Do The Tigers Need A Right-Handed Bench Bat?


And if they do… what exactly do they need him to do?

Lets start with what a bench player from a particular side is typically supposed to do: take the occasional start against a lefty from a left-handed lineup regular or pinch-hit for aforementioned lefty against a tough LOOGY in a key situation late in the game. The Tigers have adequate positional flexibility with the players they have (other than Inge or Worth) to back up every position at least once and to have a possible defensive replacement for any stone glove.

As we imagine it, the typical Tigers lineup will include five righties and three lefties: Prince Fielder, Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila. The ninth lineup spot, it would seem, will be one of the Tigers reserves depending on who draws the short straw and has to DH that day. Will we need a right-hander from the bench to fill in for any of the 3 primary lefties against a lefty or to pinch hit in a clutch situation? Prince Fielder does have pretty big L-R splits, but he’s such a potent force at the plate that even against the nastiest lefty he’s probably a better option than any reserve the Tigers could dig up. Alex Avila can also struggle against a tough lefty, but he has a right-handed reserve of his very own in Gerald Laird. And besides – managers are loth to pinch hit for a catcher, since they don’t want to risk having a sudden leg cramp or ball to the mask force Don Kelly to don the tools of ignorance in the ninth. Brennan Boesch? Don’t ask me why, but that guy loves to hit lefties – as evidenced by today’s home run off Mark Buehrle. There’s no reason to sit Boesch or pinch hit for Boesch unless he’s hurt or exhausted.

That leaves the rotating reserve spot in the lineup as the only place the Tigers might want a right-handed bat – either to start or to pinch hit. If the Tigers have no righty on the bench, we would have to see either Ramon Santiago, Don Kelly, Andy Dirks or Clete Thomas in the lineup against a guy like Francisco Liriano and we would have to see them stick around to face Will Ohman after Jake Peavy gets pulled with men on. Could we tolerate that? After all – it isn’t as though the Tigers are considering whether or not a right-handed BAT should get the 25th roster spot but rather a right-handed GLOVE in Brandon Inge or Danny Worth.

Ramon Santiago is, of course, a switch-hitter. While he has been a little better against right-handed pitchers over his career, that split isn’t very large. Don Kelly might have sizable splits, it’s a bit hard to say since over his whole major league career he has been used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. We can safely say that the Tigers don’t trust him to hit against lefties, so perhaps we shouldn’t either. Both Thomas and Dirks were significantly worse against lefties in Toledo last year. However, in Dirks’ case the sample size in Toledo was small and is matched by very good performance against lefties as a Tiger in an equally small sample.

I’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that the typical Tigers lineup against a right-handed starter includes either Dirks or Kelly and that the typical Tigers lineup against a lefty would (in the absence of Inge or Worth) include Ramon Santiago. We could very well see each of those three get the occasional start at DH – as appalling as that sounds – but the timing of their starts should work the same way. Worth or Inge as opposed to Santiago (making a start at second against a lefty) isn’t a defensive upgrade – but it might be an offensive upgrade. Would it be enough of an offensive upgrade to make any difference? That depends on how well you think either one could do against left-handed pitching. 50 points of OPS is possible, but wouldn’t be a given. Worth or Inge wouldn’t contribute as a defensive replacement after pinch-hitting for Kelly or Dirks either (and, again, no one should ever pinch hit for Avila, Boesch or Fielder) but could – depending on how bad Dirks and Kelly really are against guys with LOOGY stuff – contribute offensively.

[I’ll make a note here to head off comments: what I would prefer is a regular lineup with Young as the starting DH, Raburn and Dirks splitting time in left and Santiago at second. But this simply will not happen.]

What I ask myself is: is what they could contribute enough? And the answer that I get is no. Inge and/or Worth are not actually needed on the team defensively, and they are defense first players. The other reserves have that covered. As offense first fill-ins, they could contribute a little but really not all that much. What the Tigers could use, in my opinion, is a right-handed hitter who couldn’t contribute defensively but could display some real pop against lefties (and probably lefties alone). If he was something more than a shadow of his old self, maybe Ryan Strieby could have been that guy, but… As it is – if I were Dombrowski I would be checking the waiver wire for a guy with a profile like Marcus Thames to be the DH against lefties.