Thursday, April 01, 2010

Tigers at the plate

The Tigers have finalized their 25-man roster, with utilityman Don Kelly getting the final spot over outfielder Clete Thomas. Here is a brief look at the offense, by position.

C-Gerald Laird gets the bulk of the work thanks to his defense. He threw out 42% of opposing baserunners last season, which help makes up for his lack of offense. We documented how he tends to collapse with increased work, so he will need to be more consistent. His OPS+ was 64 last year. The backup is youngster Alex Avila, who showed good pop last season, with an OPS of .965 in 72 PAs. He threw out 4 of 15 baserunners, a decent 27%. Avila bats from the left side, Laird from the right, so some type of platoon might develop.

1B-Miguel Cabrera. He has posted OPS of .887 in 2008 and .942 in 2009 and both seem disappointing, which speaks to his potential greatness. In 2008, he needed time to adjust to his new surroundings. In 2009, a drunken final weekend spoiled what might have been an MVP-worthy campaign. Sober and happy this year, Cabrera could flirt with the Triple Crown if he gets some help from healthy Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge. Don Kelly is the backup.

2B-Scott Sizemore steps in for Placido Polanco, but will hit toward the bottom of the lineup rather than the No. 2 spot Polanco held. There were rumors (denied) that the Tigers were seeking an upgrade at second when they traded Nate Robertson. Sizemore is returning from a broken ankle suffered in the Arizona Fall League, but has hit well at every level. Expect early struggles, but improved production as the season goes on. Ramon Santiago is the backup. The Tigers like Santiago's glove, which depending on the ratings looks like it is somewhere between average to good, but his bat is lacking (82 OPS+ in 2009). I'd rather they kept Thomas and let Ryan Raburn or Kelly handle the backup duties at 2B and SS.

SS-Adam Everett is here. If being a constantly good hitter is admirable, so then might be being a consistently bad hitter. If this is so, Everett is the Pujols of the putrid. His OPS+ over the past four seasons, starting with 2006, are 64, 55, 62, 59. If nothing else, he should be admired for his ability to remain in the big leagues. His glove keeps him around, but there are concerns it is slipping to the point of no longer equalizing his value.

3B-Brandon Inge played 161 games last year on bad knees and his offense and defense suffered as the season progressed. His OPS+ was 132 in the first half and 45 in the second. It is not likely Inge will play a whole season at his 2009 first-half rate, but if healthy there is no reason not to expect him to be league average with the stick. He has a lifetime OPS of .743 as a third baseman and .590 as a catcher. With his defense, league-average batting is perfectly fine.

LF-Johnny Damon posted an OPS+ of 126 last year with the Yankees. Even if you want to discount his Yankee Stadium-based power surge in 2009, Damon has posted OPS+ average of 114 over the last six seasons. The Tigers' left fielders were OPS+ 97 last year, 94 in 2008 and 67 in 2007, so this is an unquestionable upgrade at the plate. Defensively, the ratings are inconsistent, but taken as a whole would make him around neutral.

CF-Austin Jackson was received from the Yankees (along with LHP Phil Coke) in return for Curtis Granderson. No one expects Jackson to possess Grandy's power, at least not at this point in his career, but they do figure he can play All-Star caliber defense. He has hit a ton this spring, going .356/.441/.576. It would be unreasonable to expect that type of performance to continue when it counts, but his 9 BBs to 8 Ks is a nice sign, as well as his 4 doubles and 3 triples -- which might indicate gap power that could play well in Comerica.

RF-Magglio Ordonez struggled much of last season and then finished with a flourish. His OPS the first half was .673 and for the second it was .978. He is batting .356 and slugging .556 in spring training, which is a good sign. A full productive season from Maggs might be the most important factor in getting this offense going. With the exception of ...

DH-Carlos Guillen, who saw his OPS+ in 2009 fall below league average for the first time since 2002. Guillen's five previous seasons in Detroit produced an average OPS+ of 127. He has not hit well this spring, batting .222/.295/.352. Age and injuries could be catching up with Guillen. His career OPS as a DH is only .711, which does not bode well, either. Guillen is penciled into the No. 5 spot in the order, but if Inge and Sizemore both hit and Guillen does not, it would not be inconceivable to see Guillen drop. But Jim Leyland does not seem the type to make such moves hastily with veteran players.

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