With Opening Day right on the doorstep, there is still some debate as to who the Detroit Tigers should pencil in as their new leadoff man for the 2018 season. The Tigers will go with Leonys Martin up top, but we want to know what you think! Earlier this month, we provided you a handy flow chart offering different alternatives, but now we’re putting the topic to a vote.
CF Leonys Martin
No matter how much we debate this topic, the Tigers have already made up their mind. Martin will begin the season as the team’s leadoff hitter, though many predicted that based on manager Ron Gardenhire’s tendencies during spring training. Martin saw the most time in the leadoff slot out of anyone on the team. Posting a .316/.400/.544 line with three home runs, he has performed beyond expectations already.
However, at the end of the day, these numbers are still spring training numbers that don’t necessarily mean anything. Given his history — particularly his struggles in recent years and consistently below average on-base numbers — it’s questionable whether or not this level of production carries over to the games that matter.
After a breakout second half in 2017, Mahtook was the leading in-house candidate, although he was mainly mentioned among fans rather than the club itself.
But Mikie makes for an interesting, if not viable, case. Upon gaining a regular role for the Tigers in mid-June, Mahtook found his footing to the tune of a .287/.347/.464 line in his last 73 games of the season. He has proven that he can get on base, a vital component for a leadoff man, with .330 on-base percentage alongside a .276 batting average for the entire 2017 season, as well a .335 wOBA. He holds a considerable edge on Martin there, though his .167/.217/.214 performance in spring training closed the gap some.
However, Mikie was effective elsewhere in the lineup, particularly the No. 2 and No. 7 slots, his most common placements. He registered batting averages north of .300 and near-above or above average OBPs from both of them. If not used in the leadoff role, Mahtook would be a nice secondary table-setter ahead of the 3-4-5 core.
Leadoff by committee
It’s another option, but it’s not necessarily a viable one. There was a slight committee approach this spring, with Dixon Machado and JaCoby Jones, as well as Mahtook for one game, being penciled into the spot instead of Martin. Mahtook aside, this would be throwing two guys with both overall inexperience AND equally poor, if not worse, numbers than Martin into the mix, which is far from ideal.
Go get ‘em
The preseason may have wrapped up, but free agency is still an option. But the Tigers would be hard-pressed to find names that would serve as an upgrade over any current option. The most notable, and potentially appealing, leadoff-type name is Brandon Phillips, who split his time in 2017 between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The 36-year-old is coming off of a solid 2017 that saw him produce a .285/.319/.416 line with solid power and only 73 strikeouts. But if he wasn’t hitting, he didn’t get on base often, drawing only 21 walks in 604 plate appearances. And, given his age, adding him would be counterintuitive to the club’s plan to get younger. Former leadoff hitters like Emilio Bonifacio and Alejandro De Aza remain available as well, but there’s good reason why they’re yet unclaimed; both struggled mightily in 2017 in very limited Major League time.
As it stands now
Whoever leads off this year will be no Ian Kinsler and will likely fall short of filling the boots of the one known as “Bootsie.” Mahtook, a sensible option, saw exactly one game from the leadoff spot this spring. The committee approach produced mixed results. Waters in free agency are as smooth as glass with no storms on the horizon.
So, regardless of whether or not it’s the correct decision, and based upon Gardenhire’s loyalty and so far blind eye to analytics, Martin will be the name at the top of the lineup on Opening Day, whether you like it or not.
Who do you want to see as the Tigers’ leadoff man?
This poll is closed
Go it by committee
Free agent option (Phillips, etc.)
Literally anyone but Leonys Martin