We had an interesting debate in our site Slack channel the other day. With Josh Turley emerging in the minor leagues and Drew VerHagen suddenly becoming Max Scherzer in a few Triple-A starts, should the Tigers juggle their rotation? Specifically, what kind of value does Mike Fiers have in Detroit right now? Is he good enough to net the Tigers a prospect in July? Or is he just taking up innings that could be used on a younger arm who might be around when the Tigers are ready to contend again?
There are arguments to be made on both sides. Fiers has been a league average pitcher in terms of keeping runs off the board this year. He has a 4.57 ERA through eight starts, good enough for a 98 ERA+. He has a 1.22 WHIP in part thanks to a career-best walk rate, and is averaging over 5 1⁄3 innings per start — not bad for your fifth starter.
On the other hand, Fiers’ peripheral numbers suggest this might not continue. His 5.44 FIP is nearly a full run higher than his ERA, and his strikeout rate is down to a paltry 15.3 percent. One could argue that he has been a bit unlucky in terms of home runs, but Fiers’ fly-ball-heavy profile has always put him at risk for allowing too many dingers. His fastball velocity is down, now averaging just 88.5 miles per hour. He has a .265 BABIP that might regress as well, and is a replacement level pitcher, according to FanGraphs.
Personally, I think Fiers has been fine so far — better than expected, even. He has been the type of innings eater that the Tigers were hoping for, both in this season and when they so desperately needed one a couple years ago. Even Fiers’ advanced numbers (like a 4.52 SIEAR) suggest he isn’t in over his head this year.
Chicago White Sox (15-32) at Detroit Tigers (21-28)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Reynaldo Lopez (1-3, 2.98 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (4-3, 4.57 ERA)
Game 50 Pitching Matchup
If there’s a pitcher in this matchup that should be worried about regression, it’s Reynaldo Lopez. The 24-year-old has gotten off to a bright start this season with a 2.98 ERA through nine starts, but has a paltry 1.70 strikeout-to-walk ratio (Fiers’ is 4.00) resulting in a 4.70 FIP. He has benefitted from a .213 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) while stranding 78 percent of baserunners, a fair bit above the league average of 73 percent. Opponents are only swinging and missing on 9.2 percent of his pitches, so there doesn’t appear to be much upward mobility with the strikeout rate yet.
Statcast numbers don’t offer much explanation for why Lopez is outperforming his peripherals either. Opponents are making hard contact 32 percent of the time against him, with an expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) nearly 70 points higher than his actual wOBA allowed. These metrics aren’t perfect, but still paint the picture of a pitcher who probably won’t finish the season as well as he started it.
Then again, Lopez has the raw stuff to create some uncomfortable at-bats. He held the Tigers to just one unearned run in seven innings when they met back in April, but walked five batters in that game. He tossed eight shutout innings against the Texas Rangers in his last start, striking out eight. His fastball is still humming along in the mid-90s, and he has been using his mid-80s slider a lot more often. If there’s a swing-and-miss pitch in his arsenal, it will one day be that slider.
Key matchup: The White Sox vs. scoring runs
No American League team has scored fewer runs than the White Sox this season. This is a surprising stat considering what we thought about them before the year started. With plenty of offensive talent in their pipeline and a surprising finish to 2017, offense wasn’t supposed to be their problem. However, despite some injuries and struggles to adjust to major league pitching, they have not been as bad as the raw run totals suggest. Chicago has a 97 wRC+ as a team, better than the Tigers and right in the middle of the pack among all MLB teams. They have a number of players on the disabled list right now, and were previously missing second baseman Yoan Moncada, who has an .810 OPS this season. They still have Jose Abreu, a long-time Tigers tormenter who is hitting .302/.366/.522.
Fiers and the Tigers take game one of the series.
- Recap: Tigers avoid the sweep in Minnesota
- Roundtable: Which Tigers prospect has caught your eye in 2018?
- FanPost: Which Tigers could be moved at the trade deadline?
- Jose Iglesias is turning his season around
- Podcast: Max Bultman of The Athletic stops by
- Jeimer Candleario, Chad Huffman lead Mud Hens to win
- 2018 BYB meet-up set for September 8: get tickets here!