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Advanced stats say Tigers' bats will improve

High hard contact rate, low BABIP hint at improvement in second half
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- The Tigers entered July ranked in the middle of the pack among Major League teams in batting average (16th), OPS (13th) and runs scored (14th). That partly explains why they're on the outskirts of postseason contention, with a clearer route to selling than buying at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Detroit also enters July with reason to believe that its offense is due to perk up over the second half of the season. The club's struggles aren't for lack of solid contact.

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DETROIT -- The Tigers entered July ranked in the middle of the pack among Major League teams in batting average (16th), OPS (13th) and runs scored (14th). That partly explains why they're on the outskirts of postseason contention, with a clearer route to selling than buying at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Detroit also enters July with reason to believe that its offense is due to perk up over the second half of the season. The club's struggles aren't for lack of solid contact.

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According to Statcast™, Nicholas Castellanos entered Saturday tied for 10th among Major League hitters in "barreled" balls -- well-struck balls with an expected batting average over .500 and expected slugging percentage over 1.000. Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera weren't far behind.

J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila entered Saturday ranked first and second in the Majors in percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity over 95 mph, both over 58 percentage. Cabrera was fifth, and Castellanos 15th. Martinez and Avila also entered Saturday in the MLB top 10 for "barrels" per plate appearance.

Shift to FanGraphs stats, and Cabrera and Castellanos rank second and sixth, respectively, in percentage of hard contact. Cabrera leads Major League hitters with a 28.5 line-drive percentage, with Castellanos 10th at 25.2.

Video: CLE@DET: Miggy crushes a solo tater to center

And yet, nobody on the Tigers has higher than a .333 batting average on balls put in play. That rate belongs to Justin Upton, and it ranks 40th among big league hitters. No Detroit player ranks in the top 50 in the Majors in home run to fly ball ratio; Upton is 55th at 17.4.

Castellanos has a particularly wide gap. His line-drive rate has been high throughout his career, but hadn't translated to a high batting average until he dropped his strikeout rate last year. Castellanos' strikeout rate is actually lower this year than last, and his walk rate is up, resulting in by far his best strikeout-to-walk rate of his career. While his line-drive rate is slightly better this season, most of his increase in contact has been mainly on ground balls, resulting in a ground ball to fly ball ratio more in line with his subpar season from 2015 than his breakout season in '16.

Castellanos opened July with a three-hit game, falling a home run shy of the cycle Saturday afternoon. His seventh-inning RBI triple, hit at a 102.7 mph exit velocity, put Detroit ahead for good in a 7-4 win over the Indians. His fifth-inning double was actually hit harder, with a 103.1 mph exit velocity. His third-inning lineout to third registered at 95.5 mph.

Video: CLE@DET: Castellanos rips a run-scoring three-bagger

"He's not really doing anything different," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's just getting a lot of [his hits] to fall now."

Cabrera, meanwhile, has had more success against fastballs than perceived -- maybe too much. Entering Saturday, his batting average and slugging percentage on four-seam fastballs were both higher this year than last, according to Statcast™. He has done less against two-seamers (.238/.286) and sliders (.225/.275) compared to last season.

Correspondingly, Cabrera has relied on fastballs for a much higher percentage of his home runs this year than last -- eight of his 11 home runs so far this season, compared to 18 of 38 last year, according to Statcast™. He went deep on a Josh Tomlin cut-fastball in the third inning of Saturday's victory.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos