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Tigers vs. Angels Preview: Detroit offense should go fastball hunting against Jesse Chavez

He has a solid four-pitch mix, but the fastball has not been effective in 2017.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at New York Mets Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Angels (29-31) at Detroit Tigers (28-28)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-3, 4.47 ERA) vs. RHP Jesse Chavez (4-6, 4.68 ERA)

Game 57 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Chavez 65.1 18.5 7.0 5.27 -0.2
Norris 54.1 19.2 9.6 3.97 0.8

For as bad as Jesse Chavez’s peripheral numbers look, his overall stat line isn’t all that far off of what he has produced in years past. The 33-year-old righthander has a 4.68 ERA, just a quarter-run higher than what he managed in 67 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He has an 8.3 percent swinging strike rate, shades off of what he produced during his heyday with the Oakland Athletics in 2014 and 2015. Opponents are hitting .256 against him, a batting average lower than each of the past two seasons.

So, why the negative WAR value? His strikeout rate has dropped precipitously, from 22.3 percent in 2016 to just 18.5 percent this season. Opponents are also hitting more home runs off him; his home run rate has nearly doubled since 2015. There doesn’t seem to be any major reason why, though. His pitch placement hasn’t changed much — other than a slight rise in overall fastball location — and his velocity hasn’t dropped sharply either.

Here’s one guess, though. For the past couple years, Chavez has been throwing more four-seam fastballs than ever before. The fastball, located a little bit higher in the zone, results in a higher fly ball rate than any of his other pitches. It has never been a particularly effective pitch — opponents hit .328 and slugged .525 against it last year — and it has been tattooed more than ever in 2017.

While he still has an army of off-speed pitches in tow, Chavez will need to establish his fastball if he is going to be effective against the Tigers in this game. Given his inability to do so already this year (opponents are slugging over .600 off the heater), I don’t like his changes.

Key matchup: Daniel Norris vs. free baserunners

Even with Mike Trout, the Angels had a mediocre offense. Without him, they look to be positively anemic. They already rank second-to-last in the American League in slugging average and isolated power (ISO), and their .239 batting average isn’t much better. They have been roughly league average at drawing walks, however, and will put Norris’ command to the test in this game. While I wouldn’t suggest pumping fastballs down the middle to Albert Pujols and others, attacking the strike zone will be important for Norris. If he can limit walks and force the Angels to string together hits, they will probably struggle to score.

Outlook

The numbers are a bit skewed by the last series, but the Tigers are now 15-10 with a +30 run differential at Comerica Park this season. Their pitching has been much better at home — which seems weird to say when they are still allowing 4.6 runs per game — and they have a fully rested bullpen to support any struggling starters. Given Chavez’s recent road struggles and the Trout-sized hole in the Angels’ lineup, this should be an easy win for Detroit. It doesn’t always happen like that in baseball, but the team seems like they are in a good place right now.

Prediction

Norris has his longest start of the season in a Tigers win.