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Tigers vs. Blue Jays Preview: Can Buck Farmer keep pace with Marcus Stroman?

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Farmer and the Tigers kick off a three-game series at Toronto on Friday.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Remember when Buck Farmer went gangbusters in his first two starts? Yes, that happened this season (it seems so long ago!). Farmer struck out 16 batters in 13 innings, and only issued three walks. He generated 29 whiffs in those two outings, including 22 (!) in a dominant performance against the Chicago White Sox.

Then, the wheels fell off. Farmer was lit up in consecutive starts by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays. He failed to make it out of the third inning in both games, and allowed a combined 13 runs on 14 hits. He was optioned back to the minor leagues afterward, and made 11 solid-if-unspectacular starts to close out his season in Triple-A. Since returning to Detroit in late August, Farmer has made two more starts. He beat the White Sox again on August 26, and couldn’t get through the fourth inning against Cleveland on September 2.

So far, the pattern is clear. Farmer has done very well against bad offenses, but struggled against good ones. The Indians are baseball’s second-best offense in terms of wRC+, and the Diamondbacks have some dangerous hitters at their disposal. The Rays were much better in the first half — they managed a 106 wRC+ as a team — than their overall numbers (98 wRC+) suggest. Meanwhile, the White Sox (92 wRC+) and Angels (93 wRC+, 87 wRC+ in the first half) have been well below average.

Facing the Blue Jays would seem like a bad matchup for Buck, right? Not necessarily. Toronto has been one of the more impotent teams in baseball this year, with a paltry 90 wRC+ as a team. They are scoring 4.25 runs per game, the sixth-lowest rate in baseball.

Can Buck take advantage of the struggling Jays?

Detroit Tigers (59-80) at Toronto Blue Jays (64-76)

Time/Place: 7:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation site: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Buck Farmer (3-2, 7.18 ERA) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (11-6, 3.08 ERA)

Game 140 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Farmer 26.1 24.4 7.0 5.22 0.1
Stroman 172.1 19.9 7.1 3.84 3.1

Earlier this week, Marcus Stroman’s status for this start was up in the air. He was struck on the right elbow by a Mark Trumbo line drive in his last outing. It was his shortest start of the season, naturally, and the only one to last fewer than three innings. In fact, Stroman has been rather efficient this year. He is eighth in the American League in innings pitched, and has pitched into the seventh inning in 14 of his 28 starts.

That efficiency, paired with an ERA over a full run lower than 2016, will result in a lot of “Marcus Stroman is back!!!!1!” fanfare. However, Stroman’s peripherals are nearly identical to what he posted last year when he ran a 4.37 ERA in 204 innings. His strikeout rate is nearly the same, while his walk rate is actually a little higher. While he is generating a little more soft contact this season, it’s not enough to excuse such a massive difference in the number of runs he has allowed. Even his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is within five points of what he managed last year.

Normally, I’d look at Stroman’s 3.84 FIP and suggest that he’s due for a little bit of regression. However, he is generating ground balls at a 60 percent clip, a solid recipe for generating easy outs. We have seen Michael Fulmer out-perform his FIP in a similar way — Stroman also has an excellent changeup at his disposal — and the Jays’ young righthander has also done a good job at limiting the home run ball.

Key matchup: Nicholas Castellanos vs. fly balls

Castellanos is starting in right field and batting third on Friday.

Outlook

If the Jays offense is really as bad as the numbers suggest, Farmer should be able to keep them in check. The aforementioned theory that he rolls against bad offenses is based on a very small sample of starts, of course, but it passes the sniff test. However, given his home run troubles in his last few starts, I’m not sure Rogers Centre is the right environment for him. It might take a little while, but the Jays could break this one open in the middle innings.

Prediction

Stroman and the Jays win easily.