This might be the first time you've thought about the Tigers in your life. As such, you might be unacquainted with the good folks over at Bless You Boys, SB Nation's Tigers blog. I answered a few questions for them here, and they were kind enough to answer five of my questions in return.
1. What does a bad Verlander start look like? I know he has to have them. Can you tell he's off early, does he lose his release point late ... what are his warning signs?
The word "bad" doesn't really fit into Justin Verlander's vocabulary, but he has off days. How can you tell? Well, don't get too excited if he gives up a home run to lead off the game. He has done this five times in 2012, including in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Oakland A's. In three of those five games, he ended up going 7+ innings while allowing two runs or fewer.
The real way to tell if Verlander is off is whether teams are able to jump on the first-pitch fastball. Opponents hit .303/.317/.545 off of him on the first pitch this season in 104 plate appearances. By comparison, opposing hitters were .245/.403/.409 when ahead in the count. Need another sign? Watch his velocity. If Verlander starts hitting 97+ mph on the radar gun in the first few innings, there's a good chance he doesn't trust his secondary pitches. When he starts overthrowing like this, his command suffers and he struggles to get into the later innings.
2. Why can Doug Fister strike hitters out now?
We're not 100% sure how Fister transitioned from decent contact pitcher to Destroyer of All Offenses during the second half of 2011, but we're definitely not complaining. This didn't change in 2012 either; once he was finally healthy, Fister was 8-4 with a 2.67 ERA after the All-Star Break.
As for why he's striking out more hitters? Again, we're not entirely sure. My guess is that his curveball is playing a big role. He has thrown it much more often in the past two seasons compared to his first two years with the Mariners; he threw it just 8.8% of the time in 2010 (his first full season) compared to 19.6% of the time this season. And when Fister can throw that curveball with command? Good night. Hitters have whiffed on 17.2% of the curveballs that Dougie Fresh threw in the second half this year.
3. Delmon Young ... come on. That can't be real, right?
We're just as stumped as you are. He is 12 for 36 with five home runs in his last two playoff series against the Yankees, but a combined 4 for 32 with two homers against Texas (2011) and Oakland (2012). It's entirely possible that the Yankees haven't learned what the rest of baseball already knows: don't throw him a first pitch strike. He hit .362/.361/.585 in those situations during the regular season. And if you happen to get past that first pitch? Continue to pitch out of the strike zone. Delmon swung at a whopping 44.9% of pitches outside of the strike zone this season, second only to Josh Hamilton (45.4%) among qualified hitters.
4. What did Austin Jackson change between last postseason and this postseason? The stats say he's a totally different hitter, and I remember thinking he was totally overwhelmed last season in the playoffs.
Finally, a question I can legitimately answer. Jackson worked with oft-maligned hitting coach Lloyd McClendon throughout the offseason to work on his swing mechanics. McClendon was able to correct the high leg kick that Jackson featured during his first two big league seasons, and the results were astounding. Jackson not only hit .300/.377/.479 in 617 plate appearances, but he also decreased his strikeout rate to 21.7% this year, down from 27.1% last season.
But forget all that number stuff, we have pictures! Here's Jackson fouling off a random pitch from last year's ALCS.
And here's a random Jackson single against the Yankees in this year's ALCS.
As you might imagine, getting rid of that wonky motion has improved his timing immensely.
5. You know that a San Francisco band wrote a song that referenced South Detroit? What's South Detroit like? I heard it doesn't exist.
The rumors that "South Detroit" doesn't exist aren't completely true, but they are close. The only semblance of a South Detroit is actually a nice little town called Windsor... which is in Canada. So basically, while you're picturing South Detroit like this:
It actually looks (more or less) like this:
...but with a healthy contingent of intoxicated 19-20 year olds (Ontario's legal drinking age is 19).
Thanks to Rob Rogacki at Bless You Boys, who seems like a nice guy, even if he thinks that Canada is south of the United Stats lolololol.