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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Detroit still searching for answers at the plate

The Tigers have been baseball’s worst offense lately, and there aren’t any signs of improvement.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

Quick, name the worst offense in baseball. While your first thought might go to a bumbling National League club like the San Diego Padres or Miami Marlins, a couple of AL teams have been a bit worse. The Baltimore Orioles have the worst wRC+ in baseball, while the Kansas City Royals have scored the fewest runs. The Padres aren’t great shakes by any means, though, and the New York Mets are also bringing up the rear in a couple of categories.

But if you’re reading this site and thought of the Tigers as baseball’s worst offense... well, I wouldn’t blame you. The Tigers have been a hair better than some of the aforementioned clubs over the course of the entire year, but have been downright horrible lately. Using FanGraphs’ “last 30 days” splits, the Tigers have a 66 wRC+; this means they have been 34 percent worse than the average team (adjusted for hitting environment, yadda yadda). The next closest team is the Padres, with a 78 wRC+.

While this is just a 30-day sample, I would imagine the splits are similar for Detroit ever since Miguel Cabrera went down for the season in early June. The Tigers offense has sputtered to a halt since then, especially on the road. They are 17-34 on the road overall this season, and 10-22 since Cabrera’s surgery. They have scored just 101 runs in those 32 games, an average of 3.15 per game.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, it doesn’t appear to be getting any better. Nicholas Castellanos is the team’s lone above-average hitter over the past month. He’s chugging along at a cool 160 wRC+ (and 133 for the full season) while the next-best hitter over the past month has been John Hicks, with a 95 wRC+. He and Niko Goodrum are the only two others above 75. Even Jeimer Candelario is mired in mediocrity for now, with a 54 wRC+ over the past 30 days.

So, while they have hit Danny Duffy well at times in the past, excuse me if I’m not so optimistic about this one.

Detroit Tigers (43-60) at Kansas City Royals (31-69)

Time/Place: 2:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (4-9, 4.62 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (6-8, 4.40 ERA)

Game 104 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 103.1 21.4 8.8 4.17 1.5
Duffy 120.2 20.2 10.6 4.90 0.4

Danny Duffy’s overall numbers don’t look great, but he’s another example of a theory I’ve held since Rick Porcello’s years in a Tigers uniform. As we know, all ERAs are not created equal. I’m not sure how exactly to measure this, but I would wager that a higher ERA inflated by a few bad outings is better than one gained by being mediocre on a consistent basis. We saw this with Porcello at times, who would have a number of strong starts before one or two disasters would cancel out all that hard work. Remember when his infamous two-out start in Anaheim became a long-standing meme in our comments? Same idea.

Danny Duffy is a lesser version of that this season. His 4.40 ERA and advanced numbers hint at steady regression — especially if you compare his last three seasons — but he has varied wildly from start to start. Case in point: Duffy has limited opponents to one earned run or fewer in 11 starts, and has allowed five runs or more in seven more. That only leaves three starts in which Duffy has given up between two and four runs, a range most pitchers hit on a more consistent basis.

It’s not all just bad outings, though. Duffy’s walk rate has regressed from respectable (6.2 percent in 2016 and 2017) to downright bad this season. He has walked at least one batter in each of his 21 starts this year, and has issued three or more free passes in 12 outings. The strikeouts haven’t really been there either, but Duffy had quietly regressed on this front last season as well. His 10.0 percent swinging strike rate is down from 2017’s 11.4 percent, but still good enough to get by.

Key matchup: Matthew Boyd vs. whatever he did in his last start

It took Boyd 98 pitches to get through five innings in his start five days ago, but that’s the only bad thing I can say about his effort. Boyd limited the high-powered Boston Red Sox to one run on three hits in five innings while striking out six. He settled down after a rocky first inning to keep the Sox in check, and would have come away a winner had the Tigers offense been able to put together something against David Price and the Boston bullpen.

Boyd didn’t do anything too differently at first glance, but his approach has changed since Rick Anderson took over as the club’s pitching coach. Boyd is throwing his fastball more often, and throwing it a bit harder than before; he averaged 91.3 miles per hour with the heater in his last start, the fourth time in five outings he has pushed north of 91 mph. Velocity tends to improve as the season goes on, so this might just be a natural progression, but the uptick in fastball usage (mostly at the expense of his slider) is very clear.

Prediction

Duffy cruises and the Royals take the series.

Gameday reading