Of course, everything starts with the table setter. And the Tigers already have their ideal man in Curtis Granderson. Granderson of course became just the third player in MLB history to reach 20 in the stat totals for doubles, triples, home runs and steals. Granderson might not necessarily be the ideal leadoff man, but he has the best combination of on base percentage and speed, and his extra-base hitting prowess makes him someone that can get in scoring position quickly.
Placido Polanco has cemented himself the past few years as the team's man in the two hole, however, with the acquisition of Edgar Renteria, the Tigers have two hitters that fit the prototypical number two hitter.
Looking at the numbers, they had virtually identical on base percentages (.388 for Polanco, .390 for Renteria), however, when you isolate that number to just when they're hitting in the two spot, things swing in favor of Renteria – he had .403 OBP as the number two hitter, while Polanco's was .384.
Diving a bit deeper, over the past three years, Renteria has three times as many steals, and twice as many walks, indicating that Polanco's OBP is closely tied to his batting average, which is subject to fluctuate from year to year. With that said, the Tigers are better off placing Renteria in the two hole, and shifting Polanco down to #9, where his slap hitting can not only help drive in runs, but still get on base for the top of the order.
Moving on to the number three spot, Gary Sheffield held that spot when he played in 2007, but now the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera – who might be the ideal hitter in all of baseball for the spot. He has consistently hit around .300 (.313 career average) with 30 home runs and over 100 RBI – and the past couple years those numbers have come despite playing on a team not on par with the Tigers. With Cabrera likely continue to improve, the Tigers would be best served getting him to the plate as soon as possible in the game.
Magglio Ordonez is the Tigers clean-up hitter, and it seems unlikely the Tigers will move him out of that slot, and with good reason.
Once again, the Tigers have another member of the lineup entrenched at the five slot; shortstop turned first baseman Carlos Guillen. Not only is the five slot Guillen's most productive slot in the order over the last three years with an .893 OPS (save for a statistical anomaly batting seventh with all of 54 at bats), but he also hits from both sides of the plate, a key to breaking up a batting order filled with right-handed hitters.
After that, it's only natural to insert Sheffield into the sixth slot. Not only does he provide protection for Guillen, but assuming Polanco hits ninth, you have three players remaining for the sixth, seventh and eighth slots; Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez and Jacque Jones. Of the three, Sheffield is clearly the top offensive player of the group.
With Sheffield providing protection for Guillen, the final two slots are more or less of a toss up, with both showing offensive decline with aging. But as Rodriguez is often regarded as the team's leader, and hit for more power, he gets the nod in the seven hole, sliding Jones into the eighth slot.
So, there you have it – while the Tigers are bound for success no matter how they elect to place the guys in the lineup, here's their best bet for having prolonged and optimal success in '08:
1: CF Curtis Granderson
2: SS Edgar Renteria
3: Miguel Cabrera
4: RF Magglio Ordonez
5: 1B Carlos Guillen
6: DH Gary Sheffield
7: C Ivan Rodriguez
8: LF Jacque Jones
9: 2B Placido Polanco