Detroit Tigers (4-0) at Cleveland Indians (2-2)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (0-1, 2.45 ERA)
To many, Corey Kluber's Cy Young campaign in 2014 seemed like a breakout season. It was definitely the best year of his relatively brief career, but there were signs that Kluber was turning into a top flight pitcher before he locked up his hardware with nine wins and a 1.73 ERA in his final 14 starts. Kluber posted an excellent 4.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 147 1/3 innings in 2013, resulting in a 3.30 FIP that was a half run lower than his ERA. Kluber also has one of the most efficient deliveries in the game, earning top marks in every mechanics category from pitching mechanics guru Doug Thorburn. His BABIP and home run rate were a bit elevated in 2013 as well, and his 3.10 xFIP that season was probably the best indicator of his true talent level.
That said, Kluber took a major step forward in 2014. He upped his strikeout rate to 28.3 percent, third-best among qualified MLB starters. He transitioned to throwing a two-seam fastball and added velocity, resulting in a slight increase in his ground ball rate. He improved his first pitch strike percentage, which helped him become slightly more efficient. Kluber averaged just shy of seven innings per start last season, tied for second-best in the American League (Price was first). Kluber threw 235 2/3 total innings, third in the AL behind Price and Felix Hernandez.
Kluber throws a four-pitch mix, with a cutter, slider, and changeup joining the two-seam fastball in his electric arsenal. Opponents hit .235 or worse on all three of his secondary pitches, but his slider may have been the best pitch in baseball. He held opponents to a .090 average on that pitch, which sits in the lower 80s with sharp movement. The slider was his finishing pitch on 128 of his 269 strikeouts, and he threw it 32 percent of the time in all two-strike situations. The Tigers may be better served to jump on a first-pitch fastball, which Kluber threw over 60 percent of the time in 2014. It was his one vulnerability, as opposing batters hit .315 with a .457 slugging average against that pitch.
David Price picked up right where he left off in 2014, tossing 8 2/3 scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day. Price relied heavily on a mix of fastballs, spotting his four- and two-seamers in all quadrants of the strike zone. Of the 69 fastballs he threw, 51 were strikes. He threw the fastball on the first pitch to 27 of the 30 batters he faced and spotted 19 strikes. This was a particularly effective strategy against the Twins, who had the third-lowest swing rate in baseball as a team last season. That pattern continued on Monday, as only six hitters swung at the first pitch Price threw. He put eight Twins hitters into an 0-2 count, and retired all of them.
The Indians showed a similar patient approach last year, ranking in the bottom third in baseball in swing rate. Early indications are that the Tribe will continue to stay patient, a formula that plays right into Price's hands. Price allowed a 1.020 OPS on the first pitch of an at-bat last season, but that figure nearly halved (.549) if he got strike one. Only 17 percent of the 277 batters he took to an 0-2 count last year reached base.
Hitter to fear: Ryan Raburn (.368/.455/.579 in 22 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Michael Bourn (.188/.188/.250 in 16 plate appearances)
Price faced the Indians twice after arriving in Detroit last summer. He won both outings and only gave up two runs, but he allowed 18 baserunners in 14 2/3 innings. Carlos Santana has done most of the extra-base damage, collecting four doubles in 21 career plate appearances. The 29-year-old switch-hitter has been much more effective against left-handed pitching in his career, hitting .283/.393/.468 with more walks than strikeouts. Ryan Raburn homered off Price at Comerica Park last September, but the majority of Ryno's damage against the Tigers' ace came when the two were playing for their former teams. Lonnie Chisenhall hasn't had much trouble despite being left-handed, collecting four hits (including a double and a home run) in nine plate appearances.
The Indians' versatile lineup has made them very effective at gaining the platoon advantage against opposing teams. They had the platoon advantage in 74 percent of plate appearances last year, the highest rate in the American League for the fourth year in a row. However, this is largely due to a plethora of left-handed bats. In both of Price's starts against the Tribe last September, he faced just five right-handed starters. The Indians hit .252/.312/.360 against lefties last season, the second-worst OPS in the AL. That trend continued on Opening Day, when they tallied three hits in seven innings against Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros. With a pair of aces on the mound, these splits might be the difference.
Price outlasts Kluber and the Tigers win their fifth 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
- Andrew Romine, SS
- Michael Bourn, CF
- Mike Aviles, LF
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
- Carlos Santana, 1B
- Yan Gomes, C
- Ryan Raburn, DH
- Jerry Sands, RF
- Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
- Jose Ramirez, SS
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