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Tigers vs. Mariners Preview: Tyler Alexander is tempting the BABIP gods

Alexander has put up solid numbers in two starts, but opponents have made a lot of hard contact in the process.

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Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox - Game Two Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

On the surface, Tyler Alexander’s numbers after two starts are fairly impressive. The 2.25 ERA is great, while a 4.80 FIP indicates some regression will come. Neither measure is particularly stable after just 12 innings, but they offer a reasonable assessment of what Alexander has accomplished so far. His 11.4 percent strikeout rate is a bit concerning, but also a product of a small sample of innings — Alexander has faced just 44 major league hitters so far.

In short, it’s far too early to deliver a definitive assessment of Alexander’s performance, and how it affects his future. One might surmise he could be a decent back-end starter if everything clicks, but that was the scouting report on him going all the way back to the 2015 MLB draft, when the Tigers took him with their second round pick out of TCU.

But if Alexander were to continue as he has through his first two starts, he will eventually run into trouble. Not only is the strikeout rate a concern, but opponents have hit him rather hard through his first 12 innings of work. His average exit velocity of 92.5 miles per hour is the 11th-highest in baseball among pitchers with at least 30 batted balls put in play against them this year. The Toronto Blue Jays hit rockets all over Comerica Park last week, but largely came away empty against the 25-year-old southpaw.

Fortunately for Alexander, Safeco Field T-Mobile Park also offers spacious dimensions for his outfielders to roam. It hasn’t been quite as stingy to hitters in recent years, but it can still swallow up a would-be homer or two.

But hopefully Alexander adjusts and doesn’t need the extra leg room in this one.

Detroit Tigers (30-69) at Seattle Mariners (44-63)

Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., T-Mobile Park
SB Nation site: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tyler Alexander (0-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. LHP Marco Gonzales (11-8, 4.37 ERA)

Game 101 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 126.0 32.1 5.0 3.57 3.3
Milone 60.2 23.1 5.4 5.02 0.1

Marco Gonzales has had a weird season. He started out hot, winning his first five decisions while posting a 2.80 ERA in seven starts through March and April. May brought five consecutive losses, his offense giving him just 12 total runs in six starts a big reason why. He dropped a sixth straight to open June, then rattled off four wins in a row. Since then, he has alternated wins and losses in his last four starts. With 19 decisions in his 22 starts, he is the anti-Jose Quintana.

Oddly, there isn’t much to explain why Gonzales has been so inconsistent. Home runs haven’t been a problem for him the way they have with many other pitchers this year. His strikeout rate dwindles in losses, perhaps more so than the average player. He hasn’t dealt with any significant injuries, and his pitch usage has largely stayed consistent throughout the year. Even his splits, though present (more on those below) are a bit muted. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to Gonzales’ ups and downs, other than the normal inconsistencies of your average mid-rotation starter.

That 5.16 xFIP doesn’t look great, though.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. scoring runs

It’s a bit tedious to highlight the same matchup day in and day out, but the Tigers’ awful offense leaves us little choice. There was reason to believe Yusei Kikuchi would be able to hold them in check on Friday — we noted that he had been rather good against teams outside his division — but those same splits don’t exist for Gonzales. In fact, he has been a bit better against his AL West foes, but has struggled against the likes of the Twins, Cubs, and Brewers. A few rough outings have marred his numbers at home, and he has been a bit worse in the second half of the season thus far.

Those types of splits haven’t necessarily mattered against this Tigers lineup, though. Here’s hoping they show up in this one.


Alexander picks up his first career win.