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Niko Goodrum defines the Tigers’ rebuilding year

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The unheralded utility man has done everything asked of him this season.

Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It started as a feel good story. Few fans had heard of Niko Goodrum when he signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers, but he quickly made a name for himself during spring training. Goodrum knew he faced an uphill battle with potentially limited playing opportunities, but did enough to earn himself one of the last spots on the roster.

The good times kept rolling through the first two months of the season, as Goodrum hit .252/.323/.478 with five homers and 116 wRC+ during April and May. However, after a horrid first part of June, many suspected the luck had run out for Goodrum and the Tigers.

Coming back to life

Surprisingly, that rough stretch was just a blip in the radar for Goodrum. Over the last 30 days he has been the second most productive Tigers batter, and since June 26 he has an impressive .288 average and 120 wRC+. These numbers may not win him any Silver Slugger Awards, but they are far ahead of where anyone would have expected him to be prior to the season.

Goodrum’s success has not gone unnoticed. The Tigers recently designated Dixon Machado for assignment to Triple-A Toledo, essentially handing the second base position to Goodrum. While playing time was harder for him to find earlier in the season, he now has a regular spot in the batting order, often towards the top of it.

The biggest reason for Goodrum’s turnaround is a change in approach. For the first few months of the season, his batted ball profile featured 46 percent ground balls, 15 percent line drives, and 39 percent fly balls. While this generated seven home runs, it came with a .234 average.

During the past few weeks, his distribution has changed dramatically. Goodrum is now generating 38 percent ground balls and 40 percent line drives, reducing the his fly ball rate to just 22 percent. At a time when many players are attempting to maximize their home runs, Goodrum is opting for solid line drive contact, and the results are paying off.

The perfect fit

Though Goodrum burst onto the scene seemingly from nowhere, in many ways he is exactly the type of player the Tigers should expect to feature in a rebuilding season. Some unsung hero was bound to etch his way into Tigers’ lore during an effectively lost year, and Goodrum is looking more and more like that player.

Goodrum still has plenty of limitations, such as a 28.6 percent strikeout rate and a likely unsustainable .327 BABIP. But with defensive versatility, a likable attitude, and a decent bat, his pros far outweigh his cons. He may not be perfect, but Goodrum sure looks like a perfect fit on a roster simply looking to survive the year.