The Tigers' starting rotation has us nervous, but a review of the projected lineup can calm our fears. While the trend in the game is improved pitching each season and fewer runs scored, perhaps the Tigers can swim against the tide. Does their offseason merit an 'A' grade?
The lineup has one goal, and that is scoring runs. The players are selected for their defense as well, but for this discussion we are strictly concerned with the offensive half of the inning. The 2014 Tigers were second in the league in runs scored. They were fourth in home runs, 10th in walks and 13th in being hit by the pitch. Yet the Tigers were first in on-base percentage and slugging percentage because they led the league in hits and doubles. The Tigers have become counter-cultural by valuing batting average.
So what is an 'A' grade for the offseason? Are we grading on a curve and considering all other teams? Or are we grading the Tigers by comparing this year to last? If the lineup were projected for a repeat performance, would not that be enough?
Comparing the 2015 Tigers to the 2014 version, position-by-position, highlights two key changes. Yoenis Cespedes replaces Torii Hunter in the outfield, and Jose Iglesias replaces Grumpy, Dopey, and Sneezy at shortstop.
What does this mean for the lineup? That is not as straightforward. Brad Ausmus filled out the lineup card in 103 different permutations last year. The following shows each player who started more than 10 percent of the games in a given spot in the lineup, and the number of games started.
|1||Ian Kinsler (83) / Rajai Davis (52) / Austin Jackson (26)|
|2||Ian Kinsler (73) / Torii Hunter (70)|
|3||Miguel Cabrera (152)|
|4||Victor Martinez (145)|
|5||J.D. Martinez (80) / Torii Hunter (48) / Austin Jackson (22)|
|6||Nick Castellanos (73) / Austin Jackson (32) / J.D. Martinez (18)|
|7||Nick Castellanos (58) / Alex Avila (57)|
|8||Alex Avila (46) / Andrew Romine (38) / Eugenio Suarez (27) / Bryan Holaday (27)|
|9||Rajai Davis (63) / Eugenio Suarez (34) / Andrew Romine (33)|
All 2014 lineup data was obtained from Baseball-Reference.com.
A typical batting order was:
|7||C||Alex Avila / Bryan Holaday|
|8||SS||Shortstop of the month|
The most frequent iteration of this, with Avila seventh and Eugenio Suarez eighth, was used all of six times.
What can we expect for 2015? Simply substituting Cespedes and Iglesias gives us the following lineup.
|7||C||Alex Avila / Bryan Holaday|
|9||CF||Anthony Gose / Rajai Davis|
That is a strong lineup, but probably not optimized. If Gose and Davis really do platoon, the temptation will be to have them at the top. Yoenis Cespedes is more about power than reaching base. Iglesias' glove is his meal ticket, not his bat. So we may see:
|1||CF||Anthony Gose / Rajai Davis|
|8||C||Alex Avila / James McCann|
Cespedes in the sixth spot? He never batted that low in the order last year in Oakland. This is a strong lineup, and looks better than last year. Of course we may only see it one game in ten. Miguel Cabrera may not be ready on opening day. Victor Martinez is even more likely to miss time. Jose Iglesias will be rested to protect his legs. Other injuries will arise.
Last year Don Kelly batted in the top six spots 23 times. There is the ideal lineup, and there is reality. When a fifth outfielder is needed, or Gose and Davis are both in the lineup, an outfielder will slide to the bottom and may push Castellanos and the catcher up. When Kinsler is out of the lineup, his replacement may stay in the second spot. I can see why Avila has been mentioned in the second hole, because the sluggers need to stay in three through six. Nick Castellanos could even slide into the second spot on occasion. When Cabrera rests, Cespedes could take the three spot and the lineup remains reasonable.
So do not be surprised to see a "Sunday lineup" like this come summer.
But even that is not a cake walk for the opposing pitcher. The issue is with the three and four spots. The bench offers little depth. Replace Cespedes with Tyler Collins, and V-Mart with Avila, and the big bats can be pitched around.
On paper, with everybody healthy, the Tigers lineup is improved from second-best in the league. The bench may offer speed but not much pop.
One veteran quality bat, content to start a game or two a week and otherwise pinch hit, would earn a straight A.