Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays bludgeoned their way to the American League East crown and an ALCS appearance, their first since 1993. They led all of baseball with 891 runs scored, the highest total since the 2009 New York Yankees. They led the league in nearly every important statistical category, including on-base percentage, slugging average, home runs, and wRC+. However, the Jays fell close to the bottom of the pack in one number: platoon advantage, where their 44 percent rate was second-to-last among all AL teams.
The Detroit Tigers were the only team to hold the platoon advantage in fewer plate appearances than last year's Blue Jays, clocking in at a 43 percent clip. This was largely thanks to a mostly right-handed lineup, one that ranked 10th among AL teams with 689 runs scored. They added power bat Justin Upton to the fold on Monday night, but still maintain one of the most righty-heavy lineups in baseball as they head into the 2016 season.
Context is important here, though. The Tigers ranked third in the AL with 398 runs scored in the first half of 2015, when players like Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Yoenis Cespedes were clicking on all cylinders. Martinez continued to hit in the second half, but the Tigers missed an injured Cabrera and an absent Cespedes, and scored fewer runs than any other AL team after the All-Star break.
Current Tigers Starters vs. Right-Handed Pitchers
Looking deeper, the Tigers lineup is largely comprised of players who have enjoyed plenty of success against right-handed pitching in the past. Miguel Cabrera is a threat no matter who he faces, while J.D. Martinez hit .286/.335/.534 with 28 home runs off righties last season. Justin Upton's career platoon splits are relatively stable, with an .805 OPS in 3700 plate appearances against same-sided pitching. Ian Kinsler has the most significant platoon splits of the group, but still hit a respectable .294/.341/.422 with 40 extra base hits in 534 plate appearances against righthanders last year.
And, lest we forget, one of the Tigers' worst hitters against right-handed pitching was the hobbled Victor Martinez, who posted a 62 wRC+ in 387 plate appearances last season. The switch-hitting Martinez never looked healthy from the left side, and his .870 OPS in limited action against left-handed pitching shows that age isn't slowing him down quite yet. If he returns to something resembling his career .300/.364/.467 line against righties in 2016, the Tigers should be in good shape.
The Tigers also have a couple other positions that won't be so right-hand dominant. James McCann and his 64 wRC+ against righties will get the lion's share of playing time behind the plate, but backup Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a career .251/.325/.447 hitter against right-handed pitching. Expect most of his starts to come against righties, leaving McCann to feast on lefthanders.
Anthony Gose posted a respectable .330 on-base percentage and 97 wRC+ against righties last season, though he did strike out 25.8 percent of the time. His dreadful performance against lefties dragged his overall numbers down, but odds are he won't get much playing time against southpaws in 2016. Platoon partner Cameron Maybin is also a better hitter against righties than lefties, though his splits aren't quite as severe.
More on Upton
The only real question marks are third baseman Nick Castellanos and shortstop Jose Iglesias (though it's worth pointing out that the Tigers were facing this same dilemma prior to the Upton signing). Castellanos showed promise in the latter two-thirds of 2015, hitting .283/.329/.487 after June 23. His platoon splits were significant, however, with a meager .656 OPS against right-handed pitching. One hopes that his improved plate discipline helps buoy his numbers against righties this season.
Jose Iglesias went the opposite way of Castellanos, hitting .280/.318/.366 after the All-Star break. He was limited by injuries at times in the second half, but his season-long .661 OPS against right-handed pitching wasn't all that impressive. He did get on base at a .320 clip, though.
The Tigers' slanted lineup may not hit righties as well as they are going to mash left-handed pitching -- and hoo boy, are lefties in trouble in 2016 -- but concerns about their ability to handle right-handed starters are overblown. They may struggle at times, especially if injuries start to pile up again, but we should expect them to be one of the league's best offenses regardless of which side of the plate they stand on.