Detroit's remarkable top-heavy lineup
The Tigers' imbalance is worrisome, but is it enough to keep them out of the playoffs?
When one looks at the 2011 Detroit Tigers, one sees a team of stark extremes. Detroit possesses four of the top 25 position players in the AL by wins above replacement (WAR) in Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch. They also have the third-best pitcher in the league by WAR, Justin Verlander. Yet the Tigers are only a few games above .500 and in second place in a weak AL Central.
Looking at Detroit's starting lineup, it's striking to see the gulf between the players that are contributing and the players that aren't. With the players mentioned above and Victor Martinez's bat, the Tigers offense should rank higher than fifth in the AL in runs scored. But that is where it stands, thanks to Magglio Ordonez, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Brandon Inge, all of whom have an OPS below .600.
Just how impressive is the size of the gulf in the lineup between the performers and the non-performers on a historical level? To examine this, I looked at every team going back to 1901 and took the eight most frequent starters for every team (nine for DH-era American Leaguers). I went with a simple measure of disparity and compared every lineup's top-four and bottom-four hitters to see which lineups in history were the most polarized. To keep things simple, I used OPS.
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