Let me start this off by assuring you that none of this that I'm about to tell you will matter. The ALDS will be decided by an Eric Sogard opposite field walkoff homerun or when Prince Fielder surprises the world and steals home. But just for fun, let's try this. There are a lot of series previews written during the playoffs. Some are really bad. But we're going to go piece by piece and try and decide who's got the more formidable team. I'm not gonna bother writing a paragraph about the rotations to tell you what you already know. Basically, the A's have a good rotation and Parker has pitched better than some of his numbers look but the Tigers have the best rotation in baseball and that's something we'll have to overcome if we want to win this series.
Let's look at the offenses. Going purely by team statistics, the Tigers win this battle fairly easily. But one really good hitter(aka Miguel Cabrera) can have a dramatic effect on those numbers so we're going to compare players individually. We'll assume the lineups are:
Coco Crisp Austin Jackson
Jed Lowrie Tori Hunter
Josh Donaldson Miguel Cabrera
Brandon Moss Prince Fielder
Steven Vogt Brayan Pena
Eric Sogard Jose Iglesias
Coco Crisp and Austin Jackson are both good leadoff men. Jackson batted a bit higher, resulting in more doubles and triples, their OBP's were nearly identical and Coco hit twice the home runs and stole three times more bases. Pick your poison but I want Coco. Advantage: A's
Now Tori Hunter and Jed Lowrie are an interesting comparison. Hunter's obviously got more name value but the two we're actually very similar this season. Tori slugged about 20 points higher on the strength of a few more HRs and triples plus a higher batting average but Jed had 10 more points in OBP making it likely a negligible difference. Advantage: Tie
Now I'm not gonna bother citing any numbers here. We all know Miguel Cabrera is a better hitter than Josh Donaldson. It also doesn't matter. Yes, Miggy will be a thorn in our pitchers' sides that they'll have to work hard to control all series. But Donaldson is a top 10 hitter in the MLB and best hitters being not as good as Miguel Cabrera is a problem 29 teams have. It shouldn't feel like a disadvantage to have Josh in the lineup. Also, since injuring himself in that series against us, he's slashed .278/.395/.333. That's Miguel Cabrera slugging .333. Shit,that's a number. Whatever. The point is, how his injury has healed during this off-week is a big deal for the Tigers.Advantage: Tigers
Now, Moss and Fielder. This one seems open and shut. Fielder's average was higher, his OBP was nearly 30 points higher, he was an all-star, it easy. Than you notice Moss slugged almost 80 points higher. Still, the On-Base advantage, plus the 25 home runs in a 'down year' make it seem obvious. But here's the thing. Moss is a platoon player. All 4 Detroit starters are right-handed and facing a lefty reliever he'll likely come out. That's why we taught Norris 1st isn't it? Well, against right-handers, Moss's average and OBP rise closer (only 10 points back from Fielder's) and his slugging rises to a 100 point lead! Didn't think I'd say this beforehand but: Advantage: A's
Victor Martinez is a better hitter this year than Yoenis Cespedes, though Cespedes hit more home runs and had a hot September. Advantage: Tigers.
Andy Dirks and Seth Smith have been similar players this year. They both batted around .250, OBP'd around .320 and hit just under 10 homeruns. (Smith 8, Dirks 9) The only significant advantage anyone has is Smith's 30 extra points of slugging, from 11 more doubles, but a difference like that won't likely manifest in a short series. Advantage: Tie.
In reality, Omar Infante will likely bat 6th but I felt like comparing Smith and Dirks made more sense. Infante has been a better hitter than Reddick this year, and even if you believe that last year was the true Reddick( I do), the only advantage he has is power. Advantage: Tigers
Steven Vogt and Brayan Pena are both mediocre. Pena's on-base was higher, literally just because his average was higher. 6 walks in 71 games. Vogt's likely got a bit more power, having hit the same amount of home runs in 25 less games. Negligible difference, Advantage: Tie
Eric Sogard and Jose Iglesisas are literally the same hitter. Just give Jose some glasses and you're set. But Iglesias does have that flashy .300 batting average. Of course, he got that on the stregnth of a .356 BABIP with only 18% line drives and regressed to the mean in the 2nd half so I'm not buying the average. Sogard and Iglesias are both league average, slap hitters with no power whatsoever. Advantage: Tie
There are a couple X-factors here. For the A's, Callaspo would be better offensively than Sogard, but they may not want to risk it with his defense. Also, how much of Daric Barton's late-season career resurgence is real could potentially give us another offensive weapon. For the Tigers, it's Jhonny Peralta. I don't know how much the 50 game layoff, or the lack of PED's will affect him so I won't bother guessing. The other one is obviously Miguel Cabrera's health.
The bullpen is one place where the A's have a significant advantage. The A's beat the Tigers in ERA, in FIP and in LOB%. They walk fewer batters and they give up fewer home runs. The Tigers do strike out more people but the evidence is overwhelming that the A's bullpen is better.
To add one more thing, while I can't back this claim up, I feel like it's fairly clear that the A's are the better defensive team. And when you see some of this it makes the series a lot more interesting. Am I ready to say that the A's are a better team than the Tigers? I don't know. Probably not. But I will say that it's a lot closer than a lot of people think.