Andy Dirks reached base in all six* of his plate appearances in Friday’s 16-2 win over the Kansas City Royals with a double, four singles, and a walk to bump his OPS above .700 (.707) for the first time since May. That’s not an outstanding season OPS for a corner outfielder, but his batting line is nearly league average overall (95 wRC+), but his defense has rated somewhere between plus and outstanding all year, and he’s been quite a useful player.
*I understand that the traditions of baseball call this a five-for-five day, but why ignore the walk? It’s a decidedly positive event that shouldn’t be ignored, and plus, it makes Dirks’ game look even better.
But although Dirks has only been serviceable with the bat this season overall — owing to his rough .243/.305/.344 first-half batting line — he’s been crushing it lately to the tune of a .313/.394/.455 second half line. Suddenly the starter whose seat was the hottest has become one of the more valuable contributors at the back of the batting lineup.
That full slash line isn’t going to be sustainable going forward — he’s been helped out by a .360 BABIP — but he’s also cut the strikeouts, upped his walk rate, and hit for more extra base power. Those peripheral type numbers may not be entirely sustainable either, but it shows that his second-half surge isn’t simply a result of Twins-hitting his way to a better batting average.
The Tigers don’t need Andy Dirks to be much of anything to win the division, advance in the playoffs, or even win a World Series — they have plenty of hitters to get the job done — but having that extra bat towards the end of the order that’s either average or slightly above puts so much extra on the opposing pitchers. Omar Infante has been that sort of player all year (minus his month of injury), and now Dirks has joined him in that role, but really the entire six-through-nine quartet has been killing it since the All-Star Break.
Dirks: .849 OPS
Infante: .924 OPS
Alex Avila: .837 OPS
Jose Iglesias (with Detroit): .720 OPS
They’re not all going to keep this level of production going, and health has been a concern for Infante, Avila, and now Iglesias, but this kind of production at the back of a lineup is a nice luxury to have. Detroit has a comfortable lead in the Central, but they’re still trying to wrap things up and having these other guys hit will make it easier for Jim Leyland to rest Miguel Cabrera with some frequency to get him ready for October.