Heading into 2014, there were a lot of questions about the Tigers' offense. Would they be able to sustain the losses of Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, and Omar Infante's career year? Where would the power come from? Would they score as many runs?
Long story short: it worked, but it wasn't the same. The Tigers finished second in the American League in runs scored in 2014, just like they did in 2013. They finished sixth in the AL in home runs in both years, and improved from second to first in slugging average. However, their numbers dipped across the board from 2013 to 2014. They scored 39 fewer runs, hit 21 fewer home runs, and saw an eight point drop in slugging average.
What does that have to do with 2015? Well, we're in the same boat again this offseason. But the questions aren't quite the same. Power isn't a worry this year, not with Yoenis Cespedes coming into the fold. The middle of the lineup is set. In fact, the majority of the lineup is set. We assume that Ian Kinsler will lead off, Miguel Cabrera will hit third, and some combination of Victor Martinez, Cespedes, and/or J.D. Martinez will hit behind him. Everyone else will file in after that. As long as Don Kelly isn't hitting sixth, no one should care about how the end of the lineup stacks up.
Instead, the biggest question in Detroit not involving a Harbaugh these days is who will hit second in the Tigers' lineup. Wars will occur in internet comment threads over the next few months because there's no right answer. No one is a good fit, and anyone you put there will be wrong in someone's eyes.
So what should the Tigers do? You can't just eliminate the number two hitter like it's the 13th floor of a hotel. Someone has to hit there. Do you eschew conventional wisdom and move Miguel Cabrera up? Buy into version whatever of the sabermetric lineup construction theory and bat him fourth with Victor Martinez second? Move J.D. Martinez behind Kinsler so that he sees nothing but fastballs? Or does Nick Castellanos get a shot just because?
As you can see, there's no right or wrong answer. There's no one with a 10 percent walk rate and surefire .350 on-base percentage to sit in front of Cabrera, unless you want Victor clogging up the basepaths. So, basically, we're stuck hoping someone repeats Torii Hunter's 2013 season and hits well enough to remain a consistent on-base threat.
I have gone back and forth on this, but my current preference would be J.D. Martinez. I think that Cespedes is better served hitting fourth or fifth, and Victor Martinez is just too damn slow to be hitting in front of Cabrera. That leaves the younger Martinez or Castellanos, and I'd rather see J.D. get the extra plate appearances at this point. You could also get into how moving Castellanos higher in the order puts more pressure on him and potentially changes his approach at the plate, but my reasoning is simpler: Martinez is a better hitter, so he gets more plate appearances.
On the bright side, this conundrum only exists -- or should only exist -- against right-handed pitchers. The plan is much simpler against lefties: move Rajai Davis and his career .358 on-base percentage into the leadoff spot, bat Kinsler second, and don't screw up the rest. This lineup is going to mash against left-handed pitching, so it shouldn't be that hard.
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
|Ian Kinsler||Rajai Davis|
|J.D. Martinez||Ian Kinsler|
|Miguel Cabrera||Miguel Cabrera|
|Victor Martinez||Victor Martinez|
|Yoenis Cespedes||Yoenis Cespedes|
|Nick Castellanos||J.D. Martinez|
|Alex Avila||Nick Castellanos|
|Anthony Gose||James McCann|
|Jose Iglesias||Jose Iglesias|
There you have it: J.D. Martinez as your new #2 hitter against right-handed pitchers. It doesn't make much sense, but it makes as much sense as anything else would.
Do you agree? Or should the Tigers' lineup look different in 2015?