We've talked about this in comments, but now it's time for the discussion to have a post of its own. Why? Because the offseason is really, really long, and not every post can be Hall of Fame material, that's why.
"We think Raburn will step up," Dombrowski said. "So we're only talking about one other spot in the lineup — because as you look at the infield being settled, catching being settled, DH being settled, now you're talking about the outfield.
Left field has been an issue for the Tigers for years. Walking our way backwards to 2005, we've seen Raburn there, but also Brennan Boesch--both the hot and the cold versions--Carlos Guillen, Johnny Damon, Don Kelly, Josh Anderson, Jacque Jones, Marcus Thames, Craig Monroe, Rondell White and more. So it's been kind of a mix of batters who can't field, fielders who can't bat and some guys who couldn't do either.
So can Raburn finally shore up the position? There's two main issues at work.
The first, can Raburn be trusted to bat well for an entire season? We don't know. He's started off pretty cold a few seasons recently. However, he seems to struggle when not given regular playing time. He hits pretty well when he plays regularly. And both of the past two seasons he's put up an OPS of .800 or better in limited action. A nice fanshot by Rob this season looked further at the issue. He found his stats on August 12, and Raburn kept raking for the next six weeks. Mr. August? Maybe. But what Raburn will need to show is that he can be Mr. April and Mr. May too. He doesn't have to put up at .300 average and .500 slugging during those months, but he can't start off colder than Lake Superior in April either.
I think he's as good as any player to take a chance on. Three of his four seasons in the MLB he had an OPS of .800 or better. The OPS for his minor league career is .855, and he had 15 or more home runs in each of the years he spent an entire season in the minors. He can hit. If not now, then never.
The second issue, can Raburn play capable in the field? I know a lot of people want to answer "no" to that. They know what their eyes showed them. But I have to caution when assessing defense you need to use both your eye and some statistics. Clearly, Raburn was not completely comfortable in left field last year. He made some adventurous catches and the occasional bad throw. But he made catches, and he made throws. In left field, his UZR has been consistently average or slightly better the past few years. The sample size is obviously limited, but we're talking about a trend that has spanned years so I'm apt to believe it. Besides, left field is not exactly known for being the place you stash your best outfielder. So in comparison, Raburn isn't that bad.
So me, I'm comfortable with Raburn starting in left field. A year ago, I would have told you I wasn't. But he's won me over with his play. He should be trusted with the position.
Now if we could just deal with that right field business ...
What say you?