Well, Andy Dirks sure took the wind out of our sails, eh?
What had previously been shaping up to be a pretty damn good platoon of Dirks and Rajai Davis in left turns into a strange situation that could see either Davis pulling at bats against right-handed pitching (which is sickening, to say the least) or to seeing just what the internal options can do for the other side of the split.
Matt Snyder has listed the internal options previously, and Chris Hannum made a compelling case for Ezequiel Carrera as a suitable replacement, but at this point in time with the team on the verge of contending for a World Series I’d rather not have the Tigers trying to overcome an obstacle like this so soon in the season.
Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan recently wrote a very interesting piece on the status of the Tigers’ left field situation, and focused a lot on the offensive abilities of the players in the piece. Of course, being the lefty bat in a split platoon demands that the offensive capabilities of the aforementioned player be up to snuff, or why would a platoon be necessary? However, I was curious about the defensive abilities of some of the players he mentioned, most specifically Matt Joyce, Will Venable, and Michael Saunders.
Venable has been someone whose talents have interested me for some time. Playing in the ample outfield of Petco Park, Venable served the purpose of platooning with Chris Denorfia, and it worked out swimmingly, both at the plate and in the field. Venable has posted WARs of 2.3, 1.5, 2.4, and 2.9 in his time as a regular in San Diego, and wRC+s of 101, 99, 115, 122. His power has, against all odds, been blossoming, and his speed has stayed consistent as he’s nabbed over 20 bags each of the last four years.
His defense, however, may not be up to snuff. His UZR in left has alternated between negative and positive, with a high of 1.4 in 2010. He’s also covered center field in Petco admirably, so that definitely hints at some potential for a greater showing. However, his youth and team control would require the Tigers to probably give up more than they are comfortable with to acquire him.
Former Tiger Matt Joyce was recently advocated by our own Sam O’Toole, and has filled the need of a left-handed power hitter in Tampa Bay very well since he was acquired. He’s a typical lefty pull-hitter, as his spray chart leans heavily towards right field. He’s 29 and under team control until 2016. So what’s the downside?
Joyce, for all his power, has seen his ISO decrease since 2008 with the Tigers, from .240 all the way down to .184 (“all the way down,” he says….). His wRC+ has been in a four-year decline also, and his average against righties has been pretty mediocre his entire career, with a .260 showing. His defense is okay, but nothing to write home about, with a 2.1 UZR in left last year and a -2.7 in right field. He did make 57 plays out of zone between the two spots last year, which was only about 2 less than Dirks in a similar amount of innings played. It must be noted, though, that this season Joyce will spend the bulk of his time as a DH. It would be neat to see him don the Old English D again, but the acquisition of Joyce from the shrewd Andrew Friedman would be tricky.
Michael Saunders provides an interesting specimen. He’s the youngest of these three players at 27. He’s been a regular at Safeco for the last two seasons. He has an intriguing balance of power and speed, and a seemingly large reservoir of talent. He also seems to be an expendable player for Seattle – the Mariners have a plethora of left-handed batters. Like, a whole bunch, and their outfield is chock-full as well. Making a move to ship out Saunders might loosen the log jam. But what are his downsides?
Well, over the course of a few seasons he hasn’t really shown the ability to hit for average (career .224 average), even against righties (.249), and his defense has been a mixed bag (played poorly in the spacious center field, but well in the corners). However, his age places him right at the beginning of his peak years, he’s under team control until 2017, and his speed is just below Venable while his power is just below Joyce.
I believe he can be brought into Detroit, into an atmosphere where every game counts and where there is plenty to be learned from either new coaches or respected veterans. He should be able to cover left in Comerica better than in Safeco, as his power and extra-base abilities should also improve. Most intriguing, though, is viewing him with a lense that Sullivan alluded to: as a potential replacement for Torii Hunter after Hunter’s contract expires – Saunders defensive metrics are much better in right field than left, after all. Also, it shouldn’t be too hard to acquire him, given Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s dubious track record. Maybe even a package deal that brings Charlie Furbush back to the Motor City to fill a Drew Smyly-like bullpen role?
Regardless, losing Dirks stinks, and it makes no sense to say it doesn’t when taking his career splits into consideration, let alone his terrific defensive peripherals. It will be a tough road to hoe for the Tigers with him out, and unless you have misplaced faith in Don “Don’t Call Me Dong” Kelly it would be prudent to hope the Tigers address this problem ASAP.