So far, 2014 has been a tale of two seasons for the Detroit Tigers. First, you have the 27–12 start, where they raced out to a seven-game lead in their division, seemingly putting the competition to bed early. Then, there was the free fall back down to earth. Since that start, the team has gone 7–16, and are barely holding on to the division lead.
There are many areas where the Tigers have looked shaky during their fall from grace. They've replaced the starting shortstop, signed an injured former closer, and are patiently awaiting the return of a platoon outfielder. But none of the above transactions has done much to restore faith that the 2014 Tigers are where they need to be.
The bullpen has issues that have to be addressed, and we have covered that ad nauseam. So instead, let's set that aside and focus on the lineup a little more.
The following chart shows where the Tigers rank by position offensively and defensively in the American League through June 10.
In these numbers, found on FanGraphs, wOBA gives us a measure of batting production, while OPS is batting tilted toward the power numbers. Defense is FanGraphs' overall defensive measure, and fWAR combines batting, defense, and base running. Note that fWAR can be skewed by the number of games played and plate appearances from a particular position.
The good news is Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are as good as it gets, and Ian Kinsler is still an elite player. For all the criticism the Tigers get, they are still getting average production, or better, out of their catchers. Most of the deficit showing up in fWAR is due to some terrible base running.
Rajai Davis was the pleasant surprise at the start of the season. And, while he has cooled off, he still maintains steady performance. It stands to reason that the Tigers will first get Andy Dirks back into the lineup and see what they've got before making any drastic moves in the left corner.
Torii Hunter has been fairly average at the plate for a right fielder, but his defense has been brutal. If the Tigers are going to make an acquisition in July that is more than a rental, this could be the place to do it, as Hunter is a free agent after this season. If Dirks is productive upon his return, it could be Hunter, as well as Davis, who gives up playing time to get Dirks's left-handed bat into the lineup.
Austin Jackson has slumped terribly after getting off to a good start. While this is a prime target for improvement going forward this season, and while agent Scott Boras presents a formidable obstacle in getting Jackson extended past the 2015 season, the Tigers don't figure to make a move at this position this season. Jackson is a better player than he has shown, and that his rise and fall have coincided with that of the team in the standings is more than a coincidence.
The outfield as a group ranks 10th in the league in wOBA and OPS, and 12th in fWAR. Over the past 30 days, they're slashing just .216/.268/.364, so this is certainly an area that could be improved. They won't have much time to see what help they will get from Dirks before the trade deadline.
Shortstop has been the one position in the lineup that has drawn the most criticism — and for good reason. The team let Jhonny Peralta leave as a free agent, to be replaced by defense-first shortstop Jose Iglesias. When Iglesias was ruled out for the season, the Tigers assumed any replacements would still contribute defensively at an acceptable level. Unfortunately, however, that's not been the case.
The recent promotion of rookie Eugenio Suarez has quieted the storm at least temporarily, but whether they have found an adequate solution remains to be seen. If the team is in need of offense, shortstop is not the likely place to find it, although every bit helps. If Suarez can at least play consistent defense and hit for anything, the club may decide to stay the course here.
Nick Castellanos has just begun to show signs of shaking off a sluggish start to his rookie season, but there is no denying that third base has been sub par when measured against what most clubs expect from that position. Even over the past 30 days, third base for Detroit ranks 12th in OPS, 10th in wOBA, and 14th in fWAR as there have been some defensive hiccups recently. It is encouraging that Castellanos has started to get on base and is showing a bit more patience at the plate. And he has yet to make a throwing error this season. The team is set at the hot corner for the future, but a team bent on winning in the present might look to get some help at this position.
The offense overall hasn't been terrible, ranking fifth in the league in runs scored per game. This is down from second in 2014, and there is still potential for improvement without a major move. The Tigers lead the league in batting average, rank second in wOBA, and third in ISO. Still, the Tigers are lacking production in many areas and few would be surprised if they were to improve the lineup.
Where you believe the Tigers' lineup needs help the most depends on your level of confidence in current players. So, where do you think the Tigers are going to need the most help at the trade deadline this season?