Detroit Tigers: New Lineup Card Will Save Season
As the Detroit Tigers sink further below the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central standings, manager Jim Leyland will eventually have to face the truth—his lineup card is awful. Has a man who's forgotten more about baseball than most people know forgotten the ingredients of a good major league batting order?
One of the most glaring deficiencies for the Tigers has been the top two spots in the order. The fact that Brennan Boesch—a middle-of-the-order hitter—shares the team lead in stolen bases with speedy leadoff man Austin Jackson, says everything about Jackson's failure to reach base so far this season. Jackson's .178 BA will come up eventually, but the Tigers can't leave him in the leadoff role while he figures things out.
Almost as glaring, is the second spot in the batting order. Second baseman Will Rhymes and utility man Ramon Santiago are both hitting .200 and are the current holders of this slot.
How can the Tigers kick-start their offense?
Here's a look at a batting order which would help them restore the roar in the box score.
1. LF/RF Andy Dirks
Triple-A Toledo outfielder Andy Dirks has continued his hot hitting from spring training. In Florida, he hit .333 with four doubles, three triples and had an .397 OBP. He's currently doing more of the same in Toledo, where he has a .330 BA, six HR, eight SB and 22 runs scored.
While Dirks isn't the speed merchant Jackson is, he's a much better all-around offensive player. Dirks hit .375 after his call-up to Toledo from Double-A Erie last year, so his numbers appear to be consistent.
Getting on base is the leadoff man's job, and nobody in the organization does it better than Dirks.
2. 2B Scott Sizemore
Second baseman Scott Sizemore is one of the hottest hitters in all of baseball right now. He's hitting .417 and carries a gaudy OBP of around .500.
Sizemore has showed patience at the plate so far this year, walking 12 times in 83 AB. Plugging him into the lineup in the second slot of the batting order is an absolute no-brainer for Jim Leyland at this juncture.
3. RF/LF/DH Brennan Boesch
Is Brennan Boesch the best hitter on the team? No, but right now he is easily the second best. After going 0-11 the last two games, his batting average has dipped to .319—they would have to pitch to him if he were protected in the lineup by Cabrera. Boesch has shown much more patience than he displayed a year ago. A natural gap hitter, Boesch can drive the ball equally well to right or left field.
Magglio Ordonez isn't getting the job done right now as the third batter in the lineup, and it has cost the Tigers a bucketful of runs. At age 37, can Ordonez continue to get it done at the plate for the Tigers? Perhaps, but it is time to move him down the lineup...and possibly into more of a platoon situation.
3. 1B Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in the AL.
The Tigers could bat him third in the order, but with Dirks, Sizemore and Boesch ahead of him, it keeps a nice lefty-righty sequence going (making it tough to bring in specialized relief pitchers late in games.
Cabrera is having another banner year in Detroit, batting .323 with six HR, seven doubles, and he's carrying a gaudy .591 SLG. If he gets some help from the top of the lineup, he'll put up very similar numbers to 2010.
5. DH Victor Martinez and Magglio Ordonez Platoon
Victor Martinez is batting .250 and is set to return from the disabled list. Common sense dictates the 32-year-old catcher will bat much closer to his .291 career average by the end of the season. To be sure, Martinez will continue to provide solid protection for Cabrera.
Even though Martinez is a switch-hitter, Ordonez would be a great option against left-handed pitching in the fifth spot in the order. Although Ordonez is still chasing the Mendoza line (.200 BA), it is safe money to bet he'll bat much closer to .300 than .200 from here on out. Even if it's only for a little while, it may be smart to platoon him with Martinez and feed him lefties for a few months.
6. C Alex Avila
The hot-hitting Alex Avila has been a godsend for the Tigers in 2011. With Martinez getting hurt early in the season, Leyland had no choice but to trust his young catcher after a slow start the first few weeks of the season.
All he's done is bat .319 with three HR, six doubles and 18 RBI (as many as Cabrera). The sixth slot in the order is perfect for him, because he's become such a patient hitter (18 BB). Teams may not want to pitch to him, but he'll be more than happy to take the free pass to first base.
7. 3B Brandon Inge or 3B Jhonny Peralta
The Tigers need Brandon Inge's glove in the lineup—period.
The Tigers need Jhonny Peralta's bat in the lineup—period.
Here's the thing—we can't afford to carry both players, and we can't afford to keep Peralta at shortstop with his pedestrian range. Inge is batting .212 with one HR with low power numbers (one HR, eight RBI), but he's due to break out of his rut soon (right?). History tells us, however, that Inge is not a good second-half hitter. If he's not hitting now, he's probably not going to hit after the all-star break.
Peralta at third base becomes an asset, as his range doesn't come into play nearly as much. He's hitting a respectable .270, and there is absolutely no way the Tigers can justify taking him out of the lineup with so many of the other hitters struggling.
Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski need to make a tough choice; a choice they didn't make in the offseason. Signing Peralta made Inge expendable, and Peralta's inability to get to balls hit to his left makes it a mortal sin to play him at shortstop.
They need to get rid of one soon.
8. SS Cale Iorg
Detroit has waited on Cale Iorg's bat to catch up with his glove for years now. Widely considered the best fielding shortstop in the organization, Iorg is sitting on a .257 BA and has a handful of stolen bases (five). It would be ideal to bat him at eighth, where he'll have as little pressure on him as possible. He's a career .230 hitter in the minors, but scouts say he's made major improvements, even gaining a little power. Detroit legend Alan Trammell came up to Detroit with similar reviews, once upon a time.
The team needs his defense up the middle more than anything, as Peralta has the worst range of any shortstop in the majors and is terrible on the double play pivot. Iorg has made a few errors of late, but he gets his glove on balls Peralta couldn't have even reached 20 pounds ago.
Send him up, Dombrowski.
9. CF Austin Jackson
Austin Jackson is positively killing the Tigers in the leadoff spot. Bating .178 with a .239 OBP, his 33 strikeouts in just 101 AB draw comparisons to former Detroit leadoff hitter Gary Pettis.
Jackson certainly isn't the same hitter who batted .293 and scored 103 runs last year. Who knows if he'll ever hit that well again? What we do know, is Jackson is one of the best fielding center fielders ever to wear a Detroit uniform.
Right now though, he needs to be dropped down in the order—maybe for good. His 170 strikeouts last year were almost unforgivable for a leadoff hitter, and he's on pace to at least match that total by year's end. From a numbers prospective, it just doesn't make sense to have your worst contact hitter get the most at bats on the team. Drop him down—all the way down—and keep that glove of his in center.