GENE GUIDI: Lack of speed stalls Tigers
BY GENE GUIDI, FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
August 12, 2005
Entering spring training, the Tigers thought they had the best lineup in the American League Central.
They feel even stronger about the team they can field with the additions of Placido Polanco and Chris Shelton.
But the team that looks so good on paper doesn't look the same once it leaves the dugout, does it?
Something that makes the bad times outnumber the good on a team that should be better than its 53-61 record.
I asked a member of the Tigers family for his perception of why that is. He thinks the Tigers are basically a team of designated hitters without the speed that teams like the White Sox and Indians have.
When you're at Comerica Park, he said, look at the outfield expanse and ask yourself: Shouldn't the Tigers put a premium on fast players who can cover a lot of ground?
In the ongoing baseball debate over whether speed and defense should be sacrificed for power potential, the Tigers usually seem to vote for offense.
When centerfielder Nook Logan isn't in the lineup, too many fly balls that stay up a long time and should be caught aren't. That can turn a scoreless inning into four runs in a hurry. Over the course of a season, it can also wear down a pitching staff.
The Tigers' lack of speed on defense probably goes a long way toward explaining why they have a losing record in their spacious park.
Veteran Rondell White played leftfield for most of the season until his ailing right shoulder relegated him to a DH role. Dmitri Young, a DH much of the time, filled in while White was unavailable to play in the field.
Craig Monroe, better suited to a corner position, was in center when Logan slumped because the lineup wasn't producing and manager Alan Trammell wanted to get Monroe's team-leading RBI bat in the lineup.
Magglio Ordonez, returning from a variety of injuries, has been a fixture in rightfield since his return.
Our guest analyst said he believes the Tigers would be a stronger team if Ordonez, a true run producer, was the DH and rightfield was patrolled by a better defender.
But with a number of other players also better suited to the DH role, that's not going to happen on a regular basis -- at least not for the rest of this season, and quite possibly not next season, either. Barring injury, Young's big-dollar option for 2006 will kick in before this season ends, and he's the most likely DH in next season's lineup.
Lack of speed also hurts the Tigers on offense. Teams like the Indians and White Sox can manufacture runs without relying on extra-base hits. When Logan isn't in the lineup, the Tigers have difficulty doing that.
If the Tigers decide that neither Logan nor Curtis Granderson, currently at Triple-A Toledo, is the full-time answer in center next season, they must try to find someone who can make plays. Even if it's a centerfielder who hits .240 -- as long as he has the quickness to run down balls that otherwise fall safely and open the floodgates to big innings.
With Logan in the lineup at the beginning of this trip, his speed and defense in center were as much responsible as anything else for the Tigers' only victory in the four-game series against the Blue Jays.
The Tigers seem closer to a rotisserie team than a team capable of winning games in a variety of ways. The front office has the off-season to correct that. If it doesn't, you'll be scratching your head again a year from now, wondering why this team can't play .500 ball.
Contact GENE GUIDI at 313-222-2378 or firstname.lastname@example.org