Tyson Ross’ starts have been something of a thought experiment for me so far this season, but a couple of patterns are starting to emerge. The obvious narrative is that Ross’ numbers have been far better in a pair of starts at Comerica Park than they have been on the road. He has a 2.08 ERA at home, with 10 strikeouts to just one walk in 13 innings. Meanwhile, his road ERA jumps to 5.63, and he has nearly as many walks (11) as strikeouts (12).
This isn’t a huge surprise. Most pitchers fare better at home, even when pitching in a relatively hitter-friendly environment (so long as it’s not Coors Field). Ross has taken that a bit further than expected throughout his career, with a home ERA (3.41) over a full run lower than what he has managed on the road (4.46). The difference in his strikeout and walk rates over this larger sample is a bit muted, but still present.
One could also point to the opponents Ross has faced so far. He has dominated the White Sox and Royals in his home starts, while struggling against the Yankees, Twins, and Red Sox. Boston has the worst numbers of this group, but there is a clear difference between what New York and Minnesota have produced this season compared to the two AL Central foes (Chicago’s numbers also fall off considerably on the road).
Either way, the Royals come up on the short end of this basic math. Can Ross keep these trends going against Kansas City on Saturday?
Detroit Tigers (14-15) at Kansas City Royals (11-22)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN+, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Homer Bailey (2-3, 5.70 ERA) vs. RHP Tyson Ross (1-3, 4.03 ERA)
Game 30 Pitching Matchup
The Kansas City Royals aren’t exactly the team I would point toward when identifying who could rehabilitate a struggling veteran pitcher, but we’re a month into the 2019 season and Homer Bailey is striking out a batter per inning. Bailey was better than that for a while, in fact, with 27 punchouts in his first 23 frames — a low whiff performance against the Los Angeles Angels his last time out brought the average down.
There might be something to this early performance, though. Bailey is generating a 10 percent swinging strike rate so far, his highest since his his heyday with the Cincinnati Reds back in 2013 and 2014. Back then, Bailey used a four-pitch mix, with the slider, curveball, and splitter all used relatively evenly. This year, Bailey is throwing his splitter at a career-high 24 percent clip, and nearly twice as often as he did several years ago — when he mostly just used it against lefties. Bailey’s splitter has generated a 17.9 percent whiff rate throughout his career, highest among all of his pitches. If anything, the question is why Bailey didn’t make this change sooner.
That said, this hasn’t translated to a shiny ERA. Bailey has been tagged in a few different starts already, including his last two outings. Opponents are making hard contact against him 45.8 percent of the time, with a line drive rate similar to what he produced during his down years with the Reds. Measures like DRA and SIERA, which take contact quality into account, don’t like him as much as FIP — but still better than that 5.70 ERA.
Key matchup: Ross vs. his command
No matter the reason for Ross’ up-and-down performance this year, one thing is clear — command drives what he is doing. He has just one walk in 13 innings in his two starts the Tigers have won, and 11 walks in the other three outings. Five of those 11 walks have eventually come around to score, representing nearly 30 percent of the runs (both earned and unearned) Ross has allowed this season. Limiting walks is especially important against the Royals, who will run at any chance they get; keeping speedsters like Adalberto Mondesi and Billy Hamilton off the bases entirely is the best way to slow down their running game.
Ross spins another gem against the Royals and the Tigers make it two in a row.