2014 Player Preview: UT Steve Lombardozzi

Acquired as part of the trade with the Nationals for Doug Fister, Steve Lombardozzi is expected to step into the utility infielder role that was vacated by Ramon Santiago. As all-out grinder type, but with limited experience at shortstop, what can Lombardozzi give the Tigers off the bench?

Steve Lombardozzi 2013 In Review

2013 Stats
Washington 307 -0.7 .269 .259 .284 .325 .278 .338 11% 4/3 -1 -3

Lombardozzi worked across the infield and played a bit in the outfield as well for the Nationals, providing solid infield defense, but graded out poorly in limited time in left field, all while struggling at the plate to do much more than put together a respectable average.

The vast majority of Lombardozzi's playing time over the last couple seasons has come at second base, where he logged more than 700 innings. Compare that to a little over 100 innings at third base, about 400 in the outfield, and just nine at shortstop.

Of course, that produces a serious question about who exactly will be the relief shortstop when necessary. With a platoon in left field between Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis, and Don Kelly able to fill in at third and around the outfield, Lombardozzi right now is only a natural to slide into second, a spot at which the Tigers have an established starter in Ian Kinsler, and a prospect knocking on the door in Hernan Perez.

So, can Lombardozzi fill in there? He's played exactly two games there across three major league seasons, and has received only limited playing time there in his minor league career. Nevertheless, the Tigers will be counting on him there.

Lombardozzi's offensive profile wasn't impressive in 2013, with only a mediocre average keeping him from being a huge hole, as he walked in only 2% of his plate appearances and had just 18 extra base hits in over 300 at-bats.

2014 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 483 0.7 .267 .303 .307 .357 .288 1
Steamer 218 0.5 .272 .296 .314 .376 .304 0.5
Oliver 600 1.4 .269 .295 .305 .357 .291 6.9

The good news for Tigers fans is that all three services are in universal agreement that his struggles at the plate in 2013 aren't likely to repeat, and he's more likely to revert to his 2012 form, when he walked closer to 5% of the time and had a stronger average, on the back of a better BAbip, which isn't unreasonable his 2013 BAbip was uncharacteristically low, both compared to his expected average on balls in play, along with his historical performance.

Two of the three projections expect his defense to remain mostly average, perhaps slightly above, while the third (with the caveat of always forecasting a full season of playing time) has him much more above average. Defensive forecasting can be much more challenging for utility players whose defensive playing time will vary, so the numbers don't tell the story here. Can Lombardozzi give the Tigers at least adequate defense at shortstop on a part-time basis? If not, anything else Lombardozzi can do is likely wiped out.

While the slightly better offensive profile and projection is encouraging, the Tigers are planning on him being the backup infielder and covering for Iglesias, in addition to Kinsler. If he can't do that, his spot on the bench will quickly be in jeopardy. If he can, the Tigers have likely found an ideal bench guy for years to come.

2014 Projections come from three different sources; ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver, all publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers, and Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright.

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