What do they say about baseball? Oh, right Suzyn.
Well, this series has already taken a turn for the unexpected thanks to monsoon-like conditions in the Bronx (and basically everywhere else in the North East). In any event, Game 1 will resume tonight at 8:37pm EST in the bottom of the second inning. Update: Game 2 has been postponed until 3:07pm EST Sunday (so much for an off day). Be sure to keep an eye on the weather (@Yankeesweather for those of you on Twitter), to see how things progress; as of now, I’m cautiously optimistic that the game will be played tonight.
If you haven’t checked out the previous installments of TYA’s official ALDS series already, you should probably get on it!
Part 1 | The 2011 Yankee offense, top to bottom
Part 2 | Head-to-Head Overall Team Numbers
Part 3 | ALDS Game 1 Starters: CC Sabathia v. Justin Verlander
Part 4 | The Tigers’ Lineup
Part 5 | Keys for the Yankees and Keys for the Tigers
Okay. Let’s take a look at tonight’s starters.
Ivan Nova and Doug Fister will square off in the continuation of Game 1. Both pitchers have been revelations for their respective teams this season. Ivan Nova, after ending the 2010 campaign with a 1-2 record over 42 innings pitched (with a reputation for struggling through the second and third times through the lineup), wound up having a very productive 2011 regular season (which may very well result in a RoY award after he went 16-4).
Doug Fister, who started off the season with the hapless Mariners was acquired by the Tigers at the trade deadline. Since his arrival in Detroit, he’s pitched 70.1 innings of 1.79 ERA ball (going 8-1 in the process). Although neither pitcher has spent very much time in The Show (nor does either have any real postseason experience), both will have to excel in order for their respective teams to have a chance at a deep October run.The traditional pitching metrics mostly favor Fister. His ERA is nearly .90 better than Nova’s; and, Fister’s FIP and xFIP are much more favorable in terms of actual performance in contrast to expected performance. Aside from having pitched more innings in total, Fister also has three complete games to his credit.Nova does have a bit of a split as he’s generally handled lefty hitters more effectively unlike Fister who’s results are fairly similar regardless of the batter’s stance. One interesting tidbit to consider regarding the lineups, though, is that today’s game is a continuation of yesterday’s. Meaning, the Tigers will be starting tonight’s affair with a batting order designed for a left handed pitcher (Sabathia). Therefore, Nova will have a small advantage in that he’ll face Bandon Inge instead of former Yankee, Wilson Betemit. On the other hand, the Yanks won’t have to worry about any lineup alterations as the entire Tigers rotation is comprised of right handed pitchers.In terms of peripheral stats, both pitchers are actually very similar in a lot of ways. Neither guy really qualifies as a prototypical strikeout pitcher although Fister does fair slightly better in terms of the K/9 rate. Both have done a great job this season of mitigating the long ball (which is good considering the homerun tendencies of Yankee stadium). Both have nearly identical BABIP and strand rates, and both pitchers will induce a large number of ground balls. The one area where Fister has a noticeable edge is in the walks category. Although Nova’s 3.1 BB/9 isn’t awful, it doesn’t shine in quite the same way as Fister’s 1.54 BB/9. Because both guys have the high ground ball percentage, expect for a lot of balls to test the infield defensively. You can interpret that however you want, but I’m inclined to think the Yankees have the advantage in that regard.Nova and Fister are also somewhat similar in terms of pitching style. Both guys heavily favor the fastball (though technically, Fister throws both the two and the four seamer). Both will throw in the low 90′s (although Nova may notch it up by a mile or two). The difference, between these two starters comes in the secondary offerings. Nova, will fall back on his newly developed slider (about 12% of the time) and the curve ball (about 22% of the time). For Nova to obtain success tonight, he’ll need to utilize all three of these pitches to keep the Tiger hitters uncomfortable while showing reasonable control of the strike zone. As for pitch value, this season only Nova’s fastball and slider have rated positively.
As for Fister, he’ll mostly rely on his slider as his secondary offering (throwing it about 17%) of the time. However, unlike Nova, he has a willingness to fall back on both the curve ball and the change up with roughly the same frequency. Fister’s fastball combination has been highly effective this season (28.7 wFB per Fangraphs qualifies as fourth best in the game, actually just trailing Verlander’s). Although Doug’s slider hasn’t had the same level of effectiveness as Nova’s, his curve ball and change-up both rate favorably. Fister does tend to throw strikes quickly so the Yankees may have to forgo their typical patient approach, and instead try to hit favorable pitches regardless of the count.
As far familiarity is concerned, neither team has had a whole lot of exposure to either starter. Overall, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have seen Fister the most often of any Yankee (and they’ve only had combined 19 plate appearances against which is obviously a very limited sampling). I wouldn’t suggest buying into any stock regarding any particular match up here. That said, there’s no reason to think they don’t have a decent shot of stealing a few runs from him today if they capitalize on their opportunities.
As for the Tigers, they’ve had even less exposure to Nova. In fact, of all the guys in the Tigers lineup, only Betemit and Delmon Young have had at bats against him this season. I’m going to take the easy route here, and simply say Nova should beware V-Mart and Miggy. The rest of the lineup is relatively manageable.Conclusion
Today’s game should make for some compelling baseball. Based on the regular season stats, it’s probably fair to say that Fister has been the better pitcher overall. Before you get to frantic though, remember that since joining the Tigers, Fister has primarily faced weaker AL central teams in the vast majority of his starts. That’s not to say that he hasn’t had an excellent season or that he’s not a very good pitcher, but the Yankee offense is a little different from that of the Indians. Conversely, Nova should be able to manage the Tigers offense as a whole if he can hit his spots. However, if he makes a lousy pitch to either Martinez or Cabrera, they’ll make him pay quickly and and without mercy.
Typically, I hesitate making postseason predictions given the volatile nature of the playoffs and my own sense of bias, but I’ll go ahead and do so anyway because it’s fun. Tigers have the edge as far as starting pitchers go, but I think the Yanks still have the advantage overall.
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