Written by Dylan Svoboda, Joshua Howsam, and Rachael McDaniel
The Blue Jays won’t have to worry about the Detroit Tigers while the latter are on the bases this week. The Tigers have been the second-worst base running team at -8.2 base running runs according to Baseball Prospectus. They have also stolen just twenty-nine bases as a team so far this year, tied for fourth-least in baseball. That means the Jays’ backstop due of Russell Martin and Miguel Montero, who have both been well below average at throwing out base runners this year, should not have to worry much about basestealers. Not only are the Tigers the worst team in terms of stolen base runs (SBR), they are well below-average in groundball advancement runs (GAR), air advancement runs (AAR), and hit advancement runs (HAR).
The Tigers have the second and third worst baserunners in the league according to BRR, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. The team is saved from being a historically bad base running team by Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias, who rank eighth and thirtieth in BRR respectively. They don’t have another player with over 0.6 BRR and have nine different individuals who have been worth negative BRR.
Unsurprisingly, the Tigers have been one of the slowest teams in baseball. They have just three regulars who are above average for their position in Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric, Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, and Justin Upton. On the flip side, Victor Martinez has been one of the slowest runners in the league. He is tied with Jett Bandy for the fourth-slowest sprint speed. Cabrera isn’t exactly fleet afoot either, as he is tied for twenty-ninth slowest in the league and thirteenth-slowest when not including catchers. The Blue Jays will be able to worry a little less when allowing base runners this week.
No Help for Struggling Arms
The Blue Jays will send three struggling pitchers to the mound in this series against the Tigers, Aaron Sanchez (still rounding back into form following his finger injury), Francisco Liriano, and Marco Estrada. Those three enter the weekend with ERAs of 4.85, 5.56, and 5.17, respectively. The underlying metrics aren’t so kind either, as each man has a DRA over over 5.30 (including a horrendous 7.40 for Estrada).
The reason the Jays set their rotation up this was was so that Happ and Stroman (along with Sanchez) would face off against Boston in the next series, while also hoping to take advantage of a struggling Tigers’ lineup. Over the last 30 days, the Tigers as a team are hitting just .257/.314/.408, which is “bested” only by the Angels putrid batting line of .241/.296/.375 over the same time period.
Unfortunately for the Jays, the Tigers as a whole hit much better at home (.275/.346/.469) vs on the road (.234/.309/.381), despite the cavernous nature of Comerica Park. Liriano in particular could have a tough time, as the Tigers’ .790 OPS against lefties is fourth best in the American League and seventh best in baseball.
One player who hasn’t been doing too much damage for Detroit this season is perennial All-Star and future inner-circle Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera. While a .264/.357/.440 batting line is nothing to sneeze at, it is a far cry from the .324/.406/.574 line he has averaged over the previous five years. Once again though, this is not as good a sign as it may appear for Toronto.
As Mike Petriello of MLB.com points out, Cabrera has run into some extremely poor luck in the first half of the season and all signs point to his numbers reverting to their normal, terrifying form. He ranks eighth in xwOBA (expected wOBA based on batted ball info) and is number one in xwOBA – wOBA. He’s also second in all of baseball behind Aaron Judge in hard-hit rate, so the Jays will still have to be very careful with the slugging first baseman. If they aren’t, those sky high ERA/DRA numbers could get even higher.
The Jays’ and the Tigers’ Opposing Areas of Underperformance
In many ways, the Detroit Tigers’ season has been quite similar to that of the Blue Jays. Both are old, slow teams, relying mostly on sheer power to fuel their offense; both have been contenders in recent years; both teams have seen poor performance from key players and a certain amount of bad luck diminish their playoff hopes. The Jays enter this series six games under .500, and the Tigers enter it nine games under. The Jays are eight and a half games back of the division lead, and the Tigers are nine games back. The Jays are coming off back-to-back ALCS appearances, and this is the first time the Tigers have been under .500 at the All-Star break in over a decade.
The areas in which these teams have underperformed, however, have been essentially the reverse of each other. The Blue Jays, as we all unfortunately know, have had one of the weakest and worst offenses in baseball by almost any metric. The Tigers offense, though coming in at a pedestrian 15th in baseball with respect to runs scored and team OPS, tore the cover off the ball in the first half. The team posted the highest line drive percentage in baseball, with 22.8 percent of their batted balls going as line drives. A whopping 41.7 percent of their batted balls were hard-hit, 9.3 percent more than the second-ranked team in this category. So while the Tigers offense hasn’t been noticeably valuable – their offensive performance is hampered, much like the Jays’, by poor baserunning – the line-drive and hard-hit numbers suggest that they have still been making contact with the ball like a dangerous offense, and have perhaps been a bit unlucky.
On the pitching side of things, the Jays bullpen has been one of the few pleasant surprises of this season. Per Fangraphs, the Jays bullpen has been the fourth most valuable in baseball and eighth in baseball by WPA. The Tigers bullpen, meanwhile, has been the team’s worst area of performance. Fangraphs has them as the second-least valuable bullpen in baseball, failing even to reach replacement level. The home run ball in particular has burned the Tigers, with their 1.52 home runs per nine innings again being the second worst in baseball. And the Tigers bullpen has given up even more hard contact than its offense has generated – 42 percent of batted balls against the Tigers bullpen are hit hard.
It will be interesting to see how these opposite areas of weakness play out in this series, with both teams needing a series win to give them a bit of hope against hope as they approach the trade deadline.
Lead Photo © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports