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The Baltimore Orioles return to the post-season after a one-year hiatus, but recorded their third consecutive winning season. Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers are making their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and once again will be pursuing their first World Series title since 1984. Here’s a look at how both teams stack up.
We’ve been waiting for the Tigers to get over the top and finally win that evasive title. Filled with big name players, Detroit has failed time and time again in their quest for a ring, but armed with a great starting rotation, they are in prime position to finally achieve their ultimate goal. The Orioles, on the other hand, came in with very low expectations entering the 2014 season, but distanced themselves in the second half of the season to win the American League East.
Detroit appears to be the better offense, but the Orioles can thump as can be seen by their Slugging Percentage and Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA). Both teams are a station-to-station offense so one can expect the complete opposite of what the Kansas City Royals can bring in terms of stolen bases. The Tigers led the league in batting average, led by Victor Martinez in that category. The O’s were led by AL MVP candidate Nelson Cruz, the only player to hit 40 home runs this season in the Majors.
Both teams are fly ball hitting clubs, but the Tigers were the number one team in terms of hitting for line drives. This helped Detroit place second in Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP–per fangraphs.com“measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit”). Usually, teams that hit for lots of fly balls (i.e. the Oakland Athletics), hit for a low BABIP, which can affect a team’s ability to attain base-hits. But the line drives and the Tigers’ ability to not post too many pop ups has helped Detroit’s offense all season long.
The Orioles are a fly ball team that live and die with this approach. Not many line drives or ground balls are hit by this club. Baltimore ranked incredibly high on Pop Up and Home Run per Fly Ball Rates. Boom or bust indeed.
The Tigers struck out the fourth fewest times this season. As can be seen by their Walks:Strikeout (BB:K) figure, they don’t take many walks, but their aggressive approach, along with a high contact rate, is actually a credit to team’s understanding of the strike zone and pitch recognition.
Baltimore is also aggressive–too aggressive. They ranked fourth in Swinging Strike Percentage, which helped them post a high Strikeout Rate (K%). They also have one of the league’s lower Contact Rates as well. Their approach is best exemplified by centerfielder, Adam Jones.
The Tigers’ rotation is a “Who’s Who” in Major League pitching. Armed with former Cy Young winners, Max Scherzer, David Price, and Justin Verlander, Detroit is the more efficient rotation. The near-identical WHIP can be attributed to the high BABIP posted by the Tigers (and maybe even the struggles of Verlander). To put things in perspective, young pitching phenom, Kevin Gausman posted a Field Independent Pitching (FIP-Advanced ERA, basically measures a pitcher’s ability based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed) of 3.41. That mark led the Orioles rotation. On the Tigers, that would only be the fourth best FIP among their starting pitchers.
Both rotations give up a lot of fly balls. This has helped the Orioles maintain a low BABIP. Conversely, in a weird way, the high Fly Ball Rate (FB%) has not helped the Tigers in that category. However, the Tigers do a great job keeping the ball in the park which is a skill they’ll need going up against sluggers like Jones, Cruz, and Chris Davis.
The Tigers do a much better job at inducing swings, especially on pitches outside of the strike zone. Against an impatient lineup like the Orioles, Detroit should have a field day eating up innings. The Orioles, as can be seen from a low K%, are nowhere close at inducing swings. The Orioles also allow a very high contact rate. Interesting to note that the Tigers owned one of the lowest Contact Rates in the strike zone despite having the third highest rate of pitches inside the strike zone. Needless to say, Detroit’s rotation is there to challenge hitters.
Both bullpens do not strike out a lot of hitters, but the O’s did a better job at preventing walks, which helped them finish in the top five in WHIP and in the top 15 in their advanced ERAs (FIP and SIERA). A high BABIP is not an excuse for the Tigers to be this bad out of the ‘pen.
The Tigers finished with the highest BABIP in the league. This could be explained by having a high Line Drive Rate and even higher Ground Ball Rate. The variance in batted balls could be a reason for the high BABIP, but it definitely does not explain the high Home Runs per Fly Ball Rate, finishing fifth in that category. The Orioles are no better, ranking 11th, but this is a grave concern for Tigers’ fans.
Simply put, the Tigers, unlike their teammates in the rotation, do not induce a lot of swings. They’re so bad in the Swinging Percentages, we might witness the Orioles drawing walks in this series. Surprisingly, the Orioles do a good job inducing swings. Unfortunately for Baltimore, that has led them to owning the ninth highest Contact Rate in 2014. At least they’re not as bad as the Tigers ranking sixth in that category. Making matters worse, Detroit finished in second in Contact Rate within the strike zone. Only team worse than Detroit was the Colorado Rockies.
We’ve mentioned before how the Orioles have the best double play duo in baseball in Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy. The O’s have the better arms in the outfield, have better range, and although they commit more errors (per ErrR, an Ultimate Zone Rating metric), it is not enough to hurt them in the long run.
- Old-timer, Buck Showalter may prove to be the difference here, going up against rookie manager, Brad Ausmus
- The impact that Anibal Sanchez might have coming out of the bullpen
- Tigers playing desperate as their championship window is quickly closing with key players facing free agency this offseason
- The charisma that surrounds the Orioles: per mlb.com, “The Orioles played an AL-high 55 one-run games this season and went 32-23”
While the Tigers have the star power in the rotation and in their lineup, they are sorely lacking on defense and out of the bullpen, which also proved to be their Achilles’ heel in the 2013 playoffs as well. Meanwhile in Baltimore, the hitters can smash the ball, but they lack the polish that the Tigers possess on offense. What they lacked in efficiency in the rotation, the O’s make up for it in the bullpen. Ultimately, the Tigers’ offense might do enough to carry Detroit into the next round of the playoffs.
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