Regression to the mean is a natural part of baseball. Hot pitchers eventually come back to earth. Struggling hitters find a way to break out of slumps. As baseball statistics have evolved, we have gotten better at predicting which trends will continue and which are not sustainable. Stats tell us that Jordan Zimmermann probably won't finish the season with a 0.55 ERA, for example.
One area where those stats have not yet touched is win-loss records, especially against certain teams. For instance, the Tigers were 37-19 against the Cleveland Indians from 2013 to 2015. While the Tigers were a better team during that time frame, there was no way to predict that the Tigers would be nearly 20 games above .500 against the Tribe during that span, nor could they tell when the Indians would start beating the Tigers again.
Sadly, that day seems to have arrived. The Indians have had Detroit's number this season, winning the first five matchups between the two clubs. And other than the existence of Corey Kluber, there is no statistical reason why this is the case.
Luckily, stats are on Michael Fulmer's side. According to FanGraphs' pitch values, the Indians have been one of the worst teams in baseball against fastballs this season. They have also been slightly below average against sliders. Other than a handful of changeups -- a pitch he will likely need against Cleveland's lefty-heavy lineup -- Fulmer was all fastball-slider in his major league debut, a win over the Minnesota Twins. Can he continue that run in this game?
Detroit Tigers (14-12) at Cleveland Indians (12-12)
Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (1-0, 5.28 ERA)
Originally expected to be one of the four pillars of the best starting rotation in the American League, Trevor Bauer lost his job to righthander Cody Anderson in spring training. This wasn't necessarily a punishment for Bauer -- he posted a 2.14 ERA and 4.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21 Cactus League innings -- but rather a result of the Indians having six legitimate major league starters in their system.
However, as the saying goes, you can never have enough starting pitching. Bauer took over for an injured Carlos Carrasco in a game against the Tigers on April 24, earning his first win of the season after 3 1/3 innings of work. He slid into the starting rotation six days later, but struggled, allowing three runs on five hits in just four innings pitched. It was the fourth time he has allowed multiple runs this season, including each of his past three appearances.
Perhaps more concerning for the Indians and their fans is that Bauer's old issues still seem to be present. He has walked seven batters in 15 1/3 regular season innings, resulting in a 1.63 WHIP. His strikeout rate has been high, but he has allowed a lot of hard contact, including a 23.3 percent line drive rate. Opponents are once again teeing off on his fastball, hitting .278 in 36 at-bats. His cutter has been even worse, resulting in a .778 (!) slugging average in an 18 at-bat sample.
Granted, it's far too early to really be concerned about Bauer. He is still only 25 years old, and has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two full seasons at the major league level. He has the raw arsenal to be a mid-rotation starter (if not more), and may even be throwing harder after an offseason at Driveline Baseball.
However, he led the American League with 79 walks issued last season, and those command issues don't appear to be fixed. If the Tigers can stay patient, they should have plenty of opportunities to give Fulmer another early lead.
Tigers hitter to fear: J.D. Martinez (.438/.500/.625 in 18 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Anthony Gose (.200/.200/.200 in 6 plate appearances)
The Tigers scored two runs in 3 1/3 innings against Bauer on April 24, a 5.41 ERA. Incredibly, this lowered his career ERA against the Tigers, a team he has struggled considerably against. The Tigers have scalded Bauer at a .329/.408/.509 clip in eight meetings, resulting in a 6.81 ERA and 1.88 WHIP. J.D. Martinez has done plenty of damage in 16 at-bats, while the other big bats in the Tigers' lineup also have an OPS above .800. Only Justin Upton has never faced the Indians' 25-year-old righty.
A three-run lead helped calm Fulmer's nerves early in his major league debut, but we saw the Twins take advantage of his fastball-heavy approach in the middle innings, particularly as he began to tire. While his endurance might be better in this game, the Indians' many left-handed hitters are well-equipped to take advantage of Fulmer's arsenal if he gets too predictable again. As will probably be repeated on this site ad nauseum for as long as Fulmer is here, his changeup is the key in this matchup. If he can locate it with some consistency, the Tigers should be in good shape.
The offense gives Fulmer another early boost and the Tigers avoid the sweep.
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