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Tigers vs. Astros Preview: What the heck is a Framber Valdez?

The Tigers get their first look at the unheralded rookie on Tuesday.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Houston Astros built their success on a historically great offense. Their 122 wRC+ as a team was one of the highest in MLB history, putting them on par with legendary lineups like the 1927 New York Yankees. They had eight regular-ish players with a wRC+ of 118 or better (the Tigers, meanwhile, didn’t return anyone with a wRC+ higher than 112 in 30 games or more).

While the ‘Stros are still a great offensive team, that level of performance wasn’t going to happen. So, in their quest to repeat, the Astros loaded up their starting rotation. They added Justin Verlander last August, just in time for a run to the World Series. Then they picked up Gerrit Cole on the cheap, turned him into the hellbeast everyone expected him to be on draft day 2011. Now, their success is built on the best rotation in baseball, one that leads the majors with a 3.18 ERA in 868 innings (second in MLB).

Weird things happen over a 162-game schedule, though, which is why they will turn to a person named Framber Valdez as their starter on Tuesday.

For as ridiculous as that name sounds, Valdez is a real baseball player, one who has managed a 1.37 ERA in 19 23 major league innings this year. His success has been a bit of a mirage so far, though — more on that in a bit — so that might open the door for the Tigers to pick up a win over playoff-bound Houston. Can the Tigers even the series on Tuesday?

Houston Astros (90-54) at Detroit Tigers (59-85)

Time/Place: 6:40 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: The Crawfish Boxes
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Framber Valdez (3-1, 1.37 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-6, 4.03 ERA)

Game 145 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Valdez 19.2 18.8 12.5 4.28 0.2
Zimmermann 111.2 20.7 4.1 4.40 1.3

As mentioned, Valdez’s early success probably won’t continue. The 24-year-old rookie has 15 strikeouts to 10 walks in 19 23 big league innings, and has benefited from an unsustainable 70.6 percent ground ball rate. He produced excellent strikeout and ground ball rates in Double-A, but early looks at advanced metrics like xFIP (4.29) and SIERA (4.27) suggest he will regress a fair amount. Steamer projects him for a 3.87 ERA for the rest of the season, but it’s hard to see him sticking in the rotation long term.

The reason for that pessimistic outlook? Perez’s raw stuff isn’t so great. His fastball averaged 92.5 miles per hour in his last start, and projects as an above-average offering, but the real gem here is his curveball. FanGraphs graded it as a plus pitch prior to this season, and he has thrown it over 30 percent of the time in major league action this year. FanGraphs noted that the bender “plays up against lefties,” but Valdez’s challenge will be to make that limited profile work against right-handed hitters. They are only batting .163/.281/.224 against him so far, but have a .175 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That walk rate against righties isn’t pretty either.

Key matchup: Tigers fans vs. whoever is cutting onions in here

Prediction

The Tigers make an early lead stand up in a close win.

Gameday reading