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January 18, 2012

The BP First Take

Wednesday, January 18

by Daniel Rathman

Hope springs eternal as spring training approaches—and then something like this happens. The Tigers found out on Tuesday that Victor Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee, and the 33-year-old is likely to require surgery, which would leave him sidelined for all of the 2012 season.

Detroit was viewed as a favorite to repeat atop the American League Central this year, and at first glance, Martinez’s absence seems a crushing blow. Losing the number-five hitter hurts any lineup, particularly when that hitter posted a robust .330/.380/.470 triple slash the previous season. But a closer look reveals that Martinez’s production may not be irreplaceable.

Despite his gaudy batting line, Martinez’s overall contributions in 2011 totaled just 3.1 WARP, because he offers no value on defense. One of V-Mart’s significant credentials, though, is that he is a switch-hitter, able to handle lefties and righties about equally well.  That component of his production figures to be the most difficult for general manager Dave Dombrowski to account for.

There are plenty of DH options still available on the free-agent market, and virtually all of them can fit within Dombrowski’s budget.  They range from declining veterans like Vladimir Guerrero and ex-Tiger Johnny Damon, to flawed players just looking for a fit, such as Carlos Pena and Jonny Gomes. Outfielder Seth Smith would have been a useful addition, and though he was traded to the Athletics yesterday, rebuilding GM Billy Beane might be willing to flip him for a net gain.

The problem with the majority of those options is they only amount to half of one V-Mart. Pena and Smith mash right-handed pitching; Gomes is dynamite against southpaws; but none of them do both as well as Martinez does. Fortunately, the Tigers already have the other half on their roster: either Ryan Raburn (.270/.340/.507 career line versus lefties) or Delmon Young (.307/.343/.479) would make an effective platoon partner. Hence, Dombrowski should add a left-handed slugger—Pena, Smith, and Hideki Matsui could fit the bill—in the coming weeks.

 Martinez’s absence certainly is not ideal, but that’s mostly because it will require the Tigers to commit two spots to the least-important position on the roster. The average American League DH batted .265/.340/.429 last season, and any of the aforementioned timeshare options should produce above that level for Detroit in 2012. This is not “disastrous news” for the Tigers, as Jon Paul Morosi suggested. It’s a bump in the road—but not one that should prevent Detroit from winning its second consecutive division title.  

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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bthomas3333

I would disagree. Victor last year hit almost .400 over 220+ at bats with runners in scoring position. This was the HEART of Detroits success from an offensive standpoint. Not that he would be able to repeat that number in 2012 but finding someone else who could do that is impossible. The impact on Mig Caberera will be felt as well because of Vmart rediculous Bat with RISP.

Brett

Jan 18, 2012 07:28 AM
rating: -3
 
dianagram

Clutchness is not a repeatable skill, even for VMart:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/split_stats.cgi?full=1¶ms=bases%7CRISP%7Cmartivi01%7Cbat%7CAB%7C#RISP1::none

But yes, there will be a huge hole in a critical part of the lineup.

Jan 18, 2012 08:31 AM
rating: 1
 
CongoHammer

I wonder how this will impact Miggy's fantasy value...without VMart, his surrounding lineup looks considerably weaker.

Jan 18, 2012 07:47 AM
rating: 0
 
Dodger300

"Victor last year hit almost .400 over 220+ at bats with runners in scoring position. This was the HEART of Detroits success from an offensive standpoint."

Gotta Love Clutchiness!

Jan 18, 2012 08:02 AM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

Read what was said, not what was not said. Batting .400 with RISP certainly can be argued to be "the HEART of Detroits success from an offensive standpoint." (I personally would prefer "a" heart to "the" heart, but that's a quibble.) The statement should not be controversial. Teams score more runs -- a lot more runs -- when somebody performs like that than if the same hitter bats .200 with the same RISP, all else equal; that is obvious. It does not imply, however, that Martinez would have been as successful with RISP going forward.

The understandable allergy of statistically-oriented observers toward "clutchiness" as a skill often obscures the fact that players do have clutch performances, sometimes over a considerable period of time. It just isn't something they can be counted on to do again.

Jan 18, 2012 09:27 AM
rating: 6
 
timber

Actually, and surprisingly, Carlos Pena is worth well more than one-half of VMart, at least by WAR. Gut instinct, I agree, would tell you that he's not, but look at the numbers before assuming otherwise. The difference last year was very small - 2.9 for Martinez, 2.6 for Pena.

Jan 18, 2012 08:31 AM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

That's true. However, some of that value was tied to Pena's defense, which he wouldn't contribute in Detroit unless he bumped Miguel Cabrera to DH and took over for him at first base. Pena is also coming off a year during which he hit .133/.260/.333 against lefties, and while that might be below what he's actually capable of, I'm not sure he's someone you'd want in your lineup at 1B or DH when a southpaw's pitching.

Jan 18, 2012 08:47 AM
 
ObviouslyRob

Is DH'ing Cabrera a little more frequently such an outlandish idea, though? When you have a glove as superlative as Pena's, I don't think it is.

Jan 18, 2012 09:18 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

I think that would be a viable option, assuming Cabrera isn't hellbent on playing first base. In that case, Pena would replace more of Martinez's value, though starting him at first against lefties is still seemingly unproductive.

Jan 18, 2012 12:08 PM
 
Matt

It sounds like there are enough RH hitters on the roster that you don't need to play him against lefties.

Jan 18, 2012 12:12 PM
rating: 0
 
buddons42

Agreed. My hypothetical solution to this would be sign Pena, play him at 1st against RHP, DH Cabrera. Against LHP put Cabrera back at 1st, move Delmon Young to DH and play Ryan Raburn in LF. It's a net gain on defense, albeit not at the same position every day, and it doesn't take up any additional roster spots that weren't already booked for DH. With the gains in defense and the lefty/right splits of Raburn/Pena complimenting each other nicely it could work out to be a wash or even a small net gain on what Martinez would have produced in the DH spot.

Jan 18, 2012 12:43 PM
rating: 3
 
Matt

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Jan 18, 2012 12:11 PM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

The only problem with this plan is that the current plan is to platoon Rayburn at 2B with Ramon Santiago and for Delmon Young to be the everyday left fielder, With 3B being manned by a platoon of Brandon Inge and Don Kelly.

(pause for audience laughter)

Say what you will about the wisdom of Rayburn at 2B (and I've said plenty) Rayburn and Young can't be mediocre fill in's for VMart when they're already being counted on to be mediocre contributors elsewhere. So in addition to the step down from Vmart to Rayburn or Young, you also have a step down from them to their replacements. Combine this with the fact that Miggy's WAR takes a hit now that there's no good reason to pitch to him. Plus Young's tendency to swing at bad pitches means there's no reason to pitch to him unless Miggy's hitting behind him.

The real problem isn't the injury, the real problem is their lack of interest in improving the weaknesses in their lineup made the loss of one of the true solid hitters that much harder to overcome. Now they have to spend even more money (or prospects) for even less talent just to get back some fraction of what they've lost.

In spite of this, there's really no change, they won the East by 15 games last year, now have a full season Doug Fister and Delmon Young, and no other team in the AL Central did anything to improve. Vmart's loss alone doesn't cost them 15 games. Sure this takes any hope of advancing in the playoffs out back and shoots it in the head, but that dog already wouldn't hunt thanks to offseason complacency

Jan 18, 2012 13:29 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

A great point -- and one reason why potentially needing two players to supplant V-Mart is the most challenging part of the situation for Dombrowski.

Jan 18, 2012 13:43 PM
 
jmoore

I'm only half-joking here, a joke that isn't really all that funny if one's a fan of the Tigers, but for an organization that's made a habit of carrying the Mudhen Of The Week on its roster over Leyland's tenure I'll believe they can't find the additional roster spot for a useful platoon player when I see it.

Jan 18, 2012 18:22 PM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

jmoore, The problem isn't that they can't find the spot for the additional useful platoon player, it's that (a) they won't be able to find the useful platoon player it's that (b) you don't replace Vmart with a useful platoon player, you replace him with an everday player.

Had the Tigers at the beginning of the free agency period signed Aramis Ramirez, they would have a huge jump in production over what they were settling for with the team mascot at third, and when the unthinkable happens, you put him behind Miggy and the penalty for walking Cabrera is restored. If they had put Jose Reyes at second (or put him at short and put Peralta at second) you have a real leadoff hitter, a huge upgrade over the stiffs at second, and if the unthinkable happens, there's still a penalty for walking Miggy but this time it's in the form of additional men on base instead of another dangerous hitter behind him. Different but equally effective.

Now, all the good options are gone, so they have to settle for a less attractive option that won't work as well, and it'll be just as costly because their desperation removes their negotiation leverage. They'll shrug their shoulders and say "we tried" but we couldn't predict the injury, and the syncophantic Detroit sports media will cover for them, but injuries are a fact of life and shame on the team for putting themselves in a situation where the team doesn't havve the talent to overcome one bad injury.

Jan 19, 2012 06:56 AM
rating: 0
 
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