Past incarnations of the Detroit Tigers seemed pretty reliant on every day production from specific positions: Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera famously manned their spots day in and day out, as did Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson. What’s strange is that although it’s admirable for very talented players to earn their pay and play every day, using a platoon to capitalize on specific strengths hasn’t really been something the Tigers have relied on for the past several years.
Yes, we don’t want Alex Avila to bat against left-handers, but when it comes to catchers one has to remember that they need more days off than usual. Really, the last platoon I remember Detroit using effectively was when Wilson Betemit and Brandon Inge split time at third base in 2011. Otherwise, it’s been a pretty light time-sharing team.
With the recent signing of Rajai Davis the Tigers can platoon the speedy spark plug with perennially underrated Andy Dirks in a timeshare that seems like a match made in Motown. As Matt Snyder and I discussed in the comments of my free agent outfielder piece yesterday (in which I dramatically, and incorrectly, undersold Dirks as a regular in left), outside of last year Dirks has been very effective against right-handed pitchers to the tune of a 104 wRC+ and a .745 OPS overall in his career. Davis is the perfect compliment in this scenario, with a 137 wRC+ last year against lefties, and a .779 OPS for his career.
There will be some complaining about this, with fans lamenting the fact that there should be an every-day solution in left. Well, why? What’s so wrong with a platoon?
Recently, teams have been using platoons more and more effectively. The Rays are notorious for their ability to exploit matchups and scenarios with platoons, including the maximizing of former Tiger Matt Joyce. The Pirates have been experimenting with platoons for a defensive edge, and the Rangers have been rotating David Murphy and Craig Gentry in when the matchup dictates. Chris Denorfia became a 3.9 WAR player as a platoon outfielder, and the Red Sox won a World Series last year rotating Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes.
Everything that has happened this season has shown a complete organizational commitment to doing things in a different way – Dave Dombrowski is revamping the roster into one that can compete with the above-mentioned teams by emulating them, and with Brad Ausmus in place the Tigers should be run in a different way than in the past several years. When faced with the decision of “Adapting or Die,” this organization chose to adapt.
Personally, I couldn’t be happier with all these moves, including this one. The Tigers are now an exciting, fast team that should take full advantage of Comerica Park’s expanses. Davis, who I touted as a free agent pick up as early as this past Halloween on It Is What It Is on ESPN 96.1 (at the 34-minute mark), will be such a welcome addition, not just in a platoon that will benefit this team tremendously, but as one of the most unheralded moves that will pay off in the end.
This team is really going to be entertaining in 2014.