2012: Can Andy Dirks Be A Starter?


Despite the Tigers success this season, there are numerous decisions that the organization is going to have to make in this upcoming off-season regarding personnel. One of those is the probability that the Tigers are going to part ways with aging veteran Magglio Ordonez. Another decision is going to have to be made on LF Delmon Young, and whether the Tigers want to offer arbitration to him, or allow him to be a free agent.

With two members of the outfield solidified in Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson, there is just one starting spot left, and Andy Dirks should be in the mix for that spot. Young has come over from the Minnesota Twins and performed well in a Tigers uniform, but as has been discussed many times, he is a polarizing player because his value is tied in mostly to his batting average. The Tigers will have to make the decision if they feel Young is worth the likely 6-7 million dollars he would receive in arbitration.

I think the Tigers could stand to save a little money here. Andy Dirks is not that much less valuable than Young, if he is at all. A quick look shows us they are pretty similar players.

Andy Dirks is hitting .249 for the Tigers on the season, but he has shown some pop with 20 of his 55 hits going for extra bases. If you project his current numbers over the course of a full season, Dirks is going to be the type of guy that gets you 15 homers, 30 doubles and around 12-15 SB a season. He does multiple things well, but nothing outstanding. Defensively Dirks isn’t a plus defender, but he is solid on the corners, and he brings his lunch pail to work with him every day.

A closer look at Dirks’ stats, especially compared to Delmon Young’s, shows a remarkably similar player. According to Fangraphs, Dirks has compiled 0.3 WAR this season as a part time player. Delmon Young has 0.5 WAR on the season, and that is in large part due to a statistically good season as a defender. His defense this season is an anomaly, meaning that in any normal year, Young and his WAR would more than likely be less than the rookie Dirks.

Both players struggle with discipline at the dish, with neither of them seeing walk rates even near 10%. In fact, Dirks and Young both sit at a walk rate of just 4.7%. This obviously hurts their value because of a low OBP. Dirks is below .300 in that category, while Young is right at .300. Dirks actually slugs more than Delmon Young, however, giving him an OPS of .706, while Young sits at just .684.

There is a little more room for improvement from Dirks as well. While their strikeout rates are similar, Dirks doesn’t whiff as much as Young, and his BABIP is .025 points. less. Dirks BABIP is just .274, and if that number can get up a little bit towards .300, there should be a jump in most of his numbers. In contrast, the fact that Young is displaying abnormal defensive numbers, tells us his overall value is probably a little higher than usual. His offensive numbers reflect what he has always been, a guy that relies on a high batting average to be productive.

Clearly, given that these two players have very similar numbers, and similar ages (Dirks is 25, Young 26), the main factor in choosing between these two particular players should be salary. The Tigers have to avoid extending Young based upon a good two month showing. The Tigers orgnanization may believe that he is going to take off at this point, but I think there is enough of a track record here to suggest that Young is what he is, a slightly below average major league left-fielder. Dirks is a better defender, hits left-handed, and is more versatile. He is also 6 million dollars cheaper. The Tigers could take the money they save from losing Ordonez, Guillen and Young, and move it into free agency.

Saving money is all well and good, but that doesn’t technically make the kind of production that Dirks is going to give the Tigers starter material. While I have been making the argument for Dirks instead of Young, the main point is that the numbers are similar. That means if Young’s numbers aren’t really good enough, than neither are Dirks’. An OPS of .706 isn’t good for a corner outfielder no matter how you slice it. But if you think of things within context of the Tigers roster, it is somewhat acceptable.

Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila are going to carry this offense. Brennan Boesch if he can put together a full season should help as well. Frankly, the Tigers don’t need Dirks to be a dominant offensive force, and he could fit in nicely at the bottom of the order. He also could get help from Ryan Raburn when left-handers are pitching, and they might form a nice platoon out there in the outfield. Given the rest of the lineup, Dirks multiple skills, and the likelihood we see a little improvement, I believe he could be a starter on this team.

The outfield won’t be the only decision the Tigers have to make, or the only hole they will have to fill. They are going to need a 2nd baseman, a 3rd baseman, and could stand to find a starting pitcher.

It could be that Andy Dirks reaps the benefits of the Tigers organization having to allocate their resources to fit in other players. Finding money isn’t always an easy thing, and going into 2012 with Dirks as the starter would allow them to do so.

I’m sure Andy Dirks would be okay with that.