Prior to the current four game winning streak, nothing much was going right for the Tigers. Everything was awful and we were all slipping into some type of mix between denial and complete breakdown. It appears that after a sweep in Cleveland, life is going to get back to normal to some extent and food will start to taste better and the air will smell a little sweeter. That is, of course, unless you’re hanging out in the Tigers’ outfield. Because that’s been a giant mess and it was one long before the losing started.
Let’s go back to May 5 for no particular reason other than that I wanted to back up a round number of weeks and May 5 was seven weeks ago yesterday, when I started thinking about this issue. Since then, the Tigers “starting” outfield of Jackson, Hunter, and Davis has been very, very bad. Their only saving grace has been JD Martinez. Read those last two sentences again and then go back in time and play the lottery.
Jackson, Hunter, and Davis are all having below average to bad seasons, but if you remember, they all started quite well. Their defense has been poor from the get go. Hunter is at -14/15 runs. Davis is -4/5 runs. Jackson is about -5. But some of that was expected. Hunter has long left his graceful days and Davis has never been particularly good. Jackson might be a bit of a surprise that he’s doing this poorly, but you can talk yourself out of worrying.
Now let’s look at their offensive performances. Let’s keep it simple and just use wOBA from before May 5 and since. Nothing fancy. Plate appearances and wOBA. Remember that league average wOBA is about .320 and you typically want your corner guys to be in the .340 range or better for a full season.
|Player||PA before||wOBA before||PA after||wOBA after|
Oh my. Granted, a full season sample is better than a seven week sample and career data is better than one year data and projections are better than that if we’re talking about how players are going to perform going forward, but the lack of production from the Tigers outfield is remarkable. They aren’t great on defense, but they hit their way out of it for the first five weeks. They aren’t doing that anymore. That’s a big reason why JD Martinez is getting so much playing time and why Andy Dirks can’t get back soon enough.
But it’s also why the Tigers might need an outfielder as much as they need a shortstop and reliever come July. Steamer projects Jackson with a .336 wOBA, .338 Hunter with a wOBA, and Davis with a .308 wOBA the rest of the way. That isn’t enough offense given their defense.
Cabrera, Martinez, and Kinsler are doing their thing. The other Martinez seems to be. Castellanos isn’t going anywhere. You won’t find a better catcher than Avila at the deadline. They won’t trade for a starter. SS/OF/RP will be the targets and with Suarez flashing competence, outfield might be the most important target.
A few weeks back, I suggested the Tigers go all in for Ben Zobrist because he could play SS this year and move to a corner outfield spot next year. Different problem, same recommendation. He’s not having his best season, but that makes it a good time to strike. An aging Zobrist is still probably a 3-4 win player and the Tigers might not get that from Jackson, Davis, and Hunter combined this year.