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Tigers’ lack of plate discipline is costly

While the Tigers are getting production from much of their lineup, the middle of the batting order has been very mediocre.

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

With Victor Martinez and Alex Avila on the disabled list, and with Ian Kinsler and Anthony Gose struggling at the plate recently, the last thing that the Detroit Tigers’ lineup needs is a group of hitters in the middle of the batting order flailing away. Yet, that’s exactly what the current Detroit lineup has in Nick Castellanos, JD Martinez, and Yoenis Cespedes.

As a team, the Tigers strike out 20 percent of the time, which is very close to the American League average. When they do put the ball in play, their batting average (BABIP) leads the league at .322.  But while the team leads the league in on base percentage and ranks second in batting average, their 4, 5 and 6 hitters in the current lineup, as well as lead-off man Anthony Gose- all rank among the top 19 strikeout artists in the league. Castellanos and Martinez each are striking out one in four trips to the plate.

Cespedes separates his productivity from his whiffing team mates by batting .280 with a significant amount of power when he puts the ball in play. Still, he adds a base on balls only five percent of his plate appearances. Gose walks just 5.6 percent, Castellanos 7.1, and Martinez 8.0 percent of the time. That league leading on base percentage is driven by batting average and distribution of on base ability right through the bottom of the lineup.

A closer look at the swing percentages, and swinging percentage on pitches outside the strike zone will illuminate the plate discipline issue. Out of 63 hitters in the league with at least 200 plate appearances, Castellanos, Martinez, and Cespedes all rank among the 14 most aggressive swingers, each taking a cut on more than half of all pitches thrown. They also rank among the top 20 in swings on pitches outside the strike zone.

The trio of Tigers also are among the league leaders in swinging strikes, with Castellanos and Martinez ranking 4th and 5th, with Cespedes at No. 15. When it comes to making contact, they rank among the 20 lowest. More swings and less contact with fewer walks can’t be a good thing from the heart of the batting order.

From the fourth spot in the batting order in 2015, the Tigers rank 8th in on base percentage, 14th of 15 teams in slugging, and just 11th in OPS. From the fifth spot, they rank ninth, seventh, and seventh.  In the sixth spot in the lineup, they rank ninth, eighth, and eighth. The team ranks better in each of the other six spots in the batting order, leading the league across the board in Miguel Cabrera’s third spot. 

While the Tigers’ lineup has been putting men on base as a group, they’re no better than average, and more often below average after Cabrera takes his cuts. The team now ranks ninth in the league in runs scored, despite putting more men on base than any other team. The return of a healthy Victor Martinez would be a big help. In the interim, a bit more patience at the plate from the heart of the batting order wouldn’t hurt.