Just like last year, we'll be grading all the Tigers who contributed significant playing time over the course of the season, starting with the position players, then doing the rotation members, and finally finishing up with the bullpen and writing profiles for players without enough playing time to earn a grade. Each list will run in alphabetical order. These reviews will occasionally dip into sabermetrics so we can get a better idea why things happened, but I'll try to explain as we go through things.
I debated whether to include Andy DIrks on this list or give him an incomplete. He played in fewer than half the Tigers' games in 2011, and he started in just a third of them. On top of that, 235 plate appearances are too few to make any sweeping generalizations with a lot of confidence.
However, he could play an important role in the coming year, so I figured it would be worthwhile to take a look at him.
Dirks had a wonderful spring training during which his name started making it into the mainstream and fans were suddenly asking not just the question "Who is this guy?" but "How can the Tigers keep him off the Opening Day roster?"
Dirks had been in the Tigers' minor league organization since 2008, but he really came into his own in 2010 when he had 141 hits and 15 home runs in a combined 120 games between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. The time would eventually come for the 25-year-old left-handed batter, but not at the beginning of the 2011 major league season.
When he arrived in May, Dirks was exactly what people thought he'd be. Hit hit well, he got on base, he hit for power, he played solid defense. However, it didn't take long for reality to settle in and his .874 OPS in May fell to a .593 OPS in June and .621 in July.
Fortunately, the defense remained of decent quality, earning him consistent playing time as late innings replacement even if he didn't start.
Dirks will have to turn a few of his rate stats around in 2012 to be a more productive batter, but it wasn't a bad debut by any means.
At the plate:
Two key components went into his struggles at the plate this year. Compared to his minor league years, he walked less often than normal. The other problem was a BABIP of just .273.
Unfortunately, the BABIP can't entirely be chalked up to luck. While his line-drive rate was acceptable, the rate of fly balls cut into the likelihood of hits falling in. He also hit into too many pop ups in the infield. So the xBABIP calculator predicted a .292 BABIP. So that's worse than the major league average.
You could expect the walk rate to decrease a bit when facing major league pitching, but 4.7% is probably a bit too low. (To be fair, he walked just 3.2% of the time in 20 games with the Mud Hens in 2010.)
One thing to like is that his isolated power finished at .155, though that less than the prior year's amount. Before 2010, he hadn't shown a whole lot of power. During his first season in Erie, which has generally resulted in a power spike after playing at the large field in Lakeland, Dirks' ISO figure was just .097.
Obviously, Dirks has to find an area of his batting game to hang his hat on, because a batter who can't work his way on base and who doesn't have a lot of power isn't going to find regular playing time at the major league level for long. But I think if he improves slightly he makes for a viable fourth outfielder in the near future.
In the field
A look at his UZR might lead you to think Dirks is below average. He came in at a surprising -2.9. But it's important to remember no single defensive fielding metric is best, and the more games played the more reliable the stat. His problems in UZR are mostly driven by center field play, where he rated at -65.2 per 150 games played. Dirks played just 115 innings there. When you include the corner outfield spots, where he rated as above average in more than 700 innings. Looking at defensive runs saved, Dirks was -2 at center field, but +3 in right field and 0 in left field.
Checking in with the fans, which is also a limited sample, Dirks was rated as having slightly above average instincts, above average speed and glove work, and about average arm accuracy.
So either way you slice it, he wasn't exactly a gold glover out there. But for the most part, he's not Andy Derps in the field, either. He's a good bit better than some of the other corner outfield options, like Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch. It's all about relativity.
It's really hard for me to say what to expect of Dirks next year. I don't think I want to see him as a starter. He's not exactly the level Casper Wells was at a year ago, and I don't think he should be expected to reach Wells' level of play in the future.
I don't think Dirks is suddenly going to turn into a batter with a lot of power or a high on-base percentage either.
So I don't see starting as an option for Dirks in the future. I think he'll remain a fourth or fifth outfielder who can help the club, but you shouldn't count on him to do more than that.