The Tigers should call-up Mike Hessman. Seriously
The minor league lifer is a better alternative at 1B than Alex Avila
DETROIT – Admittedly, this will veer dangerously close to a hot take. It's usually a cheap gimmick to suggest a struggling club should give a sympathetic underdog a shot. Almost always, such a thing is just an easy way to get clicks and play to the lowest common denominator, without providing much substantive analysis.
But right now, at this peculiar moment in Tigers baseball, calling up Mike Hessman could be a good baseball move.
Hessman, DH-1B for Toledo, is currently a big deal because he broke the 80-year-old minor league home run record earlier this week.
Despite his prodigious power, the 19-year pro baseball veteran has only had 250 Major League plate appearances over five short stints with the big club(s). To burn our obligatory "Bull Durham" reference here, sometimes "full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air" for good reasons.
In Hessman's case, he was denied a plot in the big league oasis because hitting home runs is the limit of his baseball skills. He strikes out a lot, 27 percent of the time in his minor league career. When he's not striking out or hitting home runs, he's popping out. The Hardball Times counted, in 2010, that 24 percent of his fly balls to date were infield pop-ups.
He's also 37 years old. It's not like the rest of his game will suddenly blossom. Hessman is who he is: a guy very near the end of a long minor league career.
But he also hits a homerun about every 16 at-bats. That's a rate comparable with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. No joke.
And, with Cabrera out, the Tigers first baseman options are as thin as their playoff hopes, so the I'll-hang-up-and-listen hot take about calling up Hessman isn't crazy.
On any given day, the average Cabrera replacement brings all of Hessman's liabilities but little of his power.
Hessman's big league stats (.188/.272/.422) compare favorably to Alex Avila's season (.173/.309/.260). Avila, too, is a strikeout liability. He's struck out 48 times in just 125 at-bats this year and struck out 155 times in just 390 at-bats in 2014. At this point, a cardboard cutout of Cabrera might be a better first base option than Avila.
Jefry Marte, the other Cabrera sub, has put up respectable numbers (.241/.313/.517) in 32 plate appearances this year but, based on his minor league stats, it's unlikely he'll maintain that pace over any significant stretch.
Hessman, like the other first base options, is likely only worth a hit every five at-bats. But, as Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver famously said, the easiest way around the bases is a home run. Hessman can do that with a frequency that the other alternatives can't.
So bring up Hessman. Put him at first until Cabrera is ready to return.
At the very least, it will give the hot takers a chance to complain the Tigers aren't playing enough small ball.
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