Tuesday, January 30, 2007

2007 Detroit Tigers Preview - Lineup

Last year, the Tigers ranked 5th in the American League in runs scored which isn't bad. It wasn't your average offense, however, as they struck out a lot, walked very little, and mashed a bunch of home runs. The Tigers' .329 team OBP ranked 12th in the American League and just barely ahead of the 13th place Mariners, but their 203 home runs only trailed the White Sox (236) and Yankees (210).

What to expect this year? Well, they still don't have a true leadoff hitter. They still have guys with major holes in their plate approach. But they also added a big time bat in Gary Sheffield. Even though he's 38 years old he is instantly one of the two best hitters on the team alongside Carlos Guillen.

Before the analysis, just one brief pause. If strikeouts by a hitter or batting average are terribly important to you, just stop reading. There is plenty of evidence that they mean next to nothing which I am not going to bother rehashing here right now.

Curtis Granderson

Never Nervous Curtis had his first full season of big league action last year posting a .260/.335/.413 line and playing solid D in centerfield. That's decent production, but nowhere near what he is capable of. His entire minor league career, he had an OBP between .360 and .410 and a slugging percentage from .460 to .510. Look at his age 24 season in Toledo for evidence of what we can hopefully expect as he continues to develop. He hit .290 that year with a .359 OBP and a .515 SLG cranking out 15 home runs and 22 SBs in only 111 games. Grandy will never be a .300 hitter, but he draws plenty of walks and hits for plenty of power to be a borderline all star CF for years. Critics point to his high K totals, but they've never held him down in the past. It'd be nice if he made just a tad more contact, but this kid is a legit talent and will turn 26 in spring training. He will likely once again bat leadoff because of his speed even though he is more of a #3 or #5 hitter .

Placido Polanco

Oh Placido. You won the ALCS MVP and gave yourself a reputation as a clutch hitter. But man, oh man, did you stink at the plate last year. It was brutal. As good as you were in 2005? You were equally bad in 2006. Polanco's batting line in 2005 was .331/.383/.447 and in 2006 it was .295/.329/.347. Last year he exemplified to a T why batting average is not a good stat to look at. He hit .295, drew barely any walks and almost never got an extra base hit. Not a pretty site to behold. The good news, however, is that his 2006 season was sort of out of left field. Placido had been an above average hitter for 4 consecutive seasons before nosediving last year so there is ample reason to believe he can regain his stroke and become a productive player once again. I mean it's not often somebody drops 50 points of OBP and 100 points of SLG in one season.

Carlos Guillen

Just another ho hum monster year from one of the most underrated stars in the game. Did you know that Carlos' batting average has increased every single year since his rookie season? That's seven straight years. At this rate, he'll have a batting title one of these years. In 2006, Guillen put together a phenomenal .320/.400/.519 line at the plate as he carried the team on offense. He's now been healthy 2 of his 3 years in Detroit (04, 06) and both times he was a terror at the plate and arguably the best hitting shortstop in the game. He doesn't put up the show stopping HR numbers, but he is as solid as they get at the plate this side of Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols and he managed a 10th place finish in the MVP voting. He's not what he once was defensively, but he just turned 31 a few months ago so his hitting is not likely to fall off any time soon. It's not unreasonable to expect a .320/.400/.500 hitting line again from Carlos the Great and he could even exceed that if he stays healthy.

Magglio Ordonez

Maggs put up a .298/.350/.477 hitting line batting cleanup for Detroit last year and in general gave them the feared power hitter in the middle of the lineup they were expecting. He doesn't have the power he once had, but as evidenced by his game 4 ALCS walkoff shot he can still get the job done. I'd expect very similar production from him again this year as a good but not great middle of the order run producer.

Gary Sheffield

The big offseason acquisition is the type of hitter the Tigers need. On a team filled with free swingers, this is a guy who considers anything under .400 to be a bad year for his OBP. Injured most of last year, in 2005 he hit .291/.379/.512 which was a down year at the plate. If he can even duplicate those numbers he is instantly the 2nd best hitter on the Tigers in 2007 and if he can have a big year, he is capable of putting up MVP caliber numbers at the plate.

Craig Monroe

Mr. Clutch last year needs to learn to draw a few more walks. His .255/.301/.482 batting line says it all. Lots of power, not much else. In a somewhat disturbing trend it is the 2nd straight year his OBP has declined from a decent .337 in 2004. Craig is a very good defensive left fielder and he will turn 30 next month. If he can up the BA/OBP just a little he could become a good player. As it stands, he's merely average in leftfield.

Ivan Rodriguez

35 year old Pudge is still a force behind the plate as perhaps the best defensive catcher in the league. Unfortunately, he isn't much with the bat anymore. In 2006, he put up a .300/.332/.437 hitting line. For a defensive catcher, that is very good, but it isn't nearly up to what he could do in his prime. The good news is that he worked on his plate discipline last year and managed 26 walks after only 11 in 2005. If he can get that up near 40 or 50 he could be a decent hitter in 2007. Can't expect a lot of offense, though, because he is clearly past his prime.

Brandon Inge

Perhaps the most exciting defensive infielder in baseball, Brandon has been swinging for the fences more and more as his career goes on. He turns 30 this May so he is no longer a youngster, but his batting is still evolving. In 2006, he hit .253/.313/.463 with a career high 27 home runs and 83 RBI. It'd be nice to see him up the OBP and he does have a good eye, because he makes way too many outs right now. I'm not quite sure what to expect from him in 2007. He's probably the best athlete on the team and has phenomenal hand eye coordination. I'd say that aside from Granderson, he has the biggest potential for improvement on the team based mostly on his quick hands.

Sean Casey

And now we come to the Debbie Downer segment of the lineup. Sean Casey sucked in Detroit last year. He was brought in to replace the struggling Chris Shelton at first base and proceeded to hit even worse than Shelton. He was brutal in Detroit last year. .245 batting average? .285 on base percentage? .364 slugging percentage? He actually hit worse than Polanco did last year at the biggest offensive position on the field. In Detroit, he was arguably one of the 10 worst position players in the entire American League. The good news is that this horrible performance was a huge drop from what he had been doing in Pittsburgh in 2006, which although not good was at least adequate. With the Bucs, he hit .296/.377/.408 in 2006. His total lack of power for a firstbaseman is disturbing, but he at least usually gets on base quite a bit. In Detroit, however, he stopped getting on base. Sean turns 33 this summer so it's unlikely he will all of a sudden start improving in any major way, but hopefully as he adjusts to the league he can get back to normal for him and come close to a .400 OBP to make up for his lack of power.

Chris Shelton

Speaking of Sean Casey, can we get Shelton some damn playing time. Yes, I realize he lost his swing after the quick start last year when he started reaching for the fences too much. But the kid can flat out hit. Check out his career MLB numbers in 249 games: .281/.348/.477. And he doesn't turn 27 until June. This kid can play and they need to get him in the batters box. He's a better hitter than Sean Casey right now and is not too shabby in the field. I don't care how bad he tailed off last year, he has a record of hitting everywhere he has been and they need all the offense they can get to tangle with the powers in the AL.

Marcus Thames

Speaking of hitting, how about Thames? Detroit's best hitting outfielder last year might be the odd man out for ABs this year. In 2006, he hit .256/.333/.549 while knocking 26 HRs in a little over half a season worth of at bats. If he isn't going to play much, they need to trade him for something because he is too valuable to be wasting away on the bench. It's not every team in the league that has somebody with 40-50 HR power sitting on the bench. Heck, if you combine the last 3 seasons Thames has 41 HRs in 610 at bats for the Tigers. Imagine what he'd do if he ever got regular PT.

Omar Infante

This utility man just turned 25 this offseason and had a decent year at the plate last year. He hit .277/.325/.415 in 224 at bats which isn't bad. I'd really like to see him get used as the 3rd middle infielder ahead of guys like Neifi Perez and Ramon Santiago because his offensive ability is light years ahead of them and his D isn't bad either.

As for Neifi Perez, I only hope there is some way he doesn't make the roster. He's a nice guy, but arguably one of the 5 worst hitters in the last decade of major league baseball. Look at what he did for Detroit last year: .200 batting average, .235 on base percentage, .215 slugging percentage. Neifi was a lightweight hitter in Coors Field and since he left he has been just horrid. It was at least a good sign to see Jim Leyland admit that in hindsight it was a mistake to bring him in last year. He has to go down as the worst move of the Dombrowski era.



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