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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Detroit aims for sweep in Mike Fiers’ Tigers debut

A win would move the Tigers to .500 after the first full week of the MLB season.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at New York Mets Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Well, here we are. The Mike Fiers era is upon us. A few years ago, I would have loved this pickup for the Tigers. Fiers was an unconventional success story at the time, playing country hardball with a 90 mile-per-hour fastball at the top of the strike zone. He generated tons of fly balls and struck out some hitters along the way, and had carved out a nice career for himself. From 2012 to 2015, Fiers managed a 3.63 ERA and 3.72 FIP, albeit in only 402 innings.

But the last two years have not agreed with him. I hesitate to blame his 4.84 ERA over the past two seasons on the launch angle revolution, since Fiers so frequently works at the top of the strike zone, but his strikeout and home run rates have both trended in the wrong direction. After fanning over a batter per inning in the aforementioned 2012 to 2015 window, Fiers struck out 280 hitters in 322 innings for the Houston Astros in 2016 and 2017. His strikeout rate rebounded somewhat last year — he got that four-seamer working again during the summer months — but he also gave up nearly two homers per nine innings, resulting in a 5.22 ERA.

Personally, I would like to see Fiers go to a three-pitch mix. He has toyed with a slider/cutter at times, but it has not gone well; opponents are hitting .322 and slugging .550 against the cutter in Fiers’ career. Meanwhile, his curveball and changeup have generated higher whiff rates. He was at his best last season while primarily using those pitches in conjunction with his four-seamer. Given how aggressive the White Sox have been in the early going — they rank among the top-third of MLB teams in swing rate and strikeout rate — Fiers may need to go off-speed even more than usual on Sunday.

Detroit Tigers (3-4) at Chicago White Sox (3-4)

Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV , Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Fiers (8-10, 5.22 ERA in 2017) vs. RHP Reynaldo Lopez (0-0, 1.50 ERA)

Game 8 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fiers (2017) 153.1 21.8 9.2 5.43 0.1
Lopez 6.0 28.6 9.5 4.15 0.1

Lopez was the “other” pitcher the White Sox received in the Adam Eaton trade, but he has almost been considered a ‘1b’ to Lucas Giolito’s 1a status at times. Lopez was a top-100 prospect for three years, topping out at No. 30 on Baseball Prospectus’ list in 2017. He posted better numbers than Giolito in the minor leagues at times, and enjoyed more early major league success with the Nationals before the two were traded to Chicago. Lopez struggled at times when up with the White Sox last year, but showed flashes of his immense raw talent.

In terms of stuff, Lopez keeps it simple. He has a huge fastball that he throws 60 percent of the time. It averaged a hair under 95 miles per hour last season, but has sat higher at times. He can also reach back for 100 mph heat when necessary. He supplements the heater with a power curveball, which FanGraphs rated as a plus pitch during Lopez’s prospect days. He only used the curve about 14 percent of the time last year, though, instead relying on a rapidly improving changeup. He used the change nearly 24 percent of the time last year, including over 20 percent of the time against right-handed hitters.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. a big, angry fastball

The Tigers’ offense has been a nice surprise in the early going. They have scored six runs in five of their seven games so far, and are tied for sixth in baseball (coincidentally, with the White Sox) with 5.29 runs scored per game. They have a healthy 10.4 percent walk rate as a team, and have a solid 99 wRC+ despite ranking dead last with just two home runs.

But they have struggled against fastballs early on. According to FanGraphs’ pitch values, Tigers hitters have been about two runs below average against heaters this season. This puts them just outside the bottom third of MLB teams. This doesn’t bode well for them against Lopez, a young pitcher with a high octane fastball he uses heavily. Lopez’s heater averaged 94.7 miles per hour last season, and was up to 97 mph (!) in his first start of 2018. He has touched triple digits at times, and does a decent job of locating it within the zone. Given how much he uses it, the Tigers will have to work out their early issues against fastballs in order to score.


The Tigers finish off the sweep and end the day tied for first place.

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