Detroit Tigers: Tyler Alexander’s cutter optimizes back end of rotation

Aug 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tyler Alexander (70) delivers a pitch against Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tyler Alexander (70) delivers a pitch against Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Detroit Tigers got solid production from the back of the rotation this weekend, led by Tyler Alexander and one particular pitch.

Yesterday, Detroit Tigers fans saw history being made as Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th home run off lefty Steve Matz. The home run tied the game at 1, and Detroit would later take the series win to improve to 10-9 in August.

Lost among the shuffle in the weekend was the strong start by lefty Tyler Alexander on Friday night. There were three things I have noticed about his start and his month of August so far, aside from him shaving his goatee but keeping his mustache.

1. Tyler Alexander is having a strong month of August

With injuries to Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, and Jose Urena, Alexander has stepped in and has filled the void nicely.

Check out his August numbers: 21 IP, 18 H, 7 R, 4 BB, 16 K, 2.95 ERA, and a FIP of 3.59 with just two home runs allowed.  Friday was the longest start of the season for Alexander, and it comes at the perfect time, considering how much the bullpen was overworked in the last homestand.

2. Alexander’s cutter usage is up and it is effective

After his start on Friday, I observed his cutter usage was up, and so did Adam Dubbin, our friend from Bless You Boys. Alexander was able to generate 13 swings and misses on his start.

According to Baseball Savant, Alexander started throwing the cutter last season and did not see much success with it. But there could be a reason why it has been more effective this season.

The active spin on the pitch — that is, the percentage of spin contributing to movement — was 43% last season. This season his cutter has seen an uptick to 47%  active spin, and the pitch has jumped from an average of 6.9 inches of movement last year to 9 inches of movement this season.

The cutter is now Tyler Alexander’s dominant pitch, going from his fifth most-used offering last year to his number one pitch this year. It’s also his offering with the lowest hard-hit rate, at 26.9%. Of 42 pitchers who have thrown 300 cutters in the majors this year, Alexander’s expected batting average is .220, which is good for 11th overall.

3. Change is good

One of pitching coach Chris Fetter biggest strengths appears to be sorting out which pitches, and which combination of pitches, are most effective for each specific player. Tyler Alexander’s increased cutter usage has also come with a jump in changeup usage, and a corresponding rise in its effectiveness.

On Friday, Alexander was able to generate 13 swings and misses, and 10 of them came against changeups. That was good for a 63% whiff rate (swings and misses and foul tips, according to Baseball Savant).

He managed two more swinging strikes with his slider (50% whiff rate), and while he induced just one whiff with his cutter, batters went 0-for-9 against it, with an average exit velocity of just 77.3 MPH.

Tyler Alexander has always handled lefties, holding them to just a .251 wOBA in his career. It’s the right-handed hitters and their .367 wOBA that have kept him from succeeding. If he can continue throwing his cutter and change-up with this level of effectiveness, he will have legitimate weapons to combat his biggest weakness.

Time will tell if Alexander was just taking advantage of an aggressive Blue Jays lineup, or if he has made real progress. But he has already been a huge help for the depleted Detroit Tigers rotation at a time when the team desperately needs innings.

Tyler Alexander has never had a huge ceiling, but he just turned 27 last month, and he’s under team control for four more years. If he can prove to be a dependable back-end starter over the next six weeks, then the Detroit Tigers may have a legitimate piece for the future, and it will be another positive in a season that has been shockingly full of pleasant surprises.

Next. The Buck Farmer era is over. dark

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