Andy Dirks has underwhelmed at the plate, but his glove is above average. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)
It’s getting harder to find a position of weakness on this Tigers team. That doesn’t stop people from trying, of course.
Sure, we could all point out that in Omar Infante’s absence Tigers second basemen haven’t exactly been all-stars.
But with few options for improvement at the position — Danny Worth hasn’t exactly wowed in Toledo — and Infante expected back on the field soon, second base really hasn’t received much attention.
Left field, on the other hand, and Andy Dirks in particular, has been another story.
Dirks’ play has led to a barrage of questions. When’s Nick Castellanos coming up? Is Nick Castellanos up yet? What about that kid in Toledo, Nick Castellanos; why hasn’t he been called up?
Castellanos is batting .278 with a .351 on-base percentage and .438 slugging average against minor-league pitching. He’s not exactly knocking the door down.
Tigers left fielders are hitting .263/.334/.405 against major-league pitching.
In other words, Castellanos is probably not the left fielder some believe him to be.
He also has another problem: Castellanos bats right-handed, and the Tigers already have a right-handed batter in left field who does a pretty good job — Matt Tuiasosopo.
Castellanos has done quite well against left-handed pitching, hitting .321/.434/469 this season. But against right-handers, he’s hitting just .268/.332/.432.
True, that is better than Dirks has hit. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was right when he said over the weekend he needs to get Dirks’ bat going.
But truly, it would make a lot more sense just to let Tuiasosopo play a bit more. He has hit better against left-handers and right-handers, although he, too, has struggled a bit in the second half.
Don't forget about defense
What should keep Dirks in the lineup is his glove. That’s a far cry from what we’ve come to expect of past Tigers left fielders.
The advanced metrics have painted a nice picture of his game. Those stats take into consideration a number of factors, such as where and how hard a ball is hit as well as the unique configuration of each stadium. Baseball Information Solutions has people watch and “score” every defensive play, then formulas are applied to the results to compare players.
This season, Dirks has been worth eight runs more than an average left fielder according to the Defensive Runs Saved stat. For his career, he has been worth 18 runs.
Using Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games, Dirks again shines. He has been about 17 runs better than an average left fielder this year per that stat. For his career, he has been worth about five runs per 150 games by UZR.
The position as a whole for the Tigers has actually been strong compared to others in the major leagues. The Tigers rank eighth in baseball by Defensive Runs Saved and second by UZR/150.
To sum it up: Tigers left fielders have batted in the middle of the pack while providing above-average defense.
So, on a team that has scored the second-most runs in the major leagues, giving up a little offense for extra run prevention would seem to make sense, even with Jhonny Peralta serving a 50-game suspension for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic.
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has given Leyland the proper pieces. There’s no need to bring up Castellanos early, nor should the Tigers make an effort to trade for another outfielder.
The Tigers have all the position players they need. They just need to pick the right spots for when to use each of them.