Monday, June 17, 2013
Tigers' Hunter, A-Jax are buy-low options
By Eric Karabell
Before Sunday, the last time once-productive Detroit Tigers outfielders Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter each had multiple hits in the same game was back on May 4. Perhaps that's a bit misleading and unfair, since Jackson came off his month-long disabled list stint for a hamstring injury on Friday night. But still, these guys were one of the top outfield tandems for fantasy purposes in April and then one of them got hurt and the other slumped miserably.
Both Jackson and Hunter remain owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and for good reason. Jackson homered, singled, knocked in a pair of runs, scored two runs and stole his sixth base of the season in Sunday's 5-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. Hunter smacked his 300th career home run, doubled and finished with three RBIs. However, he entered play Sunday with a .196 batting average in June, a staggering drop from the .370 mark he posted in April and .255 in May. And it's not like he's contributing much in power and stolen bases, with only one in the latter category.
Still, while Jackson is clearly the better fantasy option and capable of top-20 outfield status -- he was the No. 20 outfielder in ESPN live drafts -- Hunter is someone fantasy owners should remain patient with, especially now that Jackson is back. While it's easy to overrate lineup protection as playing a significant role in performance, the fact is that Hunter, the team's No. 2 hitter, was batting .333 for the season at the time Jackson got hurt. However, the injury forced the Tigers to replace Jackson in the leadoff spot with outfielder Andy Dirks (against right-handed pitching) and second baseman Omar Infante (against lefties). Infante hit, but Dirks didn't do much. Either way, Hunter struggled.
[+]Enlarge Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports After a hot start, Torii Hunter has fallen to 50th among outfielders on the ESPN Player Rater.
On the other hand, Jackson gets on base and is capable of running, and we know the fellows that follow Hunter in the order are pretty decent -- OK, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are offensive monsters. All of this does affect the pitches Hunter sees. It's hard to blame all of Hunter's struggles on Jackson's absence, but it's fair to give him the rest of June to see if he can get his batting average back above .300 and perhaps show more power. After all, Hunter hit 16 home runs last season. He smacked 23 homers each of the two seasons before that. He's currently on pace for seven. Hunter might score 100 runs (he's on pace for 85) and hit .300, but to be universally owned and worth it, there is an expectation of mid-teens home runs and the occasional stolen base, and he's certainly capable of doing that.
As for Jackson, he didn't do much in April, but it's safe to expect greater production from this point on. It's not that Jackson was disappointing many while hitting .286 the opening month with two home runs and five stolen bases, but he's capable of more. Last season, Jackson hit .300 with 16 home runs and 12 steals. He was on pace to shatter that steals mark before his injury, but the other numbers leave something to be desired. Notably, in two of Jackson's three full seasons in the majors, he hit for a high batting average. Though those seasons were aided by a generous BABIP, Jackson's baseline in BABIP is not like most hitters; the league norm tends to be near .300, but Jackson's speed and approach has helped him to a career mark of .367. This season, it's currently at .333. That's one reason to expect better numbers moving ahead, and his stolen base Sunday was a great sign, especially with him coming off a hamstring problem.
While Cabrera and Fielder keep rollin' along, the No. 3 Tigers hitter on the Player Rater is actually shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who is still cruising along with a .329 batting average. Peralta's name is included among the 20 in connection with the Miami Biogenesis case -- it's not just Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez -- and Peralta is actually the one hitting .364 in June. As I have written with Braun, I remain skeptical that suspensions are pending for this season. Regardless, it's hard to believe Peralta can continue to hit like this for much longer. After all, he hit .239 in 2012. Peralta is not fast, which is why his current .411 BABIP is unsustainable. His fantasy owners should try to trade him before the batting average drop becomes painful. Peralta might hit better than his career .268 mark in 2013, but .329 is asking for a lot. His pace for 15 home runs and 70 RBIs is legit, but the batting average is not realistic. Prepare accordingly.