When the Detroit Tigers acquired Erick Aybar in mid-August, there were a variety of motivations behind the trade. One large factor was the gap occupying the left side of the infield, with both Jose Iglesias and Nick Castellanos out with injuries. With an unimpressive bench and few options in the farm system, the Tigers felt it necessary to find help until the starters returned.
Certainly the idea of addition by subtraction was also at play, as the Tigers were able to say farewell to Mike Aviles and his shining 40 wRC+ and -1.4 fWAR. (Aviles was immediately designated for assignment by the Braves and is currently a free agent.) But getting rid of Aviles was not the only reason the Tigers wanted Aybar, or else they would not have parted with Kade Scivicque, a prospect with some value.
Regardless of their ultimate motivation, the Tigers pulled the trigger and brought Ayber to the Motor City. The move was the right decision given the circumstances and is unlikely to ever be viewed as a huge mistake. However, almost a month after the trade, it is difficult to know if the Tigers got what they had wanted.
Though Aybar was having a subpar season with Atlanta, there was some hope that he might return closer to his career numbers. Leading up to the trade, he was hitting .298 with 98 wRC+ over the previous two months, but unfortunately he has not been able to continue that trend with the Tigers. In 57 plate appearances with Detroit, he is hitting just .235 with one home run, good for 86 wRC+.
Aybar has made an appearance in 18 of the 29 games since he was acquired, but he has yet to show anything too impressive at the plate. His numbers do represent an upgrade over Aviles and even alternate options like Casey McGehee and Dixon Machado, but the Tigers were hoping for a little more production. The sample size may not be large, but manager Brad Ausmus has given Aybar a decent number of opportunities to prove his worth.
The struggles for Aybar begin with his contact rate. From 2006 to 2015, he made hard contact around 21.9 percent of the time and soft contact on 19.2 percent of his batted balls. In 2016 with the Braves these numbers were actually 22.1 percent and 17.9 percent respectively even though his other numbers decreased. With the Tigers, Aybar has featured a 19.6 percent hard contact rate and 17.4 percent soft contact rate, which shows a step back from his career norms and pre-trade form in hard-hit percentage.
Additionally, Aybar has been pulling the ball heavily with Detroit. Throughout his career he has pulled the ball around 42 percent of the time, and he saw this figure fall to 37.1 percent with Atlanta earlier this year. After the trade, though, this number has rocketed to 54.4 percent. While he has never had a stellar batting average on the inside of the plate, Aybar is hitting under .100 in this area since joining the Tigers.
The acquisition of Aybar has been slightly better with the glove than with the bat. Though he played all three outfield positions with the Angels and had made appearances at second and third base, the overwhelming majority of his innings came at shortstop. The Braves played him once at second earlier in 2016, but to call Aybar more than a shortstop with the potential to play elsewhere would be misleading.
The Tigers took this potential and plugged him right in, giving Aybar chances at second, third, and short. As the roster begins to get healthy, his role will start shrinking more, but that flexibility may prove important during the last few weeks of the season and in the playoffs. Aybar has been a neutral defender per DRS and slightly above average at UZR. While those numbers may seem plain, they are a sharp upgrade over those of his predecessor.
In the grand scheme of things, the deal to bring Aybar to Detroit will likely be a minor footnote. The trade made sense for the Tigers on paper and looks like it will ultimately be beneficial for the team. How beneficial the addition of Aybar is may be difficult to judge, but he has yet to either impress or frustrate to a significant magnitude. At this rate, either of those extremes should be unexpected.