Rethinking the Detroit Tigers’ Outfield

J.D. Martinez is on fire. After a three for four night against the Indians, including his seventh home run, Martinez is hitting .317. He has knocked in 25 runs in just 34 games, including 20 in his last 20 games.

Truthfully, when the Tigers brought him up from Toledo after he had hit 10 International League homers in limited playing time, I didn’t expect much. After all, Martinez was a castoff from the Houston Astros, the worst team in the Majors.

Obviously, J.D. is on a hot streak and with as little production as the Tigers have gotten from their outfield this season, he must stay in the line up. The question is, what kind of production can he produce when he’s not hot?

In 2012, Martinez played nearly full-time for the Astros. In 395 at bats, he hit .241 with 11 home runs and 55 runs batted in. This past off-season, J.D. revamped his swing, modeling it after Miguel Cabrera. Only time will tell if the results are long-lasting or if Martinez drifts toward his production levels from his Astros days.

Either way, it’s better than what he Tigers currently have on their roster.

Austin Jackson is giving every indication of putting another lousy season together – 25 RBIs and an OBP of .315 with very little extra base power. Torii Hunter’s biggest contribution of late is not playing. Before hurting his hamstring, Hunter was sporting a OBP under .300 with nine homers and 35 RBIs. At this point, Torii isn’t an everyday player anymore and Austin Jackson may not be either.

If the Tigers are going to continue to contend, they better pray J.D. Martinez’ hot streak isn’t a fluke. Either that, or plan on making a trade. We keep hearing about Andy Dirks, but to my knowledge, he hasn’t even started a rehab assignment. A mid to late July return might be optimistic.

A productive Dirks would help. He could platoon with Raji Davis in left and spell Jackson in center, especially on days where the Tigers face a tough right hander. Dirks would also be a good fit to bat second behind Ian Kinsler, giving Detroit a bit more lineup depth.

Against a right hand starter, the Tigers; lineup might look like this:

  • Kinsler 2B
  • Dirks CF
  • Cabrera 1b
  • V. Martinez DH
  • J.D. Martinez LF
  • Hunter RF
  • Castellanos 3B
  • Avila C
  • Suarez SS

Against lefties:

  • Kinsler 2B
  • Davis LF
  • Cabrera 1B
  • V. Martinez DH
  • J.D. Martinez RF
  • Castellanos 3B
  • Suarez SS
  • Holiday C
  • Jackson CF

 

Why the Detroit Tigers should make a trade now, rather than later

After being shutout yet again, it’s past time for the Tigers to acquire a bat.

While I was happy Detroit unloaded Prince Fielder in the off-season, it left a void in the batting order. Namely, who was going to drive in runs beyond Miggy and Victor? I never bought Austin Jackson bathing fifth. He’s not a run-producer.

To me, Torii Hunter was the logical choice to move into the spot, which Manager Brad Ausmus has tried. It hasn’t worked. Nothing has worked. The “logical” answer is the Tigers don’t have anyone currently on the roster to help knock in runs.

Statistics bare this out.

While the Tigers actually lead the American League in batting average, they’re in the middle of the pack in runs batted in and runs scored. At the current pace, they will settle into the lower third of the league in those categories. Being bottom-third in runs scored with a questionable bullpen is a fine recipe for missing the playoffs.

Detroit’s lead in the Central Division stands at just 1.5 games. They could conceivably be out of first place by weekend’s end. It’s officially time to:HIT THE PANIC BUTTON!

I don’t advocate making a deal to just make a deal, or doing anything stupid. But if I’m Dave Dombrowski, I’m working the phones right now trying to get something done. Waiting until July 31 this year, isn’t going to cut it.

The “slump” isn’t a slump anymore. I still believe the Tigers, even as currently constructed, will start playing better baseball and winning more games. I’m just not sure what that’s going to equate to – a .500 team? A little better? ¬†A little worse?

Making a deal now will cost more, no question about it. The Tigers might have to surrender a Jake Thompson to make a deal. So, be it, I say. If you look at their situation realistically, the window of opportunity is closing.

Max is going to be gone after this season and possibly Victor Martinez. The team could look radically different in 2015. There are times to go for it, and now is the time.

So who should the Tigers go after? I have a couple of ideas:

  • Marlon Byrd, Philadelphia – At 36 and batting right handed, he’s not my first choice. But Byrd has smacked 10 home runs and driven in 38. He could split time with Davis in left field and spell Hunter in right.
  • Matt Joyce, Tampa – While I haven’t done an extensive search of available players, I think the former Tiger makes a lot of sense. He’s still relatively young, plays a decent outfield, has power and can knock in runs. Granted, Joyce is off to a slow start, but in the past three seasons, he has hit 19, 17 and 18 home runs.
  • Michael Cuddyer, Colorado – Everyone is familiar with Cuddyer from his days in Minnesota. At 35, the right handed outfielder has turned into a part-timer for the Rockies. A year ago, he hit 20 homers and knocked in 84 for the Rockies. He would be a temporary fix, but a more reliable bat than what we have.

Have other ideas? Let’s hear them…..

Pitching: An alternate theory (solving the Tigers’ bullpen mess)

SanchezThe Detroit Tigers’ bullpen is less than stellar. Some might even go so far as to say awful.

Joe Nathan, the highly-paid grizzled veteran, was supposed to be lights out. Instead he has been lighting fires along with everyone not named Ian Kroll. The question is, what do you do about it?

There’s no savior in the Tigers’ minor league system, at least not for this year. A trade you say? I’m sure there will be arms available at the trade deadline. There always is. The problem is, other general managers know it and are going to demand Detroit’s top prospect(s) – can you say Jake Thompson, Steven Moya and Kevin Ziomek?

I’ve got a different idea, a really, really different idea.

In Spring Training, it’s not uncommon to see a pair of “starters” pitch in the game and a reliever or two finish it out. What if you applied those principles to the regular season?

Since the Major Leagues came into existence, the custom has been for starting pitchers to go as deep as possible into the game. For decades, it meant guys like Hal Newhouser, Frank Lary, Mickey Lolich and Jack Morris pitched 250 innings or more – sometimes a lot more. Today? Not so much.

Starters rarely toss 240 innings. Complete games are basically a thing of the past. Teams now carry 13 pitchers on their rosters when 10 or 11 was the norm the last time the Tigers won the World Series in 1984.

All of it is rather silly if you ask me. Thirteen pitchers leaves a manager with very few options during the game. How many times would Brad Ausmus have pinch hit for Romine or Worth if he had had an extra bat on the bench?

So, the solution is this: Use six “starters” with two of them pitching on the same day. Four innings to be exact. If everything went as planned, you could see Justin Verlander and Drew Smyly cover eight innings and the Closer De Jour finish it up.

On average, starters toss about 15 pitches per inning. That means 60 pitches on average for four innings or a range of 50-80. On the current five day cycle, the starter pitches a game and then throws a side session on day three (if I’m not mistaken).

Screw side sessions.

Give me four innings every fourth day. My rotation would be Verlander-Smyly on day one, Scherzer-Porcello on day two and Sanchez-Ray on day three. I’d carry two short relievers and three long relievers. An 11-man staff with 14 positional players.

Okay, let the eye-rolling and name-calling begin. But think about it for a minute. If your starters are your best pitchers, shouldn’t you want them on the mound more? I would.

In this kind of a system, each of the six starters would throw around 150-175 innings. More consistent work, which might help stop this explosion of Tommy John surgeries, yet less innings.

Thoughts?

First impressions of Tigers’ Eugenio Suarez

There are certain catch phrases in baseball that drive me nuts. “Walk-off.” “Electric stuff.” “Five-tool.” My least favorite, which has only come into vogue over the last decade or so, is “Sample size.”

If it’s Election Night and you’re talking about voting sample sizes… acceptable. If you are a data analyst or work in some other position involving numbers ands lots of math, hey, that’s cool. When baseball announcers use it as a means of analyzing a particular player? Not cool. To me, it’s phony, inaccurate and downright pompous.

Not that stats don’t tell a story. But let’s not reduce the game to some faux-scientific endeavor. It’s baseball, a beautifully simple game.

I say all of this because I want to share a few thoughts about Detroit Tigers rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez. I know he’s played a whopping total of one full game, and I also know it’s a really small “sample size.” Still, I think some observations can be made:

  • Suarez is the best overall, healthy shortstop we have
  • He’s going to hit at the Major League level. How much, I don’t know. You can see that he’s strong and he can hit a mistake like the meatball Jon Lester served up last night.
  • Suarez stands a long way away from the plate. That concerns me because it will force him to take a long stride to get to outside pitches. I think it makes him more susceptible to breaking balls away and getting jammed on the inside by Major League fastballs. We’ll see.
  • Great arm. One of the Fox announcers said he has a cannon, which might be a stretch. Let me see him toss a few fast runners out from the hole first.
  • Range appears decent. He made a nice play on a grounder on the other side of second base. He’s no Jose Iglesias, but, then again, who is?
  • I like how he handled himself. For a 22-year old, he did not appear to be overwhelmed by the big stage (ack, another baseball cliche).

Manager Brad Ausmus has said Suarez will be getting the bulk of playing time. Thanks, skip, I’ve seen enough of Mr. Romine. If Suarez proves to be a decent to good Major League player, it gives the Tigers some flexibility.

Assuming  Iglesias comes back next season ready to play, Suarez can be used to fill in at shortstop and, perhaps, second base. Down the line, it could allow the Tigers to let Kinsler walk and reallocate funds for other needs.