Note: This was obviously written prior to Friday’s rainout, and so you’ll have to disregard anything about Garcia pitching on the road and Scherzer at home.
The 2011 ALDS shifts to Detroit tonight, as soft-tossing Freddy Garcia takes on his antithesis, the hard-throwing Max Scherzer. This is actually Freddy’s first postseason start since 2005, which, when you think about it makes sense, but was something I hadn’t realized prior to embarking on this post. Freddy was outstanding in the 2005 postseason — although so were all of his rotationmates — during the White Sox’s utter thrashing of their opponents (11-1) on the way to Chicago’s first World Series crown since 1917, throwing 21 innings of five-run ball over three outings (2.18 ERA) and won all three games. Obviously Freddy isn’t going to be that good this go-round, but he should at least be competitive.
Here are his overall numbers against and splits:
By ERA+ Freddy turned in a well-above average performance this season (122), though his overall line allowed to hitters was 8% worse than league average. Freddy saved his best pitching for the road, which is great considering he’ll be throwing in the cavernous Comerica Park tonight.
In terms of stuff, Freddy has six(!) pitches in his slop-throwing arsenal, with his high-70s slider representing his favorite weapon against righties, while primarily focusing on a fastball-change combo to combat lefties. Freddy also throws a high-80s two-seamer, 70mph curveball and a high-70s splitter. His changeup and splitter are his best swing-and-miss pitches, but nothing else in his junkballer toolkit is particularly noteworthy. Freddy lives and dies on changing speeds and locating — when he has his good stuff, we’ve seen him dominate even the most powerful lineups in the game — but he’ll need to be very cautious with his changeup against the righty-laden Tigers, who, as noted the other day, were the best changeup-hitting team in baseball.
Freddy will generally try to get ahead of righties with the slider, while again going for the fastball-change approach against lefties. Freddy threw a changeup 60% of the time during 0-2 counts this season, and that could come back to bite him against this Tigers team, so hopefully he’ll trust his secondary and tertiary offerings more when getting ahead.
Scherzer had kind of a weird year, lowering his BB/9 but also experiencing a fourth straight season with a decline in his K/9. He also developed a significant home run problem, and checked in with the third-worst HR/9 in the AL among qualified starters, behind only Colby Lewis and A.J. Burnett. Given the HR issue it’s not surprise his ERA was a good deal higher than his FIP/xFIP.
Scherzer really got tattooed by lefties this year, giving an OPS 25 percent worse than league average. He was also a bit of a disaster on the road, but the Tigers won’t have to worry about that in this series.
Scherzer only throws three pitches — a 94mph fastball, low-80s changeup and mid-80s slider. I find the overreliance on the fastball (60% of the time) a bit odd, as it wound up being his least-effective pitch by far (-10.1 wFB), but there you have it.
How the two pitchers compare
Though they went about it in vastly different ways, both Garcia (2.2 fWAR) and Scherzer (2.7 fWAR) had strong years. One slightly distressing notion going into this game is that xFIP likes Scherzer quite a bit better than Freddy going forward. One random statistic which you probably didn’t realize is that Freddy’s 11.9% IFFB% would have been the 11th-best in the AL had he enough innings to qualify, and while that’s not necessarily thought of as a repeatable skill, it partially explains the excellent strand rate in spite of a low K/9.
It’s funny; the Yankees this season didn’t seem to have an inordinate amount of trouble with flamethrowers who really only threw a heater and slider — off the top of my head Alex Ogando, Juan Nicasio and Felipe Paulino spring to mind — but Scherzer has two dominant starts against the Yankees (although one clunker back at the beginning of the year), which admittedly is about as tiny a sample size as it gets, but for whatever reason when I envision the Yankees against Scherzer I see them flailing about. Maybe it’s the changeup that separates Scherzer from his hard-throwing brethren, but based on the way his season went it seems like it might finally be time for the Yankees to tee off on the righty.
Additionally, Scherzer struggled with lefties this year, which should bode well for the lefties in the Yankee lineup, even if the team as a whole struggled somewhat against righthanders.
Even though he did give up four runs over 7 IP at Detroit in early May, including a home run, I still like Garcia in a big ballpark like Comerica. Combined with the fact that he also generally pitches well against righties, and the Tigers boast a predominantly righty lineup, it’s no surprise that the Yankees tabbed Garcia for this start.
I don’t think we can expect Freddy to give seven innings this time out, as he hasn’t even made it into the 7th since July 25 against the light-hitting Mariners, and so the best-case scenario here would be for six innings of three-run ball. However, I have a feeling the more likely result could be something like no more than 5IP of 3-plus run ball, and so there’s probably a pretty good chance we’ll see Phil Hughes and/or A.J. Burnett if Joe Girardi senses things could quickly spiral out of control.
Even if Garcia can’t give length, the Yankees should be able to do some damage against the homer-happy Scherzer, and I’d expect the Bombers to take this game down.
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