09 February 2012
James Schmehl has an article up on Mlive in which Delmon Young is quoted as saying he “wouldn’t prefer” being named the season’s full time DH. My first reaction to the piece was to write a personal letter to Mr. Young telling him, in no uncertain terms, that no one particularly cares how he feels about the situation. But his points about DH-ing being mentally tough to adjust to are probably fair (or, at least, mildly understandable). Young says:
“[Adam Dunn] wasn’t used to it last year and struggled because all your concentration is on hitting -- it makes it really tough… When you go out on the field, you stay in a better rhythm.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a player speak of the difficulties designated hitters face, and it’s been shown numerous times that hitters typically hit a bit worse as a DH than when they’re in the field (not Dunn worse, but still noticeably so). I’ve been harping on using Young as the DH, but I know I don’t give the mental aspect of the game enough thought. Dave Dombrowski was quoted later in the same article talking about the team’s plan to use the DH spot:
“When we talk about who is going to be the designated hitter, it’s whoever Jim Leyland deems the DH for that particular day… It could be Delmon, it could be Brennan Boesch. It could be Miguel (Cabrera) and it could be Prince (Fielder).”
"The list goes on, Dombrowski said. Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Raburn will all be considered DH candidates, too."
The idea of using the DH spot to give guys a “day off” isn’t a bad one, but I think it should be the exception, and not the rule. The Tigers will have more than their fair share of terrible fielders, and the DH spot could (and should) be used to hide them as much as possible. The DH rotation should look much more like a three man rotation, and not a seven or eight man platoon. Roughly speaking, 50 games apiece for Young, Cabrera, and Fielder probably wouldn’t be unfair to anyone.
But the DH platoon could also be used to maximize the effectiveness of the team’s bench players. It would make a ton of sense to DH either Fielder or Cabrera (nearly) every time a left handed pitcher is on the mound to allow Brandon Inge to slide in at third base. Inge is no longer Gold Glove caliber in the field, but he’s no worse than average at the position (and certainly better than Miguel). Brandon has been a lefty killer at the plate in his career, with an OPS of .800 versus southpaws. Even in the disaster that was his 2011 season, The Notorious One still managed a non-terrible OPS of .717 (with an OBP of .339!). That’s still a useful glove-bat combination when inserted in the right spots.
Versus right handed pitchers, it still makes the most sense to DH Delmon Young on most days. That would open up the opportunity for Andy Dirks and Ryan Raburn, both vastly better fielders than Young, to get some time in the outfield. Statistically speaking, it’s probably sub-optimal to DH anyone else against righties, but (at the risk of over emphasizing the mental aspect) I’m not opposed to a scattering of these games so long as it’s keeping everyone on the team “mentally sharp”.
I just want to see Leyland be smart about the whole thing. There are some pretty obvious no-no’s that should be avoided. Don’t use Raburn or Boesch as the DH with Young in the outfield more than just a couple of times in the season. Don’t DH for Prince or Miguel to put Brandon Inge in the game against right handed pitching with any regularity. And don’t hesitate to force Delmon into DH role (he’s nothing close to a superstar, so don’t treat him like one).
And when it comes down to it, the Tigers shouldn’t have much of a problem winning the division, so the nitty gritty of the every day lineup construction won’t matter much in that respect. But come playoff time, we’ll need to always use the optimal lineups (which will likely mean lots and lots of DH-ing for Delmon).
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.