Boston Red Sox (48-61) at Detroit Tigers (53-55)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Pitching Matchup: RHP Joe Kelly (3-6, 6.11 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (2-1, 3.23 ERA)
Joe Kelly shouldn't be this bad. The 27-year-old righthander doesn't own the best peripherals in the world, but his 4.30 FIP is better than Anibal Sanchez's 4.47 FIP. Kelly also owns a 4.04 xFIP, which, if that were his ERA, would be just 0.11 higher than the league average. He has improved his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate from 2014, and home runs haven't been much of a problem. He is even throwing the highest percentage of first-pitch strikes of his career. For a fifth starter, Kelly's peripherals aren't bad.
So why are Boston fans clamoring for him to move to the bullpen?
For starters, Kelly's 6.11 ERA is nearly two full runs higher than his FIP. He has allowed five runs or more in eight of his 17 starts, and is giving up 10.5 hits per nine innings. His .331 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) seems to be a result of his 25.1 percent line drive rate, not bad luck. His mid-90s fastball is solid, but opponents are doing all sorts of damage against his offspeed pitches. Both his slider and curveball have resulted in an isolated power (ISO) above .200 this year.
Daniel Norris didn't offer the mid-90s heat some projected in his first start in a Tigers uniform, but that didn't stop him from generating plenty of awkward swings from Orioles hitters. Norris got nine whiffs on the 55 fastballs he threw, a gaudy 16.5 percent swing-and-miss rate for a four-seamer. He left the ball up in the zone on several instances, but something in his motions appears to deceive hitters, making the hitter seem faster than the radar gun indicates. The iffy command didn't affect him in that outing, as he only walked one batter.
There is still plenty of room for improvement, though. Norris threw eight of 10 changeups for strikes, but only generated one whiff with that pitch. His slider and curveball were even worse, with just six of 19 combined benders hitting the strike zone. The Orioles only swung at four of those 19 pitches, which makes it seem as if they were sitting on his fastball. Norris has the natural talent to fool hitters even when he doesn't have all of his pitches working, but the lack of a breaking ball will catch up to him at some point. Red Sox righties are batting .269/.340/.427 against left-handed pitchers this season, one of the few bright spots for a lackluster offense.
A pair of solid outings from the new lefties in the Tigers' rotation has sparked a bit of a fire among the fanbase. David Price is no longer around, but if Norris and Matt Boyd can effectively patch the rotation, Tigers fans believe their team just might have a run in them. A series win against the best team in the American League will definitely help add fuel to that flame, but the Tigers have been inexplicably good against the rest of the AL Central this season. Against everyone else? They are 24-37 with a -66 run differential. It's not over yet, but the Tigers need to prove they can beat the teams they are supposed to -- like these Red Sox -- before we bring our focus back to 2015.
Norris struggles in the middle innings while Kelly rides a lively fastball to a Red Sox win.
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