Swapping J.D. Martinez for Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Collins is an unideal start to the season, but the Detroit Tigers have no choice with their slugger on the disabled list. Martinez may only spend a month or so on the DL, but that means 20 to 30 games where the Tigers must fill a sizeable gap in right field. Replacing his production is unlikely, but as long as Mahtook and Collins can be somewhat average at the plate, Detroit will survive their first injury test of the season.
The first player to get a crack at right field is Mahtook, who got the nod simply due to White Sox ace Jose Quintana, a lefty, taking the mound. The recently acquired Tiger had two short and very different seasons with the Rays, which resulted in an underwhelming line. Mahtook entered the season with a .231 average in just over 100 games and recorded 87 wRC+ over that span.
His platoon partner is Collins, who has recorded only slightly more playing time at the major league level. He made his debut with the Tigers in 2014 but has not topped 60 games in a season since then. In a smattering of games during the past three years, Collins hit .253 with a .309 OBP and 93 wRC+.
Comparing either of these players to Martinez is simply unfair. Since joining the Tigers just three years ago, he has been one of the best in all of baseball. He owns a .299 average and .357 OBP during his tenure and has a 143 wRC+; only 12 players have a higher wRC+ from 2014 to 2016.
Finding a Band-Aid
Looking at the overall stat lines of Mahtook and Collins makes it pretty clear why the Tigers have no singular replacement for Martinez. However, a very simple solution lies too far away. Manager Brad Ausmus cannot completely replicate the performance of his slugger, but he may be able to piece together something that gets close enough.
Entering 2017, Mahtook has hit .276/.322/.537 against lefties with 136 wRC+. Meanwhile, Collins has batted .266/.331/.450 against righties with 108 wRC+. Even taking the best of both players does not match the outstanding numbers of Martinez, but this platoon combination is more than serviceable in his absence.
The table above shows the 2016 MLB averages for right fielders and the six-spot in the batting order. A strict platoon of Mahtook and Collins would easily beat both numbers if they hit to their normal numbers. Early on in the season there are no guarantees as players are still warming up into their swings, but theoretically the Tigers should feel decent about the situation they are in.
Making it work
The Tigers cannot replace Martinez at the plate, but they can do a decent job of filling the void in his absence. So far Mahtook and Collins look like they can provide league-average play, and fans complaining about a gaping hole in the lineup should understand that there is an encouraging solution to the temporary quandary in right field.
Additionally, the Tigers should be able to recover some of Martinez’s value by slightly upgrading their defense and base running while he sits on the DL. Mahtook is at least an average defender, and while Collins grades out slightly below average, he is still a huge improvement over the extreme struggles of Martinez. Likewise, both players give a bump in speed on the base paths.
As long as his injury does not linger too long, the Tigers should not panic about losing Martinez for the beginning of the year. Over the course of a 162-game season, teams will suffer multiple injuries and will have needs for replacements. Luckily for Detroit, they have solid set of players to slide into this early vacancy and should exit the other side relatively unscathed.