Sep 5, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Motor City Wheels Mascot Race takes place during the fourth inning of the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Three Things to Watch for Against the Tigers

Written by Andrew Munn, Greg Wisniewski, and Elie Waitzer

More Than A Little Hicks-up?

This weekend’s series between the Tigers and Blue Jays will have little to zero (probably zero) effect on how things shake out in the 2017 playoff race. This will allow for many players who don’t get regular playing time to get some reps in before the season ends. For the Tigers, this languishing period has been occurring since well before September, as their playoff odds have sat below 10% since mid-June. Things have really taken a turn in the past couple months, as Detroit has traded the likes of Alex Avila, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and Justin Verlander to bring about opportunities for some fresh faces.

One player who’s taken advantage of his opportunity is John Hicks. The catcher/first baseman hybrid has been hitting rather impressively during his 2017 campaign, with his numbers standing at .313/.372/.537 over 148 plate appearances this season. This production wasn’t exactly expected from Hicks, who had hit .269/.281/.428 in 218 AAA appearances this season. Nonetheless, Hicks ranks third in tAV among Tigers with at least 50 plate appearances at .291 and first among players who have not been traded away.

In all likelihood, this outburst from Hicks will not propel him far into the Tigers’ plans for the future. Nothing in his minor-league numbers has suggested that he could hit like this and he is currently sporting a .391 BABIP. This number is peculiarly high for a 6-2, 230 lb catcher, even one with a career minor league BABIP of .332. He has also never shown power like this before, as his ISO has never hit the .224 mark in the minors that he is currently at right now, and is currently hitting home runs on a whopping 21.4% of his fly balls.

Having said this, Hicks’ sparkling 2017 campaign should still be one to be celebrated. A fourth-round pick by the Mariners in 2008, Hicks has taken his first real opportunity with the Tigers and ran with it this year, potentially causing them to rethink their plans for next season’s Opening Day catcher. If nothing more comes of it past this season, two months of productive MLB play is still an incredible achievement. And if more does come of it, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time a prospect rose from relative anonymity to major leaguer.

A Lesson About Pitchers

A lot of times, people like to throw up two stat lines and discuss Player A and Player B, without naming names. At the end of their explanation it is always revealed that Player A was some guy you liked and should have recognized, and Player B was a hamster in a fat suit and funny glasses, and clearly the superior option. I don’t do that very often, but I’m going to ask you to indulge me in that little cliché now.

stroman all

There we are. Two stat lines for your consider. The first thing I would like you to notice is how many similarities there are. Opponent’s TAv, and his H/9, K/9, GB %, even FIP and DRA are not that far off. One pitcher has only made 28 starts, but that might not be his fault, depending on injuries and rotation slot. The difference that jumps right out is ERA. Pitcher B is a full run and a third better than pitcher A. That is often the difference between a win and a loss for the team on any given day.

So which pitcher would you choose to make a start against the Tigers this weekend? If you said pitcher B, congratulations, you’ve chosen the Toronto staff workhorse Marcus Stroman. If you said Pitcher A, congratulations, you have also chosen the Toronto staff workhorse Marcus Stroman! I told you that there’s always a twist at the end of these things.

Pitcher A is Stroman in 2016, and Pitcher B is Stroman in 2017. The point here is an illustration of an old Sabermetric problem. ERA tells you how well a particular season went for a pitcher, but it tells you very little about how things might go for him if he continues to do the same things the next season. Perhaps you already knew a bit about that, or perhaps you’ve been curious about FIP and DRA and why they might be valuable to you as a baseball fan. Stroman’s FIP and DRA both moved by only a third of a run between the two years (oddly, in the opposite directions), and they are a much better indicator of the results Marcus might get if he keeps ‘being himself’ next year.

So, on Friday night, enjoy 2017 Marcus Stroman, who is every bit the pitcher 2016 Marcus Stroman was, with a little bit more luck going his way.

He Mahtook Us All By Surprise

Any guess as to who currently leads the Tigers with a .276 batting average (minimum 250 PA)? Hint: He spent the first two years of his career in Tampa Bay before coming to Detroit. Still nothing? Does the name Mikie Mahtook ring any bells?

If it did, you probably only know him from this infamous web gem.

To be fair, leading the gutted carcass of the Detroit Tigers in batting average isn’t high praise, but Mahtook’s relative success this season has come out of nowhere. The biggest difference for the 27-year-old outfielder has come in the strikeout department, where he’s posted a career-low 21% rate. Compared to his 37% rate last season, that’s one of the most drastic reductions of any player in the league – right next to breakout Cardinal Tommy Pham. Mahtook has also tapped into his power by pulling the ball more often, which has gotten him into double-digit homer totals for the first time in his career.

Throw in a handful of steals and solid fielding ratings and you’ve got a player that the Tigers are probably happy to start in center field throughout their rebuilding process.

Lead Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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