Detroit Tigers fans waited six long years to see the Rick Porcello that surfaced in 2016. His fielding independent metrics far outperformed his actual ERA while in Detroit, including by nearly a full run in 2013. It always seemed like there would be a game or an inning here or there that would get away from Porcello, resulting in a bunch of runs that would balloon his ERA.
Unfortunately, Porcello’s “breakout” 2016 came in a different uniform. While Tigers fans should not complain one bit about how they have fared since Porcello was traded — you may remember this Michael Fulmer character, who is pretty good — seeing him beat out Justin Verlander in the Cy Young was a tad bit frustrating.
Of course, the pendulum may swing in the other direction this year. Porcello’s ERA was a tad bit lower than his fielding independent metrics last year, and his .269 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was by far the lowest of his career. Sure, Porcello is playing in front of a much better defense in Boston, but that BABIP may be unsustainable for a pitcher who still mostly gets by on limiting hard contact. Porcello has upped his fly ball and pop-up rates over the past couple years, but his 8.2 percent swinging strike rate was right in line with his career averages.
Boston Red Sox (2-2) at Detroit Tigers (3-1)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Rick Porcello (1-0, 4.26 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (4-2, 3.38 ERA in 2016)
Game 5 Pitching Matchup
When fans reflect back on the Tigers’ late season playoff push in 2016, many point to players like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Justin Upton as the key reasons they were able to stay in the hunt for so long. However, Daniel Norris was arguably just as valuable as those three. In 10 starts in August and September, Norris posted a 3.04 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 56 1⁄3 innings. The Tigers won six of those 10 games, and Norris gave up just seven earned runs in the four losses.
Norris was particularly dominant in September, striking out 38 hitters in just 29 2⁄3 innings. While some may attribute that success to his longest stretch of good health since arriving in Detroit, Norris pointed out a change he made in his delivery later in the season.
“You can speed up your delivery, but if you don't do it the right way you are going to be rushing it,” Norris said. “The thing with my old delivery, where it was slow and methodical, I was actually rushing even though it was slow. Because every time I would come up, I'd pick my leg up and then I'd be falling off the rubber going to the plate.”
By improving Norris’ tempo, his rhythm became smoother. He felt like he had regained control of his delivery, and it was at the behest of Dubee that it came to fruition.
What changed, exactly, was Norris’ leg kick, which is now higher. He loads his windup on the back leg more, but with a more deliberate motion, which is contrast to his delayed, “calm and methodical” delivery from before. The difference was “night and day better.” He picked up the speed of his delivery and in doing so found stability.
This made a noticeable difference in his raw stuff, among other things. Norris’ fastball velocity jumped from 92-93 miles per hour early in the season to 94.7 mph in September. He also threw his four-seasm fastball more often, all but neglecting his two-seamer in August and September. More hitters whiffed on the four-seamer in September than in all other months combined, and his slider and changeup whiff rates increased as well.
Key matchup: Red Sox vs. life
Anyone who has followed the first two games of this series has noticed a couple of big names absent from Boston’s lineup: shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Mookie Betts. Bogaerts is currently on the bereavement list, but will return to the lineup on Monday. Betts, meanwhile, is one of several Red Sox players that has been recovering from a bad bout of the flu. He will return to the lineup for this game, but center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is now out of commission after injuring his knee in the ninth inning of Saturday’s Red Sox loss. The Tigers have taken advantage of a hobbled Sox lineup in the first two games of this series; it will be interesting to see if Daniel Norris can continue to do so on Sunday.
As we have already mentioned prior to the first two games of this series, Norris will face a stiff challenge in the Red Sox lineup (yes, even a shorthanded one). The Red Sox were slightly worse against lefthanders than they were against righties last year, but they still produced a 110 wRC+ against southpaws, the best figure in the American League. Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz were a major part of their success last year — both posted a wRC+ over 130 against lefties — but there are still plenty of dangerous bats in this lineup.
The Tigers make it three in a row in a low-scoring affair.