Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
The American League Central looks like it will be a closely contested race between 3 or 4 teams this season (sorry, Twins fans). The Royals will have to battle with the Tigers at the top, with the Indians and White Sox likely not too far behind. No one should be surprised if any of those teams comes out on top, although I do think Kansas City and Detroit have a slight advantage right now.
A division isn’t won with the 19 intra-division games between 2 teams, but it’s fun to look at some aspects of those matchup that could be worth watching when the Royals and Tigers square off.
The Tigers’ lineup appears to be strong once again, having picked up Yoenis Cespedes to replace Torii Hunter, and re-signing Victor Martinez to a massive contract. They still have Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera, with J.D. Martinez looking to follow up his breakout season.
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Their center field situation isn’t great, although the Anthony Gose/Rajai Davis platoon should at least bring some speed to the bottom of the order. And even though Nick Castellanos had a rough 2014, the talent is there.
It’s going to be tough for any pitcher to navigate his way through that group of Tigers hitters, but you may notice one thing about that lineup: it’s incredibly right-handed.
Other than Gose, V-Mart, and Alex Avila, the entire starting lineup is right-handed. Granted, they had a righty-heavy lineup last year, and they still were one of the best offenses in the league, both overall and against right-handed pitching. Still, platoon splits are fun to pay attention to, so which Royals starting pitchers might be able to take advantage of so many right-handed bats?
Would you believe me if I told you it was Jeremy Guthrie?
Of course you wouldn’t. But you should. See:
You probably still don’t believe me, but it’s real. It’s on the internet and everything. Guthrie has had more success against righties than any other Royals starting pitcher.
It’s not exactly clear how Guthrie has achieved that success, however. His best offspeed pitch is his changeup, a pitch not known for same-side domination. His curveball, changeup, and cutter are nothing special in terms of movement, and those are the pitches most likely to help in a platoon advantage. And while his fastball is thrown harder than you probably realize (~93 MPH), it doesn’t look much more than average.
If there’s one thing that may help explain his production, it’s likely in the pitch location. Guthrie pitches inside quite frequently to right-handed batters, particularly with his hard stuff.
He’s also hit 48 right-handed hitters in his career, including 18 in the last three seasons, again showing he likes to control the inner part of the plate. Since he does have some velocity, those inside pitches might be tougher to handle for righties.
At first glance, it looks like that may not be the case:
But upon further inspection, we see that those pitches might actually be tying up the opponents’ hands:
Guthrie induced a lot of popups from right-handers last year, and a lot of them came from inside fastballs. He’s made a career of limiting hard contact, so it only makes sense that he would display that skill when he has the platoon advantage.
Now, how well will this skill translate against the Tigers? Guthrie allowed a .904 OPS to the Tigers last year. If you like basing things on a sample size of 93 plate appearances, you probably aren’t too excited to see an older Guthrie face that lineup once again. But based on Guthrie’s career against righties, he might be able to get better results next season.
Or maybe not. After all, V-Mart is a switch hitter, Kinsler and Cespedes can handle righties just fine, and Cabrera is a cyborg who cannot be stopped by pitchers throwing multiple baseballs at the same time with both arms, so Guthrie’s chances might not be better than any other Royal.
For all we know, Guthrie might end up with the worst numbers of any starter against the Tigers in 2015, and it may not be that surprising. Considering the other pitchers in the rotation, you probably expect that. Then again, you wouldn’t have expected Guthrie to be the team’s best starter against righty bats, and yet, there you are.