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Tigers vs. Rangers Preview: Is Mike Fiers a trade chip now?

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Fiers has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year on this Tigers team.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

As we get closer to the All-Star break, we also draw closer to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Trade Rumor Silly Season, as it should be called, is starting to take shape. Teams are starting to assess whether they are buyers or sellers, and will kick negotiations into high gear soon.

While there seem to be more sellers than usual, a tightly contested National League Wild Card race should still drum up some interested buyers. The Colorado Rockies appear to be one, while the St. Louis Cardinals don’t want to sell. With seven teams fighting for two Wild Card spots — not to mention three close division races — the Senior Circuit might help deliver a deadline to remember.

That brings us to Mike Fiers. The 33-year-old righthander has surprised all season long, but he has kicked it into high gear lately. In his last seven starts, Fiers has a 2.68 ERA and a 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Take it back four more games and that ERA jumps a bit, but only to 3.29. He has given up some runs from time to time, but has generally kept his team in the game. The Tigers are 8-3 in those last 11 starts, and 10-6 when Fiers takes the mound this season.

While Fiers has another year of club control left, the Tigers should be looking to move him this summer. He is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career (yes, actually) and is doing so with a revamped approach that appears somewhat sustainable. His 5.1 percent walk rate is still far below anything he has ever done in the past, but there is no indication that his command will regress. For a team looking for rotation depth, you could do a lot worse than a veteran who is pitching well, is on a cheap deal, and just won a World Series ring of his own (even if he didn’t actually do anything in the playoffs).

Now watch him give up seven runs after I jinxed him.

Texas Rangers (39-50) at Detroit Tigers (39-51)

Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Cole Hamels (4-7, 4.05 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (5-5, 3.79 ERA)

Game 91 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Hamels 102.1 23.6 8.4 4.99 0.4
Fiers 92.2 17.4 5.1 4.69 0.8

Cole Hamels wasn’t supposed to age like this. The lanky lefthander never overpowered hitters with his raw stuff, though he could reach back for the mid-90s when he wanted it. Even during his peak years, Hamels’ game was based on hitting his spots, limiting walks, and fooling hitters with that amazing changeup. A fastball, cutter, and curveball came along for the ride — and were above-average pitches in their own right — but Hamels was at his best when he could spot his pitches throughout the strike zone. Age-related declines in velocity were never a concern.

Unfortunately for Hamels, his age-related decline came in the form of iffy command. Typically one to walk around two batters per nine innings during his prime, Hamels has seen his walk rate climb to new heights over the past three seasons. With that spotty command has come a lot more hard contact, and thus a lot more home runs. Hamels is giving up 1.76 homers per nine innings this year, by far the highest clip of his career. Opponents are making hard contact an incredible 44.1 percent of the time, the fourth-highest in baseball among qualified starters.

Key matchup: Hamels’ fastball vs. a lefty-mashing Tigers offense

Opponents have hit most of Hamels’ pitches for power this season. His changeup and curveball have both resulted in ISOs of .250 or higher, while the cutter has arguably been his best weapon. But the fastball? That has been Hamels’ biggest issue. Opponents are hitting .342 against his two-seamer this year, and slugging .500 despite its 60 percent ground ball rate. The four-seamer is even worse, with a .323 average and NSFW .769 slugging average.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are one of baseball’s best offenses against left-handed pitching. Their 109 wRC+ against southpaws still sits fifth among MLB teams. They have five everyday players at 126 or better this season, and that does not include James McCann, who has buoyed his overall numbers by torching lefties throughout his career. If Friday’s home run starts to get him back on track, he could have a good day in this one.

Prediction

Fiers and the Tigers make it two in a row.

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