TigsTown Analysis: Focus on the Corners

The Tigers are in the midst of battling for the AL Central crown, but if the Tigers hope to hold onto their slim division lead over the final two months of the season, general manager Dave Dombrowski would best serve his club by adding a strong middle of the order presence at a corner outfield position.

The Tigers have proven that they have the ability to compete in 2009. Justin Verlander has returned to his 2007 form, Edwin Jackson has emerged as a premiere starting pitcher, and even Fernando Rodney has emerged reliable in save situations. All of these have helped bring the Tigers to where they are now: atop the AL Central.

But if the first series of the second half showed Tigers' fans anything, it's that this ball club is far from complete, and will likely need some reinforcements if they hope to hold off the surging White Sox and Twins. Given the Tigers' limitations both financially and in terms of expending valuable prospects, the Tigers' best bet is to focus on adding a bat for the middle of the order.

If resources were limitless, I think we'd all love to see Roy Halladay or someone of that ilk in the olde English ‘D'. But any discussion of Halladay will involve Rick Porcello, and that's a price the Tigers won't be willing to pay. Another starter would certainly still be helpful, but currently the Tigers one through three in the rotation are 26, 25, and 20 years of age, respectively. This isn't a group that is aging and should be together for some time – and given finite resources, the Tigers are better off looking for aid elsewhere.

The same can be said for the relief crew – not so much because of current production, but because of current investment. Even beyond Ryan Perry, the Tigers invested five of their first six draft picks in the 2008 draft in relief pitching, and also have promising youngsters like Casey Fien and Zach Simons knocking on Detroit's door. There are numerous options en route, and the Tigers have to rely on the fact that their scouting department did its homework, and some of their investment will pay off in the near future.

That of course is all in addition to the fact that the Tigers' 4.06 ERA ranks them third in the American League, and eighth in all of baseball. Are there question marks? Absolutely. But this has been a unit that has produced for the Tigers, and is a big part of why the Tigers find themselves in first place in the Central.

But the lineup . . . oh, the lineup. The team has gotten by, but it's hard to say they've done so well, and that it's fair to expect continued production out of a group that is either aging, playing over its head, or just plain trotting out overmatched players.

The aggregate numbers again show how much this unit is struggling. The Tigers are 11th in the American League in runs scored and OPS. If there was a group that needs a boost on the team, it's clearly the offense.

As for where they don't need help, those are some pretty easy answers. Miguel Cabrera is obviously entrenched at first base, Brandon Inge is second in the AL among third basemen in OPS, and Curtis Granderson (despite some qualms about his lower than normal batting average) is fourth among centerfielders in OPS and is coming off his first All-Star appearance.

Gerald Laird and Adam Everett aren't ‘wowing anyone with their offensive abilities, but neither was expected to. The Tigers acquired Laird and signed Everett for their defensive prowess. Laird has been a key behind the dish to the pitching staff's success (both in calling games as well as his outstanding 44% caught stealing rate) while Everett ranks third among AL shortstops with an .832 Zone Rating. No, their offense isn't great, but sometimes you knowingly sacrifice offense for defense, and that's the case with these two, and that's not expected to change.

Placido Polanco hasn't had a great first half of the season, but his defense is still solid (tops in the AL with a .997 fielding percentage) and his BABIP is uncharacteristically low (currently sits at just .264). Given the amount of variance with BABIP, some better luck in the final two months and Polanco will be much closer to the .300-hitting machine we've come to know.

Designated hitter already has Marcus Thames, and when Carlos Guillen returns, it's a good bet he'll be finding plenty of playing time there as well in hopes that letting him focus on hitting will help keep him healthy.

Three positions solid, two positions conceded, and two more with hopes of improvement. And so we're left with two spots . . . two spots that have received little production, and are typically sources of power and production.

The two players that have received most of the playing time at the respective positions – Josh Anderson in left and Magglio Ordonez in right – are well below the league average, with OPS+ of 60 and 78, respectively. Ryan Raburn and Clete Thomas actually are sporting OPS+ that are above average (110 and 111), but both have accomplished them in limited playing time with more favorable matchups.

The Tigers' best bet would be to add a bat capable of playing in one of the corner spots daily, and then move to platoon Raburn and Thomas, capitalizing on their matchup versatility (i.e. Raburn's .819 OPS against lefties and Thomas' .835 OPS against right-handers). Ordonez in nearly every day at-bats (299) has created just 34 runs. Raburn and Thomas combined (albeit with more than 40 fewer AB's) have 43 RC's between them.

Nick Markakis, Matt Holliday, and to a lesser extent, Alex Rios are all players that could give the Tigers an everyday presence in one of the corner outfield spots, all while providing a significant boost in run production, and all three happen to play for teams that aren't in contention and are more likely to be sellers at next week's trade deadline. Though it's worth noting Baltimore as of now seems intent on keeping Markakis, so it might be wise to cross him off the list now before fans get their hopes up.

Replacing Ordonez with one of the aforementioned players, and platooning Raburn and Thomas could help boost the Tigers' Runs Created in the second half by as many as 30 runs (20 for upgrading Ordonez with a 50-60 RC guy to date and another 100 by platooning the more productive Raburn and Thomas and eliminating Anderson from the equation), which by the way, if they had those extra 30 runs in the first half, the offense would jump from 11th in the AL to sixth in the AL. This of course is an inexact science when you're talking about predicting future production, but this type of improvement cannot be overlooked.

The price may be steep and could involve two or three of the Tigers top youngsters, but you only have so many chances to compete, and the Tigers would be foolish if they left this golden opportunity slide by.

The Tigers need a bat, and Dombrowski has the opportunity and ability to make it happen. Now, it's time to act.

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