Detroit Tigers projections raise questions about Justyn-Henry Malloy.
It's that time of the year. The latest winter storm is rolling through, and Detroit Tigers fans are longing for any glimpse of baseball they can get their hands on. FanGraphs released the ZiPS projections for the Tigers 2024 season, and while these were released back in November, it indeed raises some questions with Spring Training on the horizon.
There will be some positional battles for the Detroit Tigers to sort out in Lakeland before the team heads north. Every year, some of the prospects are brought into camp with a chance to make the big-league club. For Justyn-Henry Malloy, ZiPs seems to think he will be a big-leaguer.
The Tigers acquired Malloy in the trade that sent Joe Jiménez to the Atlanta Braves. Malloy has settled in with Detroit and started to carve out his role as he looks to find a chance in the big leagues. He has yet to play a big league game in his career but spent the entirety of the 2023 season with the team's Triple-A club in Toledo.
According to the ZiPs projections, Malloy is expected to slash .231/.339/.373 with 21 doubles and 16 home runs, driving in 59 runs. The projections also have him walking 75 times with 155 strikeouts. This also comes with a .308 BABIP and .317 wOBA for those interested.
Listen, I've been the high guy on Malloy and was pretty enthused by his addition to the organization. I thought the team was going to get an excellent addition in terms of versatility and a nice bat to pair. However, it's been made pretty clear that "versatile" is a stretch of a term to use with Malloy.
Sure, the bat has perks, but things need to be cleaned up for me to stamp anything more than a low-value, big-leaguer evaluation on him. In 2023, Malloy played in 135 games with the Toledo Mud Hens, totaling 611 plate appearances. He slashed .277/.417/.474 with 25 doubles, a triple, and 23 home runs. This comes while walking 110 times and striking out 152 times.
The feel for the strike zone is there, but it needs to be more consistent. The walks and eye correlate a bit, but Malloy can be caught chasing, and Detroit's got to be concerned about this at the next level. While ZiPS was bullish on Malloy overall, it certainly did not like his defensive abilities at third. After 2023, it seems like playing him at third would be a forced hand rather than genuine "versatility."
Even with Malloy playing corner infield in college as he got into pro ball, the outfield seems like a better spot, but the Tigers' outfield will be jammed with players as things stand. While ZiPS was high on Malloy, I'm not sure he will come north with the team and last the entire year.
Sure, the infield may be thin, but forcing the hand with Malloy and ruining him could be problematic. But, as a proponent of trusting data at times, the ZiPS projections may know something that we fans do not. However, the eye test could be better for me; it's not as appealing as it once was. Let's put it that way.