Red Sox vs. Tigers ALCS Preview and Odds

Will Justin Verlander and the Tigers win back to back American League pennants?

After a thrilling ALDS series win over the Oakland Athletics for the second straight year, the Detroit Tigers will face the Boston Red Sox in their quest for back-to-back American League Pennants. As we look towards what should be an exciting and star studded series, we will examine the critical matchups in determining who will represent the American League in this season’s Fall Classic.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Anibal Sanchez vs. Jon Lester
Game 2: Max Scherzer vs. Clay Buchholz
Game 3: Justin Verlander vs. John Lackey
Game 4: Doug Fister vs. Jake Peavy

After clinching the ALDS series win against the Rays in four games, the Red Sox have the luxury of resetting their rotation for the ALCS. Ace Jon Lester will toe the rubber in Game 1 opposite the underrated Anibal Sanchez, quiet winner of the American League’s ERA title. Despite taking a loss in the Division Series, Sanchez has proven belongs in the conversation with Scherzer and Verlander for top Tiger’s starter, especially recently. In September and October, Sanchez has posted a whopping 30.7% K rate and a 2.45 xFIP to show his 2.05 ERA during that span is not an extreme fluke. Lester has also been hot lately, boasting a 2.57 second half ERA (compared to a 4.58 first half ERA), a direct result of his decreased walk and home run rates.

Boston is tasked with facing Cy Young Award candidate Max Scherzer in Game 2 and the hottest pitcher in baseball right now, Justin Verlander, in Game 3. Verlander has been back to his old tricks of being nearly unhittable this postseason, as he did not surrender a single run in two Division Series starts. The Sox will call on Clay Buchholz and John Lackey, though neither have been as effective as their counterparts. Buchholz did have a sparkling 1.74 ERA in his injury plagued season (108.1 innings), but his DIPS suggest that he did not deserve such good fortune. Lackey enjoyed a productive bounceback year and is a very good number 3 starer, but simply put, he is not Verlander.

In Game 4 the Red Sox will finally avoid facing any of the Tiger’s three aces, but Doug Fister is no slouch. Fister has proven to be a valuable member of the Detroit rotation and his 3.67 ERA may even be a bit harsher than what he deserved. To put that number into perspective, Sox ace Jon Lester posted a 3.75 ERA, which his advanced metrics suggest may even be a bit low for the skill set he showed this year. Boston will counter with trade deadline import Jake Peavy, also one of the better number four starters one will see on a playoff team. Peavy has done well since arriving from Chicago and his 97 ERA- and 92 FIP- suggest he has been slightly above league average. One can expect the rotations to reset in Games 5-7, though Jim Leyland proved that probable starters are subject to change when he decided to bring Max Scherzer in relief of Game 4 of the ALDS.

Advantage: Tigers


Red Sox
Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman, Franklin Morales, Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster

Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Jose Alvarez, Phil Coke, Rick Porcello

The bullpen is where the Sox enjoy a substantial pitching advantage over the Tigers. Free agent signee Koji Uehara is still the best closer in the American League despite allowing a walkoff home run to Jose Lobaton in the ALDS. The Tigers pen is led by Joaquin Benoit, who has excelled since winning the closer job following Jose Valverde’s most recent implosion and demotion. After Benoit, the quality of arms in the Tiger’s pen drops off significantly, which explains why manager Jim Leyland preferred to call on Scherzer instead of Al Albequerque, lefty Drew Smyly, or trade import Jose Veras to handle critical middle innings

The Sox, meanwhile, have Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow setting up Uehara, the latter of whom was extremely effective in the ALDS against the Rays. Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster worked in the rotation this season and will provide manager John Farrell with quality options in long relief from both the left and right side.

Advantage: Red Sox

Position Players

Lets play a game called name that player, where give a series of statistics and you try to guess which player posted them.

Player A: .279/.362/.457, 25 HRs, 2.2 WAR
Player B: .259/.360/.482, 23 HRs, 3.9 WAR

Player A is Prince Fielder of the Tigers while Player B is Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli. The reason I make this distinction is to show that first base is one of multiple areas where the Tigers are falsely perceived to have an advantage with their position players over the Sox counterparts.

One way to show which team has the strongest collection of position players is to compare their WAR at each position. We have already began at First Base, where the Red Sox hold a 1.7 win advantage. Let’s go through the rest of the projected starting lineups of each team and figure out which team has the net advantage from their position players. In cases where platoons or shared time can be expected, I have averaged the WAR of the two players expected to see time at each position.

PositionRed SoxWARTigersWARAdvantage
CJarrod Saltalamacchia3.6Alex Avila0.6Sox, 3.0
1BMike Napoli3.9Prince Fielder2.2Sox, 1.7
2BDustin Pedroia5.4Omar Infante2.3Sox, 2.3
3BWill Middlebrooks0.3Miguel Cabrera7.6Tigers, 7.3
SSStephen Drew3.4Jose Iglesias1.8Sox, 1.6
LFJonny Gomes/Daniel Nava1.4Andy Dirks/Jhonny Peralta2.65Tigers, 1.25
CFJacoby Ellsbury5.8Austin Jackson3.1Sox, 2.7
RFShane Victorino5.6Torii Hunter2.5Sox, 3.1
DHDavid Ortiz3.8Victor Martinez0.9Sox, 2.9

Of the nine position players, the Sox have advantages at seven of them, including a 3.1 win advantage in right field. However, much of this advantage is lessened by the bat of Miguel Cabrera and his 7.3 win advantage over Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. To be fair, Middlebrooks spent a good portion of the season in Triple-A, but many Sox fans would agree that he was deserving of his demotion. In 374 PAs, Middlebrooks posted a paltry .227/.271/.425 line, though he did hit a career high 17 home runs. A .276 AVG in 158 second half PAs suggests that Middlebrooks is swinging better and that the gap between him and Cabrera perhaps will not be as large in this series as it has been throughout the entire season. In total, the Sox hold an 8.75 WAR advantage over Detroit’s position players, and if Cabrera does not have a big series this deficit could be too much for the Tigers to overcome.

Advantage: Red Sox

Who is favored?

The oddsmakers agree with the old adage, “Pitching wins championships.” The deficit the Tigers face with their position players and bullpen is relinquished through their extreme advantage of high end starting pitchers. A 53.52% chance of a series win, according to our metrics, for the Tigers may not seem like a lot, but considering many of the disadvantages they face, position players, bullpen, home field advantage, and shuffled rotation, these odds show that the Tigers are a team built to win in October. How many games will it take? The Tigers in six games is the most likely outcome at 16.11%, though champagne in the Tiger’s clubhouse following Game 5 or 7 is also likely.

If the Sox win, the odds say there is a 16% chance that they will need all seven games to do it. A sweep is unlikely for either team, but the Tigers hold the better chance of pulling out the brooms, 7.41%, compared to the Sox 4.84%. The key to this series is going to lie in the Tigers three aces. If Verlander and Scherzer can match their performances against the A’s and Sanchez can get back on track, the Tigers should take home the American League Pennant. However, if the Sox can avoid being completely shutdown by the Tiger’s starters and keep the game close in the later innings, they will certainly have an opportunity to move on to the Fall Classic.