Why Do The Tigers Own The Yankees?


The Detroit Tigers own the New York Yankees. There’s really no way around it. Detroit swept New York in the American League Championship Series in 2012 and eliminated the Yankees in the Division Series in five games in 2011. That’s seven wins in nine playoff games over two seasons. That’s what we would call ownage.

Even after the Tigers’ two convincing wins to begin the 2013 regular season series, the Yankees have kept even with the Tigers between April and September, going 9-10 since the beginning of the 2011 season. But for a team expected to excel against every opponent, Detroit seems to have the Yankees’ number. Why is that?

In short, because the Tigers’ stars improve their performance against the Yankees. Just take a look at Prince Fielder. He’s had seven RBIs in the two games against the Yanks and his numbers against New York are noticeably better than his career splits.

Fielder Slash Line HR/AB
Career .287/.392/.539 15.75
Vs Yankees .320/.404/.620 10

The numbers are better across the board for Cecil’s son, including a 32-point jump in average, an 81-point jump in slugging percentage and a much better home run rate.

Miguel Cabrera went 4-4 on Saturday, improving his career average against the Yankees to .351. He’s always embraced the big games against the Yankees, starting with the Florida Marlins’ 2003 World Series win and continuing to this day.

Cabrera Slash Line HR/AB
Career .318/.395/.561 17.69
Vs Yankees .351/.424/.736 9.87

For both Cabrera and Fielder, the duo is basically averaging a home run each during every three-game series against New York. That’s called being locked in against an opponent. Cabrera’s .736 slugging percentage is pretty absurd, as is his on base percentage and nearly twice better home run rate than his career average.

Victor Martinez began tormenting the Yankees with his power with the Indians, continued it with the Red Sox and now continues it with Detroit after a one-year absence in 2012 when he recovered from a torn ACL.

Martinez Slash Line HR/AB
Career .303/.370/.468 30
Vs Yankees .278/.345/.502 16.3

His contact and on base numbers are below his career average against the Yanks, but his power numbers spike when he’s playing the pinstripes.

As for Detroit’s pitchers, keep in mind that the Yankees usually field one of the elite offenses in the game (this season being an exception for the foreseeable future). So numbers at or near a pitcher’s career average would have to be considered really good, especially when the Tigers’ key offensive players are so much better against the Yankees than their career averages. So after that qualifier/disclaimer, Justin Verlander:

Verlander ERA WHIP K/9 K/BB Win %
Career 3.39 1.17 12.6 3.5 65.8
Vs Yankees 3.74 1.49 8.9 2.38 55.6

Verlander allows a lot more baserunners against the Yankees, but that doesn’t seem to adversely affect his ERA against the team that much. And since the Tigers have basically played the Yankees even over the last 20 games, Verlander’s win percentage is basically in line with the expected results.

One big x-factor for Detroit against the Yankees is how well Max Scherzer has pitched against the team, as seen in the numbers.

Scherzer ERA WHIP K/9 K/BB Win %
Career 3.9 1.29 9.3 3.07 55.8
Vs Yankees 3.42 1.48 9.5 1.92 75

The win percentage is a bit misleading since he’s only been involved in four decisions, but his ERA against New York is nearly half a run lower than his career average and his strikeout rate is actually better against the usually powerful Yankee offense. The same goes for New Jersey native Rick Porcello.

Porcello ERA WHIP K/9 K/BB Win %
Career 4.56 1.41 5 2.12 52.7
Vs Yankees 4.58 1.41 3.6 1.7 60

His vital numbers are nearly identical to his career averages, and he’s 3-2 lifetime against the Yanks. Not bad for a back end starter. So the Tigers have played exceptionally well against the Yankees when the stakes have been raised, and it’s mainly because Detroit’s star players have actually risen to the occasion.

(Stats from Sunday were not included in this article)

(photo by Flickr user Keith Allison).

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2 Responses to Why Do The Tigers Own The Yankees?

  1. Mark Panuthos says:

    Great article Shlomo – I enjoyed the read. I enjoy sabremetrics, but sometimes I feel like they don't really tell the story. Last year, the Orioles took our old timers to five games, two of which went extra innings, and then because of the bizarre schedule last year, we went straight into the series with Detroit. There was a really awful call (as I remember) in game 1 which led to a couple of runs, Jeter broke his ankle, apparently ARod was paying through excruciating pain, and Cano and Swisher decided to take the series off. Plus, playing the AL East just wears you down sometimes.

    On top of that, the Yankees can't hit Scherzer and Cabrera had a career season.

    My point: if Jeter doesn't break his leg, if we have this year's playoff schedule as opposed to last year's, and if Swisher gets a hit – I think we take that series.

  2. Lograron consolidar uno de los mejoes lineup de las grandes ligas, liderados por esos dos grandes peloteros como Miguel Cabrera y Prince Fielder, quienes han demostrado ser verdaderamente imparables, y con un staff de lanzadores como Justin Verlander, Mark Scherzer y Rick Porcello poco es lo que podian hacer estos Yankees.

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