A lot has been made of Francisco Liriano’s early hot start, but righthander Mike Fiers has quietly been nearly as good as the veteran southpaw. Fiers is coming off a dominant — yes, dominant! — start against the Cleveland Indians on Monday in which he limited the Tribe to three hits in six innings while striking out five. This outing came just six days after another solid start against the Rangers, when Fiers gave up two runs in 5 1⁄3 frames.
All told, Fiers’ 4.23 ERA is pretty good, and certainly better than expected. It gets even better if you ignore his worst outing — his ERA would be down to 3.41 without that start — and the underlying numbers are better than you might think. Fiers’ strikeout rate is the lowest of his career so far, but he has one of his better strikeout-to-walk ratio’s thanks to a career-best 3.8 percent walk rate.
Fiers has also done well controlling what happens when the ball gets put in play. He has limited opponents to a 15.1 percent line drive rate, part of the reason why he has a .269 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His 45.2 percent fly ball rate is one of the higher rates in baseball this year, and fewer of those fly balls are leaving the park than in the past couple years.
But there’s a fine line between success and failures with this type of profile, and even one bad outing could change how many view what Fiers has done this year. Can he continue to keep runs off the board against the Mariners on Saturday?
Detroit Tigers (20-24) at Seattle Mariners (25-19)
Time/Place: 9:10 p.m., Safeco Field
SB Nation site: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Fiers (4-2, 4.23 ERA) vs. LHP James Paxton (2-1, 3.52 ERA)
Game 46 Pitching Matchup
James Paxton ran into more resistance than many expected in his last start, a 5-4 loss against these same Tigers. Detroit notched three runs on six hits in six innings against the Mariners ace, which actually rates as one of his worst starts of the year. They didn’t draw a walk, but made a nice mid-game adjustment to score a few runs off of the big lefthander after he retired the first six batters he faced.
If there’s an adjustment to be found on Saturday, look for Paxton to use his cutter more. He has thrown the pitch nearly 18 percent of the time this year, but only used it 11 times in 104 pitches last Sunday. Paxton has been particularly aggressive with the cutter when ahead in the count, and has even thrown it over 35 percent of the time in those situations against right-handed hitters.
Jose Iglesias, so hot right now
Jose Iglesias’ season-long numbers don’t look great. He is batting .253 with an on-base percentage just over .300. His .669 OPS is the eighth-lowest among qualified MLB shortstops this year. But after a frigid start, Iglesias has been red-hot lately. Over the past month, he is hitting .311/.345/.447 with nine extra-base hits in 112 plate appearances. He has 14 RBI and 12 runs scored, fair numbers for where he sits in the Tigers’ lineup. He is up to 1.1 fWAR on the year now, just a hair behind Jeimer Candelario and Leonys Martin for the team lead.
This hot streak could mean great things for both Iglesias and the Tigers. With a couple of teams hurting for shortstops right now — St. Louis’ Paul DeJong just broke his hand and will be out for a while — Iglesias could play his way into a deadline trade to a contender. Even if he sticks around Detroit all year, a strong season could earn him a guaranteed contract for next season, something that looked in doubt just a month ago.
Key matchup: Fiers vs. a bunch of dudes who hit for power
As we’ve mentioned in just about every article penned about Mike Fiers on this site, he needs to limit home runs to be successful. While this might seem an easy task at the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, he could run into trouble against Seattle’s lineup of thumpers. Five of their everyday players already have six home runs or more, and Fiers has struggled against the M’s in the past. The Mariners also have the ninth-best best isolated power (ISO) in baseball against right-handed pitching this year, a figure that doesn’t control for park factors (i.e. Safeco’s spacious dimensions).
Paxton gets back on track and the Mariners win their second in a row.
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