An immeasurable quantity of players scattered all across the major leagues had success against the Tigers in 2011. Division opponents, however, are primarily the most irksome to a fan base, and most players to whom Detroit fans assign the label “Tiger Killer” do their damage as members of clubs in the American League Central. For that reason, and to limit the player pool from which to create this list, I limited my search for these bothersome players to the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, and Minnesota Twins. Then, to narrow the selection down further, I took only hitters whose batting average this year against the Tigers was .300 or above. Finally, from a still large collection of 20 names, I trimmed off all the players who had less than 30 plate appearances against the division champion Tigers.
Upon completion, my list of this year’s Tiger Killers includes ten hitters. Four of them play for the pesky Royals. The list also includes two Indians, three White Sox, and one former White Sox slugger who moved to the Twins mid-season.
Here’s the list, sorted by on-base plus slugging percentage:
Jim Thome (Indians, Twins) – Thome has been a fixture at the top of this list for what seems like forever, and his career numbers against Detroit are pretty ugly. 66 of his 604 home runs to date were hit off Tiger pitching, including his 600th bomb, which he hit at Comerica Park in a Twins victory on August 15th. In addition to his outlandish home run totals, Thome has logged more at-bats (704), runs (159), runs batted in (153), walks (167), doubles (36), and triples (four) than he has against any other opponent in his career. He’s hit a respectable .277 lifetime, but his career average against the Tigers jumps well above that mark to .294. This year ranks fairly high out of Thome’s best years against the Tigers; splitting time with the Indians and Twins, he appeared in 14 games against Detroit. In those games, he had a .375 average with three home runs and 11 runs batted in. (.375 BA, .484 OBP, .846 SLG, 1.333 OPS)
Eric Hosmer (Royals) – A rookie of the year candidate for good reason, Hosmer has quickly earned a reputation as a thorn in the Tigers’ side. The developing star first baseman had three or more hits in 13 games this season; three of them came against the Tigers, including a five-hit attack on September 20th that included a three-run blast off of Brad Penny. In Hosmer, we could be seeing the second coming of Billy Butler, who has ludicrous career numbers against Detroit despite a down year in 2011. In 15 games against the Tigers, Hosmer batted .339 with four home runs and eight runs batted in. (.339 BA, .397 OBP, .589 SLG, .986 OPS)
Brent Morel (White Sox) – Like Thome, who finished the season with a .256 season average, Morel didn’t exactly have a glowing offensive campaign this year (he hit .245). His .348 average against the Tigers, however, was his best against any American League club, and, like Hosmer, Morel is a rookie who will likely have ample opportunities to terrorize the Tigers in the future. In addition to his high batting average in 14 games against Tiger pitching, Morel hit three of his ten home runs against Detroit, including two in one game on September 12th. He also knocked in four runs and stole two bases. (.348 BA .388 OBP, .587 SLG, .975 OPS)
Paul Konerko (White Sox) – Konerko hit exactly .300 in 50 at bats against the Tigers this year. That number by itself is unimpressive considering .300 was his season average, but three of his 15 hits against Detroit were home runs, and five were doubles. He was walked eight times–three times intentionally. (.300 BA, .390 OBP, .580 SLG, .970 OPS)
Shin-Soo Choo (Indians) – Around this time last year, Choo expressed his interest in a future signing with the Tigers to Jhonny Peralta. Until that wish becomes a reality, if it ever does, Choo seems quite content to make the Tigers wish they didn’t have to face him. In nine games against Detroit with Cleveland this year, he hit .353, 94 points better than his season average of .259. He reached base at least twice in seven of those nine games, and failed to reach in only one; the one came on June 14th when Justin Verlander threw a complete game two-hit shutout. (.353 BA , .450 OBP, .500 SLG, .950 OPS)
Melky Cabrera (Royals) – Compared to the other three Royals on this list, Cabrera, 27, is a seasoned veteran. Previously a Yankee and a Brave, he had his breakout season in 2011 after signing with Kansas City, posting career best numbers in stats such as batting average (.305), home runs (18), and stolen bases (20) among others. Though he failed to show his power against the Tigers, he recorded 23 hits in 18 games against them, tied for the most among players on this list and good for a .333 batting average. (.333 BA, .370 OBP, .493 SLG, .863 OPS)
Johnny Giavotella (Royals) – Giavotella performed well at the plate this year in a limited role as a rookie, but he teased Kansas City fans with his play against the Tigers. Four of his five best games by win probability added came against Detroit, with two of those games coming in his first three major-league games. (.314 BA, .333 OBP, .514 SLG, .848 OPS)
Jason Kipnis (Indians) – Another rookie, Kipnis showcased his talents in just 36 games with Cleveland this year. He only faced seven different teams, but he did his greatest damage against the Tigers. Though he struck out ten times in his seven games against Detroit, he batted an even .300. His inflated batting average against his team’s division rival (he hit .272 in his short time in the majors) was largely due to his five-hit explosion on August 10th. That day, Tiger pitchers (Rick Porcello, David Pauley, and Daniel Schlereth) were unable to retire him even once; he came a triple short of the cycle and was involved in producing six (four runs plus three RBI minus one HR) of the Indians’ ten runs. (.300 BA, .323 OBP, .467 SLG, .789 OPS)
Juan Pierre (White Sox) – Perpetually annoying, Pierre, I’m almost positive (though my research failed to produce conclusive evidence), came to the plate against Detroit more than any other major-league player in 2011; he racked up 81 plate appearances and led all players in plate appearances against Verlander and Penny, falling only one shy of tying Alex Gordon for the PA lead against Max Scherzer. Though his White Sox were just 5-13 against Detroit this year, Pierre reached base at least once in every one of their 18 games; in those, he had 23 hits, five walks, and just four strikeouts. He was also a menace on the base-paths, as after reaching, he stole six bases and was caught just twice. On June 3rd, he reached base four times thanks to a home run, two walks, and a hit by pitch via Andy Oliver. In that game, he scored three times to lead the White Sox over the Tigers 6-4. (.311 BA, .363 OBP, .378 SLG, .741 OPS)
Chris Getz (Royals) – Add Getz to the long list of emerging Royals who had success against Detroit in 2011. He hit .323 in 11 games against the Tigers and failed to reach base in just one of those, on May 13th, when Verlander allowed just five base-runners over eight innings. He made an early impression against Detroit on April 8th, when he doubled, singled twice, and walked in five plate appearances. To make it sting a little worse, Getz was born and raised in Michigan. In 2002 with Grosse Pointe South, he was named “Co-Mr. Baseball” along with former Mariners’ prospect and Royal Oak product Randy Frye by the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association. He also played ball for the University of Michigan, and holds single season Big Ten records for at bats and hits. (.323 BA, .378 OBP, .355 SLG, .733 OPS)
Of the guys I’ve listed, some (Thome, Konerko, and Pierre) are in the latter stages of their careers. We won’t have to deal with them much longer. Most of these guys, however, are just getting started, and their teams aren’t likely to let them go anytime soon. The guy I fear the most, Hosmer, is also the youngest at 21. Of the players I listed, his OPS of .986 was second only to that of Thome, the ultimate Tiger killer. Though I wish it wasn’t so, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in years to come.
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