How do you plug in a DH in an NL Park?

Yesterday Lynn Henning of the Detroit News had a very interesting article regarding Jim Leyland’s dilema with Victor Martinez.  While the title of his article may have been a bit misleading (when most of us think lineup – we think batting order) the content was spot on.  The Tigers, if they make it to the World Series, have a square peg for a round hole in the person of Victor Martinez.  Henning suggests that the Tigers might play Miguel Cabrera at 3B with Victor manning 1B.  He cites that Miguel has played 387 big league games at 3B, which is not a small amount, to give weight to his theory.  He also mentions Left Field, but quickly dismisses the idea as the Tigers would not want to take Delmon Young‘s bat out of the lineup.

This is one area where I really don’t have an answer – no option looks good, we just have varying degrees of badness.

First off, we can dismiss the idea of Victor Martinez spelling Alex Avila behind the plate.  That just won’t happen because his knees are not in good shape right now.  Besides, I would argue that if you have to chose one, Avila is actually the bat you want in the lineup.  He has shown more power than Martinez this year (a .517 SLG compared to a .458 SLG for Martinez) and has more speed – although I bet Jim Price can run faster than Victor Martinez right now.  If the Tigers make the World Series, Avila will probably catch all but one of the games (and the chances he catches every game in the playoffs is pretty substantial given the drop-off between he and Omar Santos).

So, basically, if Victor is going to play full-time in the 2-4 games the Tigers would have in an NL park during the World Series (can we just go ahead and say Philadelphia’s Citizen Bank Park) he is going to have to be at 1B.  That means the Tigers woudl be moving their Hall of Fame caliber starting 1B to another position.  As Henning details, those positions are pretty much limited to 3B and LF.  However, if you look at the dimensions of Citizens Bank Park, you will see that the LF-CF gap has a weird wall – somewhat similar to Comerica Park’s.  Given this, as bad as Delmon Young may be in the OF, he could be a better option in LF than Miguel in this scenario.  So, now RF is also an option.

Miguel has played 3B before, in fact as you probably remember, he started in Detroit at 3B…and then quickly moved to 1B.  However, as we have seen, Miguel does have quick twitch reflexes and a strong arm.  He plays 1B like a 3B (a big 3B who is perhaps better suited to play DT for the Lions, but that is besides the point).  He would add offense to a position that has been a sore spot all year long.  Heck, in some people’s eyes, he might not even be that much of a downgrade from Wilson Betemit.

If Cabrera were to move to LF, the Tigers would either have to bench Delmon Young, or move him to RF.  They could also move Miguel to RF and leave LF alone.  Now, it is not clear that the Tigers would prefer Young in the OF if they have to move Cabrera there.  They may instead choose to have Andy Dirks or Ryan Raburn in either LF or RF (whichever position Miguel is not in) in order to give Austin Jackson some help and allow him to cheat over to cover for Miguel.

Lastly, you have the option of simply not starting Victor Martinez.  This leaves their defensive alignment relatively consistent with what they have had throughout the season, each player knowing what the man to the left or right of them is capable of.  While this would take out one of the Tigers bets bats, it would add significant punch to the pinch hitter role and cause Charlie Manuel (or any of the other 3 NL managers) to have to think carefully about how to handle that situation.  This could actually be a benefit for the Tigers.  Not only that, it could allow those calling the game to have the giddiness of a schoolgirl when the possibility of a double switch involving Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez arises (although I don’t think it would as you want better defense at the end of the game, not worse).

So, throughout this whole exercise that Mr. Henning has started and I have continued, we really have actually discovered several questions – who is better for the Tigers in a 9 inning game in an NL Park – Victor Martinez or Delmon Young?  If the answer is BOTH – what do you do with Miguel Cabrera?  Also, if Leyland decided to have Victor and Delmon in the lineup, could that combination create enough runs to outwigh the postive defensive influence of a guy like Andy Dirks.  Finally, which pitcher (outside of Justin Verlander) would be able to deal with the drop off in defense that is likely to occur?  Comments are appreciated as this is something without a simple answer in my opinion.

Next Tigers Game View full schedule »
Thursday, Aug 2121 Aug1:10at Tampa Bay RaysBuy Tickets

Tags: Andy Dirks Charlie Manuel Delmon Young DH Jim Leyland Justin Verlander Lineups Lynn Henning Miguel Cabrera MLB Playoffs Omar Santos Philadelphia Phillies Ryan Raburn Victor Martinez Wilson Betemit World Series

  • Euphdude

    Good article as always Sam. I personally feel that Leyland will stick with the defensive alignments he’s been using all year and will use V-Mart as a pinch hitter. However, if we are in a situation were we are about to be eliminated, I could see Leyland moving Cabera to 3B and starting V-Mart at 1B.

  • Sam Genson

    @Euphdude While it is WAY to far out to predict, I think it also depends on what SP the Tigers are facing and what park they are playing in.

  • JohnJParent

    I just don’t think Leyland would have the stones to put Cabrera at another position. We all saw how well it worked for Texas last year when they played Vlad in right against the Giants, and he had actually played OF a handful of times throughout the year. Moving Cabrera to a position he hasn’t played in three or four years seems like disaster waiting to happen. That said, I’m not opposed to the idea if the situation gets desperate. Cabrera wasn’t a good defender at third before, but Betemit is downright horrendous. If they’re facing elimination in the NL park, I could see Leyland thinking about doing something like this, just wonder if he’d have the guts to actually do it.

  • Sam Genson

    @JohnParent_MCB Honestly, why not be trying this out right now? While I understand the desire to go for home field advantage, why not use this as a Fall “Spring Training” of sorts. It would at least give people something more to talk about.

    I really go back and forth on where Cabrera would go (if he went anywhere) whcih is why I did not personally advocate any certain position switch. It really depends on who the opposing SP is and who our SP is. Porcello – you put him in the OF – Sherzer, you put him in 3B (to severely simplify it)

  • Shelton

    I don’t think there is any way they play Miguel in the OF. I also don’t think Leyland is going to pull his #5 from lineup in an NL park. I think there are two distinct possibilities. First, Martinez will catch and Avila will play 3B. I don’t particularly like this scenario. Victor might be healthy enough to catch, but even then he is a big downgrade defensively from Avila. The opposition would run wild. Also, Avila is not very good at 3B. They could make it work, but it wouldn’t be the best option. I think the actual solution will be playing Miguel at 3B. While Victor may a downgrade at 1st, it isn’t nearly the downgrade of putting him behind the plate. Miguel moves well for a first baseman. He has no trouble turning the 3-6-3 DP, so I’m sure he would be fine with the throws from 3rd.

    That’s my guess. Avila remains at catcher, providing his good defense and game calling. Victor plays 1st where is he is capable. Miguel plays 3rd, where he probably isn’t worse than the alternative. If it is late in the game and you want to preserve the lead, Inge can replace Miguel, and Miguel can move back to first.