August 5, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (37) pitches during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
Assuming the Tigers can win one of three versus Kansas City the next three days, or Chicago drops one game against the Indians, the Tigers will be one of the American League’s five playoff teams. The Tigers would get in as the division winner with the third best record, which means, due to this season’s schedule quirks, that they would start the series at home versus the division winner with the second best record. After two games at home, they would travel to the higher seed for the final three games of the five game series (with the last two taking place only if necessary).
It remains to be seen who exactly the opponent would be, but four possibilities remain: New York, Baltimore, Texas, and Oakland (with the A’s, currently trailing the Rangers by two games, being the least likely). It’s important who the opponent ends up being because ballparks should play a role in how the Tigers construct their pitching rotation.
Justin Verlander is obviously the ideal candidate to start game one – you want him to be available for the deciding fifth game if it comes to that – but one could justify a decision for either Doug Fister or Max Scherzer to start game two. Both have been excellent down the stretch this season, and both could be counted on to deliver a solid performance, but Jim Leyland could best leverage his pitchers’ talents if he started Scherzer at home and Fister on the road.
I’ll caveat this with the assumption that Scherzer is healthy enough to make a start in the first round of the playoffs, but if he is, he’s best suited to pitch at Comerica Park. It’s important to note that three of the four possible ALDS opponents play in home run friendly ballparks. Yankee Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and Ranger’s Ballpark in Arlington, are all renowned for allowing the big fly, and if Max Scherzer has had one weakness this season, it’s been his propensity to allow the ball to leave the yard.
Scherzer’s home/road splits tell the tale.
Allowing Max to pitch in the relative spaciousness of Comerica Park would allow him to pitch confidently with a suppresed fear that a mistake pitch might end up over the fence. He’s devastated hitters with his strikeout stuff both at home and on the road, but he’s been downright dominant at home while trending toward “just OK” away from Detroit. The trends are similar for Fister, but the homers are less of a problem.
He still sees a big spike in home run rate away from Comerica Park, but the long ball is less of an issue for him overall so it appears to be a much smaller problem. He shows a relatively small split in both ERA and FIP and appears to be much better suited for a road start, especially if it’s in a home run friendly yard.
Either pitcher is a good choice, and it probably would make a small difference to the team’s likelihood of winning each individual game, but teams need to do everything they can to squeeze those small percentages out of their players, especially in the playoffs.
This is all academic if Scherzer’s shoulder prevents him from being fully healthy by next weekend, but if he’s ready to go, he should be going at home.