Could the Tigers’ Road Record Be Their Undoing?

Coming out of the All-Star break the Tigers had a chance to change the landscape of the AL Central. The two other teams in the race, the White Sox and the Twins, faced off against each other, while the Tigers took on the last-place Indians. The Twins did their part to change the standings by taking three of four, but the Tigers could not capitalize. They left Cleveland without a win. So while the AL Central landscape did change, it did not benefit Detroit. Instead, the weekend series left them with a woeful road record of 16-29, which is worse than all but six teams in the league. Those six teams reside in the cellars of their respective divisions.

The team’s road troubles, unsurprisingly, come from both the offense and the pitching. As a team the Tigers have a 5.22 road ERA, worst in the AL. They’ve started seven pitchers for more than two games on the road and the lowest ERA of the bunch, 4.94, belongs to a guy no longer on the team, Dontrelle Willis. Tigers pitchers allow opponents to get on base when on the road, recording a .355 OBP-against that ranks second to last in the AL and a 1.49 WHIP that ranks third to last.

At home, the pitching staff is much better. It has a collective 3.53 ERA, good for fourth in the AL. Its OBP against falls to .318 at home, which is right in the middle of the AL pack. Its WHIP is also middle of the pack at 1.31. Those starters with inflated ERAs on the road perform much better at home. The highest ERA of those with more than two home starts is Dontrelle at 5.03. Of the active Tigers Rick Porcello leads the way at 4.37.

On offense, the Tigers have something of a power problem on the road. When away from Comerica Park the team is slugging .394 with a .133 ISO. At home they’re a bit better: a .445 SLG with a .159 ISO. There is also a .017 difference in BABIP, which helps account for the .025 difference in AVG. Even still, that puts the Tigers in a decent position, eighth in the AL in road SLG and fifth in road OBP. In other words, the offense might be worse on the road than at home, but that doesn’t make them totally bad on the road. First-place Texas, for instance, ranks ninth in road OBP and 12th in road SLG among AL teams.

The chances for a turnaround, then, seem to rest on the pitching staff. The good news is that despite the AL-worst road ERA, the staff actually has a decent road FIP, 4.05. If the Tigers’ ERA and FIP matched, they would have allowed only 172 earned runs on the road rather than 221. If we give them 181 total runs, that would leave them with a run differential of -3, which puts them in a much better position. If the Tigers can manage that kind of performance in the second half (even though they’ve gotten off to a bad start), they can continue making the AL Central a three-team shootout.

Then again, if they’re going to improve on the road they’ll also have to maintain some of their lofty production at home. At 32-13, the Tigers have a better home record than every team in baseball except Atlanta, and even then it’s a one-loss difference. Unsurprisingly, the team home ERA is considerably lower than its FIP, 3.53 to 3.91. Using the same method as above, that would translate to roughly 187 runs allowed. That’s good for a run differential of +44, or a .604 winning percentage.

Where does that leave the Tigers? If we correct for terrible pitching luck on the road and do the same for their home pitching performance, we get a rough estimate of a .553 winning percentage, which is actually a bit better than where they’re at right now. We can’t exactly expect the Tigers to start pitching more to their FIP either at home or on the road — who knows how long their poor and good luck situations can last — but it also looks like the Tigers might stick around in the second half despite their -2 run differential.

After getting those four games in Cleveland out of the way the Tigers have 36 games remaining on the road and 36 at home. If their current paces continue, obviously, they’ll stay in the same place, a .533 win percentage that probably won’t be good enough to win the division. But what can they do if they’re going to make a run? The team sports similar FIP numbers on the road and at home, yet have realized far worse results on the road. That doesn’t seem like something they can actively correct. Maybe they’ll add a piece or two, but for the most part they’ll have to wait it out. If their luck turns around we could see a compelling AL Central race. If it doesn’t, we might be tuning into the Twins and White Sox show come September.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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The Twins aren’t doing too hot on the road either. Despite the fact that 8 of the White Sox’ wins on the road came against the Pirates, Cubs, and Nationals, they still seem like a much better road team than the Twins and Tigers. Their road ERA is about half a run higher than their home ERA, something that doesn’t seem completely abnormal.

Meanwhile, the Tigers and Twins 1.5-2 run differentials in their home/road ERAs.

Not to mention the Tigers have an extremely rough stretch coming up. This is when some we may start seeing some separation between the Tigers and the Sox and Twins.