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Playing better on the road key for Detroit Tigers

Playing better on the road is key for the Tigers as they attempt to win the Central Division crown
Playing better on the road is key for the Tigers as they attempt to win the Central Division crown

This week we will explore five keys for the Tigers as they make a run at the Central Division title. Those keys are staying healthy, playing better on the road, finding success against right-handed pitching, finding a starting pitcher to step up and join Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer as front line starters, and playing better defense than expected.

Playing on the road is hard for every team. You're away from home, maybe for a week or longer for a particularly long road trip. You're staying in hotels, eating out. You're playing in front of fans cheering raucously for your opponents. You're batting in the wrong half of the inning, giving your rivals the chance to answer whatever you do or maybe even walk off with the win in the ninth or extra innings. You're playing a team that knows all about the conditions of its home field, from bumps to breezes. And you're playing a set of players specifically brought to succeed in that stadium.

According to Pete Palmer and John Thorn in The Hidden Game of Baseball, the home team wins about 54% of its games. The visiting team 46%.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have in the past three years ranged from worse than average to way worse than average, as well as squandered away the big leg-up their home record gave them the past two years. The last time the team made the playoffs, it actually played better on the road than at home.

Here's how the home and away record looks for the past five seasons:

Tigers' Home and Road Record, 2006-2010

Year Home Record (%) Away Record (%)
2006
46-35 (56.8%) 49-32 (60.5%)
2007
45-36 (55.6%) 43-38 (53.1%)
2008
40-41 (49.4%) 34-47 (42%)
2009
51-29 (63%) 35-47 (42.7%
2010
52-29 (64.2%) 29-52 (35.8%)

So how can the Tigers reverse this recent downturn? Who knows. Not the manager anyway. Last July, manager Jim Leyland told the media:

"I don't have an answer for it. What do you want me to say? We've played like horse [manure] on the road. That was one of the things we talked to the team about [Friday]. We've got to play better on the road.

"If we don't, we're not going to be playing for anything. That's the end of that."

One place to start: The splits.

Pitchers had an ERA of 5.03 on the road; 3.62 at home. Contrary to opinion built during its initial larger dimensions, Comerica Park is actually neither a pitcher's park nor a hitter's park. It's a 101 on scale where 100 is neutral, making it actually a tad bit batter friendly. The Tigers had OPS of .775 at home and .726 on the road last season.

While all the staring pitchers fared better at home, Justin Verlander could be seen as having one of the biggest advantages. His home ERA (2.31) was nearly half that of his road ERA (4.45). Max Scherzer's were the closest (2.99 at home, 3.99 on the road). Rick Porcello was 4.30 at home, 5.73 on the road.

The worst ballpark relative to the home team, by the way, was Cleveland's Progressive Field, where the pitchers had an ERA of 5.47. That was the worst of any ballpark in the division, and against an Indians team that scored the least runs per game in the division.

By the way, for the opportunists out there trying to fit a storyline: Don't look to Miguel Cabrera to place any blame, by the way. He hit 1.015 OPS on the road last season.

So I don't really have an answer. Everyone will just have to concentrate harder on doing well outside of Detroit., I guess. Hopefully Jim Leyland can find a more technical answer now, otherwise Detroit might not be playing for horsebleep at the end of the upcoming season, either.