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Starting Max Scherzer in Game 1 Is Wrong Move for the Detroit Tigers

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 25: Max Scherzer #37 of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the game on September 25, 2013 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Chris StephensCorrespondent IIOctober 1, 2013

The Detroit Tigers have set their playoff rotation, and according to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, Max Scherzer is going to get the ball in Game 1.

After having gone 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts, Scherzer showed he's been the best pitcher on the Tigers in 2013 and one of the best pitchers in the American League.

The Tigers will host the Oakland Athletics, a team that has less than half the payroll the Tigers do. But it's also a team that took four of seven games from the Tigers.

Many people in the media think giving the ball to Scherzer is the best thing for the Tigers:

But looking into the numbers, having Scherzer pitch in Game 1 is a bad decision on the part of manager Jim Leyland.

 

Against the A's This Year

Here's how each of Detroit's top pitchers stack up against the A's this year:

Despite Scherzer having a better season overall, Justin Verlander has clearly been the better pitcher against the A's this year. Moreover, he has experience pitching in Game 1 of a playoff series, including two last year.

Anibal Sanchez has also had more success than Scherzer against the A's this year.

Some will point to the fact that Verlander lost Game 1 of the World Series last year against the Giants, a game in which he gave up five runs in four innings. However, if you look to his Game 1 start in the ALDS against the A's, he went seven innings, gave up one run and struck out 11.

In fact, he also picked up a win in Game 5 of that same series, pitching a complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts.

Last year, Verlander shined in the postseason, going 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA and 29 strikeouts. He also only allowed opponents to hit .160 against him, the best of any starter with at least two postseason starts.

 

Since Aug. 1

To further the point, let's look at how each starter has done since the beginning of August:

Going by these numbers, Sanchez and Scherzer are comparable. Scherzer has a smaller WHIP and BAA, while Sanchez's ERA is lower. In reality, it's a coin flip over who has been better since Aug. 1.

However, over the course of the year, Sanchez never saw his ERA go above 2.93. He gave up runs here and there, but only four or more four times this year. Compare that to Scherzer, who gave up four or more runs seven times.

The last start of the regular season is also a big one, as it's sort of the dress rehearsal for the postseason. In Scherzer's start, he went seven innings and gave up no runs, but walked six against the Twins on Sept. 25. 

Compare that to Verlander, who gave up no runs and one walk on Sept. 29 against the Marlins. Sanchez was also good, giving up two hits and no walks in five innings against the Marlins the day before Verlander.

To put it into perspective, in the last two months Scherzer has walked at least three batters in five of the seven times he's gotten at least six strikeouts. On the other hand, the other four times where he struck out less than six, he walked one or none.

 

Who Should Start

While Verlander does have the Game 1 experience, and Scherzer has been the Tigers' best pitcher this year, there's no question that Sanchez is the guy who should be starting Game 1.

He's kept his ERA low all year and had success against Oakland this year.

Verlander wouldn't get the nod mainly because he has struggled at times this year, although not against the A's.

When it comes down to it, in Game 1, I want a pitcher that I know won't give up more than two runs. The offense is powerful with guys like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but a pitcher who can shut down the A's will allow Detroit hitters to relax at the plate.

That pitcher is Anibal Sanchez.

 

Note: All stats taken from Baseball-Reference.com

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