Given everything we have heard about the matter over the past several days, it seems almost a given that the Detroit Tigers will activate Miguel Cabrera from the disabled list on Friday. If the move does not come on Friday, Cabrera will almost certainly be back sometime over the weekend. The roster moves to accommodate both Cabrera and a replacement for the injured Ryan Carpenter are interesting in their own right, but the Tigers also have a decision to make once Cabrera is activated from the disabled list: where does he hit?
The question almost seems silly. Cabrera has batted third in the Tigers lineup ever since they signed Victor Martinez way back in 2011, but Nicholas Castellanos and Jeimer Candelario have looked like a solid one-two punch in the No. 2 and 3 spots over the past couple weeks. The Tigers may not want to mess with that mojo, and could end up putting Cabrera somewhere else in the order. They could also shake things up entirely. Let’s take a look at where Cabrera could fit in the Tigers lineup.
When he moved Castellanos to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire cited sabermetrics as the reason why. Lineup optimization can be overblown at times — the difference between the best and worst possible lineup combinations amounts to maybe a half-run difference — but the numbers show that a team should use their best hitter in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. For as well as Castellanos has hit lately, that player is still Cabrera. The 35-year-old veteran has rarely hit second in the lineup (just 14 times in his career!) but should be able to adjust quickly if asked.
Death, taxes, and Miguel Cabrera hitting third. Sure, it wasn’t always this way, but Cabrera has now spent the majority of his career plate appearances in the No. 3 spot of the lineup. He won two MVPs and a Triple Crown in that position, and is off to a hot start in 2018 batting third. While Castellanos and Candelario have done well at their respective positions in the lineup recently, Cabrera is still the superior hitter. Batting him third may not create the optimal lineup, but the difference is negligible, and he may just be more comfortable in the No. 3 spot.
Using Cabrera as the team’s cleanup hitter over the course of a full season would net him fewer plate appearances than if he were batting second or third, but the numbers suggest a team should use their best power hitter in the No. 4 spot. If the team feels Castellanos is close to the overall hitter Cabrera is, they could continue to use him in the No. 2 spot while moving Cabrera back to fourth. This would also keep the Castellanos-Candelario combination that has been clicking lately intact, and give the Tigers a nice balance of left-right-left-right-left-right hitters against right-handed pitching (assuming Martinez hits fifth).
Another benefit of Cabrera’s return is that it will likely push Victor Martinez down in the order. The Tigers’ struggling DH is hitting .251/.316/.365 this year, and does not currently belong hitting cleanup in their lineup. No matter where Cabrera hits, he will push Martinez down to fifth, or possibly even lower. The Tigers face a pair of left-handed starters this weekend, and Gardenhire could opt to put lefty masher James McCann in the five-spot over Martinez against southpaws.
Where should Miguel Cabrera bat in the Tigers’ lineup?
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