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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)


Verlander Versus Shields

A reader sends a question about Justin Verlander of the Tigers and James Shields of the Rays:

With all the talk about Verlander getting Cy Young and possibly MVP, I'm wondering how much better he's been than James Shields of the Rays.  Shields has a 2.70 ERA in a harder division (Verlander doesn't have to face explosive Red Sox and Yankees offenses as much as Shields), with 11 bullpen saving complete games, and 15 wins despite the anemic Rays offense.  Verlander has a gaudy amount of wins and 2.36 ERA in the AL Central, but could it be reasoned that Shields would have a better season if him and Verlander traded places?

It's a great question, but let me look at it another way.  When you look at the two pitchers in terms of opposition batting, Verlander is clearly superior.


IP 236 226.33
OBP 0.243 0.267
Slug 0.333 0.372
wOBA 0.252 0.277
BABIP 0.230 0.247
Strikeout % 0.265 0.227


Shields doesn't really save the bullpen any better than Verlander, since Justin pitched more innings this season.  On top of that, with the Tigers closer perfect on the season, there's no reason to avoid going to him in the ninth.  Verlander avoids the underbelly of the bullpen, and that's all a starter needs to do.

On top of that, Justin's averages are lower across the board.  Both pitchers record few hits on ball in play (BABIP), and that helps both tremendously.  One could argue, however, that Verlander received a few more lucky bounces.

That could be a big factor.  Verlander may be facing weaker hitters in the AL Central, or those hitters could just have suffered bad luck facing Verlander.  Let's look a little deeper, as PITCHf/x allows us to see in some ways the quality of their pitches:


Swing % 0.468 0.475
Pct Missed 0.237 0.246
% In Zone 0.428 0.515
Chase % 0.313 0.323
Called Strike % 0.359 0.327
Line Drive % 0.134 0.183


Note that this table paints a slightly different picture.  Shields gets more batters to swing, and more to miss when they do swing.  He tends to hit the strike zone more often than Verlander, and gets more batters to chase pitchers outside the strike zone.  In other words, in categories that measure the quality of the pitcher, Shields seems to be better.

That doesn't hold up everywhere, however.  Verlander gets more called strikes, meaning he tends to fool batters more.  A lower number of balls in play as line drives also implies Verlander fools batters, as that could lead to poor contact.

Or it could be that batters just can't see the ball.  Verlander's fastball averages 94.9 MPH, one of the fastest in the league.  Shields is down at 90.8, so he needs to be finer than Verlander.  My verdict is that both are aces, but in 2011, Verlander's ability to strike out more batters and catch them looking leads to his better numbers.  He more than deserves the Cy Young award.



Top 20 Hitters on Pitches Within the Strike Zone

Top 20 Hitters on Pitches Within the Strike Zone
(Min. 500 pitches in the Strike Zone - click image to enlarge)

While Adrian Gonzalez's wOBA on pitches in the strike zone leads all hitters, it's 184 points higher than his wOBA on pitches out of the strike zone.  Jose Bautista, however, has a .467 wOBA on pitches missing the strike zone, which is 44 points higher than his wOBA on pitches in the strike zone.  Along with Bautista, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers are the only other hitters in the top 20 of both lists.


Fister Fans a Baker's Dozen

A Tigers righty fanned 13 hitters on Labor Day. It wasn't Justin Verlander. Not Max Scherzer, either. Rather, Doug Fister, the 6-foot-8 beanpole known more for limiting walks and inducing hitters to chase his four-pitch mix off the plate, K'd 13 Cleveland Indians as Detroit stretched its AL Central division lead to 7.5 games.

Here's a breakdown of Fister's baker's dozen:

- Eight on fastballs (4 swinging, 4 looking)

- Four on curveballs (3 swinging, 1 looking)

- One on a changeup (1 swinging)

Nine of Fister's punch outs came against left-handed hitters. He got three swings and misses for a K with the fastball vs. lefties, and caught three others looking. Two swung through curveballs, and one chased a changeup off the plate:

Location and release velocity of Fister's K's vs. Cleveland lefties, 9/5/2011

Against righties, Fister got one swinging strikeout and one K looking with the fastball. His curve also got one swinging K and one strikeout looking:

 Location and release velocity of Fister's K's vs. Cleveland's righties, 9/5/2011

That curveball was key to Fister getting ahead in the count and being in a position to punch out hitters. He threw 21 of his 26 curves for strikes on Monday, locating them low and inside or high and away to lefties:

Location of Fister's curveballs vs. Cleveland, 9/5/2011Since Detroit acquired him on July 30 (along with David Pauley) from the Mariners for LHP Charlie Furbush, RHP Chance Ruffin, 3B Francisco Martinez and OF Casper Wells, Fister has done his best Cliff Lee impression. He's got a 36-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 2.68 fielding-independent ERA in 44.1 innings. Combine that with his work as a Mariner, and the former seventh-round pick who didn't sniff Seattle prospect lists has 4.5 Wins Above Replacement this season. That's more than Tim Lincecum and Chris Carpenter, among many others. Who knew?