Detroit Tigers: The José Ureña Difference

May 2, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka (66) hits an RBI double against Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jose Urena (62) during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka (66) hits an RBI double against Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jose Urena (62) during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /
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For the Detroit Tigers, there have not been many positive items to discuss. The team’s offense has sputtered among one of the worst in the league. However, one item that is worth discussing is the starting pitching.

Over the winter, the Detroit Tigers signed José Ureña to a one-year deal. The former Marlins pitcher was known for leading the league in hit batsman and primarily being a pitcher who does not generate a lot of strikeouts.

Often, people, myself included, look at strikeouts per innings pitched. Any starter who has great swing-and-miss abilities can usually navigate themselves through any type of situation, including the ability to generate ground balls, and that is what Ureña has done well. Let’s break it down on what he has done so far.

José Ureña in 2021

The biggest stat that stands out is his groundball to fly ball ratio. So, far in his first six starts, the groundball percentage is at a career-high 58.7% while his fly ball percentage is 12.5%. So why are hitters are just pounding into the ground? Let’s take a gander.

His sinker movement has been slightly above league average, with 16 inches towards right-handed batters, and around 23 inches of drop. The league average is 15 inches of horizontal movement and 22 inches of drop.

His sinker is his bread and butter as previously mentioned, and he is not a swing-and-miss pitcher, but even with a decrease in his fastball velocity from 2020, (about 1MPH), he is getting above-average movement.

With everyone sitting on either his slider or sinker, Ureña has been able to sneak the four-seamer by as a better put-away pitch. His four-seam usage has jumped from 15.8% to 33.3%, according to Baseball Savant. The data also shows a clear pattern in four-seamer usage, which him largely ignoring it in recent seasons:

2015 – 51%

2016 -27%

2017 -31%

2018 -2% (went 55% sinker, 21% slider and 19% changeup)

2019 – less than 1%

2020 -18.9% (smaller sample size)

The surface numbers for his four-seamer this year are good, with opponents hitting just .154 against the offering. But the expected batting average (XBA) on the pitch is .298, and the expected slugging (SLG) is .607. There may be some regression coming.

His slider movement is also helping him so far, with a movement change from -2.7 inches against average to -3.6. Overall, his sinker is what is doing the most damage, providing a run value of -3. That has always been his best pitch and looks like it’s returning to 2017 form, which produced a run value of -10. That season, he went 14-7 with an ERA of 3.82.

Whether the Detroit Tigers will trade Ureña at the deadline or not is yet determined, but if he can continue to throw his sinker effectively, his four-seamer and slider will be two go-to pitches to keep batters honest. A team like the Brewers, who have the best team defense according to FanGraphs at 9.6, could use his services to help them take them over the top in the NL Central.

Must read: Trea Turner, Tigers trade target?. . light

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