Tonight, the Detroit Tigers come to town for a three game set against the Yankees in a rematch of the (disappointing 2011 ALDS). To get ready for the series–which has pitching matchups of Justin Verlander v. Ivan Nova; Drew Smyly vs. Freddy Garcia; and Max Scherzer vs. CC Sabathia–I asked a few questions of Alexandra Simon, who writes for the site Cats with Bats and Tweets (excellently) from the handle @catswithbats. Read her responses after the jump.
1. More than just about any other team in the Majors, the Tigers had a lot of heavy expectations coming into 2012, given the mammoth Prince Fielder signing. How have they lived up to a) the (sometimes too) lofty expectations of the media at large and b) your personal expectations.
I don’t think they’ve lived up to the expectations so far, but that can be expected, since fans apparently forgot what 2008/the Cabrera trade wrought. Prince hasn’t shown a lot of power yet, but he’s been fine, in my opinion. I think the real disappointment has been the injury to Doug Fister/inconsistent pitching, outside of Justin Verlander and Drew Smyly (!!!!!).
2. We know just about everything we can about Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer; tell us more about Saturday’s starter, Drew Smyly. What’s his best pitch and what’s his style? Grounders? Fly balls? Strikeouts? Was/is he a highly touted prospect and are there big expectations for him in 2012?
Smyly doesn’t have the high ceiling of, say, a Jacob Turner or an Andy Oliver but he’s pretty much a finished product, while the other two still need some more work in the minors. Outside of some jitters in the first inning of his first MLB start, he’s been very good. He won’t wow you with his stuff—he sits low to mid-90s with his fastball—but he can command it, which Oliver certainly couldn’t. He wasn’t as highly touted as Turner or Oliver were, but he had a great first professional season (he split time with High A Lakeland and Double A Erie) and put himself in the fifth starter discussion.
Smyly posted a 9.285 K/9 and a 2.57 BB/9 in Lakeland and Erie in 2011, which comes out to a 3.61 K/BB ratio. So far with the Tigers, he’s put up a 8.4 K/9, a 3.4 BB/9 an a 2.50 K/BB ratio. He also has a 51% GB%, and averages 1.64 GB/FB. I think it’s safe to say he’s a ground ball pitcher. He’s not going to wow you with his stuff, but he keeps the ball down, and he seems to have a pretty good plan. I suppose some of this could be credited to Avila, who’s caught all his starts thus far. (I did the calculations and I suck at math, so have someone smart double check! :P)
(Alex later sent me this on Smyly’s pitch selection.)
3. Max Scherzer has shown some great peripherals so far (esp. K/9 & BB/9; 3.26 FIP), yet he’s got an unsightly 8.24 ERA and a .459 (!) BABIP against. What’s been his deal in the early going?
I honestly have no idea what’s going on with Scherzer. You’re right, his peripherals aren’t that bad. He did get bombed in a couple starts and pitched decently in the others, so the ERA could be misleading, but he’s kind of an enigma. You’re never really sure which Scherzer you’re going to get. On any given day, he could no hit you or give up seven runs in two innings. I think a big problem—and one he’ll probably always deal with—is the complicated delivery; when one thing is off with his mechanics, it almost feels like a domino effect with him.
I think in his last start, his biggest issue was that he caught too much of the plate. When I looked at the data for his last start on Texas Leaguers, I saw that he wasn’t getting as much horizontal or vertical movement on his pitches. Also, his fastball velocity was down slightly from his previous start.
His biggest problem, to me, is his inconsistency. It may be something he always has to contend with. I don’t know. He should be better than his results, though. Another point, with regards to his inconsistency, is that his ridiculously high BABIP might be influenced by the defense. It’s not . . . great.
4. After an up year in 2010 and a down year in 2011, what are the expectations for Austin Jackson in 2012?
Fans definitely expect more from Jackson, and the signs are there. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still striking out at a fairly high rate; he’s increased his BB% from 8.4% to 13.6%. It seems legit, too. Right now, he seems to be in a minor slump. Craig Monroe, a Tigers analyst, pointed out that Jackson is a little more upright with his batting stance and his head is moving a bit. Haven’t checked to see if he’s corrected these minor flaws yet, but he did take a walk and get a base hit in his last game.
5. What’s one thing the Tigers need to do to win this weekend series? Is there any particular matchup you’re looking forward to or dreading?
The Tigers need to cash in on their chances. They’ve had opportunities to win, but they haven’t been able to get the hit they need, when they need it. Some of it’s poor luck and a combination of good pitching and defense from the opposing teams, but it does seem like some of the players are pressing a bit too much (see: Brennan Boesch‘s pathetic at bat in the seventh. /facepalm). I really don’t know what to expect from the Tigers in this series. I mean, they’re coming off a sweep at the hands of the Mariners in which they were outscored 21-9, and you’d probably expect the Yankees to steamroll them, but then again . . .
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