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Tigers vs. Rays Preview: Charlie Morton and these Tigers are not a good matchup

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Morton has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. The Tigers... aren’t on that level.

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Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Who has been the best pitcher in the American League this year? While there are a couple of familiar names atop the WAR leaderboards at this point, most of the players you might think of as Cy Young contenders have been anything but. For instance, the AL’s most valuable pitcher this season has been... Lance Lynn? Yeah, it’s a weird year.

While Charlie Morton’s presence on that list isn’t quite as shocking as Lynn’s, I’m still a bit surprised to see him second in the league in WAR. More impressive still is that Morton has accomplished this in fewer innings than most of the other pitchers around him. Lynn is sitting at 160 innings pitched this year (11 more than Morton), while Shane Bieber and Justin Verlander are even higher still. This isn’t quite as lopsided a margin as in 2018 — Chris Sale was second in the league in WAR despite throwing just 158 innings — but is still a bit of a deficit for the 35-year-old righty.

Does this get him into the Cy Young conversation? That question is more difficult to answer, if only because of the wide range of opinions in the BBWAA these days. There has been a shift toward rewarding player for their underlying performance, not just wins and ERA, but name recognition and team performance also seem to be weighed into the decision. Verlander will get his fair share of votes — and may even get a bit of a sympathy vote after being robbed coming up short a few times — and teammate Gerrit Cole is also in the running.

But Morton’s numbers are just as good. He will easily top the 200-strikeout mark — he might get there tonight if things really go well — and is a lock for at least 15 wins. We’ll be sure to check back in on this race as the season draws to a close, and see if Morton still stacks up.

Anyway, he’s right-handed and throws a lot of curveballs. This won’t go well for the Tigers offense.

Detroit Tigers (36-82) at Tampa Bay Rays (71-51)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation site: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN+, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (3-10, 4.94 ERA) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (13-4, 2.90 ERA)

Game 120 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Norris 120.1 19.7 6.4 4.91 1.3
Morton 149.0 30.5 7.1 2.79 4.7

After trending upward toward the end of July, Daniel Norris seems to have been bitten by the Matthew Boyd Homer Bug early on in August. Through Norris’ two starts this month, he has given up five home runs (and eight runs in total) in just 8 23 innings. His ERA, already ballooned by some shoddy defense, is now back up near 5.00. And while pitcher wins and losses don’t really matter, hitting double-digit losses this early (or ever) doesn’t look great either.

I don’t know if Norris’ pitch usage is the reason for this uptick in home runs — small sample caveats apply too, of course — but it’s certainly worth revisiting. His raw numbers don’t indicate that throwing his slider with abandon (as he did in 2018) was an effective strategy, but given how few innings he logged, I would have liked to see a bit more of that ideology in 2019. Instead, he has gone back to a more traditional approach.

He has started to throw his changeup more often as the season has progressed, however, and there’s a bit more data to back this up. Opponents have hit .257 off the changeup this year, while slugging .376. Neither of these numbers is as good as his slider — a .212 average and .348 slugging average, respectively — but Norris has only surrendered two home runs via the changeup while generating whiffs at nearly a 19 percent clip, best of all his offerings.

Key matchup: Us vs. these previews

As you might imagine, writing about the 2019 Tigers has not been the easiest to do of late. The team is trending towards historical futility, and any game-to-game analysis could be rendered moot by either the lineup or bullpen — or sometimes both — putting in a stinker of a performance.

So... yeah. We’ve missed a few more game previews than usual lately. It’s not something we are proud of, and we would like to do better. However, we also want your input. Do you still want to see daily previews, even as the numbers and analysis become more disappointing? Or would you like to see us experiment with our format a bit? As always, we would love to hear your feedback.

Prediction

Morton and the Rays win big in game one.