Series Preview: Detroit Tigers (95-67) vs New York Yankees (97-65)

This series already began in disappointment, as the marquee matchup between extremely likely Cy Young winner Justing Verlander and C.C. Sabathia was suspended due to rain in the second inning. The game will resume tonight with different starters and the score 1-1. I said last night that it was good for the Yankees given how great Verlander is, but C.C. is also a great pitcher and there’s a hugh dropoff in talent for both sides.

Team Overviews

Team stats, AL rank in parentheses

Detroit New York
wOBA .336 (5th) .346 (3rd)
UBR -6.8 (12th) 1.3 (6th)

UZR

-3.7 (9th) 6.4 (5th)
DRS -15 (12th) -9 (10th)
SP FIP 3.94 (6th) 3.97 (7th)
RP FIP 3.98 (7th) 3.65 (3rd)

Both of these teams have a little less firepower than I thought, stat-wise. They’re both great teams but no particular numbers blow me away as they did in the TB-TEX series.

Detroit’s offense was overwhelmingly led by Miguel Cabrera’s monster season, in which he posted a .436 wOBA and a whopping 65.6 wRAA and a slash line of .344/.448/.586. His .365 BABIP certainly helped, but Cabrera hit the cover off the ball this year. After Cabrera the two other largest contributers were C Alex Avila (.383 wOBA) and sort-of C Victor Martinez (.368 wOBA). Lucky for the Tigers they can use the DH, since they had three guys for two positions there. Cabrera’s huge year more than made up for disappointing seasons from the usually underrated Brandon Inge (.247 wOBA in 303 PAs) and the shambling remains of Magglio Ordonez (.283 wOBA in 357 PAs). Ordonez has still been getting a few starts a week (I’m guessing due to platoon advantage), but Inge has pretty much lost his job to Wilson Betemit. It’s a bummer, as Inge is one of my favorite baseball stories – a catcher who converted to 3b and became an elite defender.

On the pitching side, it’s not quite Verlander and pray for rain, but he is far and away better than the rest of the rotation. The top four spots each made more than 30 starts (Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, Brad Penny) and the fifth spot was bounced around between Phil Coke and a bunch of roster filler before the relatively unkown Doug Fister siezed the job after being acquired from Seattle. Fister has easily passed Penny on the depth chart and is probably the second best pitcher on the team now. Hot-doggin’ Jose Valverde is the Tigers closer, but the most notable name in the Pirates bullpen is former Cubs prospect Al Albuquerque, who was traded for Jeff Baker. He’s had a Marmol-like year, striking out 67 while walking 29 in 43.1 innings.

The Yankees offense was much more spread around than the one-man wrecking crew of Cabrera. Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez all had solid years at the plate, posting 15 or more wRAA each. LF Brett Gardner had a mediocre year at the plate but still managed to swipe nearly 50 bases while putting up monster defensive numbers (UZR and DRS and Men’s Fitness agree). Jorge Posada finally fell apart this year, unable to catch and posting a .309 wOBA mostly as a DH. They got about as much value as you would expect from the 4-year deal they signed with him before the 2008 season, when he was a 36 year old catcher.

On the pitching side they’ve got C.C., who has had yet another big year and will get yet another big contract this offseason, and a bunch of palatable guys. Nova is a guy who looks like a solid average MLBer going forward, and fellow Yankee developee Phil Hughes still has some work to do to get back to his previous 2.5 WAR-ish form. The rest of the Yankee rotation is staffed with retreads like Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and A.J. Burnett, who Rothschild was supposed to fix but kept on sucking. With the rainout there’s a chance A.J. could make an appearance in this series. There’s no need to talk about the back of the bullpen with this team, but the pitchers in front of him have struggled a bit, most notably by the unwanted by Cashman high-profile FA signing Rafael Soriano. RHP David Robinson meanwhile, who I had never heard of this year, has had a monster season posting a 1.84 FIP over 66.2 innings for the team.

Pitching Matchups

ERA, FIP, xFIP listed for each pitcher

Saturday (Friday): Ivan Nova, RHP (3.70, 4.01, 4.16) vs Doug Fister, RHP (2.83, 3.02, 3.61), 7:37 PM CT

Nova seems like an under the radar guy, as with all the frenzy over Yankees prospects by their fans/media he never really got any attention over the likes of Betances, Hughes, and Montero. But he’s a solid pitcher and a ground ball machine. He was solid down the stretch, and since returning to the team in the end of July he’s only given up more than three runs twice, once in a blowout win over the Royals and in the final game against the Red Sox.

Fister had a quietly solid 2010 with the Mariners, posting a 3.65 FIP over 171 innings despite striking out less than five batters per nine. Fister’s strikeout rate regressed upward this year, but his pinpoint control was even better (1.54 BB/9).

Sunday: Max Scherzer, RHP (4.43, 4.14, 3.70) vs Freddy Garcia, RHP (3.62, 4.12, 4.36), 2:00 PM CT

I remember when Scherzer was coming up with Arizona a few years ago many scouts were worried that he wouldn’t be able to stick as a starter. He’s proved his doubters wrong, posting 30 starts or more in each of his three full seasons as a starter. Scherzer had some bad luck with the home run ball this year but generally was right in line with his previous two solid seasons.

It seems like Garcia has been pitching forever, but he’s only 34. After stinking up the joint last year with the White Sox he posted yet another solid year with the Yankees. His strikeout rate is still hovering a bit below 6, but most of his skill lies in not issuing free passes and he’s maintainted that this year.

Tuesday: C.C. Sabathia, LHP (3.00, 2.88, 3.02) vs Justin Verlander, RHP (2.40, 2.99, 3.12)

There’s been some rumbling that Sabathia might get the extra rest but I don’t buy it. Colon or Burnett could take this start if the Yankees grab a 2-0 series lead, but otherwise it should be CC. For all the buzz about Verlander being a lock for the Cy this year (a product of his 24 Wins and some BABIP luck), Sabathia has had a better year. The two pitchers have farily similar peripherals, but the difference with Sabathia is that he gets more ground balls. Of course, CC does not have a 100 mph fastball.

Wednesday:  A.J. Burnett, RHP (5.15, 4.77, 3.86) vs Rick Porcello, (4.75, 4.06, 4.02)

Did Rothschild “fix” A.J. Burnett? Sort of. Burnett’s strikeout rate jumped by nearly a batter an inning this year, but his walk and gopherball rates did not improve. There’s also a very good chance that the strikeout improvement was simply regression, as last year’s 6.99 K/9 rate looks like an outlier on his career numbers.

Porcello is a sinkerballer so take his FIP numbers with a grain of salt. He succeeds the way that all sinkerballers need to succeed – he pounds the strike zone. IIRC Porcello is a guy that Ryno has lamented the Cubs not taking over Vitters.

Friday: Ivan Nova, RHP vs Doug Fister, RHP

Prediction

Yankees in four


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