One third of the 2011 baseball season is in the books. The Tigers are a .500 team. The Tigers are getting solid pitching from their rotation, but the offense often fails to score enough runs to put winnable games into the W column. We all know about the bullpen issues, yet the Tigers lead the league in save percentage despite having the worst bullpen ERA in the league. In fact, the Tigers have done relatively well when giving the bullpen a lead from the seventh inning on- that’s what saves are. I suggest that the chief problem(s) with the Tigers are their failure to put up enough runs, although there will be issues with the soft underbelly we call “middle relief” in the pen.
Breaking down the lineup, the numbers after a third of the season show pretty much what one would expect. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila are hitting. The rest of the boys are not. More to the point, the Tigers have the best RBI man in the world hitting clean up, but there’s nobody on base in the 9, 1, 2, and 3 slots for him to clean.
Pos Player OBP (Team/ League Avg)
1. AJax . .285 (.277/ .317)
2. Sizemore .329, Rhymes .321, Santiago .310, Dirks .313, Kelly .308 (.335/ .323)
3. Ordonez .226, Boesch .323, Raburn .238 (.262/ .345)
4. Cabrera .430 (.433/ .339)
5. Martinez .362 (.321/ .324)
6. Peralta .370 (.349/ .315)
7. Avila .346 (.297/ .301)
8. See No. 2 (.323/ .311)
9. Inge .266 (.283/ .303)
The Tigers are 40 points below league average OBP in the lead off spot, and 83 points below in the 3 slot. In fact, the Tigers are .200 points below league average in OPS in the 3 slot. That is their biggest single issue.
AJax is not getting it done, and there aren't any alternatives for a lead off hitter.
The 4, 5, 6, and 7 are just fine- all at or above average, when V Mart and Avila are both in the lineup.
The 2 slot has been juggled and the players interchanged with the 8 slot. Looks like the players are all better suited for 8, if not for AAA ball.
The Tigers had an OBP of .356 in 2010 in the 2 slot. They swapped Damon for V Mart, greatly improving the 5 slot, the DH role, and the backup catcher, but at the expense of production the 2 hole. Someone has to start hitting in that slot, or DD has to go shopping.
Magglio put up great numbers in the 3 slot in 2010. League average stat line is .276 /.355/.445/.800. Maggs hit .303 /.378/.474 /.852. When he went on the DL, the Tigers tanked in that position, going from near best in the league to near worst across the board. DD’s answer to fill the void was to bring back Magglio, and I don’t blame him. Nor am I giving up on Magglio’s season. I suspect that healthy Magglio is closer to the 2010 version than he is to the hobbled 2011 version. We will see if the old Magglio returns. If not, the Tigers have a serious issue to be addressed. First, they’ll see what they’ve got in Ordonez.
Avila is underutilized in the 7 slot. He should be hitting third among the current group. I'm sure that Leyland doesn't want to add that pressure on him in addition to his catching duties, which are his primary responsibility, as with any catcher, but the status quo is not working. Peralta could hit third as hot as he has been, but his history shows that he has a knack for driving in runs, not for getting on base. Leyland’s choice has been Brennan Boesch. We’ve seen his upside, but that appears to have come and gone. If we’re counting on Boesch basching on a full time basis, I think we’ll be disappointed.
The point of this exercise is not to show that Leyland’s lineups are out of whack, although they certainly are at times. I’m not sure that Avila hitting in the 3 hole would solve the problems of the Tiger lineup. I do know that Ryan Raburn should not be in that slot while hitting below the mendoza line for the past several weeks, and I don’t believe that Boesch will be consistent enough to fill that role. I’m not sure that there is a suitable alternative to fill the lead off role. AJax still looks like the best bet to me, and if he fails, we’ve got a problem. Leyland has juggled the 2 slot plenty in search of a better alternative. While I didn’t like giving up on Sizemore, I doubt that he was the answer- at least this season.
Rather, the point is that the Tigers need help, and I suspect it’s not anywhere in the organization. If Magglio isn’t his old self upon coming off the DL, then DD will have to go shopping. There are three glaring holes atop the Tiger lineup, and we’re almost certain to see some of the young, promising pitchers that are nearing major league ready on the trade block. Probably a few of them. Moreover, if Dombrowski's job is truly on the line, nobody is sacred. It’s now or never. Anyone could go to save the Tiger season, and the GM’s job.
I am still picking the Tigers to win the AL Central in 2011. I think the division is winnable, and the problems are fixable. I’m still not sold on the Indians, who are now 10- 11 in their last 21 games, and have three series remaining, including 8 games on the road, vs Boston and New York. The Tigers are done with those teams. Chicago and Minnesota both are pushing maximum density, payroll wise. Mike Ilitch has shown a willingness to spend as needed to win, and this year should be no exception. At the one third mark, the Tigers are a .500 club with some pretty obvious weaknesses. Expect some roster moves before we measure up the team at the two thirds point of the season.