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Detroit Tigers Series Preview: Dueling rebuilds collide

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Both teams have been at the bottom together for awhile, but one is doing better than the other so far.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Royals get their first look at the 2021 Detroit Tigers in a four-game set that goes strangely from Friday to Monday. The Tigers did some work to revamp their team in the offseason adding some pieces on offense like Wilson Ramos, Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara as well as some depth in Nomar Mazara, on the IL, and Rule 5 first couple weeks phenom Akil Baddoo, who has since come back to earth just a bit. Oh and they hired AJ Hinch to manage the team. That’s a good move. They tried to add a couple veterans to their rotation, but Julio Teheran is already on the 60-day IL and Jose Urena hasn’t been exactly good. Like the Royals, their rebuild started with a crop of excellent pitching depth, but I really like what they’ve done to add to that depth with their draft last year and their moves in free agency. They’re still not quite there, but I think they’re fairly close.

Offensively, they just aren’t good. Ramos has started off hot with the home run ball, but outside of him and Baddoo, nobody is really hitting exceptionally well. Last year’s breakout of Jeimer Candelario has continued somewhat, but the power really hasn’t been there for him this season. Grossman’s been a fantastic on base guy for the Tigers, but his power surge from last year hasn’t yet carried over. They’re not getting much from the guy who seemingly always kills the Royals, JaCoby Jones or Victor Reyes either, so it’s a pretty tough lineup to get anything going. With Miguel Cabrera out, they’ve been trying to find a little offense to replace him, but nothing successful yet.

On the pitching side, Matthew Boyd is pitching like it’s three years ago. I’ll get to him. Casey Mize has also looked really sharp. I’ll get to him too. The bullpen has been kind of a typical Tigers bullpen, though Gregory Soto has been effectively wild for them at least. Like I said, they have the look of a team that will be good at some point in the relatively near future. They’re just not quite there yet. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be a tough series.

Royals vs. Tigers Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Tigers
Category Royals Tigers
Winning % .588 .368
Team wRC+ 100 83
Team xFIP 4.49 4.86
Run Differential -6 -28
Highest fWAR Salvador Perez, 0.6 Matthew Boyd, 0.8

Tigers Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Robbie Grossman DH 75 .203 .360 .288 17.3% 25.3% 93 0.2
Willi Castro 2B 74 .211 .243 .282 4.1% 25.7% 45 -0.4
Jeimer Candelario 3B 79 .254 .329 .352 10.1% 22.8% 96 0.1
Wilson Ramos C 57 .246 .292 .590 6.0% 25.4% 142 0.5
Jonathan Schoop 1B 64 .203 .234 .254 4.7% 28.1% 35 -0.4
Niko Goodrum SS 52 .213 .288 .383 7.7% 36.5% 90 0.1
Akil Baddoo LF 46 .295 .304 .750 2.2% 39.1% 182 0.6
Victor Reyes RF 36 .143 .167 .286 2.8% 30.6% 21 -0.2
JaCoby Jones CF 35 .176 .200 .294 2.9% 31.4% 34 -0.1

Tigers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Grayson Greiner C 18 .176 .222 .353 5.6% 44.4% 59 0.0
Zack Short INF 3 .000 .667 .000 66.7% 0.0% 203 0.0
Harold Castro INF/OF 19 .294 .368 .294 10.5% 31.6% 96 0.0

Tigers Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Gregory Soto 9 8.2 1 1 26.8% 14.6% 3.12 4.42 0.0
Bryan Garcia 7 7.2 0 0 20.6% 11.8% 5.87 5.76 0.0
Buck Farmer 6 6.2 0 0 20.0% 16.7% 9.45 6.91 -0.4

Probable Pitching Matchups

April 23 - Mike Minor vs. Casey Mize, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Minor 3 15.2 1 1 17.6% 7.4% 5.17 5.13 0.0
Casey Mize 3 16.0 1 1 18.8% 5.8% 3.38 4.40 0.0

When the Tigers made Mize the number one overall pick in 2018, the sky seemed like the limit for him with the stuff he flashed at Auburn combined with his control. Between high-A and AA, he really showed no reason not to believe in him, but he did have an injury scare and then in his first taste of big league action just didn’t seem to be quite so untouchable. The control wasn’t great, he wasn’t missing enough bats and he looked like a pitcher who needed some additional work. He is coming off a bad start against Oakland where he allowed three home runs in five innings, but the control is much better and he’s using his pitches differently, relying more on his four-seamer and less on his sinker. Oh yeah, and now he’s throwing a slider that has been really good. He’s still not getting enough swings and misses on any of his pitches, but he’s looked better to start the 2021 season and back like a cornerstone starter that everyone thought he would be a couple years ago.

One of my worries about signing Mike Minor to a two-year deal is that his velocity was an issue in his rough 2020. He averaged just 90.6 MPH after averaging 92.5 MPH in a very good 2019 season. So far this year, he’s averaging 91.4, which is not quite enough. He had a tough time missing bats in his last start, getting just seven swings and misses in 99 total pitches against the Blue Jays. It was his first start with no walks, but he also had just three strikeouts and gave up two home runs. That’s simply not good enough. I didn’t think he was horrible, but he wasn’t especially good, and I’d like to see some of that velocity come back for me to believe in him for the next year plus.

April 24 - Brady Singer vs. Matthew Boyd, 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer 3 14.1 0 2 26.6% 9.4% 3.77 3.63 0.3
Matthew Boyd 4 26.2 2 1 18.1% 5.7% 2.03 4.81 0.7

I think one of the biggest mistakes a team has made over the last few seasons is the Tigers not trading Matthew Boyd when his value was at its highest a couple years ago. Almost right after not trading, he became a home run machine and ended up allowing 39 in 185.1 innings in 2019 and 15 in 60.1 innings last year. He’s been a different guy this year, only allowing one. But the strikeouts have also disappeared, so it’s an interesting tradeoff he’s made so far this season. One of the reasons he’s excelled so much is that he’s been getting hitters to make mistakes when they’re ahead in the count. Opponents are hitting .118 with no extra base hits when they have the advantage. Compare that to last year when they hit .333/.480/.720 and it’s pretty easy to see one area where Boyd has been good. And maybe lucky. Of course, he’s faced 105 hitters and only gotten to a three ball count in 10 of those plate appearances, so maybe he’s just been really good. Either way, he’s had a great start to the year.

Speaking of great starts, Brady Singer turned in his best of the year his last time out when he went six shutout innings against the Blue Jays. On one hand, it seemed like everything was working and the line should have maybe been even better if not for some...interesting...strike zone choices by the umpire. But on the other hand, he did only get nine swings and misses on 90 pitches. Regardless, he was in total control, and that’s a good thing. And now he gets a Tigers team he dominated last year in a park where he dominated. One of the things he did so well against the Tigers last season was work down and out of the zone with his slider and up with his fastball. I’ve said this so many times before, but pitching is about changing timing and changing eye level and when Singer is working the high-low with those two pitches, he’s tough to beat. It’s likely the Tigers will have seven hitters hitting from the left side against him, so it might be time to break out that changeup that we haven’t seen much of. I’ll be very interested to see how he does with it.

April 25 - Danny Duffy vs. Michael Fulmer, 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 3 18.0 2 1 26.0% 8.2% 0.50 3.98 0.5
Michael Fulmer 5 16.0 1 1 24.6% 3.3% 3.94 3.10 0.2

Michael Fulmer’s had such a weird career and he’s still only 28. He was part of the Yoenis Cespedes deal and then won Rookie of the Year in an outstanding rookie season that even saw him get Cy Young votes. In a lot of ways he was even better the next year, but then struggled some in 2018 and missed all of 2019 before coming back last year as a starter who couldn’t get anyone out really. He made 10 starts and gave up 12 homers while not striking out enough and walking too many. So the Tigers were prepared to shift him to the bullpen this year to see if his stuff could play up there. And now he’s back in the rotation after three relief appearances that were very good. He’s been good in one start and not so good in the other. The good news for him is his velocity is back, averaging about 95 on his sinker. He’s using his slider a lot more this season so far, but I’m curious to see if that drops back with him working as a starter again. It’s a really good slider, but the story so far is the whiff rate on his four-seam fastball, which sat at 8.5 percent last year and is at 37.5 percent this year. The Royals have had some swing and miss issues this year, so he might be able to exploit that if he’s got it working.

Danny Duffy has been outstanding in all three of his starts. The raw numbers are obviously great with the 0.50 ERA and the strikeouts and lack of hits and all of that, but he just seems to be pitching better than any time since 2016 as well. He got 17 swings and misses his last time out in 96 pitches and looked as good as he has all year. It’s unfortunate that his defense let him down, but I was really struck by his postgame answer about how he could have pitched Kevin Kiermaier differently in the at bat where he gave up an RBI single to him. That understanding of pitching is something I haven’t heard much from Duffy before. It’s not that he didn’t have it, but it was nice to hear it verbalized. Duffy has pitched more innings against the Tigers than any other team in his career. He hasn’t been great and especially has had a tough go against them over the last five seasons, so hopefully he can turn that around here.

April 26 - Brad Keller vs. Spencer Turnbull, 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 4 12.0 1 2 13.0% 13.0% 12.00 5.53 -0.2
Spencer Turnbull 1 5.0 1 0 31.6% 10.5% 1.80 3.62 0.2

Spencer Turnbull missed the start of the season due to COVID-19 and made his season debut on Wednesday against the Pirates. He was good. He threw just 62 pitches, but made the most of them, getting through five innings with just a run allowed. His velocity wasn’t quite where it was last season in that start, but I wouldn’t write off that it can’t get back up to 93-95 while he was more 92-94. It doesn’t seem that different, but it really can make a difference. For Turnbull, the slider is the pitch that gives his opponents fits. Last year, he got a 43.1 percent whiff rate on it in a really good season. He faced the Royals once at the end of the year and took the loss in a so-so performance. In his career, he has a traditional platoon split and has struggled quite a bit with men on base. It’s tough to reach, but once you do, that’s when the fun can start against him. I would anticipate he won’t be going much more than 80 pitches or so, which means if the Royals can have some good at bats, they can get into the Tigers bullpen in the fifth or sixth inning.

What is there to say about Brad Keller? I honestly have no idea what to make of any of it. He’s using his slider less, but I’m not sure why. It’s not moving as much even though the spin rate is in line with last season. Is it an injury? Is it mechanics? Is it an injury causing bad mechanics? I really don’t know, and if someone tells you they know what to expect from Keller in any given start for awhile, they’re lying to you. If he can be the guy he was against the Angels, I think the Tigers will really struggle. But they have some guys who will take a pitch or two, so I’d expect them to be patient with him and make him prove they need to swing the bat. Keller’s been great against the Tigers in his career with a 2.83 ERA in 10 games. This would be a good time to channel that energy.

Prediction

The Royals aren’t playing wonderfully, but the offense seems like it’s gotten a shot and the Tigers aren’t an especially good team. The Royals should win this series. I think they will too. I’m going to say they take three of four, but with the way Keller is pitching, that’s a lot of pressure to put on him unless they take the first three.

Poll

Four games in Detroit. How do they go?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Royals Sweep
    (22 votes)
  • 57%
    Royals Win Three of Four
    (102 votes)
  • 25%
    Split
    (46 votes)
  • 3%
    Tigers Win Three of Four
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Tigers Sweep
    (1 vote)
177 votes total Vote Now