In the Detroit Tigers’ continued quest to find a center fielder for the 2017 season, the latest rumor is that general manager Al Avila is looking at a cheap option in the $2 million range. There are not many major league options available for that price. Many of BYB’s readers think that Peter Bourjos would be the best fit for that price range. If even Bourjos is too rich for Detroit, the Tigers may have to look at some minor league options who could provide some bounce back production. One such name is speedy outfielder Drew Stubbs.
Who is he?
Stubbs is a former first round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2006 amateur draft. At best for Cincinnati, he was an average hitter with modest home run power and excellent speed. He has a career wRC+ of 90, which peaked at 112 in 2014 with the Rockies. From 2010-2012, Stubbs stole at least 30 bases per season. However, he has only stolen a total of 14 bases in 137 games over the last two seasons. He is also a strikeout machine, with a career 30.6 percent strikeout rate that spiked to 40.4 percent in 2016. In 2011, he struck out a league-high 205 times.
Stubbs has bounced around with four different clubs over the last two seasons, including two different stints with the Texas Rangers. He initially signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves for the 2016 season. They designated him for assignment in May, and the Texas Rangers picked him up. He spent the majority of the season in Texas until the Baltimore Orioles picked him up for the final month of the year. Stubbs hit a combined .225/.330/.338 with three home runs and nine stolen bases in 94 plate appearances. He spent also some time on the disabled list with a toe injury.
Why should we care?
Much like with the Tigers’ biggest acquisition this off-season — catcher Alex Avila, in case you forgot — Stubbs provides an above average walk rate. He has a career 8.7 percent walk rate, with a career-high 12.8 percent walk rate in 2016. This gave him a .330 on-base percentage, which is pretty high considering his low .225 batting average. Even his career .314 on-base percentage would be acceptable for a player with his skill set.
While the right-handed Stubbs demonstrated reverse splits over the last two years (he hit right-handed pitchers better than left-handed pitchers), he has been much better against southpaws throughout his career. Stubbs is a career .272/.348/.444 hitter with a 113 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. If he can get back to that production, platooning with Tyler Collins could be a viable option as his career splits versus right-handed pitchers is .265/.321/.431 with a 104 wRC+. [Ed.: Don’t forget about Anthony Gose, who put up decent numbers against right-handed pitchers in 2015.]
Why should we stay away?
Stubbs has been a replacement level player over the last two years with a cumulative -0.3 fWAR in 137 games. He is not someone the Tigers can sign, then expect all of their center field problems to go away. He also has not logged a significant amount of innings in center field over the last two years, in part because he has not been a starting player since 2014. In 2016, he played about evenly over all three outfield positions — 64 innings in left field, 84 innings in center, and 86 innings in right. He was well below average in that small sample, with a combined -7 DRS and -4.3 UZR.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The Tigers have three outfielders — Tyler Collins, Steven Moya, and Anthony Gose — that are fresh out of minor league options. The only way the Tigers can keep those in the minor leagues is if they designate them for assignment and the players pass through waivers. This scenario seems highly unlikely, and would give the team little depth in Triple-A in case of an injury. While the Tigers have signed veteran infielders Omar Infante and Brendon Ryan, they have not done much to give them veteran depth in the outfield. Minor league signings like Juan Perez and Alex Presley could help the Mud Hens, but don’t offer much major league upside in case of injury.
Even if the Tigers sign someone more capable of landing the starting center field job, signing someone like Stubbs to a minor league deal makes sense. If nothing else, it gives them depth with major league experience.