I wrote a while back about re-evaluation of Andy Dirks‘ offense in light of his seeming inability to hit in the clutch. More recently I wrote about Jim Leyland‘s apparent re-evaluation of Andy Dirks’ ability to play baseball at a major league level. Now I’m here to re-evaluate both.
The Tigers have few un or under utilized offensive tools, and are currently scrabbling to generate enough offense to win close games against a team that runs (and has a bullpen with filthy, filthy stuff). Ramon Santiago and Don Kelly are defensive tools, and they’re being utilized. Hernan Perez isn’t here to do anything but run and Brayan Pena isn’t here to do anything but sit on the bench and wait for something bad to happen to Alex Avila. It’s Dirks or nothing. So how can Dirks actually be favorably used?
The first thing to make clear is: “NOT HOW JIM LEYLAND HAS BEEN DOING IT!!!”
Andy Dirks L-R splits are trivial, unlike (for example) Don Kelly and Alex Avila. Andy Dirks really is not a platoon guy, nor is Andy Dirks the kind of guy that you should pull in the 7th to get any kind of right-handed warm body in there. That’s not to say that Dirks doesn’t have his weaknesses or his flaws – obviously he does.
Chief among those flaws: Dirks is not good against power pitchers. His 150 point OPS split between “power” and “finesse” is large and somewhat alarming. This is likely responsible for his struggles against relievers AND for at least part of his struggles against starters the first time he sees them, since most guys tend to throw harder with more bite the first time through the order.
What Dirks excels at appears to be hitting with the bases empty and especially (though I’ll be damned if I can figure out why) at hitting with no outs. While most regulars put up significantly worse numbers when coming off the bench, Dirks has actually done better as a pinch-hitter (though the sample is admittedly small). If you combine the fact that Dirks doesn’t hit well against relievers in general with the fact that Dirks does well pinch hitting that suggests that Dirks might do particularly well pinch-hitting against a tiring starter.
So what is the ideal way to make use of Andy Dirks? Probably to bring him in off the bench to lead off an inning and get a rally started. It frankly wouldn’t matter who he was replacing or who he was facing so long as that pitcher wasn’t throwing 95. If he features a nasty change? So what. If they put in a lefty just to face him? So what, doesn’t affect him one bit. Bear Breslow and Uehara in mind as two guys out of their ‘pen that don’t throw particularly hard as well as Doubront and Dempster. Tonight’s starter, Jon Lester, is the hardest-throwing member of the Boston rotation – though we’ll see if he can keep that up past the 5th (Clay Buchholz clearly couldn’t). If he’s throwing 90 mph heat, the fact that he’s a lefty shouldn’t do anything to discourage Jim Leyland from calling on Dirks to get hisself on base to start the 7th.