I like what I’ve seen from Andy Dirks. Really, I do. So when I spend the rest of this piece saying that the Tigers have a better chance this year with Dirks mostly riding the pine, try to keep that first line in mind.
It’s no secret that Magglio Ordonez hasn’t gotten off to a great (or even good) start to the season. He’s now 37 years old and took much longer to recover from a broken ankle than the Tigers expected. After spending a month on the shelf trying to overcome the injury, Ordonez has returned and is playing better than he did in April and early May.
How much better?
According to the numbers, not significantly. But there are reasons for optimism.
When Maggs went to the disabled list on May 10, he was hitting a paltry .172 with an OPS of .459. He had one home run and five RBI through 26 games. His BABiP was an amazingly low .184, but to the naked eye it sure didn’t seem like that could be attributed to luck. Ordonez simply wasn’t hitting the ball with an authority.
Since his return on June 13, Ordonez has collected four hits in 20 at bats and his OPS during that time sits at a still low, but much improved, .623. In the past seven games that he’s played, Ordonez’s BABiP is .214. Again, still low, but this time it looks more like luck is in play here. In the first two games that he played when activated, Ordonez had three line drives (that were absolutely smoked) wind up in the gloves of infielders. Those three balls could have easily turned into hits and two of them probably could have been doubles. Ordonez is turning on balls on the inner third of the plate, something he was unable to do early this year, and hitting them hard.
Defensively, he doesn’t have the range that he used to, and he was never a tremendous outfielder to begin with, but he has two outfield assists in the seven games since coming back, the second of which came on Wednesday and thwarted a Dodgers rally.
John Sickles of Minor League Ball profiled Dirks yesterday and I agree with just about everything Sickles said. There doesn’t appear to be a weakness in Dirks’ game at all, but at the same time, he also doesn’t appear to excel at any particular aspect. This is in line with what we were told (and saw) during Dirks’ outstanding Spring Training. Dirks is a useful player and very well could be the everyday left fielder starting next year. He won’t hurt you in the lineup, nor in the field, but he won’t really catch your eye either. He’s not a fringe MLB-er, but he is a solid fourth outfielder or fringe starter.
It’s undoubtedly true that Dirks has been the better all around player this season when compared to Magglio, but when looking at Dirks, you must remember the extremely small sample size of major league time. Dirks has played in all of 30 major league games and has only 86 at bats. It’s not as if he’s been lighting the world on fire in that time, either.
After a hot start to his big league career, one that saw him post an .874 OPS in his first 11 games, Dirks has fallen off a cliff since the calendar flipped to June. In 50 at bats this month, Dirks has posted an OPS of just .564. His BABiP during that time is at .256, so slightly lower than you might expect, but significantly higher than Magglio’s recent stretch. Simply put, Dirks isn’t as good as his first 35 at bats suggested, but he’s probably not quite as bad as he’s been this month.
But keep this in mind; Magglio, even at age 37, is not nearly as bad as his numbers suggest, either.
I’m sure I’ll catch some flack for this next part of my argument, and I don’t want to turn this into a scouts vs sabermetricians argument, because I do feel there is a place for both and value in both. I will not debate whether of not Ordonez is on a steep decline. His numbers suggest he is, and my eyes suggest the same thing. But if you look beyond the numbers, you see a player who, while he isn’t quite what he used to be, still has the tools to be a solid contributor to a very good offensive club. It is my contention that the injury, much more than his age, was to blame for his anemic start to the season and that if he’s as healthy now as he appears to be, the Tigers will be in good shape with him in the lineup three out of every four days.
To me, it makes no sense to anoint Dirks as the everyday player some think he should be this year. Dirks has youth on his side and the potential to improve, even if only slightly. Ordonez has a track record, one that not only includes batting titles and should-have-been MVP seasons, but one that also includes an .852 OPS last season. It’s not as if he hasn’t hit since 2007, it’s simply that he wasn’t fully healthy when the season began and dug himself a deep hole statistically.
The people calling for Ordonez to be traded are aren’t going to get their wish.
Like it or not, Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski have tied their futures with this club to guys like Magglio. More than that, Mike Ilitch likes him and Ordonez wants to be here. There’s talk that the Red Sox could use him in right field or that Seattle needs a DH, but keep in mind that in the off-season, even as rumors of Boston’s interest were swirling, Ordonez held a workout to show the recovery of his ankle. He invited only one team to that workout; the Tigers. He wants to be here and that means something because as a 10-and-5 player, he has the right to veto any trade.
I like Dirks a lot as a player and I think he could become a very useful big leaguer, even as a regular. But I also like the idea of the Tigers putting their chips on the table and making a run at winning this very winnable division this year. And in my mind, Ordonez gives them the best chance to pull it off.