Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch opened his wallet up once again Monday night and added probably the best free agent outfielder available, Justin Upton, to shore up the only real remaining hole in the Tigers' lineup. Upton has been an impressive batter in his career, hitting .271/.352/.473 with a 121 wRC+, 10.3 percent walk rate and at least 25 home runs in each of the last three years. He can steal a few bases, too, including 19 last season. Oh, and he’s still under the age of 30.
Deciding where to put Upton in his batting order is a pretty good luxury for manager Brad Ausmus to have today. We offer one solution for what the 2016 batting order might look like.
The top of the order
Upton’s above-average on-base percentage is ideal for the top of the order. In Steamer’s projection, Upton’s OBP for 2016 is .343, which ranks as third-best on the Tigers in their prediction, behind Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Cabrera is cemented in the third spot of the order. Ian Kinsler is also likely to be in the top of the order, however his Steamer projected on-base percentage is at .318, which is lower than Jose Iglesias’ .327. Iglesias showed very impressive plate discipline numbers last year which is a good fit for the top of the order. Seniority likely wins out here, though. So, the No. 2 spot in the order would be a great possibility.
The middle of the order
Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez are going to be here, but the question remains in which spots. The younger Martinez was a better hitter in 2015 and is also projected by Steamer to be better in 2016 (.816 OPS vs. .795 OPS). J.D. is trending upward while Victor is getting older and trending downward. The reason for batting V-Mart fourth over J.D. is not only experience, but breaking up the extremely right-handed emphasis of the Tigers lineup.
After the Martinezes, it starts to get interesting. Upton would fit really well here if Brad Ausmus decides to go with Kinsler-Iglesias in the 1-2 spots. If it is Upton at the top of the order, then it’s a battle between Nick Castellanos and Cameron Maybin at fifth – both who had really good half seasons last year.
|Nick Castellanos||2nd Half||0.269||0.322||0.478||116|
|Cameron Maybin||1st Half||0.289||0.356||0.418||115|
Projected out over a full season and you can’t go wrong with either one of them in the fifth spot.
The bottom of the order
Assuming one of Castellanos/Maybin bats sixth the last two spots are interesting because of the platoon factor. Iglesias can bat ninth because of the "turning over the lineup" effect that gets way overblown. That leaves James McCann batting eighth. However, McCann has severe splits against same handed pitchers (.609 OPS against righties, .916 OPS against lefties). He’ll be on a semi-platoon with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. If he can keep up is good hitting against lefties, he could bat higher in the order.
Then there’s Anthony Gose -- now the fourth outfielder -- who also has extreme lefty/righty splits. When playing against a left-handed pitcher, he should be batting ninth. However, against a right-handed pitcher, he should bat a little higher.
Overall, Ausmus has some flexibility in his lineup and I hope he tries a few out in spring training to get a feel for what works best. I only hope he isn’t too stubborn during the season when something clearly isn’t working out.
One possible lineup
Putting it all together looks something like this:
1. Ian Kinsler (RH)
2. Justin Upton (RH)
3. Miguel Cabrera (RH)
4. Victor Martinez (S)
5. J.D. Martinez (RH)
6. Nick Castellanos (RH)
7. Cameron Maybin (RH)
8. James McCann (RH)
9. Jose Iglesias (RH)
Tell us what you'd do in the comments.