The Tigers have a flashier team than the Red Sox. Nobody is arguing with that. In their rotation, they have the likely 2013 AL Cy Young winner in Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90), another strong candidate for that award in Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57), and Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46)– just two years removed from winning the Triple Crown, AL Cy Young, and AL MVP. In their lineup, they have a dynamic top five with Austin Jackson (103 OPS+), Torii Hunter (114 OPS+), Miguel Cabrera (187 OPS+), Prince Fielder (120 OPS+), and Victor Martinez (111 OPS+).
However, just because the Tigers have a flashier team does not mean that they have a better one. In almost all regards, the Red Sox have a considerably deeper team than Detroit. While Detroit’s playoff rotation is objectively better than Boston’s, one could make the argument that the lineup (and bullpen) are both better than the Tigers’.
Detroit’s top five (635 total OPS+) is almost exactly the same as Boston’s 638 total OPS+ is, and the Red Sox would have a fairly significant edge if not for the exploits of Miguel Cabrera. However, the Red Sox really make up the difference with the talent of the bottom half of their lineup. Daniel Nava (128 OPS+)/Jonny Gomes (111 OPS+), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (118 OPS+), Stephen Drew (111 OPS+), and Will Middlebrooks (88 OPS+) add up to a total 556 OPS+. The bottom half of the Tigers’ order, between Jhonny Peralta (119 OPS+)/Don Kelly (76 OPS+), Alex Avila (87 OPS+), Omar Infante (113 OPS+), and Jose Iglesias (101 OPS+) add up to a total of 496 OPS+.
If you’re wondering what all that means, I’ll explain. OPS is on base percentage plus slugging percentage, an excellent tool for determining a player’s overall talent at hitting. OPS+ is the percentage above or below average a player’s OPS is, relative to 100. Thus, a 100 OPS+ is exactly league average, while a 125 would be 25% above average and a 75% would be 25% below average.
This means that the bottom of the Tigers’ order is collectively slightly below average, with an average OPS+ of 99. The Red Sox’ bottom half, on the other hand, is significantly above average with an average OPS+ of 111. That means that if both teams perform up to code in this series, the Red Sox will have a much deeper and better lineup than the Tigers and if the Tigers’ pitchers are on point, that could make all the difference.