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Tigers vs. Rays Preview: Buck Farmer, Jacob Faria square off on Father’s Day

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Farmer is quickly establishing himself as a legitimate major league starter.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If you strip away everything we know already and just look at the statistics, Sunday’s matchup between the Rays and Tigers looks like a promising battle between two young, talented starting pitchers. Jacob Faria, a 23-year-old righthander from southern California, has looked overpowering in his first two major league starts. He has 13 strikeouts in 12 23 innings, and has generated 27 whiffs on 197 total pitches.

Then there’s Buck Farmer. He was a below replacement level pitcher in parts of three seasons at the major league level, but appears to have made some changes to his approach and delivery. So far this season, he has 20 strikeouts and three walks in 15 13 innings. He was knocked around by the Arizona Diamondbacks in his last start, but is already the Tigers’ fifth-most valuable pitcher according to FanGraphs’ FIP-based version of WAR.

Farmer’s numbers are particularly interesting given his woeful production from years prior. His minor league numbers also suggest that something has changed this year. He is still only 26 years old, 18 days younger than lefthander Matt Boyd. Farmer may not continue to be a strikeout monster of this level going forward, but another strong performance on Sunday would certainly wedge him into the rotation conversation going forward (if he isn’t already).

Tampa Bay Rays (36-35) at Detroit Tigers (32-35)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jacob Faria (2-0, 1.42 ERA) vs. RHP Buck Farmer (2-0, 3.52 ERA)

Game 68 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Faria 12.2 26.5 6.1 1.80 0.6
Farmer 15.1 32.8 4.9 2.81 0.5

Scouting report time! Jacob Faria is a former 10th round pick who signed with the Rays out of high school in 2011. He started out slowly in the minors, and didn’t reach Single-A ball until 2014. He took off after that, however, and was logging significant innings for Triple-A Durham in 2016. He started out there in 2017 and struck out 84 hitters in 58 23 innings before getting called up two weeks ago.

Naturally, that call-up led to a flurry of “Who is this guy?” articles. From Minor League Ball:

Age 23, posted 3.99 ERA in 151 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, 157/68 K/BB, just 110 hits; 10th round pick in 2011 out of high school in California; fits Rays pitcher stereotype to a T; fastball varies between 88 and 95 depending on when you see him; plays up even at lower velocity due to excellent change-up; reports on breaking stuff vary but high strikeout rate is a promising sign; needs to lower walks and needs another half-year of Triple-A; workhorse potential. ETA late 2017.

Baseball Prospectus has some of their analysis behind a paywall, but you can read this part for free:

Faria is a strong 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and showed a low-effort delivery that he repeated well from an overhead slot. He features a four-pitch mix led by 92-94 heater with average run that hitters were late on, aided by how well he hides the ball from the high slot. He did better hitting spots with it than his career walk numbers suggest, working ahead throughout and throwing 74 of his 102 pitches for strikes. His top secondary is a low-80s change-up with excellent arm speed and tumble that features as an outpitch...The arm action is clean, and if he repeats his delivery this well moving forward, I project above-average command.

He has looked fantastic in his first two starts, holding the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to a run apiece in 6 13 innings. He struck out five Chicago hitters in his major league debut, then fanned eight Blue Jays in his last start. He still has yet to allow a home run — wink wink, nudge nudge — and is generating swinging strikes at a 12.7 percent clip.

Key matchup: Faria vs. maybe some platoon splits?

One would think that a righty pitcher with a firm fastball would limit right-handed hitters while struggling against lefties. However, Faria has held lefties in check this season, allowing a .552 OPS between his 13 starts at all levels. Righties have fared slightly better, hitting .220/.281/.407. While this isn’t great by any stretch, their .688 OPS is over 100 points higher than what left-handed hitters have managed.

The reason is likely due to Faria’s pitch usage. He throws his fastball and slider most often, but uses his changeup nearly 30 percent of the time against left-handed hitters. He will also mix in a curveball against them, especially as a show-me pitch to get ahead with strike one. Against righties, he relies almost exclusively on the fastball and slider. Given how right-handed heavy the Tigers lineup is, Faria may have to get a bit more unpredictable today.

Outlook

The Tigers have managed to stay within striking distance in the AL Central despite a sub-.500 record this year, but that might be changing. The Cleveland Indians have won four games in a row, racing ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the process. Detroit needs to start producing — especially now that they are through their May gauntlet — if they want to stay in the division race.

Prediction

The Tigers bullpen coughs up a late lead and Tampa earns a four-game split.