Game 11 Preview: Indians at Tigers

Jason Miller

The Tigers return home for a 10 game homestand starting with tonight's game against Zach McAllister and the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland Indians (6-7) at Detroit Tigers (6-4)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Zach McAllister (1-0, 2.31 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 3.00 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
McAllister 2 11.2 8.49 3.09 0.00 1.29 2.28 3.92 0.4
Sanchez 2 9.0 9.00 4.00 0.00 1.33 2.47 3.94 0.2

Zach McAllister struggled against the Tigers last season, allowing 14 runs (12 earned) in 12 innings. His 2.42 WHIP looked more like an ERA, and things got so bad Ryan Raburn became a relief pitcher. Of course, all of those outings came after I praised McAllister in the preview, so let's not mess with success.

Joking aside, McAllister was excellent in his last start. He held the San Diego Padres to just five hits in 7 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven with no walks. This start has led to a momentary jump in his strikeout rate, which should drop slightly as the season goes on. He was not nearly as impressive in his first start, allowing three runs in four innings against the Oakland A's. He walked four A's batters in that outing, all of whom hit left-handed. Lefties have given McAllister problems in the past, though a first glance at his platoon OPS splits don't show it. For his career, McAllister has walked lefties at twice the rate he issues free passes to right-handers, resulting in a higher on-base percentage for lefties (.342 to .307) despite a lower batting average (.250 to .266).

Plenty of right-handed pitchers have control issues against left-handed hitters, but McAllister's could be related to his mediocre secondary offerings. In particular, his changeup isn't anything to write home about, and lefties hit a comfortable .324 against it in 2013. They only whiffed on the changeup 6.1% of the time, and he missed the strike zone at a 48.9% clip. His fastball shows plenty of arm-side run, and is easily his best pitch. The movement could theoretically get him into trouble if he were to work inside more often, but his tendency to stay away led righties to make better contact against the heater, as the ball would tail back into a righty's barrel if McAllister missed his spot.

Mcallister_fastball_heat_map_medium

Anibal Sanchez has gotten off to a bit of a slow start in 2014, totaling just nine innings in his first two outings. It took him 110 pitches to get through five innings in his last start against the Los Angeles Dodgers, though the improvement in his command was encouraging. He has only thrown first pitch strikes to 21 of the 38 batters he has faced this year, but 12 of those came against 21 Dodgers hitters. His O-contact rate -- or the percentage of pitches that hitters make contact with outside of the strike zone -- is well above his career rate of 60.5% and miles ahead of 2013's 53.6%, but it's too early to make anything of those figures.

Hitter to fear: Asdrubal Cabrera (.278/.350/.444 in 20 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.176/.167/.235 in 18 plate appearances)

There were not many options for a hitter to "fear" in this one. A lot of that is due to Sanchez's relative dominance against the Tribe. In seven career starts, Sanchez is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA, and has held Indians hitters to a .598 OPS. Only Nyjer Morgan has a higher OPS against Sanchez in 10+ plate appearances than Cabrera, and Morgan is not likely to play tonight due to Michael Bourn's expected return from the disabled list.

For as talented a player as Kipnis is -- seriously, dude is fun to watch against other teams -- he has put up some dreadful numbers against Tigers pitching. In 193 plate appearances against the Tigers, Kipnis is hitting a lowly .236/.290/.315 with one home run, 12 RBI, and 52 strikeouts. His tOPS+ of 57* against the Tigers is his third-lowest against all AL teams, and the only one against the division below 100.

*tOPS+ is a measure that determines a split of OPS+ (in this case, against different teams) compared to the player's career numbers. Anything above 100 indicates the player is better than average in that particular split, while a figure below 100 says the opposite.

Outlook

Sanchez's inefficient outing against the Dodgers last week belies how much better he looked compared to his first start of the season, and a return to Comerica Park should only help the trend. He held opposing teams to a .268 wOBA at home, and his 2.08 FIP was the best in the American League by over half a run. McAllister may not walk many right-handed batters, but his tendency to give up more hits and more power to them doesn't bode well against a Tigers lineup that is almost exclusively right-handed. Even if he keeps the Tigers in check, it may not be enough if Sanchez is on his game.

Prediction

Sanchez gets his first win and quality start of the year with a stellar performance.

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