Detroit Tigers v Sonny Gray


The chatter today on the sports shows is about the Athletics decision to go with rookie Sonny Gray over veteran Bartolo Colon for the decisive game 5. A lot of guys seem to be saying that the A’s should have gone with Colon. I wish that they had.

October 5, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) receives a pie while being interviewed by ESPN after game two of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Tigers 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Gray IS a rookie, but he doesn’t look stressed. His numbers ARE better than anyone would have expected given his minor league stats and his stuff. His 2013 major league BABIP is low, while his minor league BABIPS were high. He might not actually be a Clayton Kershaw caliber pitcher, even if he has looked like one since he was called up.

But… none of that actually matters. Gray’s matchup against Detroit is just extraordinarily good. The guy has been great overall but better in some situations than others. Admittedly, we’re going off a small sample when looking at splits but what we see for Gray’s career so far is three things:

1. He is much better against right handed hitters
2. He is much better at home
3. He is an extreme ground ball pitcher
4. Driving the ball against him with two strikes is apparently impossible

The Tigers are a line drive/ground ball offense. As was mentioned here a week ago, ground ball pitcher vs. ground ball hitter gives an advantage to the pitcher. The Tigers have a righty-leaning lineup and don’t seem to be able to capitalize on his apparent tendency to walk lefties. Dirks is in the doghouse, Iglesias will apparently remain in the lineup even if he never gets another hit and Miguel Cabrera & Austin Jackson have “earned” the right to play through any injuries and slumps. The guys that the Tigers want in the lineup today would be guys with the profile (if not the raw tools) of Prince Fielder. Fly ball lefties. Speedy lefties that could work walks or beat out a throw might not be so bad either. There aren’t a lot of those to choose from. You want guys that make contact early, rather than trying to do something with a 1-2 pitch. IF they’re lefties (but not if they’re righties, since Gray won’t be falling behind) you want guys that make good use of 2-0 counts.

As a poster child for who you need to beat Gray: Oswaldo Arcia of the Minnesota Twins. The last time that Gray got knocked around, it was against the Twins on September 22. Arcia went 3-4 and drove in 6 of the Twins’ 7 runs. Arcia is a mediocre lefty who strikes out a ton. He also hits an above average number of flies and those go over fences an above average percentage of the time – and both tendencies are amplified against right-handed pitching. He likes to hack, he hacks at pitches out of the zone, but he demolishes fastballs. He absolutely punishes guys who fall behind in the count. He’s a .251/.304/.430 hitter and yet if you could run 9 of him out there Gray would be driven from the game after giving up 8 runs in 3 1/3. If you put 9 Austin Jackson’s out there? Gray is probably going to throw a 9 inning shutout.

Offensively speaking the Tigers best lineup is probably

1. Don Kelly – CF
2. Andy Dirks – LF
3. Torii Hunter – RF
4. Prince Fielder – 1B
5. Victor Martinez – DH
6. Jhonny Peralta – 3B
7. Alex Avila – C
8. Omar Infante – 2B
9. Ramon Santiago – SS

The Tigers don’t have 9 Arcias. They have one Arcia and he was in the lineup already (I’m talking about Alex Avila). Kelly and Dirks aren’t world-beating hitters, but they are lefties that can work counts (especially when put at the top of the order, where it is understood that that is their job). That’s not an ideal Gray-beating lineup, but the Tigers are not built to field a Gray-beating lineup. He’s the kind of guy that (3 months ago) they would have needed to lean on the “can’t beat Cabrera 3 times” principle to get to. But… if the Tigers go out there needing Austin Jackson, Jose Iglesias and Miguel Cabrera to make fewer than 12 outs between them they are unlikely to score much less win.