One important test for young pitchers as they start to establish themselves in the major leagues is how they fare when seeing the same lineup multiple times. Michael Fulmer is a recent example; after dominating the Boston Red Sox on July 27, the Sox roughed him up for six runs on 10 hits in a second viewing on August 19. While there is no guarantee a pitcher will struggle his second time through the league, there does seem to be an adjustment period for both pitcher and batter.
Matt Boyd is another example of this. In his Tigers debut in 2015, Boyd tossed seven shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals. They progressively improved against him in their next couple meetings, resulting in a one-inning start (with six runs allowed) on September 3. Boyd was rocked by them again in 2016, allowing seven runs in 3 2⁄3 innings on June 18.
Boyd’s current hot streak may be fueled by a similar phenomenon. He faced a handful of the teams he has beaten recently back in 2015, but only a couple — the Blue Jays and White Sox — earlier in the year. To his credit, however, Boyd had better outings against both clubs the second time around. The Tigers are hoping that he can do the same against the Twins, who failed to score against him in an outing on July 18.
Detroit Tigers (66-59) at Minnesota Twins (49-76)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (4-2, 3.93 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Duffey (8-9, 5.93 ERA)
It has been a long time since the Tigers have seen Tyler Duffey — he faced them back on April 30, a 4-1 Tigers victory — and things haven’t been going well for the 25-year-old righthander. He has looked dominant at times, such as a nine-strikeout performance in seven shutout innings against the Rangers in July, but more often than not, things have snowballed on him. Duffey has allowed five runs or more in 10 of his 21 starts this season, resulting in a 5.93 ERA.
Duffey’s peripherals tell a different story, though. He has a 4.67 FIP and a 3.91 xFIP, along with a 4.07 SIERA. Nearly 20 percent of the fly balls he has induced on the year have left the ballpark, resulting in a home run rate of 1.60 per nine innings. This is nearly triple (!) what he posted last year, when his 3.10 ERA/3.24 FIP/3.64 xFIP were more closely in line.
Even if Duffey’s ERA were more in line with his peripherals, it would still represent a stiff drop-off from 2015. His walk rate has improved, but he is only striking out 19 percent of hitters this season. Also, his line drive rate has skyrocketed to nearly 24 percent, and opponents are making a lot more hard contact off him than before. Slight improvements in opponents’ O-Swing and Z-Swing percentages indicate that they are doing a better job of keying in on his fastball — which they are hitting for a higher average and ISO this season — and laying off the curveball out of the strike zone.
Hitter to fear: Brian Dozier (.333/.396/.792 in last 12 games)
Hitter to fail: Miguel Sano (.115/.179/.269 in last 8 games)
The Twins offense has been an above average unit on the whole in 2016, but that middling performance masks some stunning highs and lows. For a time, the Twins had one of the most productive lineups in the league. They posted a .791 OPS in July, and have followed that up with a .798 OPS in August. Brian Dozier has led the way with a blistering 174 wRC+ since the All-Star break, but others like Joe Mauer (127 wRC+) and Max Kepler (120 wRC+) have joined in.
Boyd and the Tigers will face a stiff test tonight in the Twins’ versatile offense. They have had the platoon advantage in 55 percent of their plate appearances this season, a rate slightly above league average. Their right-handed hitters have absolutely torched left-handed pitching, and Boyd is still struggling to get righties out at times. Limiting lefties like Mauer and Kepler will be key, but it may not mean much if big right-handed bats like Dozier and Sano are making hard contact.
Boyd doesn’t make it through the sixth but the Tigers win their third in a row.
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