ALDS Preview: Oakland v. Detroit

Lineup

There’s a perception out there that the Tigers have an overwhelming offensive advantage in this series. While Detroit will pump out some serious power in the form of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Alex Avila it’s hardly an offensive mismatch. Consider the following chart from Beaneball.org:

Position A 2013 TAv Tiger 2013 TAv Winner
Catcher Vogt .250 Avila .246 A’s
First Barton .297 Fielder .290 A’s
Second Sogard .264 Infante .277 Tigers
Short Lowrie .289 Iglesias .260 A’s
Third Donaldson .321 Cabrera .365 Tigers
Left Cespedes .275 Peralta .286 Tigers
Center Crisp .291 Jackson .271 A’s
Right Reddick .259 Hunter .285 Tigers
DH Moss .325 Martinez .274 A’s

I mean, I’m not making the case that the A’s are offensively superior to the Tigers. From a talent perspective a few things can counter what the 2013 season numbers tell us. A healthy Miggy counts for a lot. Victor Martinez rounding back into form counts for a lot. Prince’s performance can swing the series. What I am saying is that at worst the Tigers have a definite, but not overwhelming offensive edge. Add in the fact that the A’s will attack Detroit’s righty dominant starters with a slew of left handed bats and this is a really close match up to call.

Bench

The A’s are carrying 3 catchers in Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt and Kurt Suzuki. That seems a bit odd but I can understand the rationale a lot better since their carrying 14 position players total. Detroit has some useful pieces on their bench in Andy Dirks and Don Kelly but really their calling card is with the starters. I do give the A’s an edge when it comes to defensive subs and bench bats. There’s a good mix of LHH and RHH to play match ups late.

Starting Pitching

This is a huge advantage for the Tigers. Detroit’s rotation is all over the FIP leaderboards: Max Scherzer (7th), Justin Verlander (21st), Anibal Sanchez (3rd) and Doug Fister (19th). The one-two punch of Scherzer and Verlander is the type of thing that playoff rotations aspire to. Scherzer took a massive step forward this year and is in the conversation for best pitcher in baseball. Verlander had a “down” season this year but his stuff still has the potential to dominate anytime he takes the mound.

The A’s will counter with a series of interesting arms: Bartolo Colon, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily. That doesn’t exactly scream sex appeal. Gray is probably the best arm of the bunch but the rotation will hinge on the performance of Colon. Bartolo varies his approach vs. lefties and righties.

This is what he does against LHH:

Trajectory and Movement – from 01/01/2013 to 10/04/2013

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 598 40.11% 92.49 -5.59 8.71 -0.95 5.98
Sinker 689 46.21% 89.74 -9.16 4.89 -1.31 5.79
Change 104 6.98% 83.08 -7.46 5.61 -1.33 5.76
Slider 90 6.04% 83.67 1.44 0.78 -1.39 5.90
Cutter 10 0.67% 89.06 -2.23 6.23 -1.37 5.76

And this is what he does against RHH:

Trajectory and Movement – from 01/01/2013 to 10/04/2013

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 283 20.85% 92.75 -5.88 9.00 -0.94 6.00
Sinker 854 62.93% 89.16 -9.35 4.89 -1.37 5.78
Change 44 3.24% 82.49 -7.23 5.39 -1.37 5.84
Slider 175 12.90% 83.53 1.13 1.65 -1.41 5.92
Cutter 1 0.07% 89.68 0.33 4.88 -1.82 5.71

As you can see, Colon works a good mix of fastball/sinker against lefties while mixing in a change every so often. Against righties Colon abuses the sinker and doubles his slider usage. It all leads to a neutral split, .268/.291/.345 against RHH and .261/.289/.392 against LHH. I firmly believe that Colon will be the barometer for the A’s pitching staff. Tigers still have the superior rotation but it might matter less if Colon can equal Scherzer.

Bullpen

The Tigers bullpen situation was a mess early in 2013. They’ve found some stability in Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit lately but this is still the weakness of their ball club. Oakland has two good lefties in Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins. Grant Balfour had some issues late in the season but he remains the club’s closer. In spite of that the edge still goes to the A’s but it’ll be up to the Tigers’ starters on how much a bullpen edge matters.

Defense

The A’s have a definite edge here. If Cespedes plays LF instead of DHing that gives the Athletics 3 plus outfielders, a plus defender at third in Josh Donaldson and good up the middle defense in Lowrie and Sogard. The Tigers aren’t slouches, Dirks plays a good leftfield, we all know what Jose Iglesias can do at short, but they are awful at third, right and first. Miggy might be playing through extreme pain as well so his defense figures to take even more of a hit. Definite advantage A’s.

What to watch for

Miggy. If he isn’t 100% this series gets tighter. Cabrera had a significant drop off in production during the month of September. He hit .278/.395/.333 with two XBH in 86 PAs. Leyland has acknowledged that his star will not be 100% so it will be interesting to see how well he plays.

On a similar note, Yoenis Cespedes is dealing with his own injury issues. If he can’t play LF the A’s defense shifts a bit and their advantage over the Tigers in that regard shrinks. That can be a huge deal as the A’s will be fighting an uphill battle. Any advantage they can gain needs to be exploited.

Sonny Gray might be a huge factor in this series. Gray does well against all hitters but he was very good against righties who hit .198/.231/.267 against him in 2013.

O.co might matter in a few aspects. The A’s defense was built for their home park. The Tigers? Not so much. Defense is going to matter in Oakland and that’s an advantage the A’s have over Detroit. The crowd might matter but that stuff is hard to quantify.

Prediction

If Detroit’s starters show up and Miggy is even 80% this can get ugly quick. Oakland will have to take advantage of every edge they have to advance, but it’s something I’m confident they can pull off. From a match up perspective I think this is a tight series, but one that can look like a blowout for Detroit if one or two things break the Tigers’ way.

With all that said, Oakland in 5, although I’m not exactly confident in this one.