DETROIT – Did you notice the Detroit Tigers’ lineup this weekend? Through a series of small, calculated moves, the team has suddenly put together a very competitive starting nine, from top to bottom.
Al Avila hasn’t made any major moves to improve the offense. The team didn’t make a big splash in free agency. Heck, even the top prospects are still chugging along in the minor leagues.
Yet somehow, the Tigers have managed to turn a lifeless offense into lineup full of players who bring at least some type of value to the team.
That’s the kind of progress we hoped to see in year five of the rebuild, and it’s manifested into the first prolonged stretch of winning since 2016.
For the purposes of this breakdown, let’s use the starting lineup from Detroit’s most recent game: Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.
- Akil Baddoo, LF
- Jonathan Schoop, 1B
- Robbie Grossman, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, DH
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B
- Isaac Paredes, 2B
- Zack Short, SS
- Jake Rogers, C
- Derek Hill, CF
With a few minor tweaks, this is more or less the lineup A.J. Hinch stuck with for the first series of the second half. Paredes and Hill were called up during the All-Star break, and Short has worked his way into the everyday role at shortstop.
By now, everyone pretty much knows what Baddoo brings to the table. He’s a staple at the top of the lineup against right-handed pitchers and has even earned some starts against lefties.
Overall, Baddoo’s numbers are magnificent. He has 14 doubles, five triples (the most in the American League) and six home runs in 218 at-bats while drawing 27 walks and striking out 71 times. He owns an .820 OPS and has stolen 14 bases in 17 attempts.
But to understand how much Baddoo has truly meant to the Tigers, you have to go back to May 11. That’s the day he broke out of the first true slump of his career -- one that was expected for a player who jumped to the majors straight from Single-A.
In 47 games since May 11, Baddoo owns a .319 average, .412 on-base percentage and .454 slugging percentage. His strikeout rate has plummeted to 21.8%, while his walk rate is a robust 13.9%. These are elite numbers for a 22-year-old rookie.
Defensively, Baddoo is a work in progress, but he has the tools to improve, especially with Hill allowing him to move to a corner.
In his first full season with Detroit, Schoop leads the team with 17 home runs and has maintained a strong .284 average. His move to first base allowed the Tigers to stick with Willi Castro for several more weeks, and has now opened the door for Paredes.
Overall, he’s probably been the team’s most valuable offensive player.
In 55 games since May 15, Schoop owns a .972 OPS with 13 doubles and 15 home runs. He’s 12-for-32 during his current eight-game hitting streak.
Don’t judge Grossman on his low batting average. His ability to draw walks and hit for extra bases has been huge for the Tigers.
Through 89 games, Grossman has been on base 133 times -- 72 hits and 61 walks. He owns a .351 on-base percentage, which is exactly why the Tigers signed him to a two-year deal this offseason. He also has 13 home runs and 12 doubles.
Like Baddoo, Grossman has been slightly below average in the outfield, but his offensive numbers more than make up for it. His batting averages the last five years -- (listed from 2016 to 2020): .280, .246, .273, .240, .241 -- suggest he could have a strong second half. If he can get back up around that range, his OBP will end up near .370.
If there’s one player in this lineup who isn’t giving the Tigers positive production, it’s Cabrera. He struggles at first base, has a negative WAR (wins above replacement) on both offense and defense, and is a roadblock on the base paths.
But since the start of June, Cabrera is at least finding a way to get on base. He’s batting .297 over that span with five doubles and three home runs. The strikeout rate is high and the walk rate is low, but it’s a start.
The more productive player at this spot is Eric Haase, who owns an .809 OPS thanks to 13 home runs. Haase strikes out way too often, but he’s hit for so much power that he still owns a 1.1 WAR. His defense has been solid both behind the plate and in left field, but Hinch wants him in the lineup for his bat.
Candelario certainly isn’t validating his .872 OPS from a year ago, when he slugged over .500 and reached base at a .369 clip. But he’s actually having a solid season, with a .347 on-base percentage and 21 doubles in 84 games. He hit his sixth home run of the season Sunday and sits at 1.6 WAR.
Candelario is an underrated defender at third base, and it feels like his offensive numbers could spike in the second half. At this rate, he’s likely to end up around 3.0 WAR at his current pace. The Tigers aren’t going to have star potential at every position. Don’t underestimate the value of this type of player.
So far, the Paredes story has been more about potential than production, but he’s starting to do some of the things that made him a top five prospect in the organization.
Paredes has only struck out five times while drawing six walks in 44 plate appearances this season. He’s not being rewarded much for putting the ball in play, but if he continues to show elite plate discipline, the numbers will follow.
On defense, Hinch has been outspoken about how much he likes Paredes at second base. He’s only played four games there so far this season, so we’ll have to wait and see if Hinch’s vision becomes reality.
The Tigers were absolutely desperate for someone to play even adequate defense at shortstop. Well, Short has done more than that.
Before making Short an everyday starter, the Tigers were one of the worst teams in the league at turning double plays. Especially with a piecemeal starting rotation, Short’s ability to make sure the Tigers don’t give away outs has been invaluable.
On offense, Short has had his struggles, which isn’t surprising. But by drawing 15 walks in 79 plate appearances, he owns a .342 OBP in the bottom third of the order.
Nobody doubted that Rogers could be a plus defensive catcher with a strong throwing arm. But would he ever hit enough to stick as an everyday player?
That obviously still remains to be seen, but right now, Rogers is showing his offensive upside with five doubles, three triples and six home runs through 38 games. His .496 slugging percentage makes up for a .306 OBP. He’s been an above-average offensive player overall this season while managing a pitching staff fraught with injuries.
Haase is a valuable backup option, but for the most part, Hinch is penciling in Rogers on an everyday basis, and he’s making the most of the opportunity.
The Tigers waited way too long to bring up Hill, but now that he’s here, he’s doing exactly what everyone expected: catching everything in center field and tearing up the base paths.
Hill had a critical stolen base in extra innings Saturday night that pulled the Twins infielders in and allowed Schoop to muscle a game-tying single through the right side. Hill now has six stolen bases in just 11 games at the MLB level this season.
While the offensive numbers figure to slow down, Hill will always be a valuable member of an otherwise pedestrian defensive outfield.