Two years ago, the Tigers traded minor leaguers Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros to the Minnesota Twins for former top overall draft pick Delmon Young. Delmon needs no intro among Tigers fans, but the story may need re-telling.
On the day that Delmon was acquired, the Tigers were two games up on the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. The Tigers had largely relied upon a combination of Brennan Boesch and Andy Dirks in left field to date, with Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly occasionally filling in. The trade made sense. While Delmon probably wasn't going to replicate his 2010 numbers -- he hit .298/.333/.493 with the Twins that year -- he was definitely going to be an upgrade over Boesch, whose decent first half numbers had fallen off a cliff. Sure, his glove wasn't much to write home about, but -- in theory -- Delmon's bat was supposed to outweigh his defense.
By and large, Delmon provided the upgrade he was supposed to down the stretch in 2011. He put together a modest .756 OPS in 40 games, and then proceeded to hit five homers in nine postseason games that year.
The Tigers brought back Delmon for the final year of his contract in 2012, but the season was widely regarded as a disappointment (to put it nicely). Delmon's .707 OPS was bad for a left fielder, but even worse when you consider he was made the team's full-time designated hitter in early May. He put together a second consecutive postseason with an OPS above .900, but the playoff heroics weren't enough to erase a full season of futility in most fans' eyes. Add in the horrible defense and you see why the mere mention of his name is met with such distaste in the comments.
Fast forward to tonight. Jhonny Peralta made his major league debut in the outfield and didn't make a fool of himself in the field. He hit an RBI double in the middle innings, bringing the Tigers within a run.
Remember that theory about Delmon's bat outweighing his defense? Jhonny Peralta can be that guy.
This season, Peralta hit .305/.361/.461 before serving his 50-game suspension. Sure, his year-to-year numbers can vary, but if Peralta hit anywhere close to what he did in the 104 games before his suspension, the Tigers are a better team. Andy Dirks is hitting .259/.326/.368 this year. His .728 OPS in September is 34 points higher than his season-long OPS. A nice uptick in production, to be sure, but nowhere near the .857 OPS he posted last season. Matt Tuiasosopo is hitting .183/.263/.315 since the start of July.
Sure, the defense is a problem. He didn't see many chances in tonight's game, but the Marlins scored a third run on an RBI double off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton because of Peralta's lack of range. Christian Yelich scored from first on a ball that Dirks or Kelly would have gotten to sooner. In the playoffs, that extra run could be huge.
And then, there's the age-old question: could Peralta's defense in left field possibly be worse than Delmon's? I'm inclined to say yes. As bad as Delmon was, he is at least an outfielder by trade (don't laugh). Peralta is a shortstop and has never played in the outfield in his major league career.
That said, there's a tipping point on the outfield skill spectrum where it probably just doesn't matter anymore. We're there.
I feel like most Tigers fans are behind the "Peralta to left field" move on a limited basis, but where is the line? Does Peralta start against right-handers? Or should the Tigers take the "damn the torpedoes" approach and make him the full-time starter? Either way, Peralta's bat gives the Tigers yet another weapon at their already considerable disposal in the postseason.