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Tigers vs. Angels Preview: Detroit looking to get back on track against Ricky Nolasco

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Unlike Friday’s matchup, the Tigers offense has historically fared well against Nolasco.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

If anyone thought that Thursday’s dominant win meant that the Tigers struggles in Anaheim were over, Friday’s 7-0 defeat was a harsh dose of reality. The loss was all too familiar to those who have watched Detroit fail spectacularly on the west coast in recent years, as just about everything went wrong for the Tigers.

Fortunately, the matchups get better from here. Matt Shoemaker has owned the Tigers in his career, but Saturday starter Ricky Nolasco hasn’t been quite as sharp. In nine meetings, the Tigers are hitting .293/.350/.465 with five home runs against him, resulting in a 4.09 ERA. They were even better last season, hitting .319 with a .920 OPS in four games. The current roster has an .873 OPS off Nolasco in 184 plate appearances.

While past matchups aren’t necessarily predictive of future success, Saturday’s matchup certainly feels more promising. Add in Tigers starter Daniel Norris, who has shown flashes of dominance amid bouts of spotty command, and they might be able to clinch a series split even before Sunday’s finale.

Detroit Tigers (17-17) at Los Angeles Angels (18-20)

Time/Place: 9:07 p.m., Angels Stadium
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.55 ERA) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (2-2, 4.31 ERA)

Game 35 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Norris 31.2 18.0 11.3 3.73 0.5
Nolasco 39.2 22.4 4.2 5.27 -0.1

For all of the issues Daniel Norris has had with his command this season, he has done well to limit home runs. Opponents have tagged him for just two dingers in his 31 23 innings, resulting in one of the lowest home run rates in the majors. Advanced metrics like xFIP and SIERA predict that his home run rate will ultimately regress, especially given that Norris is allowing hard contact on 43.4 percent of balls in play.

However, Norris has lowered his fly ball rate and upped the number of grounders he is inducing this season. After managing a fly ball rate near 40 percent last season, he is down to a 33.7 percent clip this season, while his ground ball rate has climbed north of 40 percent for the first time in his major league career.

This might seem like nothing — and it may ultimately be nothing — but Norris generated higher ground ball rates during his time in the minor leagues. We should take minor league batted ball data with a grain of salt, but inducing more contact on the ground is a good sign for the young lefthander. It helps limit home runs, and opponents are forced to beat him and his nasty stuff multiple times to score runs. Plus, it gives the Tigers’ middle infield more chances to turn double plays behind him.

Now if he could just cut down on the walks...

Key matchup: Ricky Nolasco vs. gobs of home runs

Throughout his career, Nolasco has posted decent strikeout and walk rates while holding hitters to an average amount of home runs. He has never quite been able to live up to these solid peripherals, though — he has a career 4.52 ERA but a 3.88 FIP. However, Nolasco’s home run rate has more than doubled in the early going this season. He has allowed at least two home runs in five of his seven starts, and has gotten through just one outing without giving up a dinger.

One would think this makes for a very bad matchup, but that’s not necessarily the case. For all of the noise the Tigers made earlier this year with their home run streak, they rank just 10th in the American League with 37 homers (and fall to 13th in home runs against righthanders). Something will have to give on Saturday, and J.D. Martinez’s return certainly helps tilt the scales in Detroit’s favor. Can they make enough hard contact to launch balls out of Angels Stadium’s spacious confines? That question might ultimately decide this game.

Outlook

While the Tigers offense looked toothless on Friday and haven’t hit that many home runs, they have been one of the most dangerous units in baseball. They rank second in the American League with five runs scored per game, and are fourth in the AL with a 109 OPS+. Much has been made of their gaudy hard contact rates as well, even if they haven’t always translated into actual results. Given both their recent and prolonged success against Nolasco, I imagine they get back on track in this game.

Prediction

Norris gets back on track and the Tigers win easily.