A look at the Detroit Tigers’ budget might tell you they don’t value pitching much at all. Members of their playoff rotation made slightly over $32 million total this year. Meanwhile, the Tigers spent $44 million on just Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
But, in support of adagial baseball wisdom, pitching, not offense, has led Detroit to an American League championship, and in devastating fashion.
Their starting pitchers had a 0.66 ERA in the team’s four-game sweep of the New York Yankees. Only the starters of the 1966 Baltimore Orioles have ever recorded a better ERA in a best-of-seven series. For the entire playoffs, the Tigers’ starting rotation has a 1.02 ERA. That, preserved throughout the World Series, would set the MLB postseason rotation ERA record, now 1.05 as set by the 1920 Cleveland Indians (h/t STATS LLC.).
Detroit pitching as a whole kept New York to a .157 batting average in the American League Championship Series, the lowest the club has ever recorded in a playoff series. Robinson Cano managed a single hit in 18 at-bats. Alex Rodriguez had one in nine. Mark Teixeira had three in 15 at-bats. Curtis Granderson went hitless in nine. That’s 5-for-51 (.098) from about $77 million worth of players. The Yankees, always quick to remind fans of their 27 Series championships, relied on Ichiro Suzuki for 27.27% of their hits.
Only two Tiger pitchers, Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit, have been less than stellar in the playoffs. Nine others hold ERAs of 1.35 or lower. Without Valverde, Detroit pitching has a 1.01 postseason ERA in 80.1 innings. If you subtract Benoit’s numbers as well, they have a 0.82 in 76.2 frames. They’ve struck out 86 batters in 82.2 innings, good for a 9.36 K/9, better than the 2012 major league rate of 7.6.
Their starters have accumulated 62 innings of work, which averages out to 6.89 innings per start. That’s left the bullpen with only 20.2 innings to manage over a two-week stretch, and a member besides Valverde or Benoit has yet to allow a run.
Justin Verlander (0.74) and Max Scherzer (0.82) hold the first and second spots respectively on the postseason ERA leaderboard. That is, for pitchers with more innings than Phil Coke, who has not allowed a run in 7.1 innings and has temporarily slid into the closer role.
Because they swept, the Tigers have five days to rest before they play again. Besides providing an opportunity to recover and time to fix Valverde’s mechanical issues, this will allow Detroit to set up their ideal pitching order. If the time away doesn’t cool the Tiger arms, their economical pitching staff could set a few records and maybe even win them a World Series.
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