I think Jim Leyland and the Detroit Tigers could get creative with next season’s lineup construction, but I’m not sure they will. The assumption is that Torii Hunter will slide into the two-spot with the rest of the lineup more or less staying the same (with the obvious exception of Victor Martinez in for Delmon Young), but that doesn’t have to be the case. They could swap Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the three and four spots to avoid having three right handed hitters in a row at the top of the order, or they could hit Hunter sixth and have Dirks (or Avila) hit second (at least against right handed pitchers), but these types of discussions might be better saved for the spring when the roster is set a little bit more definitely.
The point of this post is to compare the pieces on the team as of today and project how they might perform compared to the pieces that were in place last season. So for now I’ll stick to the generally assumed 2013 lineup, though I’m not necessarily advocating for it (or against it) at this point. I’ll use the Bill James Handbook numbers for a 2013 projection for each player (as shown by FanGraphs). Not because it’s necessarily the best (I really don’t know), but because it’s available, probably pretty good, and unbiased.
2012 combined line: .288/.364/.452
Most common in 2012: Austin Jackson (135 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Austin Jackson – .293/.363/.442 (projection)
Austin Jackson probably will take a step back in 2012 – it’s foolish to expect a repeat of a career year – but the Tigers probably aren’t looking at a big loss in overall production out of the leadoff spot (remember 26 games were started here by the Quintin Berry, Don Kelly, and Ramon Santiago trio).
Projected difference: -.011 OPS
2012 combined line: .257/.313/.397
Most common in 2012: Quintin Berry (44 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Torii Hunter – .271/.336/.428 (projection)
The single biggest mistake managers make when filling out the lineup card is slotting a below average hitter in the number two spot. The fact is that, after the leadoff hitter, the second hitter gets the most plate appearances in a season (quite obviously) why waste those on a bad hitter (bunting is not an acceptable answer!)? So, while Hunter won’t repeat his stellar 2012 season (and isn’t getting paid to), he’ll still likely be above average miles better than the 88 OPS+ they trotted out last season.
Projected difference: +.054 OPS
2012 combined line: .328/.392/.603
Most common in 2012: Miguel Cabrera (161 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Miguel Cabrera – .331/.413/.595 (projection)
There will probably not be a Triple Crown for Cabrera in 2013, but the Bill James handbook actually projects him to have a better OPS (and wOBA) than he did this past year. His counting stats were nice, but a strong case can be made that his 2010 and 2011 seasons were actually more productive offensively. We’re splitting hairs here though. Moving on.
Projected difference: +.013 OPS
2012 combined line: .312/.410/.526
Most common in 2012: Prince Fielder (162 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Prince Fielder – .299/.413/.548 (projection)
We can pretty much expect more of the same from Fielder. The projection expects a few more home runs for an overall increase in slugging.
Projected difference: +.025 OPS
2012 combined line: .252/.284/.387
Most common in 2012: Delmon Young (129 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Victor Martinez – .303/.369/.457 (projection)
It should surprise no one that the batting order position that gave the Tigers the least amount of production (relative to the rest of the league) was the five hole. It was said that the Tigers missed Martinez’s presence in the clubhouse, but I think they missed his bat in the lineup more! Just comparing the on-base percentages between Victor and Delmon, we would expect the Tigers to gain something like 50 extra outs next year. That’s nearly two full games worth of extra offense.
Projected difference: +.155 OPS
2012 combined line: .235/.301/.353
Most common in 2012: Brennan Boesch (42 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Andy Dirks – .283/.335/.438 (projection)
Again, I don’t think Dirks will or should hit sixth next year (I’d pick Alex Avila), but Peralta and Avila were the most common seventh and eighth hitters last year and I thought it better to compare their 2013 projections against their previous slot. Either way, Dirks’ projected line – though I’d take the ‘under’ on it – looks MVP-caliber next to the paltry six-hole numbers the team put up a season ago.
Projected difference: +.119 OPS
2012 combined line: .253/.310/.390
Most common in 2012: Jhonny Peralta (86 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Jhonny Peralta – .264/.329/.423 (projection)
Peralta struggled at the plate last year, but if his BABIP bounces back to his career norms – and there’s no reason it shouldn’t – he could see a mini resurgence at the plate.
Projected difference: +.052 OPS
2012 combined line: .248/.330/.365
Most common in 2012: Alex Avila (42 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Alex Avila – .269/.373/.446 (projection)
A lot of people were disappointed in Avila’s 2012 season – I’ve even read a few internet comments in the last week or two suggesting Gerald Laird was a better hitter (which is false, by the way) – but that’s because too many people judge batting value by batting average. Avila’s .352 OPB was excellent, and he finished with a 104 wRC+ (above average!). That was his disappointing “bad” year. I’ll take it.
Projected difference: +.124 OPS
2012 combined line: .231/.295/.308
Most common in 2012: Ramon Santiago (33 starts)
Assumed in 2013: Omar Infante – .282/.320/.400 (projection)
First of all, I love seeing Infante and Santiago mentioned together, it reminds me of how far the organization has come since 2003. Second of all, if Infante is your nine hitter, then your lineup is quite good.
Projected difference: +.117 OPS
It’s easy to see why Tigers’ fans are optimistic about the offensive possibilities next year. If players stay healthy, then there’s a good chance that we see a drastically improved Tigers lineup. Eight of the nine spots are projected to improve (according to this one projection system and not accounting for backups), and four are projected to improve by more than 100 points of OPS!
And, while Torii Hunter will certainly be a boost offensively, his addition is only one piece of the puzzle. Having Martinez back in the lineup, Infante for a full year, and bounce back seasons from Avila and Peralta will each be as important from an offensive standpoint – if not more important – than the Hunter signing.