Detroit Tigers: Breaking Down Tarik Skubal’s Debut

Tarik Skubal’s MLB debut wasn’t a rousing success, but let’s dig deeper.

 

For Tigers fans, the excitement of Tarik Skubal’s MLB debut may have worn off roughly three pitches into the game. But let’s do a post mortem on the outing to see what we can learn.

Tarik Skubal’s First Inning

PA 1 – Tim Anderson, 3-pitch home run

You don’t win a batting title by accident. Tim Anderson is a very intelligent hitter with tremendous physical gifts. Ideally this pitch would’ve been about two inches farther inside and four inches lower, and it was one of the slowest fastballs Skubal threw all night, but it’s still 94 on the inner third. You just can’t miss at all against Anderson right now. He’s a Tigerkiller.

PA 2 – Yoan Moncada, 3-pitch single

Skubal fell behind 2-0 to Moncada and then absolutely grooved a fastball right down the pipe. Moncada didn’t hit it particularly hard, though, which could have been pure luck, or maybe a testament to the movement on Skubal’s heater.

PA 3 – Jose Abreu, 4-pitch single

After falling behind 2-0 again Skubal busted a 95-mph fastball on the hands to get a foul. But he came back with a lazy slider right over the heart of the dish and Abreu served it to RF.

PA 4 – Eloy Jimenez, 7-pitch GIDP

Baseball karma at work. Skubal got ahead of Jimenez 1-2 thanks to a nice curveball and a 96-mph heater, but then they battled for a few pitches. Skubal landed what appeared to be strike three here. Pitches like that probably don’t get called strikes very often, but it definitely was a strike, and he deserved the out. Then he came back with an absolute cement-mixer of a slider. It was probably one of his worst pitches of the night, but it was on the outside corner and Eloy rolled into a double-play. Shruggie emoji.

PA 5 – Edwin Encarnacion, 6-pitch walk

Not a ton to talk about here. Skubal hit 97 on the first pitch strike, but followed it with two really poor changeups. Encarnacion never swung the bat, and three pitches later he walked on a fastball a foot above the zone.

PA 6 – James McCann, 7-pitch fly out

James McCann owns a career 121 wRC+ against southpaws, so this was another challenging opponent for Skubal.  He fell behind 2-0 again, but got back into the AB with a couple of lively fastballs, including one that sent McCann’s bat soaring. With two strikes Skubal tried to bury a slider, but he missed to the far side of the plate and induced a foul. He finally got the out on a 96-mph fastball McCann hit 383 feet.

Inning Results: 30 pitches – 15 strikes – 3H – ER – BB – HR

Command Rate: 27%

Command Rate is our estimation of how frequently Skubal hit his target.

Tarik Skubal’s Second Inning

PA 1 – Luis Robert, 5-pitch fly out

Skubal seemingly came out of the dugout a bit calmer in the 2nd, and he began this AB with the best slider he threw all game. He followed with two fastball misses, but then came back with probably his only good changeup of the outing. Then he finished Robert with his hardest pitch of the game, a 97-mph heater on the hands. This was the at-bat that gave us the best glimpse of what a fully formed Skubal might do one day.

PA 2 – Nomar Mazara, 5-pitch single

Mazara was the only left-handed hitter in the lineup, and it finally felt like Skubal had the advantage in an at-bat. He missed his spot with his first three offerings, but was ahead 1-2 when he buzzed Mazara’s tower with a 96-mph heater. The typical pitch after a haircut fastball is a breaking ball low and away, and that’s what they tried, but Skubal hung the curve and it was deposited into left field.

PA 3 – Danny Mendick, 2-pitch single

This was kind of ugly. Skubal got ahead on a 93-mph fastball right down the middle, and then  Romine called for a changeup low and away. Instead, Skubal left it up and over the middle and Mendick crushed it.

PA 4 – Tim Anderson, 3-pitch double

Remember how we mentioned Anderson being a really smart hitter? Skubal gets ahead of him 0-2 on a pair of fastballs, but then Anderson absolutely pounces on an 86-mph slider low and in. Again, this wasn’t a bad pitch. The White Sox broadcasters noticed Anderson move up in the batter’s box just before this, clearly expecting a breaking ball. Perhaps Skubal was tipping his pitches, but maybe Anderson noticed the five other times Skubal went to a breaking ball with two strikes.

PA 5 – Yoan Moncada, 2-pitch sacrifice fly

Skubal starts with a pretty nice curveball that breaks just a bit too early, and then for the second time in as many at-bats, Moncada sees a fastball right down the middle but doesn’t quite get all of it. This time he’s a bit late, but it’s enough to score Mendick from 3rd.

PA 6 – Jose Abreu, 1-pitch single

This is just rotten luck. Skubal locates a 95-mph heater below the zone, but Abreu reaches out and bloops it to right field for a single. It looks like right fielder Harold Castro had a chance to make the catch but he pulled up late. Perhaps he was already feeling the hamstring issue that sent him to the IL today.

PA 7 – Eloy Jimenez, 4-pitch swinging strikeout

At least Skubal ended his day on a high note. He seemed to have Eloy’s number a bit in their two encounters, and he doesn’t even bother to throw a fastball here. He gets ahead with a curve, before finishing off the AB with his hardest slider of the evening.

Inning Results: 22 pitches – 16 strikes – 4H – 3ER – K

Command Rate: 45%

Conclusion

Tarik Skubal won’t survive as a big-league starter if he consistently struggles with his command the way he did last night. But it’s fair to give him a break on that front, considering it was his MLB debut, he wasn’t fully stretched out, and he’s coming back from having Covid-19.

The arm looked healthy, we saw impressive flashes with all four of his pitches, and he threw a lot more strikes in his second inning of work. There are plenty of reasons for fans to be excited about Skubal, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

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