Better know a Tiger: Steve Lombardozzi

Steve Lombardozzi records a putout as he acclimates to shortstop in spring training - Stacy Revere

Steve Lombardozzi haunted us a generation ago. Can Steve Jr. make amends?

You may think you know Steve Lombardozzi. The name conjures thoughts of a light hitting utility infielder. You may have an immediate negative reaction, separate from being part of the Doug Fister trade. Your feelings may be based on history, as Steve Lombardozzi played on the Minnesota Twins in 1987.

The Tigers were still strong in 1987 with much of the 1984 World Championship team intact. The offense was led by Trammell, Whitaker, Gibson, and Lemon. The season concluded with seven games over the final two weekends against the first place Blue Jays. The Tigers lost the first three, all by one run, and fell to three and half games back with eight games to go. When all hope was lost they won the final four games, all by one run, to clinch the division.

The Twins had Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, and a bunch of dirtbags and gamers with heart and hustle. They finished with 85 wins, 13 less than Detroit, but good enough for first place in the American League West. Yet they defeated the Tigers four games to one in the playoffs.

The Minnesota Twins' bit players included Chris Pittaro and Billy Beane. The Tigers had Bill Bean in 1987 but must have figured they had the wrong good luck charm and switched to Billy Beane in 1988. Steve Lombardozzi led the '87 Twins' dirtbags. He hit .238 / .298 / .352 in 136 games for an OPS+ of 70. But there he was in the World Series, leading the team with a .412 batting average as the Twins beat the Cardinals four games to three. The next fall, Steve Jr. was born.

Steve Sr. finished his career in the Tigers' organization, playing for Toledo in 1990.

The Nationals drafted Dirtbag out of Atholton High Schol in Columbia, Maryland in the 19th round of the 2008 draft.

Year Age Lvl Gms PA BA OBP SLG
2008 19 Rk 48 184 .283 .371 .322
2009 20 A 128 576 .296 .375 .395
2010 21 A+ 110 507 .293 .370 .409
2010 22 AA 27 118 .295 .373 .524
2011 22 AA 65 291 .309 .366 .454
2011 22 AAA 69 325 .310 .354 .408
2011 22 Maj 13 32 .194 .219 .226
2012 23 Maj 126 416 .273 .317 .354
2013 24 Maj 118 307 .259 .278 .338

In his 257 major league games, Dirtbag has played at replacement level. Baseball Reference shows the most similar player to Lombardozzi is Phil Mankowski, for those who want a trip in the Tigers' WABAC machine. Why would Dave Dombrowski want him in a trade, when he takes up a roster spot? Dirtbag's minor league numbers provide some hope that he will grow into a league average player. His minor league totals are .298 / .369 / .411 with remarkable consistency at each level. If he can contribute a .280 / .340 / .400 season as a utility player, he will soon be starting somewhere.

Contract Status

Dirtbag has two years of service time and will not be a free agent until 2018. He should make the league minimum salary this year, less than Don Kelly.

Keys to Success

Dirtbag needs to have a hot April and be this year's Tui. Ausmus will then figure out how to use him most games, whether at second base, shortstop, third base, or left field. Dirtbag needs playing time to develop. This could be his make-or-break season. Either he lives up to his minor league promise, or he will carve out a fine eight year career as a utility player.

Odd Numbers

Three: The number of assists that Lombardozzi has in his major league career as a shortstop. Dirtbag only played 20 games at shortstop in the minors, and not a single game in the outfield. With Jose Iglesias currently out of action, the need for Lombardozzi to fill in at shortstop is even more acute. He will be learning on the job, and be more Jhonny Peralta than Jose Iglesias.

2014 Outlook

Dirtbag will hustle, get dirty, and hit enough to be used most days. He will be hitting above .300 in mid-May. His offense will drift down during the season with his batting average settling in around .250. But in the postseason he will play most games and spark the offense, imitating Steve Sr. and redeeming the Lombardozzi name in Detroit.

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