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Assessing the Tigers’ 2018 road woes

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Excluding their wins at Comerica Park and Guaranteed Rate Field, the Tigers are 7-25 this year. Why is that?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their recent nine-game skid, the Detroit Tigers have still been one of baseball’s biggest surprises in 2018. And while the team has a plethora of issues as they sit 10 games under .500, one problem stands out above all others: the team’s road record.

The team is a respectable 23-21 at home, which was looking even better before the Oakland Athletics decided to wreak havoc on the former sanctuary of the Rally Goose. The Tigers’ road record, however, is 13-25. This number trails only the lowly Chicago White Sox who have a 12-25 road record. But wait! Speaking of the White Sox, the Tigers are an incredible 6-0 at Guaranteed Rate Field this year. So, in games away from Comerica Park and Guaranteed Rate Field in 2018, the Tigers are an absolutely miserable 7-25. That’s a .280 winning percentage.

Why are the Tigers about as good as their 2016 squad at home, but nearly as bad as their 2003 squad on the road? Let’s find out.

Extra-base power outage

Comerica Park is built like a pitcher-friendly park, but it actually favors hitters. The Tigers have combined for 145 extra-base hits at home in 2018: 95 doubles, 16 triples, and 36 home runs. While the home run mark is laughably low — former Tiger J.D. Martinez has hit 25 of his own in only 77 games for the Boston Red Sox — the other numbers are very solid. Altogether, the Tigers have hit .258/.317/.414 at home so far this year.

On the road, the team has lacked their knack for extra-base hits. They have only amassed 71 doubles, six triples, and 28 home runs away from Comerica in 2018. Sure, they have had 1,619 plate appearances at home and only 1,444 on the road this year, but their road line of .235/.297/.362 says it all: they are just not hitting away from home. A .297 on-base percentage as a team is not going to win games (just imagine if these numbers did not include the six games at Guaranteed Rate Field).

Same pitching, different results

The 2018 home and road comparisons are very cut-and-dry with the Tigers’ hitting, but pitching is a different story. Let’s start with the basics. The Tigers have posted a 4.12 ERA at home this year. They are striking out 19.4 percent and walking 8.3 percent of the batters they face, and they are allowing 1.24 home runs per nine innings. On the road, the team has a 4.90 ERA. However, they are striking out 19.8 percent and walking 9.0 percent of the batters they face, and are allowing 1.29 home runs per nine innings. Looking at the surface-level numbers, this is black-and-white: the team allows many more runs on the road and that is where the problem is coming from.

While the ERA difference is clear, the underlying numbers paint a grey image. As mentioned, the team has nearly identical strikeout and walk rates at home and on the road, and they are allowing home runs at about the same rate. So, it makes sense that the Tigers have a similar FIP regardless of where they’re playing; they have a home FIP of 4.45 and a road FIP of 4.57 in 2018. Their xFIP at home and on the road? Identical, at 4.60.

The good news? The Tigers should not pitch as bad on the road as their ERA suggests moving forward. The bad news? Their home numbers are unsustainably low. When it comes to pitching, the team is quite fortunate at home and fairly unfortunate on the road.

Conclusion: this team is who we thought they were

The Tigers have been a terrible road team through the first three months of the season. Thankfully, that should balance out a little bit moving forward. Unfortunately for the team, they will likely finish under .500 at home without a breakout performance or two, and that’s assuming breakout bats like Leonys Martin, Jeimer Candelario, John Hicks, and Niko Goodrum can all maintain production moving forward.

All in all, the nine-game losing streak may have tampered expectations, but it was probably for the best. Enjoy the surprise wins and breakout performances, and tune out the tough losses (and especially the blowout losses) as the team continues to establish its identity moving forward. After all, the numbers will never be able to calculate the joy that a single goose can bring to Detroit sports fans.