Detroit Tigers (35-26) at Kansas City Royals (28-32)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Doug Fister (5-3, 3.27 ERA) vs. RHP Jeremy Guthrie (6-3, 3.66 ERA)
Guthrie was dynamite for the Royals in 2012 after he was picked up from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Jonathan Sanchez (major lulz on that one). Guthrie posted a 5-3 record and 3.16 ERA in 14 starts down the stretch, including two dominant outings against the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. His FIP during that stretch was slightly elevated at 3.84 due to a high home run rate, something that Guthrie has dealt with throughout his career. Royals management rewarded his efforts with a three year, $25 million contract extension during the offseason.
While many fans thought that contract was a bit overpriced, Guthrie has exceeded expectations so far in 2013. His FIP and xFIP are well above his ERA at 5.53 and 4.68, respectively. He has already allowed 15 home runs on the year, but only five have come at Kauffman Stadium. This is a big reason for his relative success at home -- 2.78 ERA at Kauffman compared to 4.40 on the road -- because his FIP and xFIP splits are nearly identical. Opposing hitters have a BABIP of just .196 off Guthrie in Kansas City compared to .323 elsewhere.
Guthrie relies primarily on a fastball-slider combination, throwing a mix of two and four-seam fastballs about 56% of the time and the slider another 22% of the time. He backs off the slider a bit against lefties, but still trusts it to a 17% clip against them. He also mixes in a changeup, which he throws more often to left-handed hitters, and a curveball. The slider has been his out pitch*, garnering a whiff rate of 11%. No other pitch has a double digit swinging strike percentage. PitchFX labels his curveball as his best pitch, at 2.75 runs per 100 pitches thrown. Opposing batters are hitting just .182 on his curveball with an ISO of .000.
*It's as much of an out pitch as someone who strikes out five batters per nine innings can have.
Doug Fister's last start went swimmingly for the first eight innings, as he completely shut down a better-than-you-think Tampa Bay Rays offense. The wheels came off in the ninth inning though, and Fister allowed three runs on three hits. Normally, a line of 8 1/3 innings pitched and three earned runs would be enough to win, but the Tigers offense was stymied by Rays starter Alex Cobb, handing Fister his third loss of the season. Since May 1st, the Tigers are 2-5 in games that Fister starts despite a respectable 3.98 ERA from Dougie Fresh in that span. The recent lack of run support -- they have only scored two runs in his last three starts -- is disturbing and doesn't bode well, given their road struggles this season.
Revenge of the nerds
The Royals went through their Annual Stretch of Horrid Baseball -- it deserves its own title at this point -- in the middle of May, going 4-19 from May 6th to May 29th. After finally deciding enough was enough, manager Ned Yost decided to listen to the "stats guys" in their front office to form an optimal run-scoring lineup. The result? Eric Hosmer was moved from the middle of the order to the second spot in the lineup to take advantage of his .335 on-base percentage -- second-best on the team among guys with 100+ plate appearances not named Butler, Gordon, or Perez -- and Salvador Perez is the new #3 hitter. The result? The Royals are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have climbed two spots in the divisional standings. They have only scored 35 runs in those 10 games, so it may be premature to give all the credit to the new lineup.
Magic 8 ball: will Don Kelly play tonight?
Guthrie has made a career of out-pitching his FIP and xFIP, an impressive feat considering he played in a bandbox for a number of years with the Baltimore Orioles. His BABIP at Kauffman Stadium will regress at some point, but I wouldn't expect the hard fall to earth that we saw from Rays starter Matt Moore last week. Guthrie owned the Tigers in two home starts late last season, allowing just three runs in 13 1/3 innings. His career numbers at Kauffman -- 10-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 17 starts -- suggest that this just may be the way it is with him.
Fister, on the other hand, seems unable to shake that one bad inning per start. He avoided it against the Pirates stringing together a stretch of 21 scoreless innings before falling apart in the ninth against the Rays. Of course, this wouldn't be an issue if he could get some run support. However, given the Tigers' recent road woes and Guthrie's dominance at home, we may see more of the same this evening.
The Tigers offense disappears on the road again, snapping their winning streak.