Verlander, of course, is the Tigers’ undisputed ace: during the offseason, the Tigers acquired the rights to Prince Fielder, paying him a giant dump truck load of cash (I hear that he asked to be paid uniquely by dump trucks dropping cash onto his lawn, and that the base unit of currency in his contract is the “dump truck”—he’s making about 50 dump trucks a year for ten years). Prince Fielder can hit. But he really can’t play anywhere except first base; which is a problem, because the Tigers already had a first baseman, 2010 AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (who’s also pretty good at hitting).
But here’s the trick: Justin Verlander might have some serious trouble living up to the perception we have of him this season because of the Tigers offense. At this point, we all know how incredible he was last season: 25-5 with a 2.40 ERA and a 2.99 FIP. There are a couple things that make me think that Verlander, no matter how incredible he was last year (and he was incredible), might shake our perception of him this season: first off, he was aided last season by an absolutely miniscule .236 Batting Average on Balls In Play—about 50 points lower than his career average, and 20 points lower than it had ever been in his career. Secondly, the batted ball ERA estimators think he’s more like a 3.00 ERA pitcher than a 2.40 ERA pitcher (3.09 tERA, 2.99 SIERA). Neither of these metrics suggests that he’s didn’t completely deserve all the accolades heaped on him last season; rather, they suggest that he could regress this season, back towards his normal (still brilliant) self.
And the kicker? These metrics all assume that he will have help from a league-average defense—that is, their predictive value comes, at least in part, on the assumption that, other things being equal, this is how other pitchers tend to fare on the same plays with an average defense. But there’s not only no evidence that Detroit will have an average defense; there’s actually evidence that suggests that their infield (in particular) will be one of the worst in the league. The Tigers’ strength (Verlander and the offense) is now tied to their weakness
So what does Nova bring to this Yankees side? Well, the truth is that Nova is surpassing expectations: there was no presumed strength here, only something of an unknown. Sure, he did this last year—but we’ve seen plenty of pitchers light it up for one season, being buoyed by their strong offenses. Everything out of Nova is gravy: he came in to the year expecting to be the fourth or fifth starter; and he has pitched like the first. He has gone from a perceived weakness—or a question mark—to a mainstay, a strength.
This is not to say that Nova brings a Verlander-esque presence to the Yankees. Rather, Nova has brought something different, something no ex-MVP/Cy Young could: he has brought the gift of low expectations. The Yankees didn’t build their team around Ivan; the Tigers built theirs around Verlander. And while I’d still take Verlander in a heartbeat, there’s something very gratifying about seeing a kid fighting for his spot turn into such a consistent rotation mainstay.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Tigers (Verlander) vs. Yankees (Nova); 7:05 PM on YES
I guess I said most of what needs to be said about this game earlier, but I will add one last thing: Ivan Nova, despite winning his three contests so far this season, Super Nova has sported a completely ridiculous 19.0 HR/FB% (career average of 9.6%), and a .389 BABIP. This would explain why his xFIP (2.77) is about a point lower than his ERA (3.79), and why his batter ball ERA estimators are so drastically different 4.91 tERA versus a 2.75 SIERA. It will be interesting to see whether Ivan can keep some of his better numbers up (his K% is way up, BB% way down) while these other numbers stabilize—if he can, he might very well turn into a second starter.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Tigers (Smyly) vs. Yankees (Garcia); 4:05 PM EST, on YES
Ah, Freddy. The thought of watching Freddy Garcia try to get Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera (who’s already hitting .382, with nine home runs and 20 RBIs in 19 visits to Yankee Stadium) makes me want to step in front of one of Justin Verlander’s fastballs. But, it’s possible that if Stead(ily Bad) Freddy gets roughed up enough on Saturday, Joe Girardi might decided to allow David Phelps to take his spot until Andy Pettitte comes back. Ah, one can only dream.
On the other side, Jim Leyland will call on Drew Smyly, a rookie with three career starts in the big leagues. Smyly has been impressive so far this season, allowing only two earned runs in sixteen innings against Texas, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. He’s definitely on a pitch count, however—he hasn’t thrown more than 101 so far—so if the Yanks are having trouble with him, they’ll probably be able to wear him down enough to get to the bullpen by the 5th or 6th inning.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Tigers (Scherzer) vs. Yankees (Sabathia); 1:05 PM EST, on YES and TBS
I like Max Scherzer. I do. The problem with him has always been consistency—he’ll have moments of brilliance, and moments of utter failure. To far this season, he has fallen more towards failure than brilliance, however, as he has been roughed up in several outings recently. His season ERA sits at an ungainly 8.24, though a lot of that damage came in his first start, when he gave up seven runs to Boston in two and two thirds innings (though his most recent start was highly mediocre as well, as he gave up 10 hits and five runs to Seattle in five innings).
And, on the other side, CC. Who’s pretty much CC. He has had his traditional slow start, but he did manage to pitch eight innings against Texas his last time out, and has struck out 30 in just over 27 innings of work. He’ll be fine.