Section 313, Seat No. 5: Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. And more pitching.

Section 313 —

Seat no. 5

Welcome to Section 313 – seat no. 5 this week. Glad you could stop by. This week we’re going to focus solely on the most important aspect of any baseball club — their pitching staff. Usually, we have more than one thought or observation, but I just can’t seem to get our starters out of my head and here’s why:

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
Aug 3, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) warms up before the second inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Pitching. Pitching. Pitching.

It’s absolutely the name of the game. Without good pitching, teams cannot contend. It would take a massive archaeological dig through the annals of baseball history to find a team that smashed their way to a World Series ring. Last week we talked about the bullpen and their decades-long issues.  We will probably continue to talk, ad-nauseam, about the bullpen — maybe even for a few more decades to come, because, ya know, they’re not important right? But this week is only concerned with our five starting pitchers.

For the first few weeks of the season our starting pitching, minus an outing here or there, was pretty spectacular. However, over the last handful of game, other than Justin Verlander’s start yesterday, they have been so-so in their starts. And most of it stems from their inefficiency in their pitch counts and walks given up.

But let’s let the facts speak for themselves. Below is a chart of the starter’s game logs. Each of them accounts for eight categories: Opponent, innings pitched (IP), pitches thrown (PT), strikeouts (K), walks (BB), runs/earned runs(R/ER), hits allowed (H), and team result (pitcher’s record). The game logs are courtesy of Fangraphs.com and the pitch counts are from MLB.com’s box scores.

Daniel Norris:

Opponent IP PT K BB R/ER H Team Result
vs. BOS 6.1 97 2 3 3/3 7 W; ND
@ CLE 6.0 101 5 4 0/0 2 W; 1-0
@TB 4.2 101 4 2 5/4 8 L; 1-1
vs. SEA 4.0 104 4 2 4/4 9 L; 1-2

 

Justin Verlander:

Opponent IP PT K BB R/ER H Team Result
@ CWS 6.1 103 10 2 2/2 6 W; 1-0
vs. BOS 7.0 112 4 2 0/0 3 W; ND
@ CLE 4.0 85 4 2 9/9 11 L; 1-1
@ MIN 4.0 107 4 6 4/4 3 L; 1-2
vs. SEA 7.0 119 8 2 1/0 5 L; ND

 

Michael Fulmer:

Opponent IP PT K BB R/ER H Team Result
vs. BOS 6.0 95 4 2 0/0 4 W; ND
vs. MIN 6.0 110 7 1 3/3 4 W; 1-0
@TB 6.0 88 5 2 3/3 6 L; 1-1
@ MIN 7.0 98 7 1 2/3 4 W; 2-1

 

Matt Boyd:

Opponent IP PT K BB R/ER H Team Result
@ CWS 2.1 80 2 4 5/5 5 L; 0-1
vs. MIN 6.0 97 6 2 0/0 1 W; 1-1
@ CLE 6.0 100 3 3 1/1 7 W; 2-1
@ MIN 4.1 80 3 3 2/2 5 W; ND

Boyd was ejected from the start at Minnesota in the bottom of the fifth. 

Jordan Zimmermann:

Opponent IP PT K BB R/ER H Team Result
vs. BOS 6.0 92 3 1 1/1 4 W; 1-0
vs. MIN 4.2 99 3 5 5/5 4 L; 1-1
@TB 6.0 103 4 1 5/5 10 L; ND
vs. SEA 6.0 80 1 5/5 11 W; 2-1

 

Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris (44) against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Tigers won 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Of their 21 starts this season, 13 times have they gone six or more innings and surrendered three or fewer walks. In those 13 games, the team has gone 10-3. Do you see a trend?

But it goes much deeper than just a quick little “if they throw six innings and walk 3 or fewer we’re in a good position to win” statement. The fact that the Tigers sit at 11-10, given the starts that we have had, is in a small way a miracle. Thank goodness we have an offense that is scoring among the league leaders in runs per game, nearly 5 per game.

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Here’s where the Tigers starting pitching ranks among the MLB:

Pitching Category MLB Rank
ERA 4.76 27th
Base on Balls 46 T-24 (Padres)
BB / Game 3.78 26th
Hits 114 16th
Hits / Game 9.36 28th
Strikeouts 85 27th
Strikeouts / Game 6.98 25th
Batting avg on balls in play .306 25th
Pitches Thrown 1932 14th
Innings Pitched 109.2 27th

All stats were sorted from least to most, except Pitches Thrown. Stats via Fangraphs

Remember we are just talking starting pitching here. Every stat deals only with the five guys taking the bump to begin games for us. These numbers don’t even account for the bullpen — let that sink in.

Sep 25, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matt Boyd (48) pitches in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What grabs the attention are the last two stats: pitches thrown and innings pitched. The Tigers rank towards the bottom of the league in innings pitched, but towards the top half of pitches thrown. Which means one thing: pitch efficiency has been their bugaboo. The disproportioned pitch counts and innings pitched has not been beneficial to our staff, our bullpen, or the team. The top two teams (Arizona and San Francisco) in innings pitched, also led in pitches thrown. That makes sense. Where the Tigers pitchers sit does not.

Now before we go completely doom-and-gloom, I strongly believe that we have a good staff. Once the warmer temperatures hit and their arms loosen up a touch, I can see this trend starting to flip a bit. But it does beg the question, will it be too late by then? Right now the Tigers sit at a game above the .500 mark. Our pitchers, as I said a few weeks ago, have to, have to, have to be more efficient.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers
Sep 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) pitches in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday JV had a spectacular outing, but again he threw 119 pitches in 7 innings — a whopping 17 pitches per inning. While he was great tossing eight strikeouts, one unearned run, two walks, and five hits, he still could have gone deeper into the game had his pitch count been lower.

Much of the high pitch count totals are the result of our starting staff’s inability to put hitters away when they are in a two-strike count. This season when Tigers pitchers get into two-strike counts opposing hitters are hitting .191 against them. Which sounds low, but it ranks the Tigers 25th in the Major Leagues, with the highest batting average against in two-strike counts is .203 held by the Milwaukee Brewers. Cutting down the walks and putting people away with two-strikes is essential to turning the ship around.

With former Cy Young Award winners, Rookies of the Year, and highly touted prospects in the rotation the Tigers staff should be better than the numbers suggest. If the Tigers are better than a .500 ball club, which I do firmly believe them to be, then it is on the arms of the starting pitching staff to take them there. The big question becomes, will they? Only time will tell.

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