Detroit Tigers Report Card #2: Starting Lineup

One month removed from what so many people believed would be a promising postseason run, Detroit Tigers fans feel the same pain as 28 other teams.

What could have happened, if –

What should have happened, if –

What would have happened, if –

There are no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it. Detroit was a flawed team from the start, but as the grueling 162 game season would suggest, they had the talent to muscle through of it.

While Detroit lost some muscle in the offseason (ahem, Jhonny “The Juicer” Peralta), they found some as well (hello J.D. Martinez). The offense as a whole was the best part of the team, so let us see just how good they were.

Leadoff: Ian Kinsler

2014 line: .275 AVG, 17 HR, 89 RBI, .307 OBP

Ian Kinsler was one of the most polarizing players when traded for Prince Fielder before the 2014 campaign. After publicly bashing his former team, the Texas Rangers, saying he hopes they do not win a game, many people feared this hostile mentality. There was speculation of how this would fit in the Tigers clubhouse, but it is precisely this bellicose attitude that makes him so special.

Kinsler’s classic uppercut swing mirrors his aggressive personality, and he brings it everyday. The leadoff second baseman’s 92 RBI’s were the best of his career, and his WAR (wins above replacement) led the team at 5.5. However, that takes into account his defensive prowess, and with all due respect to that beautiful leather trap he wears on his left hand, this is looking at purely offensive metrics.

Kinsler was asked to be the leadoff man and step up in Austin Jackson’s absence, and in that regard he was unable to do so. His .307 OBP was the worst of his career, and was worse than Jackson ever had wearing the old English D (his career low was .308).

While Kinsler produced for power and runs, his batting average never exceeded .263 over the final three months of the season. As a leadoff man, that just does not cut it.

Grade: B-

Two-Hole: Torii Hunter

2014 Line: .286 AVG, 17 HR, 83 RBI, .319 OBP

Hunter, the man with the most beautiful smile in the game and nine-time Gold Glove winner, played what could be his final season in the major leagues. While Hunter and the Tigers continue to work out a potential agreement for the 2015 season, the organization needs to take into account that Hunter’s productivity really has not dropped off.

Similar to Kinsler, Hunter bested his career average of .279, hitting .286 in 2014. Even though Hunter only played in 142 games, the least since 2009, he still managed to hit for power by totaling 52 extra-base hits. However, (stop me if you have heard this before), Hunter was not able to fill his exact role at the top of the order getting on base.

His OBP was .15 worse than his career average, his slugging percentage was down .19 and he only stole four bases, the least for Hunter since the change of the millenium. However, Hunter was one of the bright spots in the late months for Detroit, as he hit .364, .284, .305 in the final three months of the regular season.

Management will have a tough decision when deciding whether or not to keep the lighthearted vet.

Grade: B

The Big Fella: Miguel Cabrera

2014 Line: .313 AVG, 25 HR, 109 RBI, .371 OBP

Miguel Cabrera will fail to win the Most Valuable Player in the American League for the first time since 2011. That is about all he failed at. While many claim his power numbers are down, and that may be true, this chasm between MVP-miggy and 2014-miggy is not very large at all. 84 XBH in 2012, 71 in 2013 and 78 in 2014. The only being on this planet capable of posting these numbers, and still feeling they could have done better, is the beast himself, Cabrera.

The only aspect of Cabrera’s game that was a glaring weakness was his strikeouts. Compared to his 2012 season, Cabrera had 19 more strikeouts, in 12 fewer at-bats. While his on base percentage was down from his career average as well, he was still able to get on base over 37 percent of the time. We give that a pass.

To be honest, analyzing Cabrera is a moot point. It came down to searching for numbers to make the guy look non-dominant, which still did not work. He is the best right-handed hitter on the planet, and will be even better next year.

Grade: A-

Big Bro: Victor Martinez

2014 Line: .335 AVG, 32 HR, 103 RBI .409 OBP

It was no coincidence for the Detroit Tigers that Victor Martinez’s middle name is Jesus. He was everything and more for the team in 2014, having the best season of his career. Martinez’s slash line rivaled those of Cabrera’s MVP years, and he did it while hitting behind the best hitter in the game.

Even with Cabrera knocking more than 100 people off the bases, Martinez was still able to hit in 103 of his own, by hitting the most home runs in his career.

What was most impressive about this was even with Martinez having the best power numbers of his career, he struck out just 42 times in 641 plate appearances. To give you a sense, Miguel Cabrera has never struck out fewer than 84 times in a season, twice as many as Martinez.

Even though Martinez was just a designated hitter, he was arguably the Tigers’ most valuable asset. It is essential that Detroit finds a way to re-sign Martinez if they want their offense to remain as potent as it was in 2014.

Grade: A+

Little Bro: J.D. Martinez

2014 Line: .315 AVG, 23 HR, 76 RBI, .358 OBP

Wait, who? I am sure that is what anyone would have said just one season ago when talking about Julio Daniel Martinez. However, in just one season, he has become a household name in the motor city. J.D. Martinez, while he has no blood relation to Victor Martinez, appears to be cut from the same cloth.

Martinez was unquestionably the biggest surprise in the organization, who hit 24 home runs in three seasons with the Houston Astros. He hit 23 this past season. A career .252 batter turned into one of the clutchest hitters in the game. Thirteen of his 23 home runs came in the seventh inning or later, with three go-ahead home runs in the eighth or later. Martinez hit .345 or better in three separate months. In addition, Martinez only played in 123 games. If these numbers were projected out over a 162-game season, he was on pace for 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s.

Martinez’s .553 slugging percentage was second on the team, ahead of Cabrera’s .524, just behind Victor Martinez at .565. Any time you are mentioned in a sentence with those two, you are doing something right.

Grade: A+

The Prospect: Nick Castellanos

2014 Line: .259 AVG, 11 HR, 66 RBI, .306 OBP

Finally, Tigers’ fans are no longer just hearing, but are finally seeing why Nick Castellanos was such a highly regarded prospect. The 22-year-old split time in the sixth and seventh spots in Brad Ausmus’ order in his first full season. However, his splits in each spot are quite different, which shows he is still experiencing some growing pains.

Castellanos hit just .223 with over 300 plate appearances in the six spot, but in 227 appearances hitting just one spot lower, Castellanos was able to post a solid .293 average.

Castellanos’ home and away splits were almost as staggering. Even though Comerica Park is known as a pitcher friendly park, Castellanos did the majority of his damage with the home crowd behind him. Castellanos hit 50 points better at home (.284) than on the road (.234).

Castellanos’ inconsistencies will subside with more experience, however it is clear that he is key to Detroit’s success. When Detroit won, Castellanos hit .293, but was just slightly above the Mendoza line at .208 in losses.

Grade: B-

The Unsung Hero: Alex Avila

2014 Line: .218 AVG, 11 HR, 47 RBI, .327 OBP

Alex Avila, the man that Detroit Tigers fans love to hate. It is easy to get upset with someone whose average and RBI’s have dropped every year for four consecutive years. In 2011, Avila hit .295 and had 82 RBI’s. In 2014, he had the most strikeouts of his career, the second worst slugging percentage of his career and managed just 33 extra base hits, second worst of his career.

However, Avila still had a .327 on-base percentage, which was the fourth best in the starting lineup. Avila also hit four of his 11 home runs in the seventh inning or later, and eight of the home runs came when the team was either tied or trailing.

Avila has been much better in years past, but he was not as bad as people claim.

Grade: C+

Thanks for Playing: Andrew Romine

2014 Line: .227 AVG, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .279 OBP

When Jose Iglesias was lost for the season, it was evident that Detroit would have to do a shortstop by committee. Veteran Alex Gonzalez began at the spot but did not last long. Minor league prospect Eugenio Suarez filled the void for a good portion of time, but his productivity fell off towards the end of his time.

Andrew Romine was there the whole time, waiting his turn. Romine, who had only had a total of 152 at bats before the season, found himself starting for a World Series contender and had 251 at-bats.

Romine stole 12 bases for the Tigers which was the second most on the team behind Rajai Davis.

While he was not able to muster much, Romine’s two home runs are the only round-trippers he has hit in his time in the show.

Grade: C-

RoadRunner: Rajai Davis

2014 Line: .282 AVG, 8 HR, 51 RBI, .320 OBP

Rajai Davis represents the change in mentality that the Tigers employed when hiring Brad Ausmus before the 2014 campaign. Davis changed the offense by himself with his ability to turn a single to a double, to turn a groundball to a base hit, and his ability to steal any base at any time.

Detroit as a team stole 35 bases in 2013. Davis stole 36 bases in 2014.

While the 36 bases were a nice change of pace for Detroit, these numbers were actually down from his seasons past. Davis was a pleasant surprise offensively for Detroit, as he had 130 hits (the second most of his career), hit .282 (the third best of his career), hit eight home runs (tied for the most in his career) and slugged .401 (second best of his career).

These numbers were even better in the clutch. Davis hit .315 in the seventh through ninth innings, which was highlighted by a walk-off grand slam off of the Oakland Athletics’ Sean Doolittle to win 5-4.

Grade: B

Finally, a recap almost as long as the season itself has finally come to a close. If that is not enough good news, the one and only Richie Cozzolino will have more grades on our beloved kitties, shortly. Meow.

Tony Garcia is the host of Tiger Talk for Impact Sports.