Andy Dirks didn’t start the season with the Detroit Tigers, and he didn’t start the second half of the season.
Okay, he was hurt to start the second half, but as it turns out, he was still missed both times.
Dirks, quite frankly, has had a very solid year at the plate for the Tigers, most notably in the 2nd spot in the lineup, which is a spot that for certain times was held by the likes of Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago, and Quintin Berry (just to name a few). But the reason he didn’t get his due, was because of one Delmon Young.
Young was the starting left fielder (much to the dismay of this writer, who wanted his glove burnt), on the heels of a reasonably good stretch run which saw Delmon actually produce some run during the season and post-season. He then parlayed that into an April that included a sub-par .242 batting average, 1 home run, 5 runs batted in, an on-base percentage of .311, slugging percentage of .333, and an arrest in New York for assault.
It was after the arrest, that Dirks was made available, as Delmon had some time off because of that little situation. He’s made the most of the opportunity, and the Tigers benefited from his offensive output.
In 10 games, Dirks posted a .281 BA, and heated up in May batting .343 and finishing the first half of his season with a .328 BA before going down with an achilles injury. Since returning from that, he’s played in 8 games, and has 10 hits in 29 plate appearances. More importantly, as far as a guy who’s been hitting mostly from the 2nd spot in the lineup, his on-base percentage is a healthy .414, so far.
All good offensively, with the exception of his rather putrid numbers vs. left-handed pitching: he’s 5 for 29 on the season, good for a .172 BA. Defensively, his range is decent; his arm (especially as of late) is another story.
All that said, should Dirks have his place in the lineup cemented, now and down the road, including next season and beyond?
Looking at the current lineup today (and subtracting Austin Jackson from the discussion, as his job is never in doubt), your candidates for outfield are Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn (when healthy), Quintin Berry, and Andy Dirks. Berry, after his call up, has seen his numbers decline rapidly, and his strikeouts increase. Delmon Young is and has always been a defensive liablilty, so it seems that his role is as the DH only (which is another issue altogether, but we’ll save that for another time). Delmon’s left-handed counterpart – Brennan Boesch (and I say that because Young and Boesch share the same batting styles) is less than ideal playing the field, but with how the current roster shapes up, he’ll have to hold down right field. It’s hard to fathom that Dirks will continue his increased over-achieving production, but at the time being, he’s the only one outside of Jackson that is producing on a higher level.
If Dirks can somehow find a way to solve left-handed pitching (I’d settle for 1 hit for every 4 ABs), then there’s absolutely no reason to hold him out of the lineup unless you’re giving him the obligatory day off. He does have some power, but where he’s typically put in the lineup, it’s not a total necessity with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting behind him. He’s getting on base, and from that spot in the lineup, it’s a concept that has eluded the Tigers when he’s not in the lineup. The future is bright for Dirks in this lineup, too – as you may be able to envision the first 5 batters in next seasons Opening Day lineup:
Austin Jackson, CF
Andy Dirks, LF/RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
… And that looks like a pretty good start from here.
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