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Tigers vs. Diamondbacks Preview: Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray looking to tame hitter-friendly Chase Field

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Both pitchers have their work cut out for them in one of the highest run-scoring environments in baseball.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Ever since its inception in 1995, Coors Field in Colorado has been the gold standard for pitcher friendly ballparks in Major League Baseball. While no park will ever top Coors in terms of offensive output, other stadiums like Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium, and the newly-renamed Guaranteed Rate Field are also known as being very hitter-friendly venues.

The Tigers will travel to Coors Field this season, but Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz. is up first. The home of the Diamondbacks, Chase Field has been one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball in its 20 years of existence. According to ESPN’s park factors, it was the second-most hitter friendly stadium in baseball last season, behind only Coors. It actually surpassed Coors in terms of home run friendliness, but trailed Yankee Stadium. FanGraphs ranked it third in 2015, behind only Coors and Boston’s Fenway Park.

Naturally, this will make life tough on pitchers, but especially those scheduled for Tuesday. Detroit’s Justin Verlander has allowed a career-high 49.5 percent fly ball rate, which might not mix well with the warm desert air and Chase Field’s spacious outfield gaps. Arizona’s Robbie Ray has also struggled at home, but might be coming into his own in 2017. Can the Tigers solve their former teammate and get back in the win column?

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

Time/Place: 9:40 p.m., Chase Field
SB Nation blog: AZ Snakepit
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (2-2, 4.21) vs. LHP Robbie Ray (2-2, 3.47 ERA)

Game 31 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Verlander 36.1 22.6 11.0 3.55 0.7
Ray 36.1 32.2 11.8 3.22 0.8

Last season, Robbie Ray was a statistical oddity. His 28.1 percent strikeout rate was the fourth-highest among qualified MLB pitchers, tied with Justin Verlander. He generated an 11.6 percent swinging strike rate, and his 18.9 K-BB% was 11th among MLB starters, right between guys named Archer and Price. However, he finished the season with a 4.90 ERA in 174 13 innings, the fifth-highest among qualified MLB pitchers.

Bizarre, right? Well, sort of. Ray struggled with the requisite Home Run Problems just about every MLB pitcher dealt with last year, though you wouldn’t know it just glancing at his 2016 numbers alone. His home run rate doubled from 2015 to 2016, and even though he generated all those swings and misses, opponents still made hard contact 36.6 percent of the time.

Ray has gotten off to a better start this year, but one wonders if there are some smoke and mirrors involved. He is getting more swings and misses than last year (good), but opponents have managed a wildly unsustainable 50.6 percent hard contact rate (very bad). Home runs are leaving the park at the same rate as well (bad), and he hasn’t gotten any better against right-handed pitching (bad) despite developing a new pitch (¯\_(ツ)_/¯). For what it’s worth, his ERA is closer in line with his peripherals this year.

Key matchup: Robbie Ray vs. Chase Field

As mentioned above, it’s difficult to pitch in the desert. Robbie Ray has discovered this firsthand. He has a solid 4.23 ERA in 61 career starts with the Diamondbacks, but nearly all of that production has come on the road. At home, has a 5.21 ERA in 155 13 career innings at Chase Field. His peripherals don’t suggest that something is up — his 3.78 home FIP isn’t too much higher than a 3.48 FIP on the road — but opponents are hitting the ball harder against him in home starts.

Adding to Ray’s is an all right-handed Tigers lineup. While Ray has improved overall, righties are still hitting .235/.333/.429 against him this season. The Tigers, one of seven teams with a walk rate north of 10 percent this year, will happily work counts and drive his pitch count skyward if he isn’t sharp.

Outlook

Given the D’Backs’ high octane offense, the environment, and Justin Verlander’s recent penchant for giving up home runs in bunches, this seems like a bad matchup for the Tigers. However, we have already illustrated Ray’s issues at Chase Field, and Verlander has a couple things working in his favor. While this is not necessarily a predictor of future success, Verlander has been lights out in interleague play throughout his career, with a 2.99 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 39 starts. He is also facing a Diamondbacks lineup that has had trouble making contact at times; their 24.2 percent strikeout rate is fifth-highest in baseball, and they have the sixth-highest swinging strike rate in the game.

Prediction

Justin Verlander hits his first career home run.