Remember Bruce Chen? The crafty lefthander pitched for 11 teams in his 17-year MLB career, but was known by Tigers fans largely for the six seasons he spent with the Kansas City Royals. Chen wasn’t a world beater by any means — he managed a 4.62 ERA and 93 ERA+ in 1,532 career innings — but he somehow developed a reputation as a Tigers killer.
Those who can navigate Baseball Reference know that this isn’t true. Chen posted a 5.42 ERA in 22 career appearances against the Tigers, who fared slightly better against him than the average MLB team.
That brings us to Hector Santiago. Formerly a member of the Chicago White Sox, Santiago has made his way back to the AL Central after a couple years out west. The former All-Star has a career 3.83 ERA in 719 2⁄3 innings. Advanced metrics like FIP and Deserved Run Average (DRA) aren’t as impressed, but he has managed to wildly outperform those numbers in four of his five full seasons.
On the whole, the Tigers haven’t had more problems with Santiago than other teams. His 3.50 career ERA against Detroit is better than average, but Tigers hitters have a 97 tOPS+ against him (meaning they are just three percent worse than average). However, Santiago has fared much better at Comerica Park, with a 2.83 ERA in 28 2⁄3 innings. The Tigers are hitting a scant .220 against him at home, with 26 strikeouts in seven meetings.
Of course, numbers suggest that Santiago is once again outperforming his true talent level. Can the Tigers start to reverse his good fortune in this game?
Minnesota Twins (5-1) at Detroit Tigers (4-2)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Hector Santiago (1-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (0-1, 19.29 ERA)
Game 7 Pitching Matchup
Given that he walked four batters in just over two innings of work, it feels weird to say that Matt Boyd looked the part of a solid back-end starter in his first outing of 2017. Boyd’s command was a bit off (duh), and he made a couple of mistakes that led to the Tigers’ first loss of the young season. Among other things, he caught too much plate with the slider to Geovany Soto that ultimately landed in the left field seats — if it should have even been a slider at all.
That said, Boyd’s outing wasn’t that bad. He threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 17 batters he faced, and went to 10 two-strike counts. Five of those 10 hitters ultimately reached base, and three of them scored. AL pitchers limited opponents to a .176 average in two-strike counts last season; Boyd’s .286 batting average and 1.214 OPS against in similar situations will not last.
We even saw potential for more. With the bases loaded in the second and the game still in the balance, Boyd carved up White Sox slugger Jose Abreu on three pitches. He got ahead in the count — something he did as well as any pitcher in baseball last year — and dusted Abreu with a high fastball to end the inning.
4/6: Matt Boyd’s final line wasn’t pretty, but this was pic.twitter.com/bpwzQjhO06— Tigers GIFs (@TigersGIFs) April 11, 2017
The challenge for Boyd this season is to turn more of those two-strike counts into outs.
Key matchup: Outfielders vs. fly balls for days
One reason why Santiago has been so effective at Comerica Park is his high fly ball rate. Opposing hitters have put the ball in the air nearly 50 percent of the time against Santiago throughout his career. While this can lead to a lot of home runs allowed, it also lends itself to a number of easy outs. Comerica Park’s spacious dimensions only help matters, especially if the ball is not traveling well. Matt Boyd has a similar high fly ball rate, which has helped him post solid numbers at home.
This means that the outfielders on both teams will be busy. Normally, this would not be a big deal, but the Twins and Tigers had two of the worst defensive outfields in baseball last season. Only the Baltimore Orioles’ outfield gave away more defensive runs than the Tigers and Twins last year, who combined for a whopping -80 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). JaCoby Jones and Byron Buxton look to be big upgrades in center field so far, but we shouldn’t expect much magic from any of the corner outfielders in this game.
We were a bit worried about Boyd heading into his first start of the season. The White Sox presented a bad matchup for him with a lineup chock full of right-handed hitters, and Guaranteed Rate Field is rather unforgiving to fly ball artists. Returning home to Comerica Park will give him a boost, as will facing a Twins lineup that is likely to feature a few left-handed hitters. Boyd carved up lefties to the tune of a .598 OPS last year, and should be just as harsh on them this season.
Boyd bounces back and the Tigers open the series with a win.