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Tigers vs. Athletics Preview: Detroit aims to solve Oakland’s Andrew Triggs

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The rest of the league hasn’t figured out the crafty righty just yet.

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Fun fact: Andrew Triggs has faced the Detroit Tigers before. This may come as a surprise to those of you wondering “who the blazes is this guy?” upon clicking this article, but Triggs actually made his major league debut against the Tigers last April. He threw a tidy 14 pitches in the eighth inning of a 7-3 Tigers win, and struck out Tyler Collins looking.

Things have come a long way since then. Triggs has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball early in the 2017 season, compiling a 4-1 record and 1.84 ERA in 29 13 innings. He has backed up the old school stats with some nice peripheral numbers, including a 3.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.90 FIP. Opponents have managed only one home run off him, which came in his lone rough outing: an 11-1 whitewash at the hands of the Seattle Mariners. Triggs gave up six runs on five hits in 4 23 innings for his only loss of the season.

Outside of that start, Triggs has been nails. He has allowed unearned runs in two other starts, but also has a pair of scoreless outings under his belt. He bounced back from the Seattle debacle to toss seven shutout innings (with nine strikeouts!) against the Houston Astros on April 29.

He won’t be this good forever, though. Can the Tigers finally solve what the rest of the league (besides Seattle) can’t?

Detroit Tigers (14-13) at Oakland Athletics (12-16)

Time/Place: 10:05 p.m., Oakland Coliseum
SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (2-1, 3.19 ERA) vs. RHP Andrew Triggs (4-1, 1.84 ERA)

Game 28 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 31.0 21.0 7.3 4.21 0.3
Triggs 18.6 5.1 7.3 2.91 0.7

It’s difficult to identify what kind of pitcher Andrew Triggs is. Luckily, FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris did the work for me.

If you call Triggs a slider/curve guy, then you may be interested in how “distinct” his two pitches are. With his frisbee-like slow breaker and a more vertical fast breaker, the closest comp in terms of two breaking balls from a right handed starter is… Corey Kluber.

Don’t panic. Triggs’ “fast breaker” doesn’t travel nearly as fast as Kluber’s and he doesn’t have the mid-90s fastball or lethal changeup either. Triggs’ fastball has only averaged 90.7 miles per hour this season, and his quicker breaking ball only sits in the low 80s. The slower breaking ball — one that is called a slider by PitchFX but spins like a curve — sits in the mid-70s. Still, it’s classified as a slider, which reminded Sarris of...

That would make you suspicious, maybe, of his hot start. His pitching-independent numbers are fine, but there isn’t really a great road map for this type of pitcher. It didn’t quite work for Shane Greene as a starter, for one. For another, there isn’t a single qualified starter this year who throws only a cutter and slider as his secondary pitches.

Speaking of those pitching-independent numbers, Triggs’ excellent FIP is carried by a low walk rate and an even lower home run rate. He generates a ton of downward plane on his pitches, resulting in a 55.8 percent ground ball rate this season. Opponents are only putting the ball into the air 31.4 percent of the time, and just 3.4 percent of those fly balls have left the park. While this will regress at some point, a night game in Oakland in early May is certainly not the date. Expect some early, easy outs for Tigers hitters.

Key matchup: Andrew Triggs vs. right-handed hitters

One look at Triggs’ near-sidearm delivery should lead you to believe that he dominates right-handed hitters. I mean, c’mon...

That’s just unfair.

However, right-handed batters have fared better against Triggs than lefties throughout his brief major league career. They are hitting 31 points higher, and have managed a .656 OPS to the .604 amassed by left-handed hitters. The splits have been even more pronounced this season, with lefties hitting just .087/.176/.087.

While lefties will certainly improve on that .263 OPS, I’m wondering if he will ever become a pitcher with normal platoon splits. His arm angle should baffle right-handed hitters, but they have done fairly well against him in his 85 23 career innings. The power isn’t there yet, but Triggs generates a lot of ground balls and still has that new pitcher smell to him.

Outlook

We’re over 700 words into the preview and we haven’t even mentioned Michael Fulmer yet. The Tigers’ righthander has been their most consistent starter this season, resulting in the rotation’s lowest ERA. He dominated the A’s in a start in Oakland last season, allowing just three hits in 7 23 innings. Things might go the same way for the Athletics in this game; their offense ranks among the worst in baseball, and they are hitting just .226/.297/.392 against right-handed starters this season. Given that and Fulmer’s own interesting platoon splits, the platoon-happy A’s will probably struggle to score in this one.

Prediction

Fulmer nearly repeats his outing in Oakland from last season and the Tigers take game one.