Oct 16, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Delmon Young hits a solo home run against the New York Yankees in the fourth inning during game three of the 2012 ALCS at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Now that we know who the Detroit Tigers’ World Series opponent will be, the San Francisco Giants, and we’re fairly certain who the opposing pitcher will be for game one, left-hander Barry Zito, we can more accurately gauge Jim Leyland’s decision to use his designated hitter in left field in the National League park (where they play by antiquated rules).
Zito being a left hander is very important to this discussion because it sways our answer toward the Delmon end of the spectrum. Assuming that Andy Dirks is locked into one of the corner outfield spots (although perhaps he’s not), the Tigers really have three options: Delmon Young, Quintin Berry, and Avisail Garcia. Let’s run some numbers on each.
First up is Delmon versus Berry. I’m nothing close to being Young’s number one fan, and I think he’s below average as a hitter overall, but he does hit lefties pretty darn well. His .308/.333/.500 slash line for the 2012 regular season compares favorably to his career line, so we’re pretty certain of what we’re getting out of him. Against lefties that’s a respectable on-base percentage and a fair bit of slugging.
Quintin Berry, on the other hand, has not hit lefties well at all. His speed and average defense in left field would be advantageous, but his .214/.237/.357 regular season slash line against southpaws is quite sad. Let’s mix offensive and defensive numbers together.
Young holds the wOBA advantage over Berry (versus lefties) by a .357 to .252 margin. That’s quite a lot. Over four plate appearances (about one game) the expected difference between the two players’ batting lines is equal to about 0.35 runs. Defensively, the disparity runs the other way. Delmon Young has a career UZR/150 in left field of -14.7 runs. That’s very bad, but it’s only about 0.1 runs worse than average in a one-game scenario. In order for Berry to make up his 0.35 run offensive deficiency, he would need to own a UZR/150 that was 52.5 runs better than Young. He’s not close to being that good, which would make him the best outfielder in baseball by a long shot (even if you think Young is quite a bit worse than his career UZR suggests). Adding in base-running would add about 0.08 runs in Berry’s favor, but even so, Delmon is probably worth about 0.17 runs over Berry in the context of game one.
I should apply the caveat that we’re working with relatively small sample sizes, but the actual offensive minus defensive difference between the two players (against a left handed pitcher) is so stark that there looks to be quite a bit of wiggle room.
The choice between Young and Garcia is even trickier because our sample size is whittled down ever further. But, if we stick with the raw numbers, Young had a .026 wOBA advantage in his platoon split versus left-handers, so he’d gain a 0.09 run advantage over the rookie Garcia. In order to believe that, though, we would need to trust that Garcia’s .331 wOBA and/or his .417 BABIP are “real”. I’m not sure that I’m willing to buy that, so the actual difference is likely a bit larger. In order to make up that difference with defense, Garcia would need to sport a UZR/150 of about 13.5 runs better, which is more than plausible, but we appear to be getting to the point where the actual difference between these two options is quite small, if it even exists at all.
But then there’s the fact that Justin Verlander is on the mound for the Tigers. With Verlander, and his ability to rack up the strikeout numbers and record easy outs, you’re probably less concerned about the defense anyway.
You could probably make a fair case for Garcia, but it appears that Young, and all of his deficiencies as a player, is just as good of an option in this one game. Game number two is potentially another story, depending on who starts for San Francisco, but, all things being equal, why not reward the guy that carried the offense for much of the ALCS?