Last season, to preview the upcoming summer we ran through the “key” to each player’s season. Rather than the keys to game you might see on a network like Fox, these keys weren’t “play better than the other team,” but rather, what aspect of their individual game you should be tracking early on.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go through the roster by position covering the thing I’m most interested in watching about each player as the season gets under way and then we’ll tie things together by breaking down the division rivals and club as a whole. Today, we start with the outfield.
Cespedes brings a certain amount of stability to left field for the Tigers. While we can save our Porcello soliloquies for another time, the team now has a good defender in left with plenty of power. The difference for Cespedes is going to be how often he gets on base.
He’s never going to be a patient hitter but adding an extra 20 or 30 points of OBP to his slugging profile and tremendous arm moves him from above average player to very good player and the Tigers are in a position where those extra little bits are going to mean an awful lot. The average player swings at about 46-47% of pitches, while Cespedes swings at about 50-51%. The big driver is that he swings about 6% more of the time on pitches outside the zone. He made more contact last year, which is a good sign, but if he shows a touch more selectivity things could work out very well.
Martinez had an incredible season in 2014 and anyone who thinks he should repeat it isn’t being honest with themselves and they’re setting JD up for failure. But that doesn’t mean JD can’t have a very productive season in right field for the Tigers. The raw power is there and his new swing allowed him to make better use of that power a year ago. He won’t BABIP .389 again, so some of the production is going away, but if he can continue to drive the ball with authority he’s still going to be useful.
Martinez swings a lot and he doesn’t make much contact relatively speaking. As a result, his walk rate and strikeout rate aren’t very harmonious. Last year, everything fell for a hit and the power was there. The BABIP will come back to Earth, so the key for him is making sure that when he connects, he gets his money’s worth. If he can put together an ISO near .200, it’s going to work out just fine. For Martinez, it’s not about another .315 batting average, it’s about making sure that he’s collecting extra base hits. If he’s going to be a real fixture, the power has to remain in game situations.
Davis is going to get a lot of time in center field this year as he works a job share with the light hitting Anthony Gose. Davis’ bat can work in the Tigers lineup, especially given his speed, but his glove is a very real liability. Cespedes is a good corner man, but Martinez is average in a corner at best. Davis has been a poor fielder over the last few seasons, particularly for someone with his speed. If the Tigers are going to ask him to play center at age 34, he’s going to have to find a way to prepare thoroughly enough to offset his poor in-game decisions.
Davis has the raw speed to be an elite defender, but he has a very hard time getting up to top speed in the outfield, takes poor routes, and has a very difficult time judging the ball as he approaches it. Some of that is just part of who Davis is and it’s too late to change, but if Davis can work hard enough before the game to better position himself and learn the tendencies of hitters, there’s a chance he can offset some of his issues. We’re getting into the specifics of how one learns to play the outfield, but there’s a lot of room in the gaps at Comerica and even the solid defender in left is known more for his arm than his legs.
If Davis is going to succeed, he’s going to have to find a way to play passable defense in center.
Anything Gose provides with the bat is going to be a bonus. The Tigers didn’t acquire Gose for what he can do at the plate, they acquired him for his ability to be an elite gloveman in center field. Gose only has 616 PA at the major league level, which amounts to only about 1400 defensive innings. By the metrics, he’s only been above average. But of course, that’s not enough data to lead you to be very confident in the metrics, which is why I’m interested in seeing what Gose is capable of doing on a semi-nightly basis in the outfield.
If he’s going to be useful at all, and if he’s good enough to warrant the steadier Devon Travis in a trade, he needs to be a terrific defender. By all accounts, he has the skills necessary to deliver on that promise. We just haven’t seen enough from Gose at the MLB level to know if he’s really that good or the scouts have just been over-hyping another player with great speed.
The Other Guys (Tyler Collins, Steven Moya, Hernan Perez, Andrew Romine)
The first four guys discussed in this post have roster spots and playing time unless they’re injured. It remains a little less clear how the 5th outfielder role is going to be handled, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding Cabrera and Martinez’ Opening Day status.
From Collins, you want to start to see a little extra base power. From Moya, a little more discipline amid his power. Perez and Romine need to flash the ability to play quality defense. They don’t have to be Juan Lagares, but neither can hit much and if they’re going to make the team to play the outfield, they have to be able to do it well. There’s nothing wrong with either getting some work in to improve the team’s options, but the Tigers need a Collins or Moya off the bench to pinch hit more than they need an extra player like Perez or Romine.
The Tigers have a much different outfield than we saw over the last couple of years. Hunter and Jackson are both gone, and while Cespedes is a dynamic and exciting player, he’s also not a MVP caliber player. Martinez will hopefully look more like his 2014 self than anything prior and if Gose can go get it and Davis can avoid completely kicking it, they may be able to piece together a pretty good year. But that’s the sunny outlook. If Cespedes has a .290 OBP, Martinez has a .310 wOBA, and Gose is only decent in center, the Tigers might have one of the worst outfielders on any contender. It’s a mixed bag, but at least we should be treated to some very enjoyable dingers.