June 6, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Don Kelly (32) hits a single in the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers Record No Different With Don Kelly in the Lineup

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Don Kelly was in the starting lineup for the Detroit Tigers as the center fielder on Sunday for the series finale with the Cleveland Indians. The decision cuased quite a stir amongst Tigers fans – as is always the case with lineup decisions involving Don Kelly (the new Ryan Raburn who was the new Brandon Inge) – but what we saw on the field wasn’t the epic failure that most fans predicted. What we saw was Don Kelly, hero of the game.

There was, of course, no way that Jim Leyland could have known that Kelly was going to hit the eventual game winning home run – there’s no way he really could have guessed that Kelly would be anything but his traditionally sub-par self at the plate – but The Don Kelly Situation does serve to prove a very important point about the game of baseball: replacing a decidedly non-star player with another decidedly non-star player has little impact on the win-loss column.

The Tigers are in the non-ideal situation of not having Austin Jackson available due to an ailing hamstring. This has left with a number of options, but the two main options have been to start either Kelly or Avisail Garcia in his place in center field. Garcia has the potential to be a future star and Kelly will never be remembered as anything other than basically replacement level, but, at this point in their respective careers, the difference between either player’s inclusion in the starting lineup would come out to be only a tiny fraction of a run. We’re talking about probably less than one percentage point’s difference in win probability (plus loads of variance on top of that to obscure everything).

We love to rail on Jim Leyland’s lineup decisions – especially if Donnie Ballgame is involved – but the reality is that there has been zero difference in the team’s record between games in which Kelly has started and games in which he hasn’t. Here are the numbers:

Team overall: 35-26 (.574)
When Don Kelly has started: 13-10 (.565)
When Don Kelly hasn’t started: 22-16 (.579)

So yeah, the percentage is slightly worse – .565 when he’s in versus .579 when he’s not – but 13-10 is the closest one could get to .579 inside a 23 game sample using whole numbers for wins and losses (the .579 percentage gives 13.3 wins in 23 games).

This post isn’t me advocating for Kelly to start (or not to start, really) – I’d rather see Avisail play for the experience factor and whatnot – but it is me saying that we should all probably cool it with the daily lineup whining. Our collective blood pressures probably don’t need the extra stress of caring about lineup factors that deeply.

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