Jim Leyland has announced his World Series game 1 lineup – at least as a proposal – to the Detroit News. This is a bit strange… we know that game 1 will be played on the road and we know that it will be played in a National League park, so we know that the Tigers will have no DH, but we have no idea who the opposing starter will be.
Jim Leyland’s proposed lineup includes Delmon Young back in left field – and the fact that he bothered to propose one at all at this early date suggests that he doesn’t expect that to vary much when more information about the opponents becomes available. Of course Delmon Young must start. But really, must he?
The Cardinals rotation features Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Lohse, Lynn, Carpenter & Wainwright are all right-handed pitchers. The Giants have Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum (it’s still hard to predict which of those five gets pushed to the bullpen should the Giants make the WS). Zito and Bumgarner are left-handed – the other three are righties. That probably ought to matter when lineup decisions need to be made.
Alex Avila and Gerald Laird make up the two sides of a fairly regular backstop platoon. Quintin Berry and Avisail Garcia have been surprisingly effective as a platoon as well – taking the place of the disappointing Brennan Boesch. Delmon Young has played just about every game as a DH no matter who is taking the mound – despite some pretty massive L-R splits and a rather uninspiring regular season performance at the plate. That, sadly, always made sense… who would you have started at DH in his place? Other Tigers not in the regular lineup – including Brennan Boesch – haven’t been able to hit their way out of a paper bag.
Now that the Tigers will be losing Young’s DH spot – he is put in direct competition with Quentin Berry, Avisail Garcia and Andy Dirks for playing time at an outfield corner. Lineups were predictable in the ALDS and ALCS, the same as they had generally been in September, but not anymore. That contest between Dirks and Young is no contest at all – at least provided we have a right-handed pitcher on the mound. Dirks is the better hitter and the (vastly) better defender. Garcia only plays against left-handers – and he has been surprisingly effective against them at the plate over the past 2 months despite the lack of any power whatsoever… even gap power. He also has better defensive range than Delmon. BUT… Delmon Young is a bat you cannot keep out of the lineup against a lefty, not just a guy that has been miraculously getting it done, and despite the difference in range Garcia’s lack of polish in the outfield makes the defensive gap between the two less than it might be. You could make the case to bench both Dirks AND Berry and keep Garcia and Young in the lineup against a lefty, but I wouldn’t ever start Garcia instead of Young.
If St. Louis makes the World Series, whether they do it by winning game 6 or game 7 they will put a righty up on the mound in game one. They only have right-handed starters, so that’s a given. If San Francisco rallies to win the NLDS, Vogelsong will have started game 6 and Cain game 7 so game 1 would probably be started by either lefty Bumgarner or lefty Zito. It is conceivable that it could be Lincecum, but I’d expect him to be the odd man out – since he did lead the lead in earned runs allowed in 2012. So… vs. San Fran I’d say it’s pretty much a no brainer that Delmon Young should be starting game 1 (and probably Laird too). The question should be Dirks vs. Garcia, and Dirks probably gets this one too. Thumbs up to Jim Leyland.
Against the Cardinals, on the other hand, I’m not so sure that Quintin Berry isn’t a better choice than Delmon Young if you have to make a choice between the two. Young is a mediocre hitter and a terrible fielder, but he is also hot right now. That would make a bigger difference if berry wasn’t also hot right now. As reported by Rod Beard at the Detroit News, Leyland will be using either Berry OR Dirks in right when playing WS road games – but he isn’t sure. He has seemingly made up his mind about Delmon, though. Over the regular season, Berry put up a .268/.351/.358 line against righties. That’s nothing compared to Andy Dirks (Dirks even hit lefties loads better than that) but it does compare favorably to Delmon Young’s .247/.270/.374. Berry also – for what such small sample splits are worth – had less of a drop in production than Young on the road. If Delmon Young was a good fielder – or even a below average fielder – it would be a lot harder to argue against keeping him in the lineup against righties on the road. As it is… Young has always been a bad fielder (-11 runs per season by UZR/150) but in his limited time in the field this season has been far worse (-31 by UZR/150). His bat has a lot of work to do to justify keeping that glove in the outfield – and against righties that bat seldom has. Berry has been a statistically below average outfielder this season (average in left, bad in center) – but the gap between his glove and Young’s glove is large.
Part of the decision to keep Young in the lineup come rain or come shine may be recognition of his strong ALCS (and postseason heroics in 2011). I’m inclined to doubt that is all that is at work – as I and others at MCB worried about when Young was acquire, it seems like Jim Leyland just thinks that Delmon Young is a better hitter than he actually is. Let’s be frank: he offers nothing on the basepaths or in the field. As a DH – a .707 OPS (and his .695 OPS in 2011) is replacement-level hitting. Delmon Young’s 74 RBI doesn’t sound bad, but it’s pretty darn minimal for a guy batting behind some of the highest on-base percentages in the league. His -3.15 WPA is worst on the team by a significant margin. He has come up in a lot of clutch situations and failed in a lot of clutch situations. It may be the case – whatever his BA ranking was before his rookie year – that the Tigers are better off starting a 27-year-old scrap heap rookie instead for game 1 of the World Series.