Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Damon would Address Major Tigers Flaw

When the Tigers traded Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees in a three way deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in November, much was made of his struggles versus left-handers. His .183 batting average versus left-handed pitchers in 2009 is now probably the most famous batting split in the history of the Tigers. Lynn Henning has probably mentioned it about 30 times himself.

Grandy's inability to hit southpaws was indeed a big problem but what might be an even bigger problem for the Tigers now is batting against right-handed pitchers. Last year, the Tigers had an OPS of .768 versus left-handers and .740 versus right-handers. Take away Granderson and the 2009 OPS against lefties shoots up to .804. But what about right-handed pitchers which account for about 75% of plate appearances? If you take away Granderson's .897 OPS versus righties, the Tigers had an OPS of .720 in 2009. That's not very good.

The table below illustrates the problems the Tigers had versus right-handers last year. Miguel Cabrera led the team with a .936 OPS and Granderson was second. Ryan Raburn also hit them pretty well in limited opportunities - an .800 OPS in 128 at bats. None of the other regulars hit higher than Carlos Guillen's .757. Three of the regulars were under .700 - Gerald Laird (.590), Adam Everett (.546) and Brandon Inge (.675)

The trade left the Tigers with only one regular, who bats from the left side - Guillen, an oft injured switch hitter. The potential new faces in the starting line-up - Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore both bat right-handed. There is chance that left-handed hitting catcher Alex Avila (.852 versus RHP in AA) will help out, but Laird is still set to be the starting catcher at the beginning of the year. Clete Thomas is another possibility, although so far fielding has been his forte. Finally, there is hope that Guillen will play more often this year. Even if he does though, there is a serious line-up imbalance which other teams are bound to exploit.

This is why it makes sense for the Tigers to sign Johnny Damon. There is a lot of talk about how he would be a much needed leadoff hitter but they need a left-handed bat more than they need a leadoff hitter. Damon batted .282/.365/.489 overall last year including an .889 OPS versus RHP. The Tigers could certainly use a bat like that.

The question is money. Damon is reportedly looking for an expensive two year contract for $11 million per year and agent Scott Boras is once again hoping to make a late off-season deal with the Tigers similar to the Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez signings. It didn't seem possible a month ago that the Tigers would make that kind of move this winter but with the signing of Jose Valverde and the extension of Justin Verlander, there is no doubt that Mike Illitch is still willing to spend big. So, there is a decent chance the Tigers will get their left-handed bat.

Table 1 - Tigers 2009 OPS splits versus RHP/LHP

Player

Level

vs RHP

vs LHP

Gerald Laird

MLB

.590

.730

Alex Avila

AA

.852

.692

Miguel Cabrera

MLB

.936

.958

Scott Sizemore

AA/AAA

.892

.896

Adam Everett

MLB

.546

.726

Ramon Santiago

MLB

.716

.621

Brandon Inge

MLB

.675

.854

Ryan Raburn

MLB

.800

.976

Magglio Ordonez

MLB

.744

.973

Austin Jackson

AAA

.769

.755

Carlos Guillen

MLB

.757

.758

Clete Thomas

MLB

.721

.654

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