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Tigers offense: Assessing Dirks, Avila ...

5/17/2012

The disappointing, sub-.500 Detroit Tigers are 11th in baseball in runs scored, but that's mostly because of three players: Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have combined to hit .311 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs.

Jackson is 14th in baseball in OPS. (Hopefully the abdominal strain that forced him from Wednesday's game isn't serious; Don Kelly would not be a suitable replacement for the Tigers or fantasy owners.) Cabrera's OPS is down 82 points from his career mark, but he's still getting it done by being on pace for 35 home runs and 144 RBIs. He also has been better than advertised -- think competent, not Gold Glove-caliber -- at third base. The case can be made he's fantasy's top player right now, but I ranked him second behind Ryan Braun in our recent Top 250 update. Fielder's numbers are more significantly down, but I'd call him a target for fantasy owners, not someone to dump. He was ESPN Fantasy's 23rd-ranked player in the aforementioned Top 250.

After that, it's a mess and, in general, a mess that fantasy owners want to avoid. I liked Alex Avila on draft day as a top-10 catcher, but he's starting to be dropped in ESPN standard leagues, and for good reason. A few other catchers have passed him (Jesus Montero and Carlos Ruiz, but not yet on Jonathan Lucroy). Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has been terrible. Outfielder Brennan Boesch quickly lost his coveted No. 2 lineup spot, which overrated him in the first place. Delmon Young has embarrassed himself off the field and has a .619 OPS on it. Second baseman Ryan Raburn is unplayable.

Then there's outfielder Andy Dirks, fantasy's most added player in the past week, which really isn't any more telling than fantasy owners always seek the hot hitter. Dirks is hitting .429 in May (with a .432 BABIP), but there's little power or speed upside. Dirks was the organization's No. 11 prospect in 2011, according to Baseball America, someone they said if "all works out, could be a David Dellucci type," which means fourth outfielder/platoon guy. The lefty-hitting Dirks doesn't hit left-handers well and profiles more as a contact, gap hitter than a 20-homer guy.

Hey, there's nothing wrong with signing the .400 hitter in May (Raul Ibanez and Carlos Zambrano are the next two most added options, just to provide context and degree of desperation), but Dirks will be back on the most dropped list at some point, so I hope you didn't part with Brett Gardner or Yoenis Cespedes to acquire him. Manager Jim Leyland has no choice but to play Dirks, but fantasy owners will in a few weeks. I don't see him hitting .300 this season, but he could squeak into double digits in home runs and stolen bases with 400 at-bats. Don't overrate him because he's batting second ahead of Cabrera/Fielder; the impatient Boesch has hit .218 in 26 games as the No. 2 hitter.

Boesch and Young just aren't worth owning in standard, 10-team leagues, although I did give Young the No. 239 spot in my mid-May rankings. In retrospect, I should have left him out. I see a lost season coming and a new franchise (his fourth by age 28) for him in 2013, and the fact that Tigers designated hitters are "hitting" .199 as a group with a .523 OPS with nary a home run and nine RBIs is pitiful, and makes it more obvious that Cabrera or Fielder should be filling the role instead of Young. It's a shame third-base prospect Nick Castellanos is at least a year away; he's hitting .405 at High-A Lakeland. This is a team that should be active for late-July trades/upgrades.

I also should have been less kind to Peralta, who has one home run and 10 runs scored so far. The shortstop pool is so weak, however, that I'm willing to wait a bit longer. I ranked him No. 169. Even if Peralta goes back to 2009-10 form with, say, 13 home runs, 70 RBIs (that seems unlikely today) and a .250 batting average (more likely), there's a place for that in many leagues at middle infield.

Then there's Avila. One of the top surprises behind the plate in 2011, Avila has started slowly in 2012, but there are reasons for optimism. For one, I doubt he'll hit .136 with a .311 OPS in road games for much longer. At home, Avila has been terrific, with a 1.042 OPS. Neither high nor low is sustainable, though Avila was 105 OPS points better at Comerica Park last season. The lefty-hitting Avila also doesn't hit left-handers particularly well, but he held his own in 2011. He should, however, improve his current .768 OPS against right-handers.

I expected Avila to taper off from last year, as a .366 OPS for a slow-running catcher seems unlikely to repeat, and I worried about overuse with Victor Martinez no longer an option. Avila has actually been rested at a greater rate this season than last, having started 26 of 36 games. He remains in my top 10 at catcher for now, and I think he'll hit .270 with 16 home runs in 2012. That's not 2011, but it still has value.