It wasn't long ago that we were citing Michael Fulmer's peripheral statistics as a reason why he was going to pitch better than his early 6.52 ERA indicated. Now, after a long scoreless streak -- in which Fulmer has allowed one run in his last five starts -- the peripherals indicate that regression is coming. Fulmer's 3.58 FIP is a full run higher than his ERA. His xFIP, once the lowest of the three "slash line" indicators, is now the most pessimistic, at 3.87.
This should be common sense; Fulmer is going to allow runs eventually. However, the silver lining is that these peripherals show there isn't far to fall. His FIP is points away from Justin Verlander's team-best 3.52, and Fulmer's 3.15 Deserved Run Average (DRA) pains an even rosier picture.
No matter your preferred pitching metric, Fulmer has gotten off to an amazing start, and is helping anchor a Tigers rotation that is fourth in the AL with a 3.85 ERA in the past 30 days. Can he pick up his eighth win of the season on Friday against the Royals?
Detroit Tigers (34-32) at Kansas City Royals (35-31)
Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (7-1, 2.52 ERA) vs. RHP Yordano Ventura (5-4, 4.93 ERA)
For whatever reason, Yordano Ventura seems to respond best to controversy. He posted a 3.10 ERA and 2.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 starts down the stretch after being optioned to the minors in July 2015. This season, Ventura notched his best start of the year, a 10-strikeout performance against the Chicago White Sox, after his dust-up with Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles. Trouble may be following him throughout his young major league career, but good results often aren't far behind.
Unfortunately for him, those good results have been few and far between. He had a 5.32 ERA heading into the aforementioned start against the White Sox five days ago, and his peripherals aren't any better. He can throw 99 miles per hour, yet is only striking out 16.6 percent of the batters he faces (to compare, former Tiger Rick Porcello has a career 15.6 percent strikeout rate). Ventura is also walking 11.1 percent of batters this year, the fifth-highest rate in baseball. His home run rate has declined as well, resulting in a 5.04 FIP that is sixth-highest in the AL.
The command issues seem self-explanatory, but how does a pitcher with a truly elite fastball just fall apart? As Kevin Ruprecht of Royals Review points out, the fastball just isn't elite right now.
Hitters don’t really care for the pitch anymore because of it. They can lay off the pitch when it’s not middle-middle — the whiff rate on Ventura’s four-seam fastball has gone from 11.2 percent in 2014 to 5.0 percent this year. This decline in fastball effectiveness is reflected in the production allowed on the pitch as well. Ventura allowed a .222 BA and .339 SLG in 2014 on his four seamer. Those figures have risen to .326 and .620, respectively, this year. That’s awful.
According to FanGraphs' pitch values, Ventura's fastball is one of the worst heaters in the game right now. Oddly, his curveball has been one of the best.
Hitter to fear: Ian Kinsler (.375/.444/.438 in 18 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Nick Castellanos (.091/.167/.091 in 12 plate appearances)
The Tigers could really use J.D. Martinez in this game. Their injured slugger is hitting a cool .385/.556/.538 in 18 plate appearances against Ventura, although he does not have a home run. Fortunately, the rest of the Tigers lineup has held their own, save for a few exceptions. The current roster (including Martinez) is hitting .260/.353/.365 off Ventura. Also, the young flamethrower is allowing a slight reverse split this year, with righties posting a .753 OPS in 159 plate appearances.
If you're concerned about Fulmer's recent low strikeout rate, this game may not be as bad of a matchup as you expect. Fulmer has faced some of the best teams in baseball in terms of making contact, and the Royals aren't the same strikeout-averse unit they were in 2015. They have been downright average in the strikeout department in the last month, fanning at a 21.4 percent clip -- even the Tigers are slightly better, at 21.0 percent. While they can still get BABIP-y at times (shut up, it's a word), Fulmer's ability to induce weak contact should play well in this matchup.
Fulmer's doesn't set the franchise scoreless streak record, but still gets the win.
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