|Barry Zito is keeping the Tigers in check thus far. (AP)|
SAN FRANCISCO -- Should we be surprised that Giants lefty Barry Zito is shutting down the Tigers thus far in Game 1 of the World Series? Given how Zito fared in Game 5 of the NLCS, perhaps not. Given the way the Tigers match up with Zito, definitely not.
First and foremost, the Tigers are facing a lefty on the road. During the regular season, the Detroit offense ranked a middling seventh in the 14-team AL with a .724 OPS against left-handed pitchers (vs. a .771 OPS against righties). As well, they authored an OPS of .793 at home, but away from Comerica that figure drops to an OPS of .722. That's a steep drop. Throw in AT&T Park's deserved reptuation as a run-suppressing environment, and you've got a tough set of circumstances for Tigers hitters.
What's also been tough on those Tigers hitters is Zito's cut fastball. Through four innings of Game 1, Zito has gone to his cutter 17 times out of 51 total pitches. During the regular season, Zito turned to his cut fastball 22.5 percent of the time (a plurality). So far in Game 1, however, he's upped that percentage to 33.3 percent, or one-third.
Random-y randomness or calculated plan of attack? The Tigers' struggles against cutters this season suggest it's tactical. According to FanGraphs data, Detroit had one of the least effective offenses against the cutter this season. It's entirely possible the advance scouting reports have informed Zito's decision to go more "cutter heavy" in Game 1.
To be sure, Zito has been aided by some brilliance afield -- Gregor Blanco's snag of a Miguel Cabrera liner in the third and Buster Posey's nifty, heady double play in the fourth, for instance -- but he's also benefitted from just the right approach, in just the right park against just the right team. So far, so very good for Zito. And his cutter.