Many baseball fans consider the sabermetric revolution to be a thing of the past. The fight is over, the nerds have won, and nearly every front office in the game is knee-deep in analytics.
The MVP voters, on the other hand, didn't get the memo.
In 2012 and 2013, the "old school vs. new school" debate raged as baseball fans of all backgrounds took sides in the American League MVP race. Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout? The consummate slugger or the up-and-coming superstar? While most saber-leaning communities favored Trout and his superior WAR totals, the BBWAA saw things differently. Much to our delight, Cabrera took home consecutive MVP awards, while Trout was left with a pair of second-place finishes.
Those dormant debates might not be dead yet. After an off season in 2014, Cabrera has returned to form. Through 47 team games, Cabrera is hitting .333/.436/.591 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI. His 179 wRC+ is third in the American League, and he's within reasonable striking distance of all three Triple Crown categories. Trout is not far behind with a 156 wRC+, and he has already been worth 2.7 WAR, within 0.1 WAR of the league lead. While others are riding unsustainable performances to early success -- Stephen Vogt has a 185 wRC+, for instance -- Cabrera and Trout are just performing at their usual high levels.
This weekend's four-game series won't decide the MVP vote, but it is always fun to watch two players of this caliber go head-to-head. Trout's Angels have gotten the better of Cabrera and the Tigers in both of the last two seasons, and are 15-8 against Detroit in the last three years. To make matters worse, the Tigers are just 1-9 at Angels Stadium during that stretch.
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Game 1: Thursday, 10:05 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit
Pitching Matchup: RHP Buck Farmer (5-1, 2.98 ERA at Triple-A Toledo) vs. LHP C.J. Wilson (2-3, 3.36 ERA)
From 2010 to 2013, lefthander C.J. Wilson was one of the most consistent starters in baseball. He worked over 200 innings in all four seasons, allowing a 3.37 ERA and 3.58 FIP along the way. He made a pair of All-Star teams and started 134 games, tied for the most in baseball with Justin Verlander. Wilson's longevity streak was snapped last season when he was sidelined with an ankle injury in July, holding him to "only" 175 2/3 innings. They weren't the best innings, though, particularly when his ankle was bothering him in June and early July. In his final eight starts before going on the DL, Wilson had a 6.81 ERA. He finished the year strong, however, holding opponents to a 3.78 ERA and .695 OPS despite 31 walks in his final 52 1/3 innings.
This year, we are seeing a new C.J. Wilson. He hasn't changed his pitching repertoire -- although he is featuring his two-seam fastball a little more than in 2014 -- but he has nearly halved his walk rate from last season. If he can maintain it, Wilson's 6.6 percent walk rate would be a career best. He is also striking fewer hitters out, and is inducing more fly balls and pop ups than ever before. What's the difference? In 2013 and 2014, Wilson altered his release point, resulting in one of the wildest seasons of his career last year. This season, Wilson seems to have fixed his release point, and is hitting the strike zone more often.
Game 2: Friday, 10:05 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.12 ERA) vs. LHP Hector Santiago (3-3, 2.47 ERA)
After moving from the Chicago White Sox to the Angels, Hector Santiago was supposed to allow fewer home runs. Instead, he gave up dingers at a higher rate despite pitching in a much bigger home ballpark, resulting in a 4.29 ERA. For the second year in a row, however, he was able to outperform his FIP by a wide margin. Santiago's high home run rate comes from the sheer volume of fly balls he allows. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched, only Chris Young had a higher fly ball rate than Santiago last season.
The Angels appear to be encouraging Santiago to work his fastball up in the strike zone. His fastball location trended upward from 2013 to 2014, and has continued to stay higher than usual in 2015. To go along with his fastball, Santiago has thrown five different offspeed pitches in 2015, including one screwball. His screwball usage was marginalized last season, but Santiago will mix in a changeup, curveball, cutter, and slider to opposing batters. His usage is fairly predictable -- he throws the fastball when behind and goes offspeed when he gets ahead -- but he has pitched his way to a 2.47 ERA so far this season.
Game 3: Saturday, 10:05 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Shane Greene (4-3, 4.27 ERA) vs. RHP Jered Weaver (3-4, 4.06 ERA)
"Fastball" is a relative term for Jered Weaver these days. Never one to throw mid-90s smoke, Weaver's four-seamer is averaging just 85 miles per hour this season (Shane Greene's changeup, by comparison, sits in the 86-87 mile-per-hour range). This continued drop in velocity has been bad news for Weaver, who is allowing a hit per inning for the first time in his career. His hit rate has been rising over the past few seasons as his velocity falls, but he has been able to cobble together some solid numbers thanks to low walk rates and extremely high fly ball and pop up rates.
Weaver has no problem working upstairs with his fastball despite a lack of velocity. One reason for this is his excellent command, which has been on display his entire career. Weaver has never walked more than 7.5 percent of the batters he has faced in a season. He has never been one to work the inner half of the plate, a smart tactic given his declining arsenal and spacious surroundings. The more lazy fly balls Weaver can generate, the tougher it will be for the Tigers to plate enough runs to win.
Game 4: Sunday, 8:05 p.m., ESPN
Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (4-1, 2.97 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker (3-4, 5.44 ERA)
If you did a double take when you saw Matt Shoemaker's home run rate, you're not alone. The Eastern Michigan product was the AL Rookie of the Year Runner-Up last season, but has been victimized by the home run ball in a big way in 2015. He has given up multiple homers in five of his nine starts this season, including a pair of three-homer outings at home earlier this month. He finally went dinger-free in his last outing, tossing seven shutout innings against the San Diego Padres. The strong effort lowered his ERA to 5.44, nearly a full run difference from before.
Shoemaker's home run issues have been surprising, but he is still limiting the number of walks he allows. He rode that stellar fastball command to a 3.26 FIP and 5.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season, and his walk rate isn't far off this season. However, his fastball velocity has dropped, and opponents are attacking him earlier in the count, when he throws more fastballs. He finished off 95 of his 124 strikeouts last season with the slider or splitter, a pair of solid chase pitches that generate plenty of whiffs.
Hitter to fear: Mike Trout (.291/.382/.535 in 199 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Matt Joyce (.172/.246/.258 in 142 plate appearances)
The premise seems simple. Matt Joyce, a career .256/.350/.451 hitter against right-handed pitching, should be raking in the platoon role that Angels manager Mike Scioscia has provided. Joyce has just nine plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this season, yet is still hitting under the Mendoza line with an OPS a shade over .500. Platoon mate Collin Cowgill (career .737 OPS against lefties) hasn't been much better, though his role has not been quite so strict. The poor production from left field is just one of the dilemmas facing the Angels, who are hitting .232/.289/.357 as a team.
The only two bright spots have been Trout and right fielder Kole Calhoun, who has continued to be one of the most underrated players in baseball. Calhoun is hitting a solid .285/.339/.418 with four home runs and 22 RBI, numbers that should outpace his 3.7 WAR season from 2014. Calhoun's power numbers look off -- he had a .178 ISO last year to 2015's .134 -- but he didn't find his power stroke until June last year either.
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