Stats & Info: Detroit Tigers

Top stats to know: Royals at Tigers

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10

Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesJames Shields will try to continue his September success tonight against the Tigers.
The Kansas City Royals will attempt to avoid a sweep by the Detroit Tigers tonight and a fall into second place in the AL Central (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN).

On Tuesday, the Tigers beat the Royals 4-2 to pull into a tie atop the division. Detroit, seeking its fourth straight AL Central title, is 11-4 against Kansas City this season and has a 60 percent chance to win the division (Kansas City has a 38 percent chance), according to numberFire.

Since their previous playoff appearance, in 1985, the Royals have played eight games in September or October after entering the day with at least a share of first place (all this month), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Detroit, on the other hand, has played 137 such games in that span.

Pitching matchup
Kansas City pitchers have struggled all season against Detroit, with an ERA more than two runs higher and an opponents' batting average 52 points worse than when they face other teams.

The Royals have outscored all other opponents by 50 runs this season, but the Tigers have outscored Kansas City by 30 runs.

Hoping to reverse all this for the Royals is James Shields, one of the best pitchers in September in recent years.

However, Shields is 0-2 with a 5.49 ERA in three starts against the Tigers this season. But in seven career starts at Comerica Park, he’s 4-0 with a 2.64 ERA.

Opposing Shields will be Rick Porcello, who’s 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts against the Royals this season.

In seven career home starts against the Royals, he is 5-2 but with an ERA of 5.10.

The Tigers' offense has helped Porcello in his home outings against Kansas City, averaging 6.1 runs per game and scoring five or more runs in six of those games (43 total runs scored).

What’s wrong with Miguel Cabrera?
Cabrera is having a good season (.311 BA, 22 HRs, 101 RBIs), but he has failed to perform at the same level as his 2012 and 2013 run. What specifically has caused him to struggle?

One key issue is that he’s struggling against pitches on the inner half.

• He has hit two home runs against 93+ mph pitches on the inner half this season, compared to seven last season and 10 in 2012.

• He has hit 12 home runs against pitches on the inner half -- regardless of velocity -– compared to 27 last season and 32 in 2012.

• Kansas City’s bullpen has just 10 blown saves this season, fewest in the AL. Only San Diego (seven) has fewer in all of baseball.

• The Royals have hit only 89 home runs this season, fewest in the majors.

• Detroit leads the majors in batting average (.277) and ranks second in runs scored (685), behind only the Angels (697).

Top stats to know: Price vs Kluber

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1

AP Photo/Mark DuncanCorey Kluber ranks third in the AL in strikeouts this season.
The Detroit Tigers visit the Cleveland Indians on ESPN at 4 ET in a matchup of two of the American League’s best starters this season. Corey Kluber is having a career year on the mound while David Price has been an ace all season aside from his last start.

Kluber may not yet be a household name, but he’s been every bit as good as Price this season. His ERA is nearly a run better than Price, while he’s maintained the same strikeout rate and thrown one more quality start. Each hurler ranks among the top three in the American League in terms of strikeouts as well.

Career year for Kluber

Kluber has really taken a significant leap this season. His numbers are up across the board. With 13 wins, Kluber has matched his win total from his first two seasons as a starter combined. From 2012-13, Kluber’s 4.24 ERA is over a run-and-a-half higher than his 2.52 ERA this season, which ranks fourth in the AL.

According to Wins Above Replacement, only two pitchers in baseball have been more valuable than Kluber (5.8) this season: Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. By comparison, Price ranks 28th with a 3.2 WAR. Kluber gets hitters to expand the strike zone often. In fact, his 33.6 chase percentage is third-best in the American League behind Hernandez and Phil Hughes.

The difference maker for Kluber this season has been his curveball, which he’s taken to an entirely new level. Kluber leads the majors with 101 strikeouts via curveball this season. He’s throwing the curve a career-high 16 percent of the time, with opposing batters hitting just .083 against it. Opposing batters are chasing his curveball 45 percent of the time.

Bounce-back start for Price?

Price is coming off of what may very well be the worst start of his career. The Yankees recorded nine straight hits off him in the third inning last Wednesday. It marked his most career hits (9) and runs allowed (8) in a single inning. Price never got out an out in the third inning, the second-shortest start of career.

But he's still dominant in the big picture. Price has the fifth-most strikeouts over the last five seasons. Two of the players ahead of him on the list are currently his teammates (Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander).

Price’s control is a great strength. He has walked only 3.6 percent of the hitters he’s faced this year, on pace to be a career best and good for fourth-best in the majors. Price has a career-high 224 strikeouts this season, his third career 200-strikeout season.

Since coming over from the Rays at the trade deadline, Price has thrown his changeup at a career-high pace for good reason. Opposing hitters are batting 140 points lower against his changeup since Price joined the Tigers. No wonder why he’s throwing it once every five pitches.

Top stats to know: Yankees at Tigers

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
ESPN Stats & InformationMiguel Cabrera is not as good against the inner-half fastball as he was in 2013.
The Detroit Tigers host the New York Yankees in the second game of their three-game series on “Wednesday Night Baseball” (7 ET, ESPN/WatchESPN). The Tigers took the first game of the series Tuesday as Rick Porcello earned his 15th win of the season, tied for the most in Major League Baseball.

Price changing pace

David Price will make his fifth start for the Tigers since being acquired from the Rays on July 31, and so far, his changeup has keyed his success in the Motor City (see chart).

Hitters have combined to bat .089 (4-for-45) against Price with just one extra-base hit in at-bats ending in a changeup since the trade. That’s the lowest opponent batting average against changeups by any pitcher since Aug. 1 (min. 20 batters faced).

It’s been quite a turnaround for Price as opponents hit .300 (36-for-120) against his changeup in 23 starts with Tampa Bay this season.

Cabrera’s power outage

Miguel Cabrera is on pace to hit .300 or better for the sixth straight season, but he’s not doing it with the power he has in years past. Consider the following:

• Cabrera hasn’t homered since Aug. 2 and ranks sixth on his team in slugging since hitting that home run (.350).

• Since the All-Star break, Cabrera has just 10 extra-base hits -- 3 HRs and 7 doubles -- which works out to an extra-base hit every 17 plate appearances. Cabrera recorded an extra-base hit every nine plate appearances in 2013.

• Cabrera has four homers and is slugging .525 with runners in scoring position this season. Last season, Cabrera hit 18 homers and slugged .782 in the same situations.

The biggest reason for the decline has been Cabrera’s inconsistency against pitches on the inner half of the plate, particularly fastballs. Cabrera is slugging .589 against fastballs on the inner half this season with six home runs. In 2013, Cabrera slugged .788 with 18 home runs on such pitches, both of which led the majors.

Another rookie start for Yankees

Rookie right-hander Shane Greene gets the ball for New York on Wednesday, and it would mark the 53rd start this season by a Yankees rookie.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s easily the most in baseball. Perhaps amazingly, the Bombers are 33-19 in games started by rookies this season (.635). Meanwhile, the Yankees are just 35-43 in all other games in 2014 (.449).

In Greene’s only career appearance against the Tigers, the righty earned the win after throwing eight shutout innings with five strikeouts on Aug. 7 at Yankee Stadium. Greene will be on the road Wednesday, but the righty has been even better away from the Bronx, going 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four road starts this season.

Scherzer leads Cy Young trio into Bronx

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
The Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees open a four-game series in the Bronx Monday night (7 ET, ESPN), as both teams jockey with the Kansas City Royals for playoff position.

Detroit holds a seemingly safe five-game lead over second-place Kansas City in the AL Central. But that lead was 7.5 games on July 12, and the Tigers have gone 8-10 since.

The Yankees have lost five of their last eight games, and they're tied with Kansas City, 1.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the second wild-card berth.

Scherzer leads Cy Young trio
Beginning Monday night, New York will face three straight Cy Young winners in Max Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander. That feat isn't as rare as you'd think: The Cardinals did the same thing from June 28 to July 1, against Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum.

What is rare is a single team having each of the three previous Cy Young winners entering that season. With Scherzer (who won in 2013), Price (2012) and Verlander (2011), the Tigers join the 1997 Braves -- which featured John Smoltz (1996), Greg Maddux (1992-95) and Tom Glavine (1991) -- as the only teams to do that.

Scherzer has followed up his Cy Young season with another very good year, ranking in the AL top 20 in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.

Max Scherzer
Scherzer's pitch selection has been a big factor in his improvement the past two years, as he's added a curveball that has made his slider even more effective.

Batters have missed 45 percent of his sliders the past two seasons, compared to 38 percent from 2009 to 2012. And opponents are hitting only .172 against his slider since 2013, down from .221 the previous four seasons.

In a small sample size, Jacoby Ellsbury has had the most success of any Yankee against Scherzer, hitting .462 (6-for-13), while Mark Teixeira (3-for-19) and Brett Gardner (0-for-14) have struggled mightily.

Gardner, McCarthy lead Yankees
Gardner has been hot lately, though, hitting eight home runs since July 1. The only player with more homers in that span is Houston's Chris Carter (nine).

This season, Gardner is hitting the ball farther and harder than he ever has before. His 2014 average home run distance of 389 feet and hard-hit average of .176 are both career bests for a single season.

Brandon McCarthy
Tonight is Brandon McCarthy's fifth start with the Yankees since being acquired from the Diamondbacks on July 6. New York has won all four of his starts, matching the number of his games that Arizona won in his 18 starts before the trade.

McCarthy is 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA for New York, after going 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA for the Diamondbacks. He's gone at least six innings in all four starts with New York, and he's allowed more than one earned run only once.

Top stats to know: Rays at Tigers

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsVictor Martinez’s 21 home runs this season are only four short of his career high (25 in 2007).
The Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers play the second game of their four-game series tonight (7 ET, ESPN/WatchESPN). We take a look at some of the things the broadcast crew will talk about.

Rays' offense on the rebound?
Tampa Bay is averaging only 3.76 runs per game this season, which ranks 26th in MLB and 14th in the AL. Since scoring 4.96 runs per game in 2009, Tampa’s scoring has gone down every season.

Tampa Bay’s offense has been especially anemic on the road this season. But the Rays are 6-2 on their current road trip and the offense appears to be making some progress.

Pitching matchup
Alex Cobb takes the ball for the Rays. He started the season off strong with a 1.89 ERA over his first three starts but has been inconsistent since coming off the DL in late May (5.16 ERA in eight starts). While Cobb has been up and down at times, he has the fourth-highest ground-ball rate in the American League (56.5 percent).

Expect to see plenty of changeups from Cobb. He throws it 32 percent of the time, the second-highest rate in the majors (with a minimum of 10 starts). Miguel Cabrera is hitting .412 against changeups this season, the third-highest rate in the AL.

For the Tigers, Drew Smyly looks to bounce back from the shortest start of his career. He allowed four runs and eight hits in only 2 1/3 innings Sunday against the Astros. Smyly had pitched well before that with a 1.44 ERA in his previous four starts.

Hail to Victor
Since July 1 last season, Victor Martinez leads the majors in hitting (.347). He already has 21 home runs this season, just four short of his career high (25 in 2007).

Despite the power, Martinez has the lowest swing-and-miss rate in baseball this season (8.2 percent). He is one of five hitters to miss on less than 10 percent of swings this season, and the other four have combined for six home runs.

Longoria lacking power
Evan Longoria has seen his power numbers fall off this season. His 10 homers would be his fewest before the All-Star break in any first half in which he played at least 25 games.

His slugging percentage has dropped to a career-low .390, which ranks 108th among 167 qualified hitters. Notable players with a higher slugging percentage include light-hitting speedsters Dee Gordon (.412), Alcides Escobar (.410) and Billy Hamilton (.400).

Power by Scherzer, bats too much for Rays

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
Thanks to Max Scherzer and an early power display, the Detroit Tigers opened up a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays with an 8-1 win.

Scherzer dominates
Max Scherzer fell three outs short of the second complete game of his career, but he might have been even more dominant than he was in his shutout on May 12.

Scherzer allowed only two hits and one walk in his eight innings. It was only the second time in his career that he allowed three or fewer baserunners while recording at least 21 outs. He had an identical line – 8 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 7 K – against the Cleveland Indians last May.

He did it with a much more effective fastball than over the last month. While posting a 4.81 ERA in June, he threw fastballs at least half the time in every game and 27 percent of his heaters were up in the zone. On Thursday, under half of his pitches were fastballs and on 19 percent were up.

Due to the better location, opposing hitters were only 1-for-14 with four strikeouts against his heater. During June, opponents hit .263 against his fastball.

It was Scherzer’s fourth straight win against the Rays after going 0-2 in his first three starts against Tampa Bay.

It was over when...
The Tigers scored five runs in the first inning. The Rays have been held to four or fewer runs in each of their last 19 meetings against Detroit.

According to Elias, that’s the longest streak in the American League since 1996-98, when the New York Yankees held the Toronto Blue Jays to four or fewer runs in 23 straight meetings.

Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter all hit home runs in the first inning. The Tigers are just the sixth team to hit three homers in an inning this season and the second to do so in the first (the other is the Los Angeles Angels on April 13 against the New York Mets).

Wednesday Night Baseball: Tigers-Rangers

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25

Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Aníbal Sánchez takes a 2.33 ERA into Wednesday’s start against the Rangers.
The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers square off on Wednesday Night Baseball at 8 ET on ESPN2.

The Tigers have won five in a row and lead the Kansas City Royals by three games in the AL Central. The Rangers are 11 1/2 games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West and on a six-game losing streak.

Here are three statistical storylines of two teams headed in different directions going into the matchup.

Anibal Sanchez leads the way

Aníbal Sánchez, the Tigers’ starter Wednesday night, has been the best pitcher on a staff that features two of the past three AL Cy Young Award winners. Since joining the Tigers’ rotation in 2012, Sánchez has an ERA of 2.79. Only Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners has a lower ERA among qualified AL starters during that time (2.73).

Sánchez uses off-speed pitches 52 percent of the time, the fifth-highest percentage among AL starters (minimum 10 starts). Among the 65 AL starters with at least 10 starts in 2014, Sánchez ranks in the top 11 in opponent batting average (.185), on-base percentage (.219) and slugging percentage (.260) in at-bats that end with off-speed pitches.

J.D. Martinez stays hot

J.D. Martinez followed up his award-winning week with a 2-for-5 performance that included a two-run home run Tuesday. Martinez began his current 13-game hit streak June 9 and has raised his batting average from .242 to .314 in the process.

Martinez has 12 extra-base hits during his hitting streak, including five home runs. Both numbers are tied for the best in baseball over the past 16 days.

Joe Saunders struggles

Wednesday’s starter for the Rangers is Joe Saunders. Saunders is 0-3 with a 4.11 ERA in six starts this season and has not won a start since Aug. 31, 2013. Saunders is 0-6 in 10 starts since that win.

Opponents have a .346 batting average against Saunders this season, worst among MLB starters (minimum six starts). Teammate Colby Lewis has the second-worst batting average against at .345.

Saunders is 1-3 with a 5.20 ERA in 10 career starts against the Tigers.

Verlander's struggles continue

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17

AP Photo/Carlos OsorioJustin Verlander has allowed at least five earned runs in six of his past seven starts.
Justin Verlander has seen much better days in his career. The Detroit Tigers hurler gave up seven earned runs on 12 hits to the Royals on Monday, which tied or set season worsts.

Season-long struggles for Verlander
Monday’s outing is representative of Verlander’s struggles all season. For the first time in his career, he has allowed seven or more earned runs in consecutive starts. He’s now allowed at least five earned runs in six of his past seven starts, posting a 7.83 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP in that span.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Verlander joins Gaylord Perry as the only former Cy Young winners to allow at least five earned runs in six starts in a seven-start span (Perry did it in seven straight in 1975).

Verlander has allowed at least five earned runs in six of his 15 starts this season. Last season, he allowed five or more earned runs six times over 34 starts. Since winning the American League Cy Young and MVP in 2011, Verlander has allowed five earned runs in a higher percentage of his starts each season.

Verlander’s nemesis and declining fastball
One of the biggest plays in the game came when Billy Butler hit a three-run double off of Verlander in the fifth inning to put the Royals up for good. Butler has dominated Verlander historically, as his 33 hits, .434 career batting average and 14 RBIs against Verlander are the best of any player (minimum 30 plate appearances).

The pitch Butler doubled off Verlander was a low-and-inside fastball. In nine at-bats against Verlander this season, Butler has three hits, all of which came off fastballs.

Verlander has not been able to overpower opposing batters with his fastball the way he used to, as he’s allowed a .307 batting average with his fastball this season, all the way up from .215 in his Cy Young campaign in 2011.

Over the past six seasons, Verlander has lost a lot of life off his fastball. In 2009, Verlander’s average fastball velocity was 95.6 mph, second-best in the majors and best in the American League. This season, he’s down to 92.6 mph, which is outside of the top 25 qualified pitchers in MLB.

Scherzer finally a finisher

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
Max Scherzer had done just about everything possible from a pitching perspective over the last two seasons. He filled in a missing blank on Thursday with his first career complete game, a three-hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox

Scherzer made 178 starts before finishing what he started.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that before Scherzer, the pitcher who had started the most games in baseball's modern era without ever completing one was Tony Armas (167).

Scherzer was in need of a start like this. He entered the night with a 6.84 ERA and .354 opponents’ batting average in his four previous starts.

The Tigers ace has won his last four decisions against the White Sox. This season, he’s 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA against them. He’s also 16-1 against AL Central teams over the last two seasons.

Key matchup: Scherzer vs Jose Abreu
Scherzer has done a nice job against Jose Abreu, holding him to one hit in 10 at-bats in the three meetings between the teams.

On Thursday, Abreu was 0 for 4. Scherzer threw 11 pitches to Abreu and all 11 were in the lower half of the strike zone or below.

That was smart, considering that Abreu is hitting .389 with misses on 20 percent of his swings in the upper half of the zone, but is hitting .199 with a 39 percent miss rate in the lower half or below.

Long-lasting stuff
Scherzer averaged 93 mph with his fastball and that velocity held through the final three innings of the game. His fastest pitch of the game was his last pitch of the game—a 96 mph fastball to freeze Dayan Viciedo.

Next-up: Bud Norris
Now that Scherzer has a complete game, the current pitcher with the most career starts without one is Bud Norris of the Baltimore Orioles (139).

Top stats to know: Red Sox at Tigers

June, 8, 2014
Jun 8
"Sunday Night Baseball" features a rematch of the 2013 American League Championship Series with the Detroit Tigers hosting the Boston Red Sox and trying to finish a sweep.

Both teams have some positives and lots of issues to discuss, as each has had trouble meeting expectations in 2014. Here are some of the topics our broadcast crew will be talking about tonight.

Star watch: Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera has ripped Red Sox pitching this season, with 11 hits in 19 at-bats, including four doubles and a home run, along with three walks. He has more doubles against them than he has swings and misses.

Cabrera has 376 home runs, 1,311 RBIs and a .321 batting average in his career. Only five other players have ever amassed those numbers, with all five being in the Hall of Fame.

Matchup to watch: David Ortiz vs. Anibal Sanchez
Red Sox DH Ortiz enters today 4-for-10 in his career against Tigers starter Sanchez, combining regular-season and postseason play. Ortiz hit two home runs and a double against Sanchez in 2006 but is 1-for-7 with two strikeouts and two walks against him since then.

Left-handed hitters are 15-for-106 (.142 batting average) with zero home runs and 29 strikeouts against Sanchez this season and 4-for-44 against him in his last three starts. One reason is that Sanchez has four options that he can throw for strikes to a lefty. His strike rates with his fastball, curveball, changeup and slider are all 60 percent or better against left-handed batters.

Rookie watch: Xander Bogaerts
Each team’s third baseman is worth keeping an eye on. We wrote up Nick Castellanos’ recent success Saturday night.

But Red Sox infielder Bogaerts has him beat.

Through May 13, Bogaerts was hitting .252 with a .705 OPS. On May 14, he would go 2-for-4, and it’s been smooth sailing since. Bogaerts is hitting .362 with a .596 slugging percentage in his last 23 games, with four home runs and 10 doubles.

Bogaerts has improved the most against pitches on the outer half, as noted in the chart on the right.

What’s going on with the Red Sox offense?
The Red Sox are tied for 11th in the American League with 4.07 runs per game. Their .246 batting average and .375 slugging percentage are down 31 and 71 points from last season, respectively.

Boston has particularly been hurting at the bottom of the lineup. Its Nos. 6 through 9 hitters are batting .220 with a .628 OPS and 241 strikeouts. Each of those ranks worst in the American League.

What’s going on with Torii Hunter’s defense?
For much of his career, Hunter has been one of baseball’s top defensive outfielders, both via advanced defensive metrics and the eye test.

But Hunter’s best days appear to be behind him. Over the past two seasons as the Tigers right fielder, he has -23 Defensive Runs Saved (had 24 in the positive column in 2011 and 2012), with his -13 this season ranking last at that position in the major leagues.

Hunter’s Web Gem potential this season has been minimal. In 2011, he was credited with 36 Good Fielding Plays (think Web Gem nominee-type plays) by video scouts from Baseball Info Solutions. This season, in about one-third as many innings, he has only three such plays.

Top stats to know: Tigers at Indians

May, 19, 2014
May 19
The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians begin a three-game series tonight (7 ET on ESPN) at Progressive Field.

The Tigers dominated the Indians last year, winning 15 of 19 games, their most wins against the Indians in a season since 1960.

Can anyone tame the Tigers?
The Tigers once again are atop the AL Central, leading by seven games, the largest division lead in the majors. They have the best record in the AL and only the Oakland Athletics (+95) have a better run differential than the Tigers (+55).

Detroit has reached the ALCS in each of the last three seasons yet has zero World Series wins in that span.

This year they'll try to become just the fourth team to make four consecutive ALCS appearances and the first since the Yankees from 1998-2001.

The Tigers have also been nearly unbeatable on the road this season with a MLB-best 14-4 record and wins in each of their last 11 games away from home, their longest road win streak since 1983-84.

Cabrera rounding into form
Miguel Cabrera started the season cold but has been on a tear over the past month. Through April 21, he was hitting just .206 with one homer. In 23 games since then he has hit six home runs and a .389 batting average in that span.

As you can see in the chart on the right, his numbers for the season are now on par or better than what he did in his first 39 games in 2012, when he won the MVP and Triple Crown.

What are some of the keys to his turnaround so far?

From 2011-13, no AL player had a higher batting average vs. off-speed pitches than Cabrera. Yet he started this season just 4 for 23 (.174) against soft stuff in his first 16 games. Since then he has been crushing those offerings, hitting .533 with three homers in at-bats ending in an off-speed pitch.

Cabrera is also hitting the ball with authority to all fields now. Through April 21, he had just one hit to right field, a double against the Royals on April 19.

In 23 games since then he is 14 for 30 when putting the ball in play to the opposite field, and four of his six homers in that span have gone over the right field fence. Over the last five seasons, only Joey Votto (47) has more opposite field homers than Cabrera (42).

Indians defensive problems
The Indians rank 26th in runs allowed so it’s no surprise that they are arguably the worst defensive team in the majors this year.

They have the fewest Defensive Runs Saved, the most errors, the lowest defensive efficiency, and have allowed the most unearned runs.

The Indians have negative Defensive Runs Saved at every position except pitcher and catcher this season, meaning every other position has cost them at least a run on defense.

The Carlos Santana experiment at third base has not worked well for the Indians on defense this season. He has played the majority of the team's games at the hot corner and has cost the team four runs, the third-most of any third baseman in the majors.

Top stats to know: Tigers at Red Sox

May, 18, 2014
May 18
The Detroit Tigers go for the sweep of the Boston Red Sox as they look to extend their winning streak to six games on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 p.m., ESPN).

The Tigers have outscored the Red Sox 7-1 in the series and have the 2013 American League ERA champ returning to the mound tonight. Here are some of the storylines Dan Shulman, John Kruk and Buster Olney will be talking about on our telecast.

Inside the Pitching Matchup: Sanchez vs. Peavy
Anibal Sanchez has gone from a solid midrotation starter with the Marlins to front-line caliber with the Tigers. His ERA, which was 3.70 from 2010 to 2012, dropped to 2.63 combining 2013 and 2014, with a strikeout rate that increased from 21 percent to 27 percent of hitters faced.

What has changed about Sanchez’s profile? He is throwing his devastating changeup more often than he used to, increasing its use from 15 times per 100 pitches (2010 to 2012) to 23 times per 100 pitches (2013 and 2014).

Red Sox starter Jake Peavy has had his share of struggles this season, and the primary reason for this has been something uncharacteristic -- wildness. Peavy leads AL starting pitchers with a 13 percent walk rate this season.

Star Watch: Ortiz vs. Cabrera
What should we be watching out for from two of the game’s premier power hitters in David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera this evening?

With Ortiz, watch how Sanchez pitches him. If Sanchez throws him a pitch on the outer half of the plate, he’s living dangerously. Ortiz has a .364 batting average (best in the majors) over the past three seasons in at-bats that end with an outer-half pitch.

With Cabrera in the middle of a potent Tigers lineup, see how the Red Sox approach the situation should they face him with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Over the past three seasons, Cabrera is hitting .444 (56-for-126) with 15 homers in that scenario. Even when opponents try to avoid him, they can’t. He is 19-for-49 in those situations when the at-bat ends with a pitch out of the strike zone.

Red-Hot: Victor Martinez
Tigers DH Martinez got off to a slow start last season but has been one of the best hitters in the game over the past 11 months. Martinez’s .357 batting average since July 1 is the best in the majors over that span.

Martinez has hit safely in 18 of his last 19 games, with six home runs in 74 at-bats. He is 3-for-9 in this series, but the damage could be far worse. He has recorded six balls that our hit classification system charted as “hard-hit.”

What makes Martinez so challenging is that he is extraordinarily difficult to strike out. He has fanned in only 6 percent of his plate appearances this season, the lowest rate among any hitter currently qualified for the batting title.

Cabrera's dominant form reemerges

May, 14, 2014
May 14
Pretty soon, you'll forget that Miguel Cabrera had any early-season struggles.

Cabrera’s go-ahead home run in the ninth inning off Tommy Hunter continued his red-hot play of late, as the Tigers snared a comeback win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Though the start to Cabrera’s 2014 season left a lot to be desired, he’s rounding into MVP form over the last three weeks, and is now hitting .298 with an .846 OPS this season, with the second-most RBIs in the American League (33). That’s in large part because he’s hit .372 since April 22.

Let’s dig deeper to found out what’s been the key to his turnaround.

Covering the outer half
The most noteworthy change for Cabrera has been in his ability to get to the pitch on the outer half of the plate -– as he did on the home run against Hunter.

Through April 21, Cabrera was hitting .167 with a .222 slugging percentage against pitches on the outer half. Since then, he’s hitting .371 with a .686 slugging percentage against those pitches.

You can see the difference in the hot zone images below.

This is more like what we're used to from Cabrera, who has ranked in the top 5 in OPS against pitches on the outer half in each season since 2009.

Mr. Clutch
Cabrera has 11 go-ahead home runs in the ninth inning or later since the start of the 2008 season.

No one else in the majors has more than eight such home runs in that same span.

Cabrera has racked up accolades, dollars

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27

Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesMiguel Cabrera hits almost everything.
The Detroit Tigers have reportedly agreed to a new 10-year deal with Miguel Cabrera that will be worth $292 million. It would be the largest deal in major league history.

Cabrera’s accomplishments

For his career, Cabrera has 365 home runs, 1,260 RBI and a .321 batting average. Only seven other players have ever amassed those numbers over an entire career. Six of them are in the Hall of Fame. The other is Albert Pujols.

Over the past 10 seasons, Cabrera’s average season is a .324 batting average with 35 home runs, 120 RBIs and 191 hits. He’s played 1,573 games in that span, which trails only Ichiro Suzuki's 1,588.

Cabrera has 227 homers and 737 RBIs over the last six seasons, both of which rank as the best in baseball.

Over the past three seasons, Cabrera has totaled a major league-best 22.1 WAR (wins above replacement).

Cabrera has also been clutch: His slash line with runners in scoring position and two outs over the past four seasons is .389/.545/.717.

His ability to drive the ball separates him as well. He hit home runs on 25 percent of his fly balls last season, a rate that trailed only Chris Davis (27.9) in the American League.

Cabrera can hit any pitch. Over the past five seasons, he has 35 home runs on pitches that were inside and out of the strike zone. No one else has more than 25.

The 10-year deal

There are not a lot of completed 10-year deals from which to draw upon. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter had one from 2001 to 2010, during which he accumulated 41.1 WAR and netted $189 million.

Troy Tulowitzki and Pujols are in the midst of 10-year deals. Tulowitzki’s started in 2011, and in the first three seasons, he’s missed 170 games and posted 11.8 WAR.

Pujols also had injury issues that caused him to miss 63 games in 2013, the second year of his 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Now-suspended Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez had a pair of 10-year deals, the first of which ran from 2001 to 2007 before he opted out. In that seven-year span, he averaged eight WAR per season. In the second iteration of that deal, one that runs until he is 42 years old, he’s averaged 3.6 WAR over six seasons.

Among those starting 10-year deals this season are Cabrera, Joey Votto and Robinson Cano.

What are the chances it’s worth it?

Let’s use Baseball-Reference WAR to take a quick look at the expectations for Cabrera.

If the Tigers hope that Cabrera will be worth 40 WAR over the course of the contract, that wouldn’t be unprecedented. There are 21 instances since 1900 of a player tallying 40 WAR in a span of a maximum of 10 seasons that began with their age-31 season.

These include some of the greatest players of all time: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Ted Williams.

Only nine players accumulated 50 WAR over that span.

However, Baseball-Reference lists Cabrera as weighing 240 pounds. The most WAR accumulated over a maximum 10-year span by a player listed at 220 pounds or heavier and age 31 or older is Jim Thome’s 32.4.

One potential comparable for Cabrera could be Frank Thomas. Over a 10-year period from 1999 to 2008, starting with his age-31 season, "The Big Hurt" averaged 23 homers and 74 RBI, with a .277/.390/.521 slash line and played an average of 109 games per season.

Another could be Andres Galarraga, who had the advantage of playing in hitter-friendly Colorado. Over the 10 years from 1992 to 2001, Galarraga had a .302/.361/.550 slash line, averaging 27 homers, 91 RBI and 119 games from ages 31 to 40.

KC looks for Infante to replicate success

December, 13, 2013
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsOmar Infante's specialty is making sure bat meets ball.
The Kansas City Royals made what they think is an upgrade to their infield by agreeing to a four-year deal with free agent second baseman Omar Infante on Friday.

They’re counting on two different things from Infante—that his offensive numbers from last season can be maintained, even though they’re a bit abberational, and that his defensive numbers from last season were an aberration, and will return to what they were in past seasons.

Infante hit .318, with a .345 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage last season. He had the fourth-highest batting average among anyone in the American League with at least 250 plate appearances last season.

He also ranked as the third-toughest hitter in the league to strike out, fanning in only 9.2 percent of his plate appearances last season.

Infante was among the game’s best two-strike hitters last season, hitting .272 with a .430 slugging percentage in those situations, each of which ranked fifth-best in the majors (among those with at least 100 two-strike plate appearances).

These numbers differ from his career totals and recent trends in a couple of ways. He hit .218 in two-strike situations from 2008 to 2012, and his five two-strike home runs were one more than he had from 2009 to 2012 combined.

Royals second baseman had a .243/.296/.304 slashline last season. Their .600 OPS at the position rated 28th among the 30 major-league teams. It marked the third straight season that Royals second baseman ranked in the bottom seven of the league in that statistic.

The one thing that the Royals did get out of their second baseman last season was defense. Their second basemen combined for 18 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of any team in the major leagues.

Infante normally rates as a steady second baseman. He had 13 Defensive Runs Saved at the position from 2010 to 2012. But last season, he finished with -5 Defensive Runs Saved.

Infante’s rating was hurt by issues handling line drives and popups. He may be helped moving to Kansas City and working with Royals outfielders Lorenzo Cain and David Lough, each of whom had positive ratings on balls hit to the shallowest parts of the outfield.

The contract
Infante will reportedly net $30.25 million over the course of the deal. He joins Jason Vargas, who received $32 million over four years, as the team’s two primary free-agent signings. It’s the first time in Royals history that they’ve signed two free agents to contracts worth $30 million in the same offseason.

He’s the 11th free agent this offseason to agree to a contract worth $30 million. The last offseason with more such deals was in 2006-2007, when there were 14.