The Detroit Tigers have not lived up to expectations offensively and have thus fallen under heavy scrutiny all season. In this article, I’ll attempt to pinpoint where they’ve struggled by taking a look at batting order and defensive position splits to see what areas they most need to address at the July 31st trade deadline.
Together, Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Andy Dirks, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder have been as good as you can ask a group to be at solidifying the top of a batting order (even with Dirks hurt and Boesch underperforming in 36 starts batting second). On their strength, the Tigers are one of three teams, with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, who possess an on-base plus slugging percentage ranked in the top half of the American League at each of the first four batting order positions. Their one through four guys have combined for a sum 471 sOPS+ (Baseball-Reference: “OPS for split relative to League’s Split OPS”), an AL-best mark for the top four of an order. Cabrera and Fielder have been disappointing to some, which makes what Jackson has done at leadoff even more important than it would have been otherwise. The third-year center fielder has helped Detroit’s leadoff spot to AL-bests in on-base percentage (.375), slugging percentage (.466), and, of course, OPS (.840).
But after Fielder, the production of the Tigers’ lineup has seen an abrupt, maddening drop-off. Their fifth and sixth spots, occupied most often by Delmon Young and Alex Avila respectively, each have the worst OPS in the AL. The only other club who ranks last at more than one batting order position is the Oakland Athletics, who are league-worst in each of the second, eighth, and ninth spots. The seventh slot, oft-occupied by Jhonny Peralta, has been a bright spot in the bottom half of Detroit’s order, but he’s given a pretty raw deal batting directly after OPS marks of .642 and .607 and directly before a .644 and a .593 in the eight and nine spots. Yes, the Tigers’ eighth and ninth spots also rank in the bottom half of the league at tenth and ninth respectively. Because of this, Peralta has been able to amass just 41 runs produced (runs plus runs batted in minus home runs), the least for any AL player with an OPS above .677. Good luck finding any player in the AL surrounded so thoroughly by hitting as terrible as that provided by the men around Peralta.
Here’s the table for the Tigers’ OPS by batting order position and where that puts them compared with the rest of the AL:
Detroit is above the league median for OPS at five positions; third base, first base, shortstop, center field, and catcher. That’s respectable, but once again, the Tigers’ ranks indicate top-heaviness; they rank dead last at second base and right field, and they’re better only than the Seattle Mariners at designated hitter:
So how are these issues solved? Well, I hate to hang all my hopes on the return of Victor Martinez, but that’s what I’m back to. Upon his return, the Tigers will fix their DH problem and that of the fifth spot in their batting order, protecting Fielder. Barring a trade of one of their corner outfielders, that will also allow them to platoon Boesch and Young (assuming Dirks is back), both prone to streakiness. Martinez’s return could also facilitate a batting order shake-up where Peralta’s right-handed bat would move up to the sixth spot on a permanent basis and Avila, a good hitter for a catcher but maybe not the man to bat sixth, down.
All that, of course, leaves us with the issue of second base—the situation there seems less likely to resolve itself almost every day. Raburn and Santiago have each played decent for stretches, but the pair has combined to hit .240 over the past seven days in 25 at bats, above their norm for this season but still unacceptable from a tandem that fails to offer plus defense.
The problem is, an obvious middle infield upgrade doesn’t seem to be available right now—at least not if the Tigers wish to keep Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos around. Detroit may end up forced to stock up on pitching and hope their offense can improve naturally.