Detroit vs. Oakland: ALDS 2013 Position-by-Position Breakdown

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

Detroit vs. Oakland: ALDS 2013 Position-by-Position Breakdown

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    When the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics get together at 9:37 p.m. ET on Friday Night at O.co Coliseum to open the second American League Division Series of the 2013 MLB playoffs, the home team will be looking to exact some revenge on its more ballyhooed visitors.

    It was only a year ago that Detroit ended Oakland's surprising, remarkable run to the playoffs, dispatching the AL West champions in five games behind a pair of sterling performances from Justin Verlander, who held the A's to one earned run over 16 innings of work and walked five while fanning 22.

    Can Oakland advance to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2006? Or will the Tigers once again reign supreme?

    Let's go around the horn and try to figure that out, breaking down each team position by position, looking at regular-season and head-to-head stats, as well as past playoff performances and who's hot—and who's not—heading into this best-of-five scenario.

     

    *Defensive statistics courtesy of FanGraphs; All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

    *Reserves are only mentioned if likely to make more than a cameo appearance in the series.

Catcher: Alex Avila vs. Stephen Vogt

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    Stephen Vogt is the best of a mediocre group of backstops.
    Stephen Vogt is the best of a mediocre group of backstops.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPS XBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Alex Avila (DET).227.317.69326 (11)4744112
    Stephen Vogt (OAK).252.295.69511 (4)16928

    While Alex Avila has the most postseason experience out of the five catchers that will be in uniform during this series, his playoff numbers are actually worse than his regular-season numbers this year—no small feat considering how terrible he was for the Tigers in 2013.

    In 20 playoff games, Avila has hit only .129/.164/.229 with three extra-base hits (two home runs) and three RBI.

    Even worse than his career numbers in October is his throwing arm, which allowed him to nail only 17 percent of would-be base stealers, allowing 73 stolen bases on the season, fifth-most in baseball.

    Despite his struggles, there's virtually no chance of Avila losing a start to Brayan Pena, a quality backup in his own right, against Oakland.

    Stephen Vogt isn't a stud behind the plate by any means, but he's thrown out 31 percent of those who try to run on him. He's also had success at the plate against Detroit this season, hitting .364/.417/.364 in three games at Comerica Park.

    Kurt Suzuki and Derek Norris, part of a three-way platoon with Vogt, will be stuck on the bench against a Detroit rotation that features nothing but right-handed starters, though both could see action against left-handed relievers late in games.

    While Avila is the more established player and neither Detroit or Oakland are teams that are known for their base-stealing prowess, Vogt's superior throwing arm gives him the slightest of advantages over Avila behind the plate.

    Advantage: Oakland

First Base: Prince Fielder vs. Daric Barton

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPSXBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Prince Fielder (DET).279.362.81961 (25)10675117
    Daric Barton (OAK).269.350.7255 (3)161318

    It's not easy for a man of Prince Fielder's imposing physical stature to successfully disappear, but as B/R's Zach Rymer went into great detail about recently, the larger-than-life first baseman does just that when the playoffs roll around.

    This hasn't been a very Fielder-like season for the All-Star, with a slash line that was well below the .287/.393/.538 career marks that he entered the season with. It wasn't until Sept. 4 that he finally got his OPS above .800 for good this season, hitting .341/.404/.553 over his last 23 games.

    Daric Barton is far better with the glove than Fielder and knows how to get on base, but the 29-year-old has spent the majority of his career riding the minor league shuttle for a reason—he's a mediocre major league player at best.

    Big Advantage: Detroit

Second Base: Omar Infante vs. Alberto Callaspo

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPS XBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Omar Infante (DET).318.345.79537 (10)512044
    Alberto Callaspo (OAK).270.350.75912 (5)221925

    At the age of 31, Omar Infante had his best season at the plate, setting new career highs with a .795 OPS and 117 wRC+, the latter the fifth-highest mark posted by a second baseman with at least 450 plate appearances this season, according to FanGraphs.

    Alberto Callaspo was no slouch at the plate either, with his .759 OPS in 50 games as a member of the A's serving as the second-highest OPS of his career, trailing only the .814 mark he set as an everyday player with the Royals in 2009.

    But there's no comparison between the two in the field, where Infante's 2.4 UZR/150 and minus-5 DRS is Gold Glove-caliber compared to the minus-25.4 and minus-8.0 that Callaspo produced while manning second base for Oakland.

    Advantage: Detroit

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera vs. Josh Donaldson

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    Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPS XBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Miguel Cabrera (DET).348.4421.07871 (44)1379094
    Josh Donaldson (OAK).301.384.88364 (24)9376110

    Miguel Cabrera might be the best hitter in baseball, but the reigning AL MVP is far from himself these days, thanks to injuries to his abdomen and groin that have left him in a lot of pain, as skipper Jim Leyland explained to reporters earlier this week (via ESPN): "He's not 100 percent. He's been playing in a lot of pain. He's a real tough guy. I think if anybody knew the pain he's playing in, they probably wouldn't believe it."

    That pain has been evident in his numbers, which saw him hit .278/.395/.333 in September with only two extra-base hits and seven RBI, the only month this season that he's posted an OPS below .995 or drove in fewer than 17 runs.

    Josh Donaldson is a legitimate MVP candidate who is coming off of his best month of the season, hitting .337/.454/.596 with 13 extra-base hits and 16 RBI over his last 25 games. Defensively, he's superior in every way to Cabrera—something you don't need advanced metrics to see.

    Cabrera's inability to drive the ball with authority due to the injury, coupled with Donaldson's hot bat and superior defense make this an even battle—something that wouldn't be the case were Cabrera himself.

    Advantage: Even

Shortstop: Jose Iglesias vs. Jed Lowrie

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPS XBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Jose Iglesias (DET).259.308.6548 (2)10430
    Jed Lowrie (OAK).290.344.79162 (15)755091

    Sending Jed Lowrie into the field at shortstop is a dangerous proposition, as the six-year veteran's minus-9.2 UZR/150 and minus-18 DRS (the worst among qualified shortstops) indicate, giving Detroit a major advantage with Jose Iglesias' glove.

    But Lowrie makes up for it with his production at the plate, ranking third in baseball with 45 doubles and trailing only Troy Tulowitzki in OPS among major league shortstops. Meanwhile, the concerns that Boston had about Iglesias' bat have come to life in Detroit, as he managed only 10 hits in 50 September at-bats, striking out 12 times while failing to draw a walk.

    With no discernible power to rely on, Iglesias' inability to get on base with any consistency gives Lowrie and the A's a distinct positional advantage, despite his shortcomings with the glove.

    Advantage: Oakland

Left Field: Jhonny Peralta vs. Yoenis Cespedes

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPSXBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Jhonny Peralta (DET).308.358.81541 (11)553598
    Yoenis Cespedes (OAK).240.294.73751 (26)8037137

    What are we to make of Jhonny Peralta, who has gone 3-for-12 since returning from his 50-game suspension as part of MLB's Biogenesis investigation?

    Is he the same player that he was before? How much rust does he have to shake off? And, considering that he has played a grand total of 18.2 innings in the outfield over his 11-year career, how reliable of a defender is he?

    There are questions revolving around Yoenis Cespedes as well, namely how his injured right shoulder is feeling and how it will impact him both at the plate and in the field, where his strong throwing arm is sure to be limited.

    That said, the questions revolving around Peralta are far more significant than those floating around Cespedes, giving this year's Home Run Derby champion the edge.

    Advantage: Oakland

Center Field: Austin Jackson vs. Coco Crisp

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPS XBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Austin Jackson (DET).272.337.75449 (12)4952129
    Coco Crisp (OAK).261.335.77947 (22)666165

    Talk about close.

    You've got two quality defensive center fielders (despite advanced metrics indicating otherwise), both adept at getting on base and able to swipe a bag, though Crisp ran far more often than Jackson did this year, leading him 21 to eight.  

    When you add in their respective slash lines—which are nearly identical—it becomes even harder to declare one as having a real advantage over the other.

    What puts Crisp slightly ahead of Jackson is his home run power—his 22 bombs were a career-high, with 12 of those coming over the final two months of the season. 

    Advantage: Oakland

Right Field: Torii Hunter vs. Josh Reddick

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPS XBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Torii Hunter (DET).304.334.80059 (17)8426113
    Josh Reddick (OAK).226.307.68633 (12)564686

    Torii Hunter isn't the defender that he used to be, but the 38-year-old still swings a mean bat, setting a new career-high with 184 hits on the season. He's also found success against Oakland pitching, going 12-for-26 (.462) with seven extra-base hits (three home runs) and six RBI.

    Josh Reddick, on the other hand, has seen his defense flourish, posting the third-highest UZR/150 (22.5) among qualified right fielders. But his bat has been silent for much of the season, especially against Detroit, with only one hit and seven strikeouts in 13 at-bats 

    While Reddick had his best month of the season in September, hitting .304/.364/.482, his bat is simply too inconsistent to beat out Hunter's solid all-around game.

    Advantage: Detroit

Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez vs. Brandon Moss

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    PlayerBAOBPOPS XBH (HR)RBIBBK
    Victor Martinez (DET).301.355.78550 (14)835462
    Brandon Moss (OAK).256.337.85956 (30)8750140

    Brandon Moss had one of the quietest 30-home run seasons in recent memory, with few people paying attention to the season that he's put together for Oakland. Of those 30 home runs, 26 have come off of right-handed pitching, a major plus for Oakland since Detroit's rotation features only right-handers.

    Since the All-Star break, Victor Martinez has hit .361/.413/.500 with 21 extra-base hits and 33 RBI. He's done even better in seven games against the A's this season, with a .464/.500/.571 slash line, though he's gone only 2-for-12 (.167) in three games at O.co Coliseum.

    With Moss' power and Martinez's plate discipline equal, it's a push between the pair of dangerous designated hitters.

    Advantage: Even

Starting Rotation

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats 

    TeamW-LERAWHIPIPBB/9K/9
    Detroit76-443.441.211023.02.498.63
    Oakland72-483.721.21976.22.526.93

    (See bottom of slide for individual pitching matchups)

    Against nearly every other team in the American League, Oakland's starting rotation would have a distinct advantage over the opposition despite the group's relative inexperience. Sonny Gray has been impressive since making his debut earlier this season while Bartolo Colon, the group's lone veteran, has had a Cy Young Award-caliber season (16-8, 2.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP).

    But Detroit's rotation is different.

    You've got a former AL Cy Young and MVP Award-winner in Justin Verlander, the American League ERA champion in Anibal Sanchez, as good a fourth starter as there is in the league in Doug Fister and the prohibitive favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award this season, Max Scherzer, starting things off.

    The Tigers led the American League in ERA (and similar advanced metrics like xFIP (3.32), tERA (3.68) and SIERA (3.44) and strikeout rate (23.2 percent) while tying Oakland for the lead in WHIP and the third-lowest walk rate (6.7 percent).

    It's Detroit's experience—and the rotation's swing-and-miss stuff—that gives it a leg up on its younger counterparts.

    Advantage: Detroit

     

    ALDS Pitching Matchups

    Expected StartPitcher (Throws)W-LERAWHIPIPBB/K
    Game 1* (DET)Max Scherzer (R)21-32.900.97214.156/240
    Game 1* (OAK)Bartolo Colon (R)18-62.651.17190.129/117
    Game 2 (DET)Justin Verlander (R)13-123.461.31218.175/217
    Game 2 (OAK)Sonny Gray (R)5-32.671.1164.020/67
    Game 3 (DET)Anibal Sanchez (R)14-82.571.15182.054/202
    Game 3 (OAK)Jarrod Parker (R)12-83.971.22197.063/134
    Game 4 (DET)Doug Fister (R)14-93.671.31208.244/159
    Game 5 (OAK)Dan Straily (R)10-83.961.24152.157/124

    *Game 1 starters would start Game 5 (if necessary)

Bullpens

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    2013 Regular-Season Stats

    TeamW-LERAWHIPIPBB/9K/9
    Detroit17-254.011.34439.23.669.20
    Oakland24-183.221.22475.12.928.20

    Detroit's Achilles' heel is the bullpen, where aside from southpaw Drew Smyly (2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.59 K/9) and closer Joaquin Benoit (2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.81 K/9, 24-for-26 SV), skipper Jim Leyland doesn't have many quality options to call upon.

    Adding fifth starter Rick Porcello (4.32 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.22 K/9) to the bullpen mix gives Detroit a bit more depth, but the group still can't compete with the relievers that Oakland brings to the series.

    Led by veteran closer Grant Balfour (2.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.34 K/9, 38-for-41 SV), Oakland's bullpen pitched to the third-lowest ERA in the American League and the sixth-lowest in all of baseball.

    Ryan Cook (2.54 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 8.96 K/9 and and Dan Otero (1.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 6.23 K/9) highlight a talented group of middle relievers that are capable of shutting down opposing lineups, bridging the gap between the rotation and Balfour with relative ease.

    Big Advantage: Oakland

ALDS Prediction

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    For those keeping count, the teams each held an advantage at four positions, with two ties, and each squad having a big advantage at one position (Detroit at first base, Oakland in the bullpen).

    But so much of Detroit's success this season has rested on Miguel Cabrera's shoulders, and there's reason to be seriously concerned about his ability to deliver the kind of performance that the team has come to count on thanks to his injuries.

    Were Cabrera healthy, the pick would be Detroit in four.

    But he's not, and Oakland has a capable offense, a superior bullpen and home-field advantage—with the second-best home record in the American League. Detroit's superior rotation simply isn't going to be enough to keep the Tigers from falling short of their second consecutive World Series appearance.

    Prediction: Oakland wins in five games