DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are off to a strong start in August after completing three straight months with winning records.
They’ve won four of six series and scored more runs than any team in baseball since the All-Star break. That’s just one of many stats demonstrating how much the Tigers have improved since May.
But there’s much more room to grow, especially for some of the team’s young players. As A.J. Hinch and his staff continue to develop this roster, here are some of the stats that, if they improve, could really help the Tigers down the stretch.
Zack Short’s strikeout rate
When opposing fans see the stats graphic every time Short comes to the plate, they probably look at his .152 batting average and assume he’s some minor-league scrub filling in until the Tigers find a replacement. That doesn’t need to be the case, though.
Short has excellent defensive skills, plus speed and surprising power at the plate. There’s really only one glaring weakness in his game, and that’s an inability to make contact.
Through 128 plate appearances, Short has struck out 46 times -- a 35.9% strikeout rate. Even the best power hitters in the game can’t survive with a strikeout rate that high, so Short needs to find a way to make more contact.
His 14% walk rate is excellent for a young player, and honestly, fixing a high strikeout rate is easier than learning how to draw a walk. So that’s a good sign for Short’s future.
But right now, he’s whiffing on 27.8% of the pitches he sees. That’s way too high.
Short’s strikeout rate across 1,712 minor-league plate appearances was a much more manageable 22%. He’s better than what we’ve seen so far.
Eric Haase’s strikeout-to-walk rate
Haase’s strikeout rate (31.1%) isn’t quite as high as Short’s, and he provides enough power to justify it. But if he could either get it down closer to 25% or improve his 6.2% walk rate, it would greatly increase his on-base numbers.
The rookie catcher is tied for the team lead with 18 home runs despite playing in only 62 games. That’s why his WAR (wins above replacement) is an incredible 2.1 despite a sub-.300 OBP.
Let’s be clear: Haase doesn’t need to be a high on-base guy to have tremendous offensive value, especially as a catcher. But bumping up that OBP to around .320 could make him one of the better hitting backstops in the league.
Tarik Skubal’s home run rate
Skubal has been overshadowed by Casey Mize this season, but in some critical categories, he’s actually been much better.
Skubal is striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings with a very manageable walk rate. He has the best strikeout-to-walk rate among Tigers starters.
But home runs have crushed Skubal’s ERA and damped the overall enthusiasm about his season. He’s allowing two home runs per nine innings, which is way too high for a guy with his caliber of stuff.
Skubal likes to work up in the zone and he doesn’t have pinpoint command -- both ingredients for home runs. Still, it feels like he’s been unlucky to allow 25 bombs in 110.1 innings.
Gregory Soto’s walk rate
The Tigers have worked their way into a pretty comfortable position when they have a lead late in games. Michael Fulmer and Jose Cisnero are excellent setup options, and Soto has converted 12 saves.
Soto is striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings, limiting hard contact and keeping the ball in the yard. He just has one stat to clean up: a high walk rate.
Soto is surviving -- no, flourishing -- despite walking 5.4 batters per nine innings. That means he’s issuing well over one free pass every other inning. For someone who often comes into games with a one- or two-run lead, that’s playing with fire.
So far, Soto hasn’t been burned because he can throw over 100 mph with a filthy slider. But when a pitcher issues so many walks, one swing of the bat can quickly turn a win into a loss. Just imagine how dominant he could be with improved control.
Casey Mize’s swinging strike rate
It’s hard to complain about Mize because his results have been so consistently solid. He appears to be trending toward the ace the Tigers thought they were getting with the No. 1 overall pick.
But his inability to generate swings and misses still worries me.
Mize was never a standout in terms of missing bats in the minor leagues, but he was typically at least above average. This season, though, hitters are only whiffing on 10% of his pitches.
He’s been able to survive by avoiding walks and keeping the ball on the ground. That’s certainly a formula that can work at the major league level, but the margin for error is much thinner. It’s a bit reminiscent of Fulmer’s early seasons, and the Tigers have higher hopes for Mize.
Matt Manning’s strikeout rate
It’s too early in Manning’s career to draw lasting conclusions, but there are a number of areas that need to improve.
He’s allowing too much hard contact and generating too few whiffs. But let’s just simplify it all down to one stat: Manning has to get more strikeouts.
Right now, Manning’s strikeout rate is the worst on the roster. It’s lower than Wily Peralta’s, Ian Krol’s and even Erasmo Ramirez’s. We’re talking about a top 50 prospect who made a living off of strikeouts his entire minor league career.
Manning hasn’t pitched terribly in his first eight games, but the strikeout rate is destroying the rest of his numbers. His three walks per nine innings wouldn’t be a concern, except he’s only averaging 1.5 strikeouts per walk.
His WHIP is an elevated 1.448 because he’s allowing 10 hits per nine innings. He gives up so many hits because pretty much every at-bat ends with a ball in play, and every ball in play has a non-zero chance of being a base hit.
In order to succeed at the MLB level, Manning needs to be at least a strikeout-per-inning pitcher. That means he needs to double his current rate of 4.7 strikeouts per nine. That’s a massive jump to make all in one season, but the Tigers would settle for baby steps between now and October.