.