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Tigers vs. Diamondbacks Preview: What is a Zack Godley anyway?

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Matt Boyd and the Tigers aim for a sweep in the desert.

MLB: New York Mets at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Hot take alert: I like interleague play. Sure, it helps that the Detroit Tigers have been very good in interleague games since their inception in 1997. The matchups in National League parks are a bit wonky (#TeamDH), but I’ve always liked seeing the Tigers play against new teams. Matchups against NL teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks give fans a chance to see their team matched up against players they don’t normally see.

Take Zack Godley, for instance. Odds are you, the reader, had never heard of him before he was mentioned on Tuesday’s Fox Sports Detroit broadcast. The 27-year-old righthander will start for the Diamondbacks on Wednesday against Matt Boyd, a name many Diamondbacks probably don’t recognize at first glance.

Fortunately, facing Godley isn’t so fun (read: scary) that the Tigers are doomed for a loss. He was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs out of Tennessee in the 10th round of the 2013 MLB draft, and was acquired by Arizona as part of the Miguel Montero trade in December 2014. He posted solid numbers throughout his ascent up the minor league ranks, including a 3.31 ERA and 26 percent strikeout rate in 32 23 Pacific Coast League innings last year. He has made 37 appearances at the major league level, and has a 5.26 ERA and 4.77 FIP in 116 13 total innings.

Can the Tigers finish off a quick two-game sweep?

Detroit Tigers (16-15) at Arizona Diamondbacks (18-16)

Time/Place: 9:40 p.m., Chase Field
SB Nation blog: AZ Snakepit
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (2-2, 3.78 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Godley (0-0, 3.60 ERA)

Game 32 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 33.1 16.2 11.3 4.23 0.4
Godley 5.0 27.3 13.6 5.00 0.0

Godley’s 2016 numbers were a bit weird. He struck out 17.9 percent of the batters he faced, a figure appropriate for a reliever with a 6.39 ERA. His 4.97 FIP suggested some progression to the mean was in order, but not much. However, Godley induced an 11.8 percent swinging strike rate, a number that typically translates to much higher strikeout rates. He paired that with a 53.8 percent ground ball rate. Strikeouts and ground balls typically don’t go hand-in-hand, but when they do — hey there, Zach Britton — you have a dominant reliever on your hands.

While he is a spot starter for now, Godley’s future probably lies in the bullpen. He has relied primarily on a low-90s cutter in previous years, a pitch that has resulted in 13 of the 18 home runs he has surrendered in his brief career. He went with the two-seamer and curveball in his first start of 2017, though, an outing that saw him strike out six in five innings. The curve has been his most effective pitch thus far; opponents are hitting .150 off it and pounding it into the ground 65 percent of the time.

Key matchup: Diamondbacks hitters vs. weird platoon splits

The Diamondbacks have one of the better offenses in baseball, with 159 runs scored in their first 33 games played. They are hitting .256/.324/.424 as a team, and lead baseball in Baserunning Runs (BsR). While park-adjusted metrics don’t like them quite as much, they are scoring runs in bunches.

However, they have struggled against left-handed pitching, batting just .239 with a .305 on-base percentage. This has resulted in a 78 wRC+ against southpaws, the seventh-worst figure in baseball. The splits are especially puzzling considering Arizona’s personnel, which is decidedly right-handed. Five of their seven regular hitters (min. 100 plate appearances) bat right-handed, and so do many of their supporting players. They have still managed to hit for some power — their .151 ISO against lefties is dead center among MLB teams — which makes their overall struggles all the stranger.

Let’s hope they persist for another evening.

Outlook

A year or two ago, the prospect of Matt Boyd pitching at a launchpad like Chase Field would have been frightening. While Boyd has continued to induce a hefty fly ball rate, he has slashed his home run rate by generating more soft contact than before. Unfortunately, he is also allowing more hard contact — think the opposite of a bell curve — and opponents are pulling the ball 49.5 percent of the time, well over his 2016 rate.

All of this evidence points towards the Diamondbacks offense hitting a homer or two in this game. The key for Boyd will be to limit walks and other base hits. If those solo shots start to turn into two or three-run homers, the Tigers will be in trouble.

Prediction

Boyd and the bullpen come through again for a Tigers sweep.