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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Oh great, here comes Carlos Carrasco

A struggling Tigers offense gets to face yet another high-caliber arm from Cleveland’s rotation.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s lead off with a fun fact; through his first two starts in 2018, Jordan Zimmermann is one of the 10 most valuable pitchers in baseball, according to FanGraphs. He is tied with Diamondbacks hurlers Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley, and not far behind aces like Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Corey Kluber. Zimmermann’s 1.45 FIP is fourth-best among qualified pitchers, trailing only Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, and Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy.

Tthere’s a big difference between fielding-independent results and actual results, though. While Zimmermann has put up solid strikeout-to-walk rates and hasn’t allowed a home run in 10 13 innings, he has still allowed 10 runs on 15 hits. Even if we play the “what if?” game on a couple of the runs he allowed on Opening Day, his ERA still wouldn’t be far off what he produced last season. While Zimmermann has looked better at times this year, he has not been better. That the Tigers are a blown call away from being 2-0 with him on the mound is more a matter of luck than dominant performance.

That said, Zimmermann has looked better in 2018. His 10.3 percent swinging strike rate is his best since 2014, Zimmermann’s best season no matter which type of WAR you prefer. That swinging strike rate looks even better given early results — namely, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the lowest strikeout rate in baseball right now — and he is getting more bite on his slider and curveball. Even when he does start allowing home runs, his 3.80 xFIP suggests he has been pitching pretty well.

The reality of the situation is probably between the two. Zimmermann certainly isn’t a top-10 pitcher, but probably won’t be as bad as he was last season. I’m not sure I even trust him to return to the No. 2 starter form he showed in his years in Washington. For now, a mid-fours ERA seems about right — but he needs to show he can actually prevent runs first.

Detroit Tigers (4-6) at Cleveland Indians (6-5)

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: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 8.71 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 5.40 ERA)

Game 11 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 10.1 23.9 4.4 1.45 0.6
Carrasco 11.2 17.4 2.2 4.11 0.1

Oh, lovely. After the Tigers spoiled chance after chance in a loss against soft-tossing righthander Josh Tomlin on Tuesday, they now get to contend with a pitcher who would be a clear No. 1 on most teams: righty Carlos Carrasco. The 31-year-old Venezuelan is coming off the best season of his career, a 200-inning effort that saw him strike out 226 hitters to just 46 walks. He quietly finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting, the best 1-2 finish for AL teammates since Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez finished first and fourth, respectively, in 2013. Carrasco was worth a career-best 5.5 rWAR, putting him ninth among qualified starters.

Carrasco’s 2018 ERA isn’t very pretty so far, but it is all thanks to a rough start to open the season in Seattle. He gave up five runs on seven hits in 5 23 innings in that outing, including a pair of home runs. He was much better in his last start, holding the Royals to a pair of runs on five hits in six innings. He has been using his four-seam fastball more often so far this year, but almost exclusively at the expense of his two-seamer. He is still throwing that wicked slider about 20 percent of the time, along with a heavy dose of changeups and curveballs to left-handed hitters.

Key matchup: Carlos Carrasco vs. hey where did all the strikeouts go

We’re only two starts into the season, but Carrasco has recorded a paltry eight strikeouts through 11 23 innings. This is probably nothing, but between that low rate, a slight dip in swinging strike rate, Carrasco’s age (he’s 31) and an elevated home run rate, it might be something. Carrasco’s velocity has also dipped early on this season, but I’m writing that off as a consequence of the frigid weather around the Midwest until further notice (even his start in Seattle was in the 40s). If Carrasco takes a step back this year, it will be a big hit to an Indians rotation without a ton of quality depth. Righthander Danny Salazar is already out for another month, while Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer can be rather inconsistent at times. Cleveland’s offense has also been a sore spot so far, putting even more stress on the rotation as they jostle for playoff position throughout the year.


The Tigers get shut out again.

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