What do you get when the American League leader in strikeout rate – who also has a history of being homer prone – squares off against the offense that struck out more frequently than any other AL club – while also being noted for hitting a large number of home runs?
You get Game Four of the ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics. And you get something that promises to excite.
We obviously can’t predict how the game will play out with any degree of certainty, but, if the season numbers play out as expected, we’re due to see a sizeable portion of plate appearances end without the Tigers’ fielders having a chance to make a play on a baseball.
For the season, Max Scherzer struck out a batter in 29.4% of plate appearances. The Athletics, as a team, struck out 22.4% of the time. If we compare those numbers against the major league average of 19.8% (and perform some hand waiving) we would expect Scherzer to fan roughly 32% of A’s hitters (Scherzer’s rate + A’s rate – league rate).
Scherzer has allowed a home run in 2.9% of plate appearances against him this year. The A’s have hit a home run in 3.2% of their plate appearances. Again, comparing those numbers to the 2.6% league average rate gives us an expected home run rate of around 4.1% for this matchup.
Small sample caveats apply, but this season’s history agrees with our brief assessment. Scherzer has pitched 8.1 innings against Oakland this year (6.1 innings in Oakland, and two innings in Detroit), facing 32 batters in the process. Against those batters, he’s struck out 13 (40.6%) and allowed one home run (3.1%). Not too far off the expectation.
So, what does that mean for tonight? Nothing specifically, but this game will likely flow just as it looks on paper. Home runs and strikeouts are two of the more exciting plays in the game, and we’re bound to see plenty of them. There’s a good shot that Scherzer fans 10+ batters, but there’s also a very good chance he gives up at least one home run.
The key to the game may very well be sequencing. Will he get the strikeouts with runners in scoring position, or will it be the home run(s) that come with men on base? Will hits and walks be bunched together or will they be spread out across six or seven innings?
Of course, none of this matters if the offense doesn’t get their act together and push across some runs.