Detroit Tigers: JD Martinez and Detroit’s Experience With Out-of-Nowhere Hitters

Dating back to the “Great Chris Shelton Hot Streak” of 2005, the Detroit Tigers have grown accustomed to hitters coming out of the woodwork (relatively speaking) and making an impact.

Take Shelton for example, he hit a robust .345 in the first half of the season in 2005. Over that span is OPS was .970. Then came the second half were he regressed to a still-respectable .279 batting average and .826 OPS.

Shelton got off to another solid start in 2006 when he hit .282 in the first half, coupled with an .857 OPS. For a time, it seemed that he would continue a moderately high level of play. But once again, the second half struck. Shelton’s batting average regressed to .236. His slugging percentage dropped from .508 in the first half to .292 in the second. His OPS also dipped, going from .857 to .595. That and a .231 batting average at home contributed to him being off the team. He found his next taste of big league action in Texas during the 2008 season were he hit .216. A number that portrayed him more accurately as a hitter than the .345 clip did.

It would seem that the Tigers had another Shelton type on their hands when rookie Brennan Boesch burst onto the scene in 2010 with a nearly identical, Shelton-esque .342 batting average and .990 OPS in the first half. Unlike Shelton, Boesch numbers tanked dropped like a lead weight. His second half batting average was a paltry .163 and his OBP was more than halved, going from .990 to .458. From everything Boesch did in the second half, it seemed like the Tigers had another Chris Shelton on their hands—however, that would change as the rookie posted a solid sophomore season.

The fifth place finisher in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting posted a solid .283 batting average and a .799 OPS. In addition, his first and second half numbers weren’t separated by a continent sized chasm— .289 was Boesch’s batting average in the first half, while the second half brought a .276 line.

It took longer than Shelton, but Boesch eventually succumbed, his batting average in 2012 was .240. His OBP was .659. A full .140 points lower than 2011’s. He wasn’t with the team by the start of the next season.

As it is right now, Detroit has found a third hitter who has come out of nowhere, JD Martinez. This time, they’re hoping the story plays out a little differently.

Martinez’ first half numbers are very similar to both Shelton and Boesch. He hit .346 in the first part of the season with a 1.035 OPS. In addition to those gaudy numbers, Martinez has added a presence that Detroit desperately needed in the middle of the lineup. In most cases, Brad Ausmus will deploy some combination of Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the first four spots in the lineup. Outside of those five the team’s hitters aren’t nearly as potent. Or at least that was the case heading into the season. JD Martinez’ arrival has added much needed power to the teeth of the lineup—power that also extends the lineup and gives it more depth.

His numbers haven’t tanked as badly as Boesch’s did, but Martinez splits are significantly different. He’s hitting .261 in the second half with a .723 OPS. However, there is reason to believe that he’s turning things around mid-decline. Over the last 14 days, the former Astro owns .327 batting average and a .836 OPS. Martinez is clearly turning it around, and that can only be good news for the Tigers.

Tigers’ hitters to come out of nowhere on hot streaks have had their faults. Shelton struggled to hit at home (in addition to his decline) and Boesch couldn’t sustain success after pitchers started throwing more off-speed offerings and less of the steady diet of fastballs that he had been feasting on. Martinez however, hits at home (.318 batting average) and looks to be sustaining his success. If the numbers of the last few weeks tell us anything, it is that JD Martinez is here to stay in Detroit.

 

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Torii Hunter’s Impact with the Detroit Tigers

I’ll admit I didn’t see the signing coming; I’m a bit of a homer when it comes to placing trust in Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry, so I didn’t want the signing initially. But the more I look at it, the more there is to like.  Yes, Hunter is getting up there in years, but after further digging, he’s still a very good player in this league despite being 37.

Last season, the Tigers were knocked for not having a good defensive team. That criticism was mainly placed on the infield. But in terms of “elite” defenders, the only one the Tigers had who could change a game in the field was Austin Jackson. Infield aside, the corner outfielders were a tad suspect with the glove. Dirks, Boesch, Berry and Avisail Garcia’s collective number of runs saved above average per 1,200 innings (from the folks over at baseball-reference) was -26. Dirks was the only one of the group whose number was a positive one with three runs scored above average. The point here is that the overall defense in the outfield corners could have been better. Enter Hunter, who despite being nearly a decade older than every one of the previous four, saved 16 runs above average per 1,200 innings.

The beauty of the signing is this: yes, Hunter is valued defensively, and maybe he was needed defensively, but he also brings a whole lot to the table offensively. So often teams bring in an outfielder or use an internal option that is a far superior defender, but lacks completely with the bat.  Teams feel they need to upgrade defensively and save runs there and completely mail it in offensively. But this is the beauty of the signing. Hunter upgrades the defense and offense drastically.

The other bonus of having Hunter as well as Jackson in the outfield means Jim Leyland has his pick of outfielders to use strategically on a game-to-game basis, whether that be Berry, Garcia, Boesch or Dirks.

The Tigers won the American League pennant last year. They also won it, when at times the death-row duo of Miguel Cabrera and Fielder looked like the walking dead. But now Victor Martinez will be 100% healthy, and Torii Hunter joins the mix. Death row just got a whole lot deadlier.

MLB Trade Deadline Roundup

First off, Happy Birthday to my Aunt Joyce. Last year I promised that I would mention her birthday here, and because I’m a man of my word, I am. So, Happy Birthday Aunt Joyce!

Today is the baseball trade deadline. It’s one of the Holy Grails of sports. A day when the deals go by fast and furious and without a Vin Diesel reference. Oops.

Anyways, since the MLB Network has been so kind as to air a trade deadline special, I’ll just run through the trades in the order that they show them, use it as a framework almost. Continue reading

Detroit Tigers Fans: Go Away “Panic Mode”

I’m not panicking yet. And I’ll tell you why. The Tigers not only feature a plethora of All-Stars, but they also play in the pick-your-expletive -est division in the game. Have you noticed how bad the AL Central is? Yeah Chicago is “hot” right now, but come on; third base is a general black hole, and I’m sure as heck not buying their bullpen (and that’s without swearing). Their numbers may be high right now, and you can argue those numbers till the cows come home, but come on, Chicago? Just wait, you can bet there is a colossal ice-age-like cold streak coming. Tell me I’m wrong.

Cleveland is another matter entirely. While I acknowledge that the Sox have some actual talent and it isn’t too surprising that they are doing well, the Indians puzzle me. Asdrubal Cabrera is nice and Carlos Santana has tons of potential, but this team confuses me. Their outfield is decent if Johnny Damon can actually swing a bat. But here’s the thing, the pitching isn’t all that great. I wouldn’t trust the back end of the… let me rephrase that:  I wouldn’t trust any of their starters other than Derek Lowe.

I’m not even going to go into detail on KC and Minnesota because, well they’re rebuilding and that’s about as nice as you can be about those teams at this stage of the game (pun intended… yadda yadda yadda…).

If you’ve forgotten what the aim of this lovely piece is, well then you are in the same boat as I am. No, I’m only kidding, but the point of the whole ranting that you can conveniently view above is that it’s definitely not panic time for the Tigers. Call me an exceedingly loyal fan or someone who has his head screwed on straight, but it’s true.

I’m not going to blame injuries to the team’s recent shortcomings, but I am going to tab injuries as the reason for a second-half (or sooner) surge. By tabbing injuries, I mean guys getting healthy. Alex Avila has taken more hits than an armored truck in a crossfire and is the best catcher in the AL when fully healthy; Doug Fister is one of the better number two options in the rotation when he can actually get run support. But perhaps the two biggest injuries of all were to Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson. Jackson is having an All-Star season (yes, let out your groans of annoyance, I said it again) and is really starting to show his worth offensively. Jackson and Dirks are the table setters for Death Row. And let me tell you, they were doing a pretty damn good job of it before they got injured. Granted had they never been injured we would have never experienced the revelation that is Quintin Berry.

With Berry’s success there have been speculations by fans that he would take over in left for Dirks or in right for Brennan Boesch. I like Berry as a speed/energy guy, but I’d much rather have that weapon off the bench to pinch run. Where, if you haven’t noticed yet, our fastest option after Don Kelly is Ramon Santiago. Let me rephrase that, our only non-catching option besides Don Kelly is Ramon Santiago. Those two guys have good speed, but not necessarily game-changing speed. The kind of speed where everyone including the foul pole knows you’re going to run, and you steal second anyways. As it is, Jackson and Berry are the only guys with that speed on the roster. I’ve just realized that I probably said “speed” and “steal” more times than a healthy human being should. I’m sorry readers.

So after all that, healthy lineup and pitching staff, plus playing in a terrible division, the Tigers should be fine. Not to mention the possibility of a scrap-heap/deadline addition at second base, not because the Tigers’ current situation isn’t satisfactory, just because we could use another option to platoon with Worth and Santiago, for all it’s worth. (Again, sorry, had to do it. Too corny to pass up.)

The point is… (Reshuffles fake paper notes, adjusts glasses and starts speaking in a British professor’s voice) just kidding, scratch the British accent. No, but the point here, and one that I have strayed from, is that the Tigers aren’t out of it, and I am not panicking yet.

Andy Dirks Slowly Pushing Delmon Young Out of the Tigers Future

Jim Leyland seems to have settled into the routine of writing Andy Dirks’ name not only in the second spot in the batting order, but also in left field. This, is good.

Dirks is a much better defender than Delmon Young is and covers (your choice of funky synonym for “more” here) ground than Young.

Offensively as well Dirks has excelled in the 2 hole. He has had a multi-hit game in each of his last four games and drove in three last night. Overall he is hitting at a .339 clip with 10 runs batted in and another 10 scored in 17 games. It’s probably safe to say it now, but the dude can hit.

He can hit. That is the main thing here.

For this season Delmon Young is likely staying put in Detroit due to his importance in the batting order. (You know that spot behind Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera where he has to protect them?)

But moving forward that role will probably belong to a guy who kind of gets lost in the shuffle here- Victor Martinez, the perfect complement to Cabrera and Fielder.

Also, something to point out is that the Tigers would love to get out of Young’s salary. If I’m not mistaken he is a free agent after the season, meaning that the Tigers would have almost seven million dollars to play with just thanks to Young leaving. Think about that. We could use it to find an addition at second base or where ever else they might have a position of need. (hold on…Quickly digests depth chart) Nope, don’t see any other glaring needs.

Yes, a lineup that contains Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez and Young in the 3-6 spots is a bit daunting, but I’d rather have the first three with Dirks getting on in front of them in the 2 hole with names like Avila, Peralta and Boesch behind the big boys.

Dirks, nonetheless, is one of Detroit’s outfielders of the future. Young situation or no, he isn’t going to Toledo any time soon.

How do You Replace Victor Martinez?

I’ve covered the fact that Victor Martinez is out for the year. Now the question is how the Tigers replace him, and who with.

The name Prince Fielder tends to come to mind for a team who needs a middle of the order bat. The Tigers might have some interest, but Fielder is quite a large financial commitment, even a one-year deal.

The Tigers first and cheapest option, at this point is to move Delmon Young to DH and then put  Andy Dirks and/or Clete Thomas in his outfield slot.

Young would give them a solid bat at the DH spot, and give Detroit the opportunity to put maybe a more versatile defender in Young’s place (i.e. Dirks and Thomas).

As stated that’s the Tigers’ cheapest option, and it probably doesn’t require a roster move. This way you don’t risk losing a player to waivers.

Detroit could also go digging in the free agent bin or the bargain bin. Former Tigers could be a big draw for Dave Dombrowski:  Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames are out there. So are established hitters like Derek Lee, Hideki Matsui and JD Drew.

Raul Ibanez is a player who could be a great fit in Detroit. Dude can hit. He’s driven in at least 84 runs every year except one since 2002, and each of those seasons put up at least 16 bombs a year. You’re talking about double digit homers and at least 80 RBIs per year for a guy who could come pretty cheaply. I’ll take it! He also is a .280 career hitter despite a season last year in which he hit an uncharacteristic .245. That will go up when you hit around a guy named Miguel Cabrera.

A piggy-back option to the earlier move-Delmon-Young-to-DH thought would be to make it a rotating door of sorts. Put Don Kelly at first and give Miguel Cabrera the day off in the field. The next day, put Dirks in the outfield and give Young or Brennan Boesch the day off. There is a smorgasbord of options to pick from.

The trade market is another one of many routes to go for the Tigers; the Angels have a log jam at DH with Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and Bobby Abreu. Morales would be a very intriguing fit if he can return to pre-injury form. Trumbo is another fit, but once V-Mart comes back next year, he will be out of places to play regularly.

Yoenis Cepedes is probably the most serious target for Detroit. Not only can he provide an impact bat behind Cabrera, but once V-Mart comes back he can slide into the outfield. Not to mention the fact that he’s a potential star.

What Victor Martinez’s Injury Means for the Tigers

Victor Martinez tore his ACL. He might end up missing the entire season if not most of it.

This means a lot of things. One is that the Tigers will lose their 5 hole hitter and prime protector of Miguel Cabrera in the lineup. Because of that it also weakens the Tigers’ batting order to a degree.

Believe me, the loss or potential loss of a hitter of his caliber for a couple weeks, let alone an entire season, is hard to fathom.

It feels a bit like the game towards the end of July in 2010 when Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen were both injured in one game against the Toronto Blue Jays that somewhat dashed the Tigers playoff potential and chances.

But on the flipside, it’s not particularly the same. At that point the only other middle of the order protection Detroit had was Johnny Damon, a struggling Brennan Boesch and Jeff Larish.

Now it’s a little different. Delmon Young was a monster in the playoffs. Boesch is back from injury. Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila have both come into their own as top run producers at their positions. Plus Brandon Inge had a resurgent playoffs.

The lineup is certainly much better, as is the pitching seeing as Justin Verlander won the Cy Young and the MVP. Doug Fister went bonkers down the stretch. Throw in Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and the possibility of super prospect Jacob Turner in the rotation, and thinks aren’t as bad as they appear.

Before the Martinez injury, Boesch was probably the number 2 hitter with Young third, Cabrera hitting cleanup and Martinez behind him. After V-Mart there was going to be some combination of Peralta and Avila in the 6 and 7 spots. Following them was probably the second baseman (TBD) with Inge hitting 9th.

The question that will likely come to mind is how can the Tigers can repeat in the AL Central  or contend in the AL without V-Mart? Supposedly their chances are “worse” or the future is “murkier” or whatever term does it for you. Frankly, the chances are a bit worse without their starting DH, but they will contend in the Central and contend for a World Series as well.

Think about the other teams in the Central:

Kansas City is probably another year and a piece or two from really competing. Cleveland might not have the goods to do contend for the first half of the season and could fall into the Buffalo Bills of the Majors in a competing-for-the-first-half-and-then-flopping sense. Chicago has a new manager and is fresh off of trading one of their best hitters (Carlos Quentin) as well as two key pieces of their bullpen (Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor). They also lost long-time ace Mark Buehrle and manager Ozzie Guillen to the newly named Miami Marlins. Minnesota is the last team in the conference. That probably comes from a talent perspective as well (take that back, they’re tied with the Indians for least talent in the division — go on and start celebrating Royals fans). But come on, Minnesota? Ron Gardenhire’s teams never go down without a fight, but this might be another year in which we see a “fight”. Joe Mauer is presumably without a position. Justin Morneau is one of the few other constants. He and new additions Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham are the only sure things. The Minnesota starting pitchers are going to get you a lot of double digit wins per pitcher, but also double digit losses per pitcher, with the latter out weighing the former. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all go 10 and 15 on the year.

So what I’m trying to say is that Detroit will contend in the AL Central and for a World Series title.

Another small positive to come out of this is the available free agent DH options. There are quite a few. Former Tigers Magglio Ordonez, Johnny Damon and Carlos Pena could all be fits. One potential fit could be Prince Fielder. I know this is a bit farfetched and a long shot at best, but what if Prince takes a one year deal in Detroit? I’ll leave the monetary value to the agents and GMs, but what about Fielder and Miguel Cabrera hitting three and four? And this isn’t any biased opinion whatsoever, but wouldn’t those two, the rest of the supporting cast and a Verlander-led pitching staff elevate the Tigers to the top of the AL? Or baseball in general?

I’m probably getting ahead of myself and Prince Fielder will probably sign with the Nationals, Toronto or Texas, but wouldn’t that be fun to watch?

One other parallel to think about, last year’s St. Louis Cardinals. I know this has come up numerous times on different sites, blogs and things of the like. But the Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright to season-ending surgery in spring training and went on to win the World Series.

Think what you will about the injury to Victor Martinez, the Tigers are going to be relevant in Major League Baseball. Get used to it.