One word could answer that question and we could all agree and move on. But where is the fun in that? Is it fun to look at spreadsheets of baseball data? YOU BET! so lets do it!!!!!!!
The above chart breaks down some important numbers that effect a pitchers performance or are the result of that performance. Let’s walk through the chart together quickly. First, Innings Pitched, Porcello is lagging behind, after one outing that lasted 2/3 of an inning, another skipped start and one bull pen outing of just 2 innings explains this away.
The point of including IP is simply to show that each has had a significant impact on the season so far, the AL leader is Felix Hernandez at 97, but most pitchers at this point are between 80 and 90 innings.
Next column, K/9 is quite interesting, as everyone knows Verlander and Scherzer are always going to strike out a lot of hitters, but Sanchez being up at 11.31 and even Fister and Porcello both being above 7 per 9 innings is surprising. In fact, the Tigers starting pitchers are averaging an extra 1.04 strike out per 9 innings more than the second best team in baseball. Obviously, an extra strike out per game is useful when your defense is shaky at best behind you.
Their walks per 9 innings (BB/9) is second best in baseball, just .05 behind first place Seattle(!?) but .11 above 3rd place. Both of those teams are middle of the pack in K/9 and the other teams close to the top of strike out rates have much high walk rates. This is usually because strike out pitchers and teams are prone to higher walk rates, pitch counts and deeper at bats that end in many more free passes, but not for the Tigers quintet this year as they are at an amazing 9.63/2.08 K/BB ratio.
Next, BABIP, Batting Average on Balls in Play. This is a stat designed to determine the level of defense behind a pitcher and the luck involved in baseball. The Tigers are not known for their stellar defense and this shows on the BABIP numbers, only Max Scherzer has a below normal BABIP, as all the other four have numbers that should be considered average (Fister) or well above average (Verlander). The staff as a whole is 3rd to last in baseball, meaning that the defense isn’t helping very much and that they have been unlucky as well.
A BABIP should be around .290, twenty points lower than the Tigers staff has. If their number regresses to the norm here, the ERA will lower (who cares) the wins will increase and they will end up running away with the division again this year, like they did in 2011. If it does not, this COULD be a cause for concern as the other teams around the Tigers BABIP number are the Twins, Astros, Rockies, Mets, etc, the worst of the worst in baseball this year. But, because the Tigers division is quite weak, they should still be able to overcome this.
We’ll skip ERA because everyone knows ERA and it is a stupid stat and let’s combine FIP and xFIP. These are numbers that are both designed to explain what an ERA should be if each pitcher had the exact same defense behind them and xFIP takes that a step further and normalizes home run numbers to even out the difference in size of parks.
Here is one more chart that helps explain what a FIP & xFIP should be:
|average below average||4.00|
So, looking at the xFIP number because Comerica Park is huge and lowers HR%’s for pitchers, Doug Fister is the worst pitcher on the staff with only a “Great” rating while the rest are all closer to “Excellent” this season. Yes, even Rick Porcello as I said last week.
The starting staff’s xFIP is .5 expected runs better than the second place team, the Cardinals. That is the same difference that is between the Cardinals and the 13th ranked Dodgers. Think about that. According to this statistic, the Tigers are 1 full run per game better than teams that are “Above Average” in both chart rating and actual placement (13/30).
All of this, of course, leads to WAR. The baseball mittenstringer’s enemy when arguing for Miguel Cabrera for MVP last season over Mike Trout. But WAR is a valuable stat to use when understanding an overall contribution a player can make.
To understand these numbers (they theoretically grow throughout the season when your name isn’t Brennan Boesch) Miguel Cabrera is at 3.9 WAR right now, .1 behind the league leaders, Carlos Gomez and Troy Tulowitzki, who contribute on the base paths and in the field much more than Cabrera does.
The leader for pitchers WAR is Adam Waignwright at 3.8 (who is having a historic season), second place is Anibal Sanchez. A player that is considered an All Star caliber player will be around 4 WAR at the end of the season, so you can see that all of the Tigers starter’s except for Porcello are on pace to be “All Star” pitchers this season.
Overall WAR for starting staffs in all of baseball, the Tigers are first. In second is the St. Louis Cardinals, 3.3 WAR behind. If you look at the previous paragraph, 4 WAR is considered an All Star caliber player. The Tigers pitching staff is almost an All Star caliber player better than any other rotation in all of baseball.
Even the spot start call up, Jose Alvarez, performed on par with the rest of the rotation and continued the staff dominance over the rest of the league, they are rubbing off on people!
So, to go back to the beginning of this article and answer the title question of “Just How Dominate Are the Tigers Starting Pitchers?” it should be changed from very (which still applies) to:
“The Tigers starting pitchers are so dominant, they have provided an extra borderline All Star player to the roster compared to the rest of the league.”