Detroit Tigers (3-0) at Cleveland Indians (2-1)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (15-10, 3.44 ERA in 2014) vs. RHP Zach McAllister (4-7, 5.23 ERA in 2014)
Zach McAllister did everything a pitcher could in order to improve his numbers from 2013 to 2014. He upped his strikeout rate, lowered his home run and walk rates, and got more hitters to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. Despite these improvements, his ERA jumped from 3.75 to 5.23 and he allowed 10 runs per nine innings. He was all but relegated to bullpen duty last September, making one start sandwiched between seven bullpen outings. He won a job with a 7.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in spring training, but with Danny Salazar waiting in the minors, McAllister's leash will be short.
Why did his ERA go up, though? One theory is related to his fastball. McAllister uses his four-seamer nearly 75 percent of the time, one of the highest rates among starters in all of baseball. Opposing batters were more aggressive against McAllister on the first pitch of an at-bat last year, swinging 32 percent of the time (compared to 23 percent in 2013). Just over nine percent of the batters he faced in 2013 put the ball in play on the first pitch of an at-bat. In 2014, that figure jumped to 13 percent. Those batters hit .426 with a .617 slugging average on the first pitch, well above the league average figures of .341 and .535, respectively. The Tigers were unable to take advantage of this last season, though they did rough him up for five runs in two innings in one start.
Alfredo Simon's Tigers debut hasn't been as highly anticipated as Shane Greene's was, and the 33-year-old righthander now has a lot to live up to. The Simon trade was met with a lot of scorn and confusion, but Justin Verlander's recent injury helps illustrate exactly why Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was adamant about finding another pitcher to replace Rick Porcello after he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. Simon's first and second half splits from 2014 have been heavily analyzed by Tigers fans and national pundits alike, but one consistent trend has been his ability to pitch with runners on base. Opposing batters hit .239/.315/.363 with men on base against Simon last year and just .216 with runners in scoring position, figures that were slightly lower than his numbers with the bases empty. Meanwhile, McAllister allowed a .691 OPS with the bases empty and .827 OPS with runners on.
Hitter to fear: Michael Brantley (.667/.700/.889 in 10 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Yan Gomes (.000/.000/.000 in 3 plate appearances)
While Simon spent the last three years pitching in the National League, he has seen plenty of the Cleveland Indians. He made a start against the Tribe last August, allowing five runs on six hits in five innings. The big blow came in an inning that was far too commonplace for Simon last summer. After allowing singles to Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana, Simon grooved a first-pitch fastball to Lonnie Chisenhall.
In his career, Simon has allowed 17 runs (13 earned) in 21 1/3 innings. McAllister has not been much better, giving up a 4.66 ERA and .802 OPS in 10 outings.
It's easy to get excited about the Tigers after the first few games of the season, so now might be a good time for some cold water. The Tigers have been swept at Progressive Field in April or May in three of the past four years, and last year's sweep came on the heels of the team's 27-12 start. There are no reports of plane hijinx or Zubaz voodoo this year, but struggling in Cleveland has become an annual event for this team. This early season series could be a nice barometer for this pair of AL Central heavyweights, but remember: it's only game four.
The Tigers get to McAllister in the middle innings and win their fourth consecutive game.
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Michael Bourn, CF
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
- Michael Brantley, LF
- Carlos Santana, DH
- Brandon Moss, DH
- Yan Gomes, C
- David Murphy, RF
- Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
- Jose Ramirez, SS
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