Will Rhymes’ Days Numbered as Tigers Second Baseman


It’s early. The Tigers have played only 16 games thus far. There are 146 to go in the season. But for a trio of Tigers in particular, there is mounting pressure to perform and with each bad at bat, with each strikeout, with each short start, the pressure is building. Sooner or later, something’s gotta give. Through the course of today and this afternoon, we’ll take a look at each of the three Tigers in question. We start with second baseman Will Rhymes.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland tried to shake things up a bit in yesterday’s lineup against the Oakland Athletics. Austin Jackson was back in the lineup again, but batting in the two-hole instead of his customary lead-off position. Rhymes, the typical second hitter, slid up to the top of the order. If the idea was to take the pressure off one or both of these players, you could say that it worked in a way; both players turned in 1-for-4 days at the plate, which meant that both players saw their batting averages rise during the game. Unfortunately, those two hits were 40 percent of the team’s total on the day.

Rhymes’ single was his tenth hit of the year in now 45 at bats. All ten of his hits have been singles, leading to a woeful .222 average and identical .222 slugging percentage. Rhymes was given the starting job at second base during Spring Training based largely on his .304 average in 191 at bats last season. As difficult as it is to imagine losing a job based upon 45 at bats, it’s in-line with the reasoning of earning a job on less than 200 at bats. After all, if you combine Rhymes’ two seasons in the big leagues, you have a player with still less than half a season’s worth of plate appearances and a combined .288/.337/.377/.714 line. Respectable yes, but no better than replacement level.

Rhymes’ slow start has many folks questioning the decision to option out Scott Sizemore even more so than they did when it happened in the final week of camp. Sizemore is younger and has a higher ceiling as a hitter. He has a better minor league track record than Rhymes and he has soared to a red-hot start in Toledo so far this year. Through 31 at bats with the Mud Hens, Sizemore is batting at a .387/.472/.548/1.021 line with three of his 12 hits going for extra bases.

We have also heard recently that oft-injured second baseman Carlos Guillen has not yet resumed baseball activities in his quest to return from microfracture surgery on his left knee. Guillen, if all goes well, could be back in Motown by the end of May, but with Guillen’s history of slow recoveries, it could be significantly longer than that.

Even the most optimistic of Rhymes fans must recognize that he has a month at most to prove himself worthy of the playing time he’s gotten so far. I would submit to you, however, that his leash should be (and is) significantly shorter than that. They way Sizemore is hitting in the early going, it makes no sense for Detroit to be wasting at bats on Rhymes when they could be giving those to Sizemore. No one is arguing that Sizemore has the potential to become a better major league player than Rhymes and the only real argument for keeping Rhymes and sending out Sizemore was the success one had over a less-than 200 at bat stretch last season. Now that the weaknesses of Rhymes have been exposed in the early part of this season, why continue to block the path of Sizemore with an older, lower ceilinged player?

Leyland has been quick to pull the plug on players in the past. Ryan Raburn has been shuffled in and out of a starting role too often to recount. Sizemore himself was demoted after only 30 games last season despite being named the regular second baseman. In those 97 at bats, Sizemore hit a paltry .206/.297/.289/.586. Rhymes so far this year? .222/.286/.22/.508.

Since we’re having so much fun with small samples so far in this piece, consider also that Sizemore was excellent in his September recall last season. He posted a .308/.357/.577/.934 line in 26 at bats, with three of his eight hits going for extra bases. Sizemore was not fully healed from a broken ankle suffered during Arizona Fall League play in 2009 when last season began. To hold that injury (and his resulting performance) against him to this extent is bordering on irresponsible managing by Leyland. He says his job is to put the lineup on the field that gives his club the best chance to win. That’s hard to do when his best option at second base is wasting time dominating the International League.

If Rhymes had gotten off to a better start, would I be writing this piece? Maybe not. But the facts are that Rhymes has shown himself to be exactly the kind player that most of us expected he would be and that Sizemore is applying pressure with each passing day in Toledo. The Tigers offense has underperformed so far this season and one way to make a quick upgrade would be by swapping the second basemen.

It’s high time that it happened. Even if the move is made only to give Sizemore a month or so audition before Guillen returns, this decision should be based upon merit. And Rhymes play this year, coupled with Sizemore’s at Triple-A, warrants that a change be made. Free Scott Sizemore.

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