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Tigers Den Roundtable: What is the ideal Detroit Tigers lineup?

With Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez due back to Detroit soon, the BYB staff debates how the Tigers should set their lineup.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

For a couple of days, it looked like the Detroit Tigers had everything figured out. Despite fielding a lineup without four of their everyday players, the Tigers scored 37 runs during a three-game win streak, including 19 over Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Jim Adduci was the sweetheart of the Tigers fanbase, as the team was once again alone in first place in the AL Central.

Then reality set in. The Tigers were held to just one run over the next two games, both losses. While scoring half a run per game was also an unsustainable pace, one imagines things would have been different with Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez around.

Luckily, both players should be back soon. We have not heard many updates about Cabrera since he hit the disabled list last Saturday, but he appears poised to return to action soon after the minimum 10-day stay on the DL. J.D. Martinez took live batting practice on Wednesday and should play in an extended spring training game soon.

This affords manager Brad Ausmus a different problem: where do you put all of these guys?

This week’s question: How would you set the Tigers’ lineup once their injured stars come off the disabled list?

Tigers Lineup Possibilities

Name Brandon Ashley Cameron Kyle John Patrick O. Ron Jay Jeff Peter
Name Brandon Ashley Cameron Kyle John Patrick O. Ron Jay Jeff Peter
1st Ian Kinsler Ian Kinsler Ian Kinsler Ian Kinsler Miguel Cabrera Ian Kinsler Ian Kinsler Ian Kinsler Ian Kinsler Ian Kinsler
2nd Nick Castellanos Nick Castellanos Nick Castellanos Miguel Cabrera Ian Kinsler Alex Avila Nick Castellanos Miguel Cabrera Alex Avila Nick Castellanos
3rd Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera Nick Castellanos Justin Upton Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera Justin Upton Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera
4th Justin Upton Justin Upton Justin Upton J.D. Martinez J.D. Martinez Justin Upton J.D. Martinez J.D. Martinez J.D. Martinez J.D. Martinez
5th J.D. Martinez J.D. Martinez J.D. Martinez Justin Upton Nick Castellanos J.D. Martinez Justin Upton Nick Castellanos Justin Upton James McCann
6th Victor Martinez Victor Martinez Victor Martinez Victor Martinez Victor Martinez Victor Martinez Alex Avila Victor Martinez Nick Castellanos Justin Upton
7th James McCann James McCann James McCann James McCann Jose Iglesias Nick Castellanos Victor Martinez James McCann Victor Martinez Victor Martinez
8th JaCoby Jones JaCoby Jones JaCoby Jones JaCoby Jones JaCoby Jones Jose Iglesias JaCoby Jones JaCoby Jones Jose Iglesias JaCoby Jones
9th Jose Iglesias Jose Iglesias Jose Iglesias Jose Iglesias Alex Avila JaCoby Jones Jose Iglesias Jose Iglesias JaCoby Jones Jose Iglesias

Brandon: The first five hitters are fairly interchangeable. I like Victor Martinez batting sixth, because Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez are both obviously better baserunners and better hitters than Victor. If Martinez can at least produce something of his usual blend of singles and home runs, those guys are decently positioned to run the bases well enough to score a lot of runs. Because Victor and the catchers can’t run, it makes sense to pair them before turning things over to weaker, faster players at the bottom of the lineup. Hopefully they can set the table for Kinsler and the big bats the second time through the order and beyond.

Ashley: I’m not going to post a lineup because I completely agree with Brandon’s. I’ll say that it’s definitely time to move Victor down in the lineup. I know purists love that Miguel Cabrera/Victor Martinez/J.D. Martinez combo, but the fact is Victor is not producing like he used to. Bumping him down might yield better results. I like Upton in that cleanup spot. Given that he’s still in the same good form as late last season the Tigers might as well take advantage.. Everything else is par for the course. Jose Iglesias does good work in the No. 9 spot, and the Kinsler/Nick Castellanos/Cabrera 1-2-3 punch will be fearsome.

Cameron: With the top three pretty much solidified, the biggest change needs to come in the middle of the order. Victor Martinez clearly isn't the hitter that he used to be, and therefore shouldn't be hitting cleanup anymore. Not only is he hurting the team by not driving in the runners at the top who are on base, he's hurting the hitters behind him. Even when Victor is on base, he's a station-to-station runner. While run expectancy is a great stat, it doesn't take into account how slow Victor is. If J.D. Martinez and Upton hit behind him, they will lose out on opportunities to drive in runs because Victor doesn't score typically on balls in gaps that would score average runners. Hitting Victor in front of James McCann or Alex Avila would mask that considering those two hitters are pretty much all-or-nothing anyway. With JaCoby Jones or Andrew Romine and Iglesias at the bottom, you have speed in front of the top of the order should they got on base.

Kyle: While it may not ever happen in reality, I would still like to see Miguel Cabrera hit second. A slight change in the batting order may not make a huge difference, but it is worth putting him ahead of Nicholas Castellanos with Cabrera’s ability to get on base. It also makes sense when looking at the batting order as one fluid list, as he would have plenty of opportunities to drive in the No. 8 and 9 hitters. J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton are somewhat interchangeable in this lineup, but both need to be hitting ahead of Victor Martinez, who is tends to clog up the base paths when he gets on. The bottom two of Jones and Iglesias are a good combination of speed when the lineup turns over, giving the order a flow from speed to complete hitters to slower power guys.

John: Advanced metrics indicate that a team’s best hitter should be first in the lineup. That’s only partially why I put Miguel Cabrera there. Mostly, it’s because two things happen when Cabrera goes to the plate. First, I feel happy. Second, opposing pitchers get scared. I want those two things to happen as much as humanly possible throughout the course of a season, so Cabrera hits first. Kinsler follows because he’s speedy, has some pop, and hopefully won’t ground into many double plays. Upton comes after Kinsler because he’s hitting the ball really well, has a fair amount of speed, and maintains an above average on-base percentage. It will be nice to see him score when J.D. Martinez — who is batting clean up — comes up and smacks the crap out of the ball.

Castellanos bats fifth, as he’s showing a propensity to hit the ball really hard this year. It will be hard for Victor Martinez to ground into double plays when the guy in front of him is on second base. There are few places in any ball park anymore where Victor can hit a ball that is anything more than a single, so he will need somebody speedy behind him to avoid the double play. I’m going with Iglesias here. After him is the Andrew Romine/James McCann combo because they have to hit somewhere. I have the Avila/McCann combo holding down the No. 9 spot. So far this season, they have been mashing, and I hope that continues. Having Cabrera behind them should force pitchers to give them something to hit, and Avila has that sexy career on-base percentage, which should at least create some opportunities for Cabrera to bat with a runner on.

Patrick: There is no ideal lineup with this group of Tigers. Nick Castellanos is striking out 31.7 percent of the time against right-handed pitchers, and barely eeks out a .300 on-base percentage despite a .343 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against them. That's not your ideal No. 2 hitter. At the moment, the hot hitter against righthanders is Alex Avila, with a .500 on-base percentage. He mixes in a left-handed bat as well. Until someone else heats up, he bats second while keeping Kinsler in the lead off spot. Cabrera bats third, with Upton and J.D. Martinez behind him. Victor bats sixth, Castellanos seventh, Iglesias eighth, and Jones or Romine ninth. Against lefthanders, Nick can bat second, with McCann dropped down to eighth.

Ron: My ideal lineup starts with Kinsler at the top leading off. Then I'd put Castellanos in the second spot because of how well he's hitting there this season so far. Next would obviously be the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera. Then I'd go J.D., then Upton. They could flip-flop from game to game if one is hotter than the other. Next, I'd slot in the Alex Avila/James McCann platoon because both are hitting really well and for power. After that goes Victor Martinez since he has been terrible. However, I think he can find his bat down there and help the bottom of the order keep the line moving. Jones would be next, followed with another guy with speed in Jose Iglesias to act as a second leadoff man. All spots would remain the same regardless of a right or left-handed pitcher since only Iglesias, Victor Martinez and Jones currently have significant platoon splits, excluding the McCann/Avila platoon.

Jay: A bunch of people who are a lot smarter than I am say that a team should bat their best hitter second. A lot of other people who are also smarter than I am claim that he should head up a lineup. I sided with the first group, and batted Cabrera second. Due to Cabrera’s lack of speed potentially resulting in avoidable double plays, I prefer Kinsler leading off. I don’t particularly care which order Upton, J.D., and Nick bat in as long as they are the three batters that fill the next three slots in the lineup, but I set Upton third because he has been the best among them so far this year. That shoves Victor down to sixth. While he has had a long and productive career, the Tigers can no longer afford to bat him cleanup. The rest of the lineup is the way that manager Brad Ausmus usually sets it just because I cannot think of a good reason to change it.

Jeff: There should be two different lineups for left-handed and right-handed pitchers. For left-handed pitchers, James McCann should be the starting catcher, while Avila should be starting against righties. I would put these catchers at No. 2 in the order since the Tigers do not have an ideal hitter for that spot. Avila would be a great two-hole hitter against right-handed pitching due to his great walk rate and on-base percentage. Maybe Jones will benefit from platooning as well, although Tyler Collins has not gotten off to a great start either. Jim Adduci has been impressive in a few games but it is doubtful that he will keep it up. Although, it is something to ride the hot hand. I think a lineup should be very flexible instead of a fixed thing. For example, if V-Mart gets hot, move him back to No. 5 for a while.

Peter: I like the idea of trying to balance a power hitter with your on-base guys. The Tigers have a problem in that three of their power guys — Castellanos, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton — also strike out a ton. Castellanos hitting second gives the Tigers a power bat to drive in Kinsler (and the bottom of the order). Cabrera is a good mix of power and on-base prowess, so he’s fine at third in the order. J.D. and Upton are both high-power, high-strikeout types, but I feel Martinez is the better bat to put after Cabrera because he’s less streaky than Upton. I would get Victor Martinez out of the middle of the order because he’s not hitting much right now. McCann and Avila have proven their power this year, but only Avila is getting on base consistently. Utilized in a platoon, they can be power and on-base threats. If Victor Martinez gets back to his old self, he’s perfect in the No. 5 hole. Upton has power to spare, so he’s fine at sixth.