When the Detroit Tigers took a flyer on Niko Goodrum last offseason, it was expected that he would be something like Andrew Romine was for the previous few years: a guy who could take the field at various positions while contributing minimally to the offense. Instead, what the Tigers received was a rookie who would become a regular player, and, subsequently, one of the more fun storylines of an otherwise dismal 2018 season.
After getting his cup of coffee with the Minnesota Twins towards the end of the 2017 season, Goodrum signed with the Tigers in free agency that November. He reported to spring training hoping to land one of the final roster spots for the rebuilding franchise. After a solid display at the plate (.289/.327/.644) during the spring and reps at seven of nine positions in the field, Goodrum received his invitation to travel north with the Tigers for the regular season.
Goodrum immediately saw regular time with the Tigers, taking reps around the infield, left field, and right field over the first two months of the season. More reps came at first base due to injuries to Miguel Cabrera. But as John Hicks emerged as a larger scale replacement, as well as Dixon Machado losing his spot on the team in July, Goodrum saw more time at second base, where he would see the bulk of his time for the remainder of the season.
None of his fielding statistics were particularly remarkable for any given position. In fact, they were all below the league average at each position, though some sample sizes make it difficult to judge this statistically. But from a simple eye test it was obvious that some of his outfield play looked downright uncomfortable. Conversely, the same eye test will tell you that, despite a below-average .967 fielding percentage and -5 UZR in 505 1⁄3 innings at second base, there was progress despite still a lot of work to do.
At the plate, however, is where Goodrum proved to be more of a surprise. Finishing the season with a .245 batting average and a .315 on-base percentage, he was a largely consistent presence in the Tigers lineup, providing some much-needed pop. He also contributed speed and aggression on the base paths, with 12 stolen bases (third-most on the team) and 42 walks (third on the team) while registering an 8.5 percent walk rate, right up with the league average, per FanGraphs. He also put together two separate eight-game hitting streaks, including one that he will carry in the 2019 season.
Admittedly, these are largely below-average numbers. As well, his 132 strikeouts (26.8 percent strikeout rate) are far from ideal. But, relative to the expectations that were placed upon him, he certainly performed at a higher level than anticipated.
Key stat: .432 slugging percentage (SLG)
After flashing some power with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in 2017 — 13 home runs, 25 doubles, .425 SLG — Goodrum translated this to the major league level, as his slugging percentage was, among players on the Tigers’ roster with more than 440 at-bats, second to only Nicholas Castellanos. He also finished with 16 home runs (third among Tigers hitters) and 29 doubles (also third).
Relative to expectations, Goodrum certainly earns a better grade, being that there was so little that was placed upon him to begin with. But, without that curve, it’s hard to grade Goodrum as anything more than an average player, at best.
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