Jun 28, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
There are many Detroit Tigers players who have had tremendous first halves of the 2013 season, including the favorite so far for the American League MVP, Miguel Cabrera. Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez are a few others who have had a strong first few months. With these players, however, have come a few that have struggled to open this season; Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and Andy Dirks have had pretty bad batting lines throughout the course of this first half. Some of the bullpen arms, namely Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, and Bruce Rondon, have struggled either with command, hittability, or both. There are a few players that have shown signs of a bounce-back second half, however.
Victor Martinez has put up a .242 average and .653 OPS so far this season, but as it has been noted, he has hit the ball hard for most of it. Victor has been a victim of a low BABIP, sitting at .253 which is 58 points below his career average, and nearly 100 points from his first season with the Tigers. Now, BABIP can a lot of times be attributed to a batter just not hitting the ball very well, but as stated, he has been hitting the ball hard all year, so I expect a large bounce-back in the form of BABIP as well as his overall numbers. If Victor can put up something close to .280/.340/.440 for the rest of the year, it will definitely be a welcome addition to this offense.
There’s no sugar-coating it for Avila this year; Alex has been absolutely terrible. He’s hitting only .177 with not much power and his walk and strikeout rates are among the worst of his career. His strikeout rate in general is terrifying as he his striking at in over 30% of his at-bats. At any other position, Avila would have had his starting role taken away a long time ago. However, there are not any proven hitters at the catchers position in the minors for the Tigers, and Avila has a good reputation as far as calling a good ball-game. There is hope for his offense, however, as he has shown he can hit well for long stretches in the major leagues. In 2011, he put up a spectacular .895 OPS and started the all-star game. Even last year, I didn’t understand the extreme criticism directed at Avila has he still put up a solid (for a catcher) .736 OPS including a .352 OBP. There is no doubt that Avila has struggled mightily in 2013, but there is no reason to not expect him to at least be able to hit like he did last year, which with his solid defense and cheap cost equates to a very valuable catcher. Avila has already started to show a bit of a turn-around, as he has hit for a .778 in a very small sample size of six games since returning from the disabled list. I would expect something near a .245/.345/.395 out of Avila the rest of the way, which is close to what all-star Salvador Perez is putting up for the Kansas City Royals.
Alburquerque actually was not doing very badly when he was sent down, sporting a 3.14 ERA out of the Tigers’ bullpen. It was the command issues that plagued him and Villarreal that got them both sent down. Alburquerque had over eight walks per nine innings (as well as over 16 strikeouts per nine), and it was clear that Jim Leyland and company was sick of having guys not being able to throw strikes. While he did not show much in the minors as far as his control, he was brought back up anyways when the Tigers needed the bullpen help. Since coming back, Alburquerque has again shown the same command issues, walking six in six and two-thirds innings of work, but had yet to allow a run until his disastrous outing yesterday that gave the Tigers the loss to the Cleveland Indians. As long as Alburquerque is allowed to start a fresh inning most times out, he has shown that he can get the job done even with his problems.
Rondon got hit around in two out of his first three major league starts, proving that he was not quite ready to stay in the majors. He needed to work on his slider and changeup, and acquire the confidence to use them more often. He showed in his trip to the minors that he had done both things, so the Tigers called him back up. In four outings since coming back, Rondon has given up only one run, while striking out four and walking only one. He has been able to use his slider and changeup effectively, and in one of his outings that I saw, showed great command with both pitches. He had a lefty swing and miss at his changeup that effectively acts as another pitcher’s two-seam fastball, tailing away from the lefty hitter. In the same outing, he threw two backdoor sliders that caught the inside part of the plate and had two righties staring at it for a strike. If Rondon can continue to command these two pitches along with his 100 MPH fastball, he could be poised for a huge second half, possibly unseating Joaquin Benoit as the Tigers closer (putting him into his familiar eighth inning role) for this year and for the future.
Andy Dirks has not swung the bat well all year, but has perked up a bit in early July with a .762 OPS. Matt Tuiasosopo could challenge him for more playing time in the second half, as well Don Kelly, who has hit surprisingly well in limited at bats. Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos could also challenge for playing time later in the year.
Brayan Villarreal could be a huge boost for the Tigers bullpen this year if he can limit his walks. He is a strikeout pitcher for sure, but not to the extreme of Alburquerque, so he needs to show better command than he has if he wants to get called up again. Villarreal is still averaging 7.5 walks per nine innings in Toledo, so he’s not there yet.
Phil Coke has always stunk vs. right-handers, but with Darin Downs now on the disabled list and him having his own struggles recently, hopefully Coke can at least be more effective vs. left-handers to be a solid left-handed specialist out of the bullpen with Drew Smyly mans then eighth inning.
Matt Hoffman could be a darkhorse if Darin Downs and Phil Coke continue to struggle as he has been solid with a 2.36 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 26.2 innings in Toledo this year. Especially if Drew Smyly stays in the eighth inning role, they may need to call up Hoffman eventually. I’d be surprised if he at least isn’t with the Tigers in September.