Think back, for a moment, to last night’s 6-4 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers’ incumbent designated hitter and established number five hitter Delmon Young came up three times with runners in scoring position. He popped out with the bases loaded the first time, drove in a run with a sac fly the second time, and flied out to right the third time.
Now, the sac fly is well and good and all, but part of the reason the Tigers have failed to meet expectations this year is their lack of power and inability to get the big hit. Young had a chance to drive in four runners in scoring position and only managed to score one. He doesn’t walk, has an OBP below .300, and isn’t even slugging .400. And this is the Detroit Tigers’ primary DH and protection for Prince Fielder.
Fielder, of course, was intentionally walked to set up Young’s bases-loaded popout. As long as Young is hitting behind Fielder, if there are runners in scoring position and first base is open, it’s going to be an automatic intentional walk. It’s the right move. Remember in 2010 what happened to Miguel Cabrera once Brennan Boesch forgot how to hit? Remember when Joe Maddon kept intentionally walking Cabrera in unorthodox situations and Boesch never made the Rays pay? We’re back to that, essentially. And Young certainly hasn’t been able to make many pitchers pay for their decision to walk Fielder. In all, Tigers’ designated hitters have been atrocious – a .239/.263/.354 triple slash, which adds up to a .616 OPS, and just four home runs.
And don’t forget Boesch himself. He was the Tigers’ big bat off the bench tonight, and Jim Leyland chose to utilize him in the 7th instead of Ryan Raburn (who has actually been hitting well lately). Boesch stepped in with two on and two out and struck out on three pitches. In the 9th, he came up with two on and two out again, this time as the winning run, and once again struck out, failing to put the ball in play.
And that leads me to my point: remember, as Tigers’ DHs slug less than .400 and Brennan Boesch pinch hits for Ryan Raburn in high-leverage situations, Dave Dombrowski and Tigers’ management felt that they did not need Jim Thome.
More accurately, they “did not see a fit.” This has a lot to do with the fact that they want right-handed bats and not lefties. But when your designated hitters have four home runs and your biggest lefty bat not named Prince Fielder or Alex Avila is OPSing .618, who are you to turn down Jim Thome? It’s one thing to try for him and miss out, but to not even bother pursuing him? Thome does everything Young doesn’t (well, except defend – but Young doesn’t do that anyway either) – he walks a lot and has the ability to slug homers for a team that, with the exception of their two superstar bats, has slugged precious few homers this year. He has more home runs in limited duty this year than Tiger DHs do.
And the Tigers did not see a fit.
Thome could’ve slotted in at the fifth spot and provided a power threat behind the OBP machines that are Cabrera and Fielder. He could get on base for guys like Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila, who are hitting lower in the order. And really, would anyone have batted an eye if the Tigers simply cut their losses and dumped Young – a player who has no value on defense, has failed to produce on offense, and very publicly embarrassed the franchise back in April with his off-field stupidity? I know I wouldn’t have.
Is it Thome the same player as he was even five years ago? No. Would Thome have failed in those key situations tonight? Possibly. Would he cure all that ills the Tigers? Of course not. (He certainly wouldn’t have done anything about Doug Fister’s inability to put away mediocre hitters last night.) But wouldn’t you have more faith in him to contribute than you do in Delmon Young? Fielder would still get his intentional walks, but at least pitchers would think twice about it – and even in his advanced age, Thome still has the potential to make them pay. And hey, he’ll slug higher than .400….and he certainly knows the division well, and he loves to hit against them.
But alas, the Tigers made no attempt at grabbing Thome from the Phillies. He was sent to the Orioles for a modest prospect return. The Tigers can talk about how Thome doesn’t “fit” all they want, but to me, they had an opportunity to make a bit of an upgrade to their underachieving lineup at a very reasonable price – and they didn’t even bother pursuing it.
For a team that was supposed to contend for a World Championship this year, that, in my mind, simply is not good enough.