The Tigers will be sending Max Scherzer to the mound for game 4 in Oakland tonight. Questions abound concerning Scherzer at this point in the season – but he is an experienced and talented near ace. A known quantity. The A’s (lacking Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy) will send rookie A.J. Griffin. Who do we expect to have the upper hand?
By numbers alone – it’s the A’s. Not only do the A’s have home field advantage, which has been huge for both teams during the regular season, but Griffin is 7-1 on the season with a 3.06 ERA while Scherzer (despite leading qualified starters in strikeout rate) has a 3.74 ERA due to problems with BABIP and home runs. Griffin strikes out approximately 7 per 9 and walks only 2 while also (though this is obviously a small sample) doing a decent job of limiting hits on balls in play. He’s a righty, but has no discernable R-L split – featuring both a decent slider and a decent change (though he doesn’t throw particularly hard at all).
What kind of a pitcher is Mr. Griffin? Well… he’s a first-strike thrower with offspeed stuff good enough to put hitters away. He’s average as far as fly balls and ground balls go (and average is a bad place to be) and he has allowed a lot of line drives – suggesting that there must be more than a little luck (and great D) involved in his low BABIP. Well, that’s not the only thing that’s leading to his low BABIP: he has also induced a huge number of infield pop-ups. He seems to do loads better at home and loads better in low pressure situations. Since his numbers are so much worse with men on base, with low run support and in high-leverage situations in general – it’s possible that his success has been amplified by the fact that he has gotten himself into so few tight spots. His numbers against the guy leading off the inning are phenomenal. He has also fared much better the first two times through the order, so don’t be surprised to see him get an early hook.
Griffin also looks – much like Drew Smyly – a pitcher of two seasons. Over Griffin’s first 11 starts he allowed 14 earned runs. Over Griffin’s final 4 starts (one of which came against Detroit at Comerica Park on September 18) he allowed 14 earned runs for an ERA of 7.27. He still got wins in 3 of those starts (not against Detroit – they handed him his only loss on the season) but he got hit pretty hard. What I expect to see here is a lot of hard hacks at first-pitch fastballs from Griffin – something he is apparently vulnerable to. If he can make adjustments and get pop-ups or foul balls on a lot of those hacks, the Tigers are going to be in trouble. If not? The Tigers are going to drive him out early and hope Scherzer and Smyly can coast to a series-ending win. As for home field advantage? What we expect to see is a little more trouble for our guys in recognizing pitches on the road and a few fewer favorable borderline calls for Scherzer than for Griffin. As such, IF the Tigers fail to do much of anything with those first pitches (or Griffin changes his strategy radically) they’ll have trouble deeper in the count… but they shouldn’t be trying to work the count on Griffin anyway. If they hammer those first pitches
, I wouldn’t expect home field advantage to matter a bit.