27 April 2012
The Tigers announced yesterday that Brandon Inge has been given an unconditional release, and that Brad Eldred’s contract had been purchased from the minor leagues. I think this move was more about Eldred’s power and the need for runs than it was about simply letting Inge go due to his underperformance, but someone had to get the boot. Inge hadn’t produced with the bat in quite some time, and his case for a roster spot certainly wasn’t helped by Miguel Cabrera’s better-than-anyone-could-have-dared-to-dream transition to third base.
I’m sad to see Inge go because he did have a valuable career here in Detroit for many years (about 2.0 WAR/600 PA which is about what you’d expect from an average starter), but I don’t think anyone can argue that it was probably time for everyone to move on.
So the Tigers will look to Brad Eldred, the slugging 32 year old first baseman/designated hitter, to try to provide the offense with a boost. But what should we expect to see from the man who dinged 13 home runs in 20 games this year in Toledo?
The biggest issue I see in Eldred’s game is his walk rate.
At a glance it’s concerning to see his 26.8% strikeout rate. That number is indeed alarming and will likely not translate well against major league pitching, but it’s not uncommon for a player with massive power to strike out a lot. The poster child for big power and big strikeout numbers is probably Adam Dunn (even while he was still good), who has struck out in 27.7% of his MLB plate appearances. Dunn has been a great power hitter for many years but, even though he can swing and miss with the best of them, he has a discerning eye that allows him a ton of walks. Dunn routinely posts on-base percentages that are more than 100 points better than his batting average (his career OBP is .130 higher than his career batting average) – he’s done this using a 16.2% career walk rate.
Eldred’s walk rate isn’t on the same planet. For his minor league career, he’s walked in only 7.3% of his plate appearances. That number isn’t terrible on its own – it’s only about 1% less than MLB average and it’s still allowed him a pretty good .336 minor league OBP – but it’s an indicator that he could see huge struggles against major league pitching. Because that strikeout rate coupled with that walk rate doesn’t mean he’s striking out because he simply taking big cuts (like perhaps Dunn’s does), it suggests he’s also striking out because he’s swinging at mostly anything.
This becomes a huge issue when taking the big jump from AAA to the major leagues. If the guy can’t discern balls and strikes from minor leaguers, how is he going to do it against the best pitchers in the world? And how is he going to keep slugging if he can’t make contact?
That’s been the problem for Eldred in his three brief stints in the major leagues. The walk rate had dropped to 5.7%, the strikeout rate jumped to 36.5%, and his OPS fell from his minor league average of .883 to just .678.
His slugging numbers still look fine when you factor in the elevated whiff rate. He has 15 MLB home runs to his name in his 282 plate appearances, so the ball is still jumping off his bat when he makes contact. So there’s no doubt that he has big league power, but the question remains as to whether he has a big league eye.
So perhaps the Tigers will snatch a home run or two out of his bat before he inevitably gets designated for assignment, but I wouldn’t go around expecting a 32 year-old career minor leaguer to suddenly discover plate discipline.
I’m excited to see what Eldred can do for the team with his power potential, but I can’t help feeling that perhaps Ryan Strieby (more walks, fewer strikeouts, but less power) would be a better choice for the team.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.