The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Tigers in May

You thought the Tigers were struggling a bit in April? Well, yeah, they kind of were, but they at least managed to finish April three wins over the .500 mark. May was a completely different story, one that included a six-game losing streak, two four-game losing streaks, two sweeps (once by the Indians and once by the Rangers), and only three series wins (against the Twins, Rays, and Phillies). They finished the month 11-17, which is a .393 win percentage.

Not only is this not mediocre-level .500 baseball, this isn't even .400 baseball. This is not how you get to 90 wins in a season. In fact, if the Tigers want to make it to 90 wins in 2016, they'll need to go 66-45 from here on out, which means they're going to need to go on a series of very, very hot streaks.

The good

May wasn't a total wash. After a shaky first outing on May 3, Justin Verlander put together four mega-dominant outings in a row in which he threw 30 1/3 innings, posted a 1.19 ERA, a 0.890 WHIP, and a 10.98 K/9. Somehow, the Tigers only won two of those games. His final outing of the month was nearly as brilliant, at least for the first seven innings, in which he only gave up one hit and struck out seven. Then the wheels came off just a bit in the eighth inning, and Verlander ended up being charged with four runs.


Even with a bad first outing and not-as-dominant last outing, Verlander's monthly totals look like this: 42 2/3 IP, 3.16 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 0.985 WHIP, and a 9.7 K/9. That's vintage Verlander, as the cool kids say.

Also good? Miguel Cabrera.

Miggy found his power stroke in May, putting the lie to the trolls who insisted he was a washed-up "singles hitter," and his slashline for the month is a thing of beauty: .333/.415/.618, good for a 1.033 OPS. For good measure, he ripped eight home runs in 28 games, and had 20 RBI. I think Miggy's going to be ok after all.

Lastly, let's not forget about K-Rod. He made us all a little nervous in April (apparently he contracted the Zika virus in the offseason, which may have had something to do with it), but he rebounded quite nicely in May. Opposing hitters only slashed .243/.275/.405 against him, and he posted a 2.70 ERA (with an even prettier 1.69 FIP) with a K/9 of 9.9 to go with a 1.100 WHIP.

The bad

Not to pick on Justin Upton here, but I'm going to pick on Justin Upton here. He's getting $22M and some change to be a big run producer, the guy who was supposed to push a slighty-above-average Tigers offense into "elite" territory, and instead he slashed .213/.286/.326 for the month of May with just one home run and only three RBI. His strikeout rate was an unsightly 35 percent, nearly 10 percent higher than it has been for his career.

Let's put it in terms of RE24 to give us an idea of how many squandered opportunities he's got in his May bucket. Remember, RE24 measures the average number of runs scored given the number of base runners and outs, and anything above zero is considered average. For the month, Upton posted an RE24 of -4.32, bringing his season total to -6.60 -- there are only 11 (qualified) position players in the American League with a lower RE24 right now.

The ugly

Take your pick: Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey. Somehow, Mike Pelfrey has failed to pick up a pitcher win, even by accident, in ten outings. Pitcher wins are a stupid statistic, but not being able to get even one in ten attempts is even more stupid. 

In six outings in the month of May, Pelfrey only pitched a complete six innings once, so he's not exactly eating innings. Opponents slashed .331/.366/.526 against him, leading to a 5.17 ERA, a 5.48 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.660. His walk rate and strikeout rate seem to be coming back to career norms, but that outrageous FIP is fueled by the seven home runs he gave up.

Then there's Anibal Sanchez, who gave up nine home runs in the month, bringing his season total to 14 in just 11 outings -- yes, this is even worse than his atrocious 2015, in which he'd given up 12 dingers after 11 outings.

It's not just a third-time-through-the-order problem either. Forty percent of the runs he gave up in May were surrendered in the fourth inning or earlier. For the month, he posted a 7.09 ERA with a 6.57 FIP, a 1.576 WHIP, and -- the really troublesome thing -- a K/9 of just 6.0, which is pretty ugly considering that Mike Pelfrey's K/9 in May was 5.7, and Pelfrey is not known as a swing-and-miss pitcher.

But if you do want to talk about Sanchez and his third-time-through-the-order problems, here's the skinny: opponents facing him for a third time are slashing .327/.435/.750 with a 1.185 OPS, and, oh yeah, six home runs. That's almost half of his season total.

Or just take a look as his sixth inning stats: he's faced 30 batters, who are hitting .348 with a 1.370 OPS, including three doubles and three home runs, all leading to a sixth-inning ERA of 18.56 -- you either laugh or you weep for days on end.

Lastly, let's not forget Mark Lowe. The guy pegged by Brad Ausmus as a de facto "set-up man" (aka "the eighth inning guy") has two blown losses in May, and actually has a higher home run rate than either Sanchez or Pelfrey. The guy Brad Ausmus turns to for the high-leverage late inning appearances has numbers so ridiculous in May that I hesitate to cite them because you'll think I'm making it up.

But here goes: a 12.47 ERA, a 11.29 FIP, a WHIP of 2.425, and before you excitedly shriek, "but his K/9 is 9.4 for the month," don't forget that his BB/9 in May is an embarrassing 8.3 -- this is not the guy you want to take the ball unless you're in a blowout, and certainly not to earn a "hold" in the eighth inning or try to keep the game tied in the ninth.

The end

The Tigers have two starting pitchers who are basically useless as starters at this point. There's hope to be found in the fact that Michael Fulmer just strung together two consecutive outings in which he went seven innings or more, and posted a 0.69 ERA in those two starts. Also, he's got a nice 9.9 K/9 rate for the month, so hopefully he can help to keep the rotation afloat until the trade deadline.

The bullpen had an ugly month (Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Mark Lowe, and Kyle Ryan all posted negative RE24 numbers), but that's going to happen when two of your three starters can't give you at least six consistent innings, let alone seven. It's extra wear-and-tear on the relievers, and it's been showing. Take some pressure off those guys by getting the starters deep into games, and the bullpen will be fine (minus the Lowe situation).

For now, I guess, the offense is just going to have to carry the team and score more runs than the pitching staff can give up. How much longer until the trade deadline?
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