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Ryan Raburn hurting team, needs to be sent to minors before it's too late

CHICAGO, IL- JUNE 5: Ryan Raburn #25 of the Detroit Tigers hits a grand slam home run against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on June 5, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL- JUNE 5: Ryan Raburn #25 of the Detroit Tigers hits a grand slam home run against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on June 5, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
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On June 1, just as the Yankees are coming to Detroit for a weekend series, Austin Jackson will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list and rejoin the Tigers. At that time, the Tigers will have to decide which player will be removed from the active roster to make room for the reinstatement of their leadoff hitter.

One week later, on June 8 by my count, Ryan Raburn will have accrued five years of major league service time (four years and 172 days, to be precise), meaning that the Tigers will no longer be able to option Raburn to the minor leagues without his consent, unless he first clears waivers. I suggest that the Tigers use Raburn’s final option and send him to Triple-A Toledo to find his groove at the plate before it's too late.

Raburn is dead last in the American League among hitters with at least 125 plate appearances in batting average at .146 and on-base percentage at just .209. He is also second-to-last in slugging percentage and OPS. In short, there hasn’t been a weaker hitter in the league than Raburn. Add that Raburn’s defense at second base, using either UZR/ 150 or Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) as measured by Bill James’ Fielding Bible, was as bad or worse than any other player in the American League with at least 500 innings played at the position over the past two seasons. Those stats may show an improvement this season, but caution should always be used in extrapolating too much from defensive stats during limited innings. Suffice it to say that Raburn isn't in the lineup for his defense.

The point here is not that Raburn shouldn’t be playing second base, although I firmly believe that he shouldn’t be, or that the Tigers have another viable long term solution in the organization for the position, because they really don’t. This is not a call to "get rid of" Raburn, like the Tigers did with Brandon Inge. The point here is that, if the Tigers believe that their best option at the position is to get Raburn’s bat heated up like we’ve seen after the All Star break the past two seasons, then they should do that by sending him to the minor leagues, take the pressure off him, let him work with hitting coach Leon Durham in Toledo, and call him back up if and when he starts hitting the ball like they think he can. Regardless of where they play Raburn, he needs to hit in order to justify his presence in the lineup.

Watching Raburn try to hit recently has been almost painful to see. He’s behind on fastballs, ahead on curve balls, and is often seen flailing away in futility, striking out in 28 percent of his at bats. Raburn has completely lost his way at the plate, and whatever hitting coach Lloyd McLendon and the Tigers have tried to get him out of his annual rut is not working. Yet the Tigers know that a hot hitting Raburn can be a difference maker in the lineup, as he has been in the second half each of the past three seasons.

In the short term, the Tigers couldn’t do any worse than what they’ve been getting out of Raburn. In the long term, the Tigers probably don’t have any internal solutions, and GM Dave Dombrowski will have to go outside of the organization for a solution or a short-term fix. In the mean time, they are not helping Raburn and not helping the team by continuing to write his name in the lineup every day, and he's not going to get any better sitting on the bench.

When Jackson returns to the Tigers, they could send Quintin Berry, who has provided a spark of excitement with his defense and speed on the bases, back to Toledo. Or, they could designate Don Kelly for assignment, or option Danny Worth to Triple-A yet again, just so they could keep playing Raburn with the hope that he heats up.

I would like the Tigers to keep Berry around, at least as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Berry may not be able to continue hitting like he has done during his brief stay so far with the Tigers, although he has a history of getting on base in the minors with a .358 OBP in more than six seasons and over 3,000 plate appearances in the minor leagues. But Berry's speed won’t go anywhere, and he’d give the Tigers a much better chance of being able to "manufacture" a run when needed in the late innings. That is something that has been frustratingly absent from the current cast of players. Berry could provide more value than a fourth middle infielder, regardless of which infielder they may remove from the roster.

Neither Santiago nor Worth have done particularly well at the plate, although Worth has logged only 22 at bats this season. I believe that the Tigers made a mistake by sending Worth to the minors and keeping Inge after Worth hit .317/ .396/ .585/ .981 in spring training, while playing stellar defense in the infield, another ingredient that the Tigers could use. I would like to see Worth given a chance to show what he can do. It can’t be any worse than what Raburn has been doing.

Both Santiago and Worth have career numbers that suggest that they’d provide an upgrade both at the plate and in the field over what the Tigers are getting from Raburn. The Tigers would do well to take this opportunity to improve themselves offensively, defensively, and on the bases by keeping Berry and optioning Raburn at least until second half Raburn reappears.