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.

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.