Outfielder Steven Moya has been promoted to the Detroit Tigers and Blaine Hardy has been optioned to Toledo, the Mud Hens announced. The move was originally reported by John Wagner of the Toledo Blade early Thursday morning.
Moya has been destroying the baseball with Toledo this year and he's worked to decrease his strikeout percentage at the plate. Up until his latest game, Moya had been playing in right field all year, but that changed on Wednesday when he started in left field.
Moya will likely serve off the bench and occasionally spell a struggling Justin Upton. Moya has amassed a .320 ISO with Toledo and his 22.7 strikeout percentage is a career low -- at any level. The closest he came to that was with Single-A in 2012 when he finished with a 22.9. That is just above average (21 percent) for major league hitters.
Offensively, Moya is batting .303/.336/.623 with nine home runs. He's struck out fewer times than Upton, but there's a gap in competition level to be cognizant of, and he still hasn't walked all that much -- 3.9 percent of the time, down from five percent last year. However, Moya's never been one to draw a walk all that much anyway. He's projected to hit .247/.282/.450 with a .203 ISO and strike out 28.4 percent of the time, according to Steamer projections.
Perhaps the biggest area for improvement has been Moya's history with being unable to distinguish pitches, though he changed his batting stance and swing, as well. This year, he's worked heavily on pitch recognition and it seems to be paying off. The real test will be whether he can continue to adjust to major league hitting, something he was unable to do in September last year -- he struck out an astounding 40 percent of the time.
Without reading too much into it, it goes without saying that Upton has massively struggled offensively this season. To that end, don't be surprised if Moya shows up in the starting lineup against the Baltimore Orioles tonight since manager Brad Ausmus had been looking for a way to give Upton the night off.
It's only May 12 and Upton has already struck out an MLB-leading 53 times, or one-third of his total from the entire 2015 season. At this rate, Upton will match that strikeout total by July 24 without a day off -- or if he doesn't get benched before then.
Upton has always been streaky and every year he goes through a bout of strikeout fever. It's tough to anticipate just when he's going to snap out of it because of how erratic he's been in the past. This year, though, it's not been one particular thing that's been an issue for Upton, he's been awful all-around, including during spring training.
For a brief time he appeared to break the strikeout streak when Ausmus moved him out of the No. 2 spot and put him batting fifth. Upton had a seven-game hitting streak where he had two doubles, a home run, and four RBI in 29 at-bats, hitting .414/.414/.586.
But the adjustment was only a temporary solution. Upton fell back into a hitless, strikeout-filled slump and until Wednesday night's double he was in the middle of an 0-for-19 skid.
This season is a career-worst for Upton. He had his streaky moments in 2015 but on this date last year he was hitting .294/.356/.919 with eight home runs, six doubles, and 24 RBI in one fewer games played. He'd also struck out 31 times -- two fewer than this year to date -- but his bat wasn't in a deep freeze even with the whiffs.
Interestingly, Upton's splits versus left-handed and right-handed pitchers has been nearly identical for his career. This year, there's a 36-point batting difference between righties (.230) and lefties (.194). He's batting just .247 with runners in scoring position, though for his career it doesn't get much better (.250), so it's to be expected.
Regardless, every metric shows Upton in the middle of his worst season at the majors. He undoubtedly needs to sit it out for a game, but beyond that, the Tigers need to get to the root of his problems -- but they have to figure out what's wrong with him first. At this point, he might need more than one day's rest to do it. And this is also a golden opportunity for Moya to prove he can do more than hit well at the Triple-A level.