Detroit Tigers: Four Takeaways from the First Week of Action

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is tagged out at home .
Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is tagged out at home . /

The Detroit Tigers are through their first homestand. It’s too soon to really know anything about this team, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a few observations.

The Detroit Tigers Have No Margin For Error

My brother is a Detroit Tigers fan. He’s not a superfan, but he pays attention, and like everyone else he has been captivated by the Akil Baddoo experience.

After Wednesday’s tough 3-2 loss to Minnesota, he sent me an interesting text: “Bummer to lose a game like that. Those are the types of games that could take them from a 65-win team to more of a 75-ish win team.”

He’s absolutely right.

There’s a famous adage attributed to Tommy Lasorda about the nature of a baseball season:

"“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”"

This Detroit Tigers team skews toward the bad side of things. They may take their share of automatic losses, but they’re going to have to fight in most of their games. The offense just isn’t deep enough to expect a lot of laughers in their favor this year.

They were on the bad end of one of those games on Monday, falling behind 15-1 before some of that Baddoo magic kicked in. But their other five games have all been tight affairs that could have gone either way.

In Wednesday’s rubber match against the Twins, Matthew Boyd kept the Tigers in the game by giving up just three earned runs over seven innings. It was his best outing since August 2019. It feels like the Tigers should win every time he pitches like that.

But the numbers say that was a pure tossup. Since 2016 there have been 328 MLB games in which a starting pitcher threw seven innings and gave up three runs. That starter’s team won 50.6% of those games.

Boyd gave his team a 50-50 shot to win. The Tigers just couldn’t quite get it done.

The Detroit Tigers Have Nothing to Lose

Let’s be honest, the Detroit Tigers have no margin for error because they aren’t very good.

The Tigers aren’t expected to win anything this year, so they can afford to push the envelope. PECOTA projections had them winning 67 games. The Vegas line was 68.5 wins. FanGraphs’ up-to-date projections have the Tigers finishing 72-90.

The overall picture is bleak because the Tigers are nowhere near contention. But that means they can afford to get aggressive at every turn, which makes them dangerous. And fun.

On Tuesday they made all the right moves to pull off the win, twice cutting down a run at home plate with a drawn-in infield.

But it was their turn to make outs at home on Wednesday, and it ultimately cost them the game. Down 3-2 in the bottom of the 6th, an aggressive send from third-base coach Chip Hale saw Willi Castro get thrown out at home on a bang-bang play.

A few batters later, Miguel Cabrera made the poor decision to try to score on a medium-depth fly ball from Jonathan Schoop, and he was out by about 10 feet. Miggy has strong instincts, but it’s also possible he still thinks he can run like he did when he was 16.

It’s pretty rare to see two runners thrown out at home in the same game, let alone the same inning. The Tigers had just six runners thrown out at home in 2020.

The last time they had two runners thrown out at home in the same inning? It was may 26th, 2017, when this happened:

Yep, it came against Mike Pelfrey, a pitcher who was still drawing most of his salary from the Tigers. Detroit blew that chance and eventually lost 8-2. Their pitcher that day? Matthew Boyd, just like last Wednesday.

Speaking of Matthew Boyd

He looks pretty good so far this year, doesn’t he? Through two starts he owns a 2.13 ERA, and his 0.4 WAR is tied for 12th most among pitchers. We know by now not to put too much into Boyd’s results over a small sample, but there are still a few interesting things to look at here.

We discussed much of this on our podcast last night, and credit to Yooper for bringing it up, but Boyd just went back-to-back starts without giving up a home run for the first time since May 2019.

And as Yooper pointed out, Boyd’s fastball usage has been down significantly so far this season, while his slider and changeup usage are up. According to FanGraphs, he’s using his fastball just 43.1% of the time this year, which is 10% lower than his career average.

His 4-seamer has been his least effective pitch the last two years (.282 AVG), so perhaps this is a move away from that.

Boyd started showing signs of increased changeup use and effectiveness last year — his change was his best swing-and-miss offering in 2020, with a 42.5% whiff rate — so this might be something to monitor in the future.

Willi Castro Can Hit the Ball Hard

On Tuesday Willi Castro hit a single in the 9th inning. It put the winning run on base, but otherwise seemed innocuous, until I checked Statcast and saw it had an exit velocity of 115.4 MPH. That’s the 3rd hardest Detroit Tigers hit since 2015.

And then on Wednesday he smoked everything. In the first inning he singled to right field at 110.8 MPH. Then flew out to right at 103.6 MPH, singled to right field at 107.6 mph, and singled to center at 107.6 MPH.

Early in the season it looks like the new baseball this year it causing exit velocity to rise about 1.5-2 MPH across the board, but that’s still four very hard hit balls.

In 2020 just five players had games where they hit four balls with an exit velocity of greater than 103 MPH. And how many players hit three balls 107.6 MPH or harder in the same game? Only three: Giancarlo Stanton, Ketel Marte, and Franmil Reyes, who did it twice.

Let’s break it down to just shortstops. How many of them have ever hit a ball 115 MPH or harder?

Well, Willi Castro makes six in the Statcast era (since 2015), joining Javier Báez, Matt Chapman (who was moonlighting at short), Jimmy Rollins, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Carlos Correa, who has done it three times. Pretty exclusive company.

Willi Castro leads the Tigers with eight balls hit 100 MPH or harder this year. The funny thing is, he also leads the Tigers with four balls hit with exit velocity of 75 MPH or less. He’s the new breed of all-or-nothing hitter.

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