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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Francisco Liriano aims for 4th win of season

Both Liriano and Ian Kennedy are having resurgent seasons in their 30s.

Detriot Tigers v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Baseball is weird sometimes. Take Royals starter Ian Kennedy, for example. The 33-year-old righthander has allowed a .268 batting average so far this year, his highest since an abbreviated 2008 season with the New York Yankees. Kennedy has only thrown 31 frames this year, so small sample caveats apply, but he has overcome this high batting average to limit opponents to a 3.48 ERA, his lowest since a 2011 season in which he posted 4.8 fWAR with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Weird, right? Maybe not to you, the seasoned baseball watcher accustomed to this madness. And if you have been keeping tabs on Kennedy for any length of time, you definitely wouldn’t think anything of this statistical oddity. The Royals’ $16 million man has had a very up-and-down career, one that warranted this provocative headline when he signed a $70 million deal with the Royals in January 2016.

The simple answer for Kennedy’s early season success boils down to home run prevention. He has been notoriously homer-prone throughout his career, but is limiting opponents to just 1.16 homers per nine innings in his six starts this year. Weather has certainly played a role — the Royals saw almost as many cold, rainy games as the Tigers in April — but so does his performance. Opponents have averaged a launch angle of just 16.5 degrees this year, a fair margin lower than the past couple seasons.

Of course, those players are also hitting the ball harder (per Statcast), so we’ll see how long this lasts. Hopefully the regression starts in this game.

Detroit Tigers (13-17) at Kansas City Royals (9-22)

Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Francisco Liriano (3-1, 3.38 ERA) vs. RHP Ian Kennedy (1-3, 3.48 ERA)

Game 31 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Liriano 29.1 18.0 12.0 4.52 0.3
Kennedy 31.0 20.4 7.3 4.03 0.5

Key matchup: Francisco Liriano vs. the quick hook

I don’t know that there’s anything more to say about Liriano and his early season success. He isn’t striking out many hitters, is walking more than you’d like, and is still arguably the Tigers’ best starter thanks to a .215 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His expected wOBA is over 100 points higher than his actual wOBA. Regression is coming.

One reason why it may not be here yet is because of manager Ron Gardenhire. The Tigers’ skipper has been proactive in getting Liriano out of the game this year. He hasn’t topped 94 pitches in any start, and has departed three of his five outings in the middle of an inning. The actual situations haven’t panned out — Tigers relievers have allowed all but one of his inherited runners to score — but Gardenhire’s feel for when to pull Liriano (and his other starters) could be one reason why the Tigers’ staff has overperformed so far this year.


The Tigers drop another low-scoring game.

Gameday reading