Delmon Young is gone. Victor Martinez will replace him as the Tigers’ designated hitter in 2013. That should provide the Tigers with a significant upgrade in the DH position and in the fifth spot in the batting order.
The Tigers ranked 12th in the league in OPS, 13th in wOBA, and 12th in RBI from the designated hitter position. They ranked 13th in OPS and 11th in RBI from the fifth spot in the batting order. For a player that follows Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the lineup, that’s a horrific failure. An upgrade is desperately needed, and Martinez is sure to provide that.
Dave Dombrowski has made it known that he’d also like to add another upgrade to the lineup, in a corner outfield position. The Tigers ranked last in the league in on base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS from their right fielders. It gets worse. Tiger right fielders ranked last in defensive runs saved and second worst only to the Indians in UZR in right field.
Brennan Boesch logged 70 per cent of the innings in right field for Detroit in 2012. The fact that he was benched in September and left off the playoff roster entirely should be a welcome sign to Tiger fans that management has spotted the problem. But who will replace Boesch in 2013?
As the season came to a conclusion, the Tigers saw more of Andy Dirks, Avisail Garcia, and Quintin Berry in the outfield. Dirks was essentially an every day player, either in right field or left, with Berry and Garcia splitting time in the opposite corner. Dombrowski showed great hesitation when asked if either player could handle the duties in the Tiger outfield next season. In fact, the Tiger GM hesitated to say that Dirks was an every day outfielder as well.
The Tigers saw great improvement during the 2012 season at the top of the batting order. In 2011, the Tigers were at the bottom of the league in getting their top three hitters on base ahead of Cabrera and Martinez. With the addition of Fielder, Cabrera was moved up to the three slot, and Austin Jackson had a strong rebound season in the lead off spot.
One of the biggest improvements came in the second slot in the batting order. The Tigers led off the year with Boesch hitting second, and that didn’t work. In 155 plate appearances hitting second, Boesch hit .239 with an OBP of .235, and an OPS of .659. Andy Dirks provided a big upgrade, hitting .295 .356 .445 .801 in 173 plate appearances batting second. Quintin Berry did an admirable job when Dirks was injured, hitting .263 .351 .368 .719 in the two slot, but he faded late in the season, batting just .218 .270 .293 .563 after the all star break.
The obvious solution would appear to be keeping Dirks in the No. 2 slot, at least against right handed hitters. There's just one problem with that. Dirks hit even better in the six slot, batting .415.419 .585 1.004, albeit in limited plate appearances. If Dirks hit second, a struggling Peralta or Avila was usually hitting sixth after Leyland finally pulled the plug on Boesch. Omar Infante provided a nice compliment, hitting .289 .310 .526 .836 while batting second, almost exclusively against left handed pitching.
So what do the Tigers need? Assuming that Dirks can hold one corner outfield spot, at least against right handed pitching, should they be looking for a number two hitter or another player that provides some pop to hit behind Martinez? We’ve seen Jim Leyland try the power bat in the second slot, without much success in the past. They could go with Dirks and Infante in the two slot, and look for more of a slugging type bat for the sixth spot. That’s not the route that I would choose.
Two areas where the Tigers have been obviously lacking for the past couple of seasons are in base running and defense. We would all love to see a gold glove outfielder that hits .300 with 40 home runs in the outfield. That’s not going to happen.
The Tigers don’t need another star. They also don’t need another $ 15 million salary on the payroll. Unless Mike Ilitch steps in and tells Dombrowski to sign a Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, or Torii Hunter, the Tigers are more likely to add a player that brings speed and a good glove. Hopefully, this player also has the ability to get on base at a high rate, despite Jim Leyland’s lack of appreciation for on base ability at the top of the lineup.
With Quintin Berry batting second against right handed pitchers in the playoffs, the Tigers had a massive hole in a critical spot in their lineup during the post season. Granted that moving Dirks up to the two slot would have left them deficient downstream in the order, but Dirks was by far the better hitter during the regular season.
Berry provided a spark when the team needed it, with Jackson and Dirks both on the disabled list early in the season. He will be at spring training in Lakeland trying to keep a spot on the major league roster, but in a reduced role as a pinch runner or defensive replacement. As he should be. Berry was used to provide speed when he couldn't get on base, and lay down bunts that were ill advised to begin with and a skill that he does not possess in any case.
The better course for the Tigers this winter is to acquire an outfielder more like Angel Pagan, Michael Bourn, BJ Upton, or Shane Victorino. I wouldn’t shy away from adding a center fielder, either. The Giants had essentially three center fielders in the outfield during the post season. Any of the above would provide a big upgrade defensively and offensively at the top of the batting order, and could be signed for a more reasonable cost than adding another slugger.