Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Waiting for Andy Dirks

Because I was on vacation in Ontario and mostly away from the computer, this is my first post since last Monday's trade for second baseman Omar Infante and pitcher Anibal Sanchez.  The Tigers have not done well since the deal - two wins and six losses - so I picked a good time to not be paying as much attention to my favorite team. 

The one game I did see in full was on Sunday in person at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, a stadium which has been accused of lacking baseball character.  I agree with that assessment, but it's still a great place to watch a game.  It was very comfortable with big padded seats - at least the ones I was in which were pretty good but certainly not the most expensive in the park (second row of the first upper deck on the third base side).  The park seems well laid out with good views from most seats and it's very clean.  It helped that the Tigers decided to play well and won the game that day.

The primary problem with their recent play may be that they have stopped hitting again scoring just 2.8 runs per game in their last 8 contests.  It seems that any time sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder don't hit, the team is helpless due to a poor supporting cast.  At the center of their woes are designated hitter Delmon Young and right fielder Brennan Boesch who have slowed down again after showing brief signs of life.  I called two of Boesch's strikeous on Sunday.  My friend who does not know much about baseball asked me how I knew he would strikeout.  How did I know?

The acquisition of Infante was supposed to alleviate their offensive problem at second base.  So far, it hasn't.  His .491 OPS is even worse from what we were seeing from the combination of Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth.  Infante should get better but right now they are back to where there were in the first half - no production from three positions - second base, right field and designated hitter.

More than anything the Tigers could use another right-handed hitter, preferably a corner outfielder or designated hitter.  They are currently unbalanced with a .762 OPS versus right handers and a .717 OPS versus left handers.  Young and Raburn have been little help and general manager Dave Dombrowski was unable to acquire another righty at the trading deadline.

What the Tigers should get pretty soon is another left handed bat in outfielder Andrew Dirks.  Still recovering from an achilles injury, Dirks is now rehabilitating at Triple-A Toledo.  He is batting just .182, but is working on his timing and should be back in the majors very soon. 

Dirks was batting a very healthy .328/.379/.515 before the injury boosting a team that was struggling offensively as they are again now.  Garret Craig of Motor City Bengals explains why we probably won't see Dirks hit at quite the same level when he returns.  Still, he will probably do better than his ..251/.296/.406 line of 2011.  At the very least, he should be a significant improvement - offensively and defensively - over Boesch, Raburn and Young.

Who will get removed from the twenty-five man roster when Dirks is brought back?  The prime Candidates include utility men Donny Kelly and Ryan Raburn.  Because he bats right handed, Raburn would have more of a role than the left-handed Kelly.  Raburn is not hitting, but neither is Kelly, so I'm guessing that Kelly would be the one to go.

More importantly, who loses at bats upon Dirks' return?  I'm going to predict (maybe it's more hope than prediction) that it's Young and, to a lesser extent, Boesch.  Manager Jim Leyland has stubbornly left Young in the fifth spot in the batting order all season against all kinds of pitchers.  While his .775 OPS versus southpaws justifies his position in the order, his .650 mark versus righties does not.

Leyland can not very well sit Quintin Berry versus right handers.  You can say that he's a slap hitter who strikes out too much and is bound to stop producing sooner or later.  And you'd probably be correct, but right now he's a solid contributor at the second spot in the line-up and needs to keep playing.

So, the only real choices for reduced playing team would be Boesch and Young.  If Dirks pick up where he left off before the injury the logical choice would be to let him play every day while platooning Boesch and Young.  Realistically, it won't be that easy and we'll see some kind of rotation of Boesch, Dirks and Young depending on matchups.  However, Boesch and Young will almost surely see less playing time though which will help the Tigers at the plate and in the field. 

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