Amid all the hoopla over the loss of Victor Martinez and subsequent signing of Prince Fielder, there has been a steady undercurrent of concern over Austin Jackson's regression at the plate in 2011, and the Tiger's failure to replace him at the top of the batting order for 2012. That, coupled with Ryan Raburn's inability to hit for average OR power before the calender turns to July has got many fans worried that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski still has work to do on the personel front before the start of the 2012 season. I'm here to tell you to stop worrying, because the Tigers have it all figured out.
Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon had a good year in 2011, as the Tigers resided near the top of the league in many team batting stats, including third in team BA @ .277, fourth in OBP @ .340 and fourth in slugging @ .434. Jhonny Peralta, Brennan Boesch & Victor Martinez all had career bests in BA and Alex Avila made a monumental jump from the year before. McClendon's phillosophy has always been that you shouldn't try to make major changes to someone's swing during the season, as it may damage their psyche as they try to do too many things all at once while still facing live pitching every day. So, this off season, McClendon turned his sights on Austin Jackson. The obvious adjustment was to reduce his leg kick, which has made him late on fastballs and unable to adjust to two-strike breaking balls. McClendon has been drilling Jackson hard after a season in which his league-worst strikeout total of 170 his rookie season rose to 181 last year. “I’m very excited,” McClendon said during the club’s winter press caravan. “I came away from this project probably more excited than by any project I’ve done in my seven years here at this time of year. I’m extremely pleased by how quickly he adjusted and adapted. And really the credit goes to him because he wanted to do it and he was willing to do it. (Hear that Brandon Inge?) My hope is that we’re going to see some drastic differences.” Jackson has always been seen as a willing student of the game who is not afraid to make the changes neccesary to improve his overall abilities, so there is optimism among the Tiger brass that Jackson will be just fine at the top of the order in 2012
Raburn is a different story altogether. Every year, the guy seems to hit like Mickey Mantle after the all-star break, but like Mickey Rooney before it. However, that trend may be coming to an end in 2012. In fact, last season Raburn had a decent April, hitting .253 with 4 dingers. Then came May where he hit just .113 with 0 HR's. June was a little better, (it couldnt have been worse) and then in July he hit .275, .323 in August, and .383 in September. Same old Raburn, right? Not so fast. Something must have happened at the start of May to start the decline, but what? The Tigers think they have the answer. It turns out Raburn sustained a V shaped break to his left index finger sliding into 2nd in an early May game against the Minnesota Twins. The injury wasnt diagnosed until several weeks later, and by then the break was mostly healed. Not coincidently, it corresponded to about the same time Raburn's bat started to heat up. It's the Tigers hope that Raburn has an injury free spring training & swings a good bat in Florida to help him start the season with confidence he has lacked in past years, which should allow the Tiger vet to hit for a high average all season long. Was the broken finger to blame for Raburn's terrible May/June? The Tigers think it was, and I guess the rest of us will find out soon enough.
So, for those who are hoping for a late free agent signing or a trade to bring in a 2nd baseman to bat at the top of the order, don't hold your breath. The Tigers think they have both spots covered already.