It is unfair to blame a manager entirely for a stagnant offense as he is not the one who has stopped hitting, but a manager also cannot just sit back and hope his team starts batting again.
The Detroit Tigers shouldn’t be fooled by their five runs in Thursday’s, 7-5, loss to the Athletics. Detroit has averaged 2.5 runs over the last 10 games, losing eight of those 10 games. That seems impossible with the names in the Tigers lineup, but after taking a look at their recent totals, it’s easy to see why the team is struggling and why it is time for drastic lineup change.
Without Victor Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes has been moved to the clean up spot. While batting fourth this season, Cespedes is hitting just .226/.273/.419 in 31 at-bats. He has made nine starts batting clean up.
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Clearly, the Tigers are missing Martinez’s production out of the No. 4 spot in the batting lineup, however, with him out, not only is Detroit missing his production, but also last season’s production out of J.D. Martinez, who bats fifth.
J.D. slashed .315/.358/.553 with 23 home runs and 76 RBI a season ago. In his first three seasons, J.D. never hit above .270, so some were calling his 2014 a fluke. It probably was unrealistic to expect J.D. to hit .315 again, but to compare this season to last is not fair.
Without having to worry about the Tigers clean up hitter, opposing pitchers have been able to go right after J.D. The right fielder has seen 67.4 percent first-pitch strikes after he saw just 59.8 percent last year according to Fan Graphs. That’s a problem because according to Baseball Reference, J.D. has fallen behind 0-1 in 61.4 percent of the at-bats where he does put the first pitch into play. In those at-bats, he is hitting .200.
Still not convinced VMart’s absence is effecting J.D.’s hitting? Well, J.D. is batting .250 since the Tigers placed VMart on the disabled list. In the last nine games, J.D. is slashing .182/.250/.242.
So, without VMart, the four, five and six batters for the Tigers are out of commission. What makes matters worse is No. 2 hitter Ian Kinsler is probably in the worst cold streak of his career.
In the last 14 games, Kinsler is just 5-for-53 with 10 strikeouts. That’s good for a .094/.186/.189 slash line. Coincidentally, Kinsler’s first day of his slump was the day VMart landed on the disabled list.
That means of the five best hitters in the Detroit Tigers lineup, who all have All-Star potential, first baseman Miguel Cabrera is the only one producing. His power numbers are down lately, likely because teams have been able to pitch around him, but he is slashing .340/.441/.480 the last two weeks.
Here is where the drastic lineup change comes. Traditional baseball thinking has managers bat their best overall hitter third in the lineup. That line of thinking maximizes their amount of at-bats and generates more plate appearances with runners on base. In this situation, the No. 4 hitter acts as a protector for the team’s best hitter, capitalizing when the opposition decides to pitch around the third batter.
This is one of Detroit’s biggest problems right now. They have no one to protect Cabrera, so why not turn Cabrera into the protector?
If Brad Ausmus hit Cespedes third and Cabrera fourth, Cespedes should get more good pitches to hit. J.D. might as well, just as he did last year, hitting fifth behind an All-Star. Cabrera is the best hitter in the game, so it doesn’t matter if he bats third, fourth, first or ninth, the guy is going to hit.
This radical change of moving the game’s best hitter to fourth has worked before. In June of 2002, the three-time manager of the year Dusty Baker switched Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent in the batting order, moving Bonds to No. 4. The impact was quite staggering.
Kent had 343 at-bats hitting fourth that season behind Bonds and batted .297/.354/.484 with 15 home runs and 53 RBI. But in the 279 at-bats hitting third in front of Bonds, Kent slashed .333/.387/.667 with 22 home runs and 55 RBI.
Bonds’ numbers took a slight dip, though, the improvement for Kent made it worthwhile.
More importantly, the Giants went 50-31 in the second half of 2002 and advanced to the World Series. Perhaps the same move for the Tigers 13 years later can produce similar results.
For Ausmus, it’s at least worth the try.