Stacking Up the Staffs: Orioles vs. Tigers

To preview the upcoming American League Division series, we’ll take quick looks at the pitching staffs and lineups and see how they stack up. First up, while no one can compare to having the three most recent Cy Young winners in their rotation, the Orioles group has its own strengths, especially in the back of the bullpen.

The Rotation

2014 Baltimore Starting Pitching

2014 Detroit Starting Pitching

When your rotation features the past three Cy Young winners (even if you only had one for the final third of the year), it’s not a surprise that your performance numbers will look good, and that’s absolutely the case here. The Tigers’ rotation posted the strongest WAR in baseball, good for nearly 20 wins as a group. The club’s rotation FIP was almost a full point lower than the Orioles, which was good for the third best mark in MLB. The Tigers starting pitchers also struck out more batters than the O’s and walked less.

The Orioles meanwhile had a rotation that was largely considered middle of the pack based on all of the peripheral metrics, however they actually posted an ERA lower than the Tigers, at 3.61 vs. Detroit’s somewhat inflated 3.89 mark. The reason of course comes back to the defense, which will be covered later on.

The one wildcard in this comparison is that while Anibal Sanchez was one of the best starters in MLB for much of the season, he won’t be a part of the Tigers’ core four starters. A torn pectoral muscle sidelined Sanchez for a month, and even though he was activated for the final week of the season, he was sent to the bullpen despite being the 2013 AL ERA champ.

On the Orioles side… they’ve had six pitchers make at least 20 starts, with all but one of them posting a sub-4 ERA (that one is Ubaldo Jimenez), however, only Bud Norris struck out more than seven batters per nine innings, and Wei-Yin Chen and Kevin Gausman were the only two with an FIP under four. That strong ERA is being influenced by defense in the same way the Tigers’ rotation is, just in the opposite direction.

Tillman will get the ball in game one, and has served as the club’s go-to starter all season long, as the only starter that eclipsed 200 innings while posting a 2.4 fWAR. Tillman doesn’t have overpowering stuff (compared to someone like Gausman who while young also brings a 95 MPH fastball), but mixes three types of fastballs (four seam, two seam, cutter), along with a changeup and a curveball to keep hitters off-balance.

The Bullpen

2014 Baltimore Relief Pitching

2014 Detroit Relief Pitching

While the Tigers have a solid edge when it comes to starting pitching, the Orioles have a similarly decisive edge in the bullpen. Zach Britton and Darren O’Day team up as the club’s late-game combo, with Britton serving as the club’s closer and saving 37 games, after three years of mediocre performance in the rotation. Britton’s FIP of 3.13 wasn’t quite as impressive as his 1.65 ERA, but again, a trend you’ll see with the entire staff due to the strength of the defense. And in Britton’s case, he relies almost exclusively on a devastating sinker that sits in the mid-90’s and gets 75% of his balls in play on the ground. O’Day meanwhile struck out nearly 10 per nine innings, leaving more than 90% of his base runners on base.

In addition to Britton and O’Day, the Orioles acquired former Tiger (and a possible trade target for the club) lefty Andrew Miller, who is striking out 15/9 since being acquired, with a sparkling ERA at 1.35 and an even better 1.13 FIP. Tommy Hunter was the closer at the beginning of the year, and while he scuffled in save situations, he’s proved to be very effective in middle relief with a 2.01 ERA in non-save situations, especially as of late, having not allowed an earned run since August 30.

The Tigers bullpen struggles have been well documented (Just How Bad Is the Tigers Bullpen?), and they start with Joe Nathan, who was signed to be a reliable shutdown closer, but instead has been anything but that. However, despite cries from fans and frustrated observers to make a change, in addition to adding Joakim Soria near the deadline, manager Brad Ausmus stuck with him. The results weren’t necessarily good, but they did get better, with a 3.70 ERA in the second half, despite him struggling with his control and walking 15 in 24 1/3 innings. His eighth inning setup man is Joba Chamberlain, who was outstanding in the first half of the year, less so in the second half, with an ERA of nearly five and an FIP that wasn’t much better.

Soria has been the forgotten man in the bullpen, making only 13 appearances in over two months with the club, though he did miss a few weeks with an oblique strain. It’s hard to see Ausmus changing course and shifting to Soria, especially after a few poor outings out of the gate for the club, despite his strong track record of success. In addition, despite opportunities to use him, Sanchez made just one relief appearance after being activated off the disabled list last week, leaving him likely in a similar spot. It’s been a poor group all season, and the Tigers basically just have to hope that it doesn’t come back to bite them in October.

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