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Numbers game: Tigers eyeing advanced stats

Hitters, pitchers using available information in various ways
MLB.com

DETROIT -- Tigers starter Michael Fulmer sat at his locker hunched over a few stapled pages of notes ahead of his last home start on May 17. He was looking at a scouting report on his upcoming opponent, the Orioles: the hot/cold zones of hitters, their averages against certain pitches and more.

It was more of a last-minute cram session than a deep dive for Fulmer, who isn't a "big analytical guy" by his own account. He doesn't know his own Wins Above Replacement value, for example, let alone what constitutes a good WAR.

DETROIT -- Tigers starter Michael Fulmer sat at his locker hunched over a few stapled pages of notes ahead of his last home start on May 17. He was looking at a scouting report on his upcoming opponent, the Orioles: the hot/cold zones of hitters, their averages against certain pitches and more.

It was more of a last-minute cram session than a deep dive for Fulmer, who isn't a "big analytical guy" by his own account. He doesn't know his own Wins Above Replacement value, for example, let alone what constitutes a good WAR.

Analytical tools such as Statcast™ are becoming more prevelant, but there isn't a direct translation to every player in Detroit's clubhouse. For most, a combination of stats and video keeps them informed.

Video: Statcast™ of the Day: 400-foot outs at Comerica Park

"Some players prefer more data-driven information than others," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Some are more feel-type players or visual-type players. ... There's certainly, I don't want to say it's a split camp, but there's different approaches to it."

Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd likes to watch video of opponents' swings, and he has refined his use of advanced stats since coming over to Detroit in 2015 and working with Ausmus. Boyd said Ausmus has helped him focus on a few tidbits of information, such as which pitches work best against specific hitters he's going to face.

Boyd attributes his success this season to having the "right amount of information." In two-strike counts, he's allowing an average Exit Velocity of 85.3 mph, vs. an 86.9 mph average in 2016, according to Statcast™.

Ian Kinsler, who sometimes looks at pitch frequencies for the pitchers he's going to face, likes to keep his mindset simple and avoid an information overload.

"You start thinking about all that stuff, you don't have time to see the ball," Kinsler said. "Or to be in a state of mind where you're ready to hit. And percentages are just percentages. They don't tell you the whole story."

Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, like Kinsler, doesn't take numbers at face value. Norris used the example of a player whose scouting report says he hits .320 on changeups down and away from lefties. There are variables at play, such as quality of contact on those hits (some could be bloopers) and whether the changeup was thrown effectively.

Like Boyd, Norris enjoys watching video of hitters' swings. He also watches video of himself after every start.

For hitters, watching video isn't always a helpful tool, Ausmus said.

"I don't like to do it," Ausmus said. "Because if you slow down video, you can find something wrong with everybody's swing. So there is a little bit of paralysis to analysis. I think that's why the combination of feel is important."

Video: DET@TB: Cabrera clubs 451-foot homer on his birthday

From pitch location tendencies and Spin Rate to Launch Angle and Hit Probability, the numbers at players' fingertips are nearly limitless. Miguel Cabrera, fourth in MLB's active leaders for WAR according to Baseball Reference, insists he doesn't care about WAR or any of the other advanced metrics -- just winning.

"0-for-4 you win, you're good," Cabrera said. "0-for-4 you lose, you suck."

Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers