If there’s one team in baseball that deserves to complain about the chilly conditions around baseball this season, it’s the Detroit Tigers. While their performance hasn’t been affected by the weather — if anything, this start is better than we expected — their schedule has been anything but helpful. Through their early season tour of the AL Central, the Tigers’ warmest game of the season was just 43 degrees. They have already endured a couple of rainouts, and probably could have had another game or two postponed due to the frigid conditions.
The Indians don’t have as much room to gripe. They played in cold conditions at home against the Kansas City Royals last year, but also played a three-game set in sunny Los Angeles, where the temperatures were comfortably in the 60s. Still, we know what kind of havoc a west coast swing can bring, and the Tribe were able to steal a game in both Seattle and L.A.
Long story short, we haven’t seen the best of the Tribe yet. One could argue Detroit’s bats have yet to heat up, given the frosty environments they have played in. They have put up a few crooked numbers in the early going, but are tied for 18th in baseball with 38 runs scored. They have been shut out three times already, and narrowly avoided a fourth with a 1-0 win on Sunday. They are dead last in the majors with two home runs, and their 77 wRC+ is fifth-worst among MLB teams (Cleveland is last, at 51). While the lack of talent on the roster is a big reason why, it’s not easy to hit when temps are barely above freezing.
Of course, it might take a while for things to improve. The warmest city the Tigers visit in April is Baltimore, Md., and they don’t go any further south until an early May trip to Kansas City and Texas. Bundle up, Tigers fans!
Detroit Tigers (4-5) at Cleveland Indians (5-5)
Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV , Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (0-1, 1.50 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (0-1, 24.00 ERA)
Game 10 Pitching Matchup
No, that ERA is not a typo. Josh Tomlin was roughed up in his season debut, allowing eight runs in three innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He gave up four homers, including Shohei Ohtani’s first career dinger, and only struck out one hitter. Tomlin has always struggled with his home run rate, but somehow avoided the big homer binge in 2017. His fly ball rate was right around his career average, but Tomlin posted his home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate since 2012. His 2.4 percent walk rate was also a career low, while his 7.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio was a career high.
But Tomlin still allowed an ERA near 5. Advanced metrics thought he was nearly a full run better than that, but statistics like xFIP aren’t the best measure to use given Tomlin’s unique profile. Deserved Run Average, Baseball Prospectus’ attempt at an all-encompassing pitching metric, wasn’t so enthused with Tomlin’s performance; he posted a 5.17 DRA in 141 innings, and hasn’t been below 4.62 in any of the past three seasons.
As you might imagine, Tomlin doesn’t have overpowering stuff. His fastball averaged just 87.9 miles per hour last season, and topped out at 91.2 mph. He has been throwing his cutter more often over the past couple years, topping out at nearly 40 percent usage in 2016. He also used his mid-70s curveball more than ever last season, throwing it nearly 25 percent of the time. He also mixed in an occasional changeup against lefties, who have been slightly worse against Tomlin than righties in his career.
Key matchup: Indians hitters vs. pitching wizard Matt Boyd
The Indians had one of the best offenses in baseball last season. They ranked third among MLB teams with a 107 wRC+, and were sixth in baseball with 818 runs scored. By nearly any measure, they were pretty darn good.
Except when facing Matt Boyd. The Tigers’ lefty held them in check last season, allowing a 2.28 ERA in four starts. Indians hitters produced a .657 OPS against him, and only hit one home run in 98 plate appearances. This includes a pair of starts in Boyd’s strong September, when he produced a 2.95 ERA in his final six outings of 2017 (all against divisional opponents).
Boyd comes out on the wrong end of another pitcher’s duel.