In this Oakland series, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has had to make a decision he's never had to make before: who should replace Victor Martinez's bat in the lineup. On Monday and Tuesday, Ausmus DH'd J.D. Martinez and played Torii Hunter in right field.
Anecdotally, Ausmus' decision makes sense. Hunter played center field for years — and played it well at times. In fact, in years past, he's been worth over two wins above replacement (WAR) from his defensive contributions alone. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez is seen as a slower corner outfield type while bringing a ton of power offensively.
However, defensive metrics tell a different story, and do so conclusively. From Fangraphs.com:
Martinez is certainly no defensive wizard, but he appears to currently be playing significantly better than Hunter. Those numbers put Martinez at 1.3 WAR above Hunter defensively. According to Fangraphs, Hunter has been the second-worst defender in the major leagues behind Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp.
Matt Slovin, who covers the Tigers for MLB.com, said that Ausmus considered putting Martinez in the field and penciling Hunter in at DH.
Torii Hunter told me he'll DH tomorrow. Ausmus said he isn't expecting V-Mart back in lineup. #Tigers— Matt Slovin (@MattSlovin) July 2, 2014
That's exactly what Ausmus did in his lineup today.
Ausmus may simply be giving Hunter the day off in the field and thinks that Martinez is the inferior defender; we don't know. Maybe the coaches will use this next game to reevaluate Martinez's defense after seeing Hunter the previous two nights.
At this point, playing Martinez in the field looks like the right decision. Hopefully, Victor Martinez returns to the lineup soon, which would mean that it is a decision that Ausmus to longer has to make.