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Tigers’ Travis Demeritte was overmatched in his debut season

He showed flashes of power but was too strikeout-prone in his first stint in the majors

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After six-and-a-half seasons in the minor leagues, Travis Demeritte finally reached the majors after being traded to the Tigers in a deadline deal that brought him over from the Atlanta Braves. On July 31st, the Tigers sent their closer in Shane Greene to the Braves in exchange for two prospects: right-handed pitcher Joey Wentz and outfielder Demeritte.

While Wentz was considered the headliner of the deal, Demeritte’s big power made him an intriguing secondary piece. Having also traded outfielder Nicholas Castellanos away in a separate deal, the Tigers immediately called Demeritte up to take over everyday duties in right field. In his two-month stint, Demerrite showed flashes of his highly-touted power but overall looked overmatched against the best pitchers he’d faced in his professional career.

When the Tigers traded for him, Demeritte was in the midst of a monster season at Triple-A Gwinnett, hitting .286/.387/.558 with 20 home runs and was worth 139 wRC+. His strikeout rate of 26.6 percent was reflective of his scouting report, but his 12.8 percent walk rate reflected a hitter who was maturing, albeit in the minor leagues.

He made his major league debut with the Tigers on August 2nd in Texas facing off against the team that drafted him 30th overall in 2013 in the Rangers. He went 1-for-4 that night with a walk and a double, however it was very apparent he was going to have to cut down on his swing in order to survive the rigors of everyday play against big league pitching.

Once the enthusiasm of seeing a young new face in the lineup wore off, there wasn’t much to celebrate with Demeritte. His long swing rarely shortened and the strikeouts piled up while his walks started to dwindle. He finished the season with 48 games played and 186 plate appearances, putting up an uninspiring line of .225/.286/.343 with only three home runs and was worth a mere 65 wRC+. Pitchers took advantage of his swing and propensity to be fooled by breaking balls, and struck him out at a rate of 33.9 percent, while he only walked at a 7.5 percent clip.

A former second baseman, Demeritte looked fairly raw playing the outfield on an everyday basis. With only 411.2 innings out there, his defensive statistics tell us virtually nothing, but DRS did not like him as he was -8 and his UZR was -1.1. Demeritte seems like an above-average athlete who should be able to adjust in time, but his challenge in the outfield will come with getting better reads on fly balls and gaining a better understanding of how to play the walls.

Demeritte’s athleticism translated to a positive impact on the base paths, small sample size be damned. While he only stole three bases, his BsR, which takes into account stolen bases and the ability to take the extra base among other things, had him at 1.2 runs-above average.

While he actually got off to a decent start in his first few games with the Tigers, his numbers faded as pitchers started getting used to seeing him. There are only two months worth of major league splits to analyze, but the story they tell perfectly illustrates not only his issues but the issues of many other young hitters: the inability to adjust once the league adjusts to you. In August, Demeritte was worth 82 wRC+ while striking out 33.3 percent of the time and walking 9.9 percent of it. While those are not eye-popping numbers, September managed to take any goodwill that was left and promptly tear it to shreds. He was worth only 40 wRC+, and while his strikeout rate remained relatively the same at 34.7 percent, his walk rate dropped to 4.0 percent.

Once a pitcher learns a hitter’s weakness, he and all other pitchers will exploit it until the hitter either adjusts or is no longer in the league to get exploited. The Tigers have another young hitter in Christin Stewart who came onto the scene in 2018 putting up good offensive numbers, but in his full rookie season in 2019 was challenged by pitchers who had him and figured out. Demeritte is not of the same prospect caliber that Stewart was, but they are both in the same boat heading into 2020.

Will Demeritte be able to make the necessary adjustments to stay in the major leagues, or is he destined to be another minor league player who mashes Triple-A pitching for the remainder of his career?