Monday, May 11, 2009

First-place break

The Tigers are 17-13 and tied for first with KC in the AL Central (as if the 2008 standings turned upside down). There are many reasons for joy -- being in first place among them. There are also still reasons for concern.

Detroit caught the Indians, who have the worst record in baseball, at the right time. But there's no reason to feel badly or give anything back. The Tigers are 5-1 vs. Cleveland and that's what good teams should do against bad teams.

Negatives that could be turned into positives: Detroit has only three regulars --- Miguel Cabrera, Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson --- who are hitting above average (using OPS+). So there is much room for improvement from proven hitters like Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen.

The starting pitching has been above average. In fact, from Edwin Jackson (184 ERA+) to Justin Verlander (106 ERA+) all five starters are above 100.

Jackson has been particularly good, with no run support. Detroit was shutout once and scored four or fewer runs on four other occasions when Jackson was starting. Jackson's BB/9 is 2.2 this year (it was 3.78 last year) and his K/9 is 7.0 (it was 5.3 last year). His BABIP is low (.264) but he has a solid defensive team behind him and he's allowing only 16.8% line drives while getting 28.3% infield flies. Maybe he's making good pitches.

As for pitch selection, Jackson is throwing fewer fastballs and changes while throwing more sliders and curves. His first-pitch strike rate is 58.4%, which is up from 54.7% last year.

He's only 25. Maybe he's learning to pitch. I wonder how much credit goes to new pitching guru Rick Knapp?

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