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Tigers vs. Astros Preview: Let’s see how deep the Edwin Jackson rabbit hole goes

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Jackson has been a huge surprise through two starts in a Tigers uniform.

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Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Prior to Edwin Jackson’s first 2019 start in a Detroit Tigers uniform, I lambasted the decision to call him up, claiming that those innings would be better served on the arm of a young player who could potentially be part of the next Tigers contender. Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser have both logged significant innings at Triple-A Toledo in 2019, and will be Rule 5 eligible this offseason. Their call-ups are coming soon, whether there are journeyman veterans in the way or not.

Naturally, Jackson went out and tossed 6 13 innings of one-run ball, looking like the player the Tigers employed in 2009, not 2019. He doubled down on those efforts five days later, giving up just a pair of solo home runs in a win over the Seattle Mariners. Through two starts with Detroit, he is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA.

As surprising as this is, Jackson’s success has come against a pair of teams well below .500. Both the Royals and Mariners are are currently in line to receive top-10 picks in next year’s draft, and the M’s could sneak into a top five with a sluggish finish.

The Houston Astros are the exact opposite. They currently hold a 7 12 game lead in the AL West, and have the second-best record in the American League. Once again, they are an offensive juggernaut, with a 122 wRC+ as a team for the 2019 season. That is a whopping 18 percent better than any Tigers player with at least three plate appearances this season. Only 17 non-Astros American League players have hit better, and the ‘Stros are doing this as a team.

Needless to say, I will be really impressed if Jackson puts together another outing like the last two.

Detroit Tigers (37-84) at Houston Astros (79-46)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Minute Maid Park
SB Nation site: Crawfish Boxes
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN+, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Edwin Jackson (3-5, 8.62 ERA) vs. LHP Wade Miley (11-4, 3.11 ERA)

Game 124 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Turnbull 112.2 21.8 9.0 3.93 2.3
Sanchez 129.0 19.3 11.2 5.15 0.9

Earlier this year, I wondered aloud as to how Wade Miley had so dramatically cut his ERA in a half-season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018. The only significant change was a huge uptick in cutter usage, but I wasn’t fully sold on that being the sole reason for Miley’s improvement. Still, it has turned him into a ground ball machine, which probably explains why the Statcast data like him so much.

A deeper dive into Statcast numbers reveals a bit more. Miley was one of the best pitchers in baseball at avoiding barrels last year. His 3.5 percent barrel rate was one of the lowest in the game, which resulted in lower-than-expected hard hit rates, exit velocities, and expected wOBAs against. He also managed one of the lower average launch angles against, which helped limit home runs against.

Three months later, everything is the same. Miley’s 3.11 ERA is over a full run lower than his 4.41 FIP, and his three true outcome rates (strikeout, walk, and home run) are all nothing special. He is still generating ground balls at a 52.4 percent clip, which has helped him weather the Great Home Run Storm of 2019. He has gotten even more obnoxious with the cutter usage, pulling it out nearly 50 percent of the time.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. scoring runs

It was tempting to chastise the bullpen for blowing leads and giving up a bunch of runs after they blew a sure win for Matthew Boyd on Sunday, but the ‘pen was mostly solid over the weekend series against the Rays. They gave up one run in 7 23 innings on Saturday, and, basically worked the entire nine-inning shutout of the Rays on Friday evening. So, while Joe Jimenez continued to look shaky while blowing what would have been Matthew Boyd’s first win since July 4, their overall performance give them a pass for a bit.

That brings us to the offense, which is still averaging under four runs per game in August. Assuming the Astros do to Edwin Jackson what they have done to many a starter this year, the Tigers offense will need to keep pace against a beatable starter in Miley. They tagged him for four runs in six innings back in May — they are one of just two teams to plate four earned runs off him this year — and could be up for it again on Monday.

Prediction

Miley and the Astros win big in game one.