Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Tigers offense did score four runs in Wednesday night’s game against their division rival — the Chicago White Sox– but all four came in the bottom of the fourth inning. Three of their six hits also came in that same inning, as the offense looked a little off against the White Sox replacement for Chris Sale in Andre Rienzo.
J.D. Martinez drove in Don Kelly and Miguel Cabrera on a ground ball up the middle to tie the game after another Jose Abreu bomb to straight away center field, similar to the same homer he hit off Justin Verlander the previous night. Austin Jackspn would homer in the next at-bat, giving the Tigers a two-run lead.
I’m not going to get into the lackluster performance from the bullpen because that’s just too easy. Instead, I want to get into how J.D. Martinez can help the Tigers in the short term.
First off, Martinez was on fire in Toledo (AAA) to start the season, after the Tigers picked him up once the Houston Astros sent him packing. In 17 games, Martinez had a slash line of .308/.366/.846 and an OPS of 1.212. The 26-year-old also hit 10 home runs, 22 RBI and an wRC+ of 233 (100 is average).
Despite those video game numbers in Toledo, Martinez had a BABIP of only.263, his lowest at any level in is career.
Yes, these numbers came in the minor leagues, but Martinez has also recorded 31 home runs in his past three season with partial playing time for the worst team in all of baseball, the Astros.
The Tigers offense has shown bright spots at times, like in Tuesday’s game when they put eight runs on the board and scattered 15 hits. But, when the offense has been cold, its been ugly.
The lineup does lack raw power as Cabrera has the only true power bat. Jackson, Alex Avila and Hunter (at times) can provide some pop in the middle and bottom of the order as well. Martinez can provide that raw power the Tigers desperately need.
They have changed their identity from a station-to-station team under former manager Jim Leyland to a team that likes to run on the base paths when they can. Still, when the Tigers need someone to get something going, they rely too heavily on their MVP.
Martinez isn’t going to start every day, nor should he. He appears to be what the Tigers had hoped Tyler Collins or Don Kelly could provide offensively, a bat off the bend that can pinch hit as well as start a couple games a week out in left field.
The knock on the left fielder is his strikeout problems. In Toledo, he had a K% of 23.9, and in 2013 for the Astros, his K% was an abysmal 26.5. He ability to not walk very often (3.2 BB% in 2013) shows his lack of plate discipline which will hinder his ability to start everyday at the major league level.
With that said, his bat off the bench and sparingly starts such as last night could provide help in the outfield in the short term. He looks to be nothing more than a bench bat and somewhat of a platoon left fielder but that power is something the Tigers could use in their lineup.
I really like the call up of Martinez for now. The Tigers are starting Andrew Romine every day and even though Avila had a great night on Tuesday, he did go 0-for-3 in Wednesday’s game, dropping his batting average down to .213 for the season. So the bottom of the order doesn’t strike any fear in many opposing pitchers.
Martinez paired with Nick Castellanos can provide a little pop near the bottom of the order when Martinez gets in the game. The Tigers also lacked a bat off the bench that could pick up a hit, which Martinez can do better than any other player the Tigers have on the bench (Yes, including Don Kelly).
The real question is, why not call up Martinez? His bat has had flames coming off of it for all of April. The Tigers don’t see him as a long term solution out in left field, nor should they. Rajai Davis has played better than expected to start the season and could receive a bulk of the playing time for most of the 2014 season.
If Martinez continues to struggle, Ezequiel Carrera is also tearing the cover off the ball in Toledo, albeit with a BABIP of .411. He could also he a short term (probably shorter than Martinez) answer if the Tigers need him to be.
I still see the Tigers inquiring about a outfielder and a shortstop come trade deadline time (or after the June draft in Stephen Drew‘s case), but it appears that left field isn’t as much of a concern as it looked to be. Remember, Andy Dirks will come back at some point during the 2014 season. If the Tigers can get to the All-Star break with Davis and Martinez/Carrera/Kelly out in left field, then the team shouldn’t be sweating their chances at a fourth straight AL Central crown.