This week we will explore five keys for the Tigers as they make a run at the Central Division title. Those keys are staying healthy, playing better on the road, finding success against right-handed pitching, finding a starting pitcher to step up and join Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer as front line starters, and playing better defense than expected.
One fear, and this seems to come up on almost a yearly basis, is that the Tigers' lineup is just too right-handed. And the left-handers Detroit does have are probably not going to be pounding down the door to the All-Star game any time soon.
Last season, the Tigers went 26-21 in games in which opponents started a left-handed pitcher; 55-60 in games started by a right-hander. (B-Ref). The team had an OPS of .776 vs. lefties, but .742 against righties.
Why is that an issue? Look no further than the opening-day rotations by rivals in the division (with a hat-tip to the work already done by Chris at Motor City Bengals).. The Twins feature three right-handers. The White Sox three. The Indians five. And the Royals three.
So taken in conjunction with our earlier post today about road records, the Tigers have a lot of improving to do.
The addition of Victor Martinez to the everyday lineup won't help as much as you'd expect either. He had a .694 OPS vs righties last season and .756 for the last three, though to be fair his numbers against righties are always better in odd-number years. (No, that's probably not a stat you want to be betting the house on). Brennan Boesch might help. Obviously, here' the part where you want to point out he hit better against lefties than righties in his rookie campaign. However, his splits were more conventional in the minor leagues and should be expected to regress. That means, he should hit better against right-handers again. Of course, if Boesch is playing in place of Ryan Raburn, the improvement could be diminished. Raburn has actually found some pretty good success in each of the past three years.
The Tigers simply must find a way to either bring more left-handed hitters into the everyday fold, or hit better as a team against right-handed pitching.