Going into 2016, the Detroit Tigers were supposed to be set in the corner outfield department with two All-Stars in J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton manning right and left field, respectively. Sadly, that hasn't worked out so far. Martinez and Upton have combined to be worth -0.9 fWAR, and are both at the bottom of the totem poll in wins above replacement among Tigers who have played more than 11 games.
Enter Steven Moya. On Thursday, the Tigers optioned a seldom-used Blaine Hardy to Triple-A Toledo in favor of the power hitting corner outfielder. The timing is ripe, as the team is headed to hitter-friendly Oriole Park at Camden Yards for a four-game series.
In 31 games for the Mud Hens, Moya was tearing the cover off the ball. He leads the International League with nine home runs, a .627 slugging average, and is second with a 185 wRC+. The hulking Moya has lowered his strikeout rate from 30 percent to 22 percent in his second season in the International League, but also saw his walks decline from five percent to under four percent. However, the declining walk rate could have something to do with the fact that he's developed a better understanding of Triple-A pitchers. Instead of laying off pitches, he's driving them for extra bases. It's similar to what Nick Castellanos has been doing in the majors this year.
Moya isn't the type of player who is getting called up to ride the bench. He needs at-bats to get used to major league pitchers, and playing him sparingly would hurt his development. With Upton and Martinez both being right-handed hitters, the left-handed hitting Moya will most likely play in place of one of them against right-handed pitchers. Upton is hitting .230 against righties, and J.D. is only hitting .208.
Moya, on the other hand, did the majority of his damage for Toledo against righties. In 102 at bats against, he hit .314/.352/.647 with eight homers and eight doubles, and all six (one intentional) of his walks. Obviously those exact numbers won't translate to the majors, but the Tigers are getting virtually no production from their outfield against right-handed pitchers, and Moya's recent success in the minors is eye-opening.
The biggest problem with Moya is his pitch recognition and lack of plate discipline. Since the Tigers signed him as an amateur free agent, he has been a free swinger. This is a problem that will be exposed at the major league level, and he certainly won't help the Tigers to steer from their pace of breaking the all-time club record in batter strikeouts. Moya is going to cut and miss quite a bit, but for him, it's about what happens when he does put the bat on the ball. His 6-foot-7, 260 pound frame allows him to generate power that will make Statcast crap its computer database pants.
The Tigers know they're going to get a lot of strikeouts in Moya, but they aren't getting anything better from Justin Upton at the moment. The newly-signed Upton is striking out in nearly 40-percent of his at bats and doing virtually no damage, hitting for a 56 wRC+. Moya doesn't have a high bar to beat to be more productive than Upton at the moment, and the same can be said for J.D. Martinez against right-handed pitching. There's a good chance Moya whiffs his way back to the minors, but right now seems like the perfect time to give him a chance.