The Detroit Tigers led the American League in batting average, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, team OPS, and doubles in 2014. Detroit ranked fourth in stolen bases, and were among the league leaders in most categories that measure base running or offensive efficiency. Overall, the Tigers ranked second in the league to the Los Angeles Angels in runs scored, with 4.67 runs per game.
The Tigers’ 2015 lineup will be without Torii Hunter, who had a fine season at the plate in 2014 with 17 home runs, 83 RBI, and a .286 average. He will be replaced by Yoenis Cespedes, who had a nice season between Boston and Oakland, batting .260 with 22 homers and 100 RBI. He also will be a significant upgrade defensively.
One would think that manager Brad Ausmus should be able to get more production out of Cespedes by batting him behind Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, but only if he can find a replacement for Hunter in the number two slot in the batting order. Hunter posted an on-base percentage of .319 in 2014. It also stands to reason that Jose Iglesias should at least match the production (or lack thereof) of the group of shortstops that the Tigers used last year.
Elsewhere, Iglesias is reported to be healthy after missing the entire 2014 season with stress fractures in both of his shins. He will man the shortstop position, where the Tigers are in need of an upgrade both offensively and defensively. Tigers' shortstops batted .226/.288/.293 with a .581 OPS and a .264 wOBA in 2014, which ranked 14th of 15 American league teams. Iglesias is a career .274/.325/.354 hitter with an OPS of .679 and a wOBA of .304 in 465 career plate appearances in the major leagues.
The other position where there will be a significant change is in center field, where Austin Jackson will be replaced by a platoon of Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose. We broke down the platoon options earlier this offseason, and came to the conclusion that Davis should start against left-handed pitchers and Gose against right-handers. If 2014 platoon splits hold true, the combination would provide an offensive upgrade over Jackson as well.
In a hypothetical platoon where Davis hits against left-handers and gets one-third of the plate appearances, and Gose bats the other two-thirds of the time against right-handed pitchers, they would hit a combined .279/.338/.419. That’s not exactly Mike Trout, but the OPS would have been the fourth-best in the American league for center fielders in 2014. Tigers’ center fielders hit .277/.323/.396 last season.
Taking Davis out of the lineup may result in a drop in his stolen base numbers, but Gose is pretty speedy on the bases himself. He registered 15 steals while playing part-time last season, and PECOTA projects him to swipe 34 bases in full-time duty in 2015. The club would also have one of the two available to pinch run in key late inning situations if a true platoon is deployed. Davis would also be available to pinch hit against left-handed pitchers, where he put up a .956 OPS in 2014.
The other notable roster change expected is James McCann replacing Bryan Holaday as the backup catcher. McCann is also expected to gain a larger share of playing time while Alex Avila gets more time off. Holaday hit .231/.266/.276 in 171 plate appearances last summer, while Avila hit .226/.287/.302 against left-handed pitchers. McCann hit .295/.343/.427 for Triple-A Toledo last year. A major impact is not likely due to this change in the backup role.
The Tigers have some major questions with players coming back from injuries this spring. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez both had offseason surgery and are expected back close to Opening Day. Cabrera could return to form and give the team a big offensive boost, but then Martinez could fall back from a career season in 2014. When healthy, they are as lethal a combination of hitters as there is in any major league lineup.
Overall, the Tigers should be able to maintain their level of offensive production, so long as they remain healthy. If they have the good sense to keep at least one decent left-handed batter on the roster, they may even have a better bench than they had a year ago.
How good do you think the Tigers’ lineup will be in 2015?