2011 Detroit Tigers First Half Grades, Part 1

Ahh, the All-Star break. It’s that time of year when bloggers draw upon every bit of experience we’ve had in playing zero MLB ballgames to assign grades to the ballplayers on the teams we cover. I believe that it’s in our union contract to do so. If it were up to me, this post would be nothing but Kirk Gibson coming up with fifty different ways of calling Derek Jeter a wuss for not playing in the All-Star Game. But I don’t make the rules…sorry. What a shame. I had some good ones in mind, too.

I’m going to divide this into two parts. Tonight, I’ll cover the position players that have seen time in the D this year. Tomorrow evening, I’ll take a look at the pitching staff.

With the lazy intro out of the way, here’s the 2011 mid-season grade cards for your Detroit Tigers.

Miguel Cabrera, First Base
.311, 18, 59, .430/.549/.980, 175 OPS+, 3.5 WAR
Grade: A

The only thing I guess you could fault Big Mig for is his suspect defense, I guess. The guy is on yet another rampage over MLB pitching and without him, we are the Kansas City Royals. (Maybe not that bad…) Remember the preseason when all the “experts” were shitting all over him due to his DUI and saying his numbers would suffer this year? How he’d be a distraction? “Experts” are stupid. Mig is amazing. If Austin Jackson continues to improve, Brennan Boesch settles into the #2 spot and keeps going, and Magglio continues to be healthy and bash the baseball, Mig could absolutely explode at the plate in the second half and win the MVP award that many thought he deserved last year. Seriously, imagine what his numbers would look like if he ever came up with runners on base.

Victor Martinez, Designated Hitter & Catcher
.316, 6, 50, .362/.457/.820, 130 OPS+, 1.7 WAR
Grade: A

V-Mart’s been just as good as advertised. It’s amazing to think that before the season started, I only had a slight preference to Victor over Adam Dunn as the Tigers’ choice as DH for this year. While Dunn looks done (so witty), Martinez has been valuable in so many ways to this team. First and foremost, he’s been a hitting machine. He’s provided the protection in the lineup that Cabrera has sorely been lacking for a while. He’s been invaluable in the development of Alex Avila, both behind the plate and in the batter’s box. And he also introduced Detroit fans to Little Victor, the cutest kid anyone can remember since a young Mac Culkin first attempted to murder Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern on a movie screen years ago. A trip to the DL with a groin ouchie has been the only black mark on Victor’s resume this year, as he’s even caught 7 out of 25 base stealers! I didn’t expect him to catch 7 guys stealing for the duration of his entire contract. Add in his clubhouse leadership, and I personally consider him the Tigers’ MVP of the first half. Amazing job by Victor Martinez.

Jhonny Peralta, Shortstop
.312, 14, 50, .362/.529/.891, 148 OPS+, 2.9 WAR
Grade: A

Did anyone see this coming? Amazing what happens when you show up to work happy, in shape, and with something to prove. Jhonny’s best offensive numbers were supposed to be behind him. He was supposed to be a defensive liability. Instead, he’s been a consistent offensive threat and has only made 4 errors in the field, while showing surprising range. The best thing about Derek Jeter being a self-centered prick that doesn’t care about giving the fans what they want is that Peralta gets to be an All-Star, a spot that he deserved in the first place. So thank you, Derek Jeter. (shudders)

Alex Avila, Catcher
.286, 10, 46, .370/.506/.876, 145 OPS+, 3.2 WAR
Grade: A

I feel weird giving out four A’s in a row, but they all deserve it, especially Mr. AA himself. The kid’s starting the All-Star at catcher, for crissakes. After an awful start to the season in New York, Avila has exploded onto the scene as one of the game’s best young stars. At the beginning of the year, I still thought he was a year away from being ready to handle the starting job for the Tigers. I’m glad I was wrong. The former Captain Nepotism has turned into an emerging leader to this Tiger team and the use of a heavier bat at the suggestion of Victor Martinez and his constant picking of the brains of hitters V-Mart and Cabrera have unleashed an Avila that I didn’t’ think existed. Part of me is terrified that he’ll be this year’s version of what Brennan Boesch was last year, but for now, Alex Avila is AAwesome.

Austin Jackson, Center Field
.245, 4, 23, .318/.361/.679, 92 OPS+, 1.7 WAR
Grade: C+

Jackson’s a hard guy to grade. He was due for a sophomore slump after having such a high BABIP last year. Pitchers were going to adjust to him. He’s struck out 100 times already. That sucks. But there’s so much more to him. He’s walked 36 times already this year after notching only 47 last season. He’s 15 for 18 in steals so far, the only speed threat on the team. And most importantly, he is a gazelle in the spacious Comerica Park outfield covering more ground than any outfielder I can think of in baseball, especially when you consider that he’s got immobile guys like Boesch and Ordonez to his left and right most of the time. He’s young, he’s learning, and he’ll do nothing but get better. As Rod Allen is fond of saying, as Austin Jackson goes, so do the Tigers. If they plan on winning the AL Central and beyond this year, AJax is going to have to be the guy leading the charge from the leadoff spot.

Brennan Boesch, Left Field & Right Field
.306, 12, 44, .360/.490/.851, 138 OPS+, 2.1 WAR
Grade: A

Yeah, another A. The kid has flown under the radar, I think, this year with Cabrera, Martinez, Avila, and Peralta getting so much praise. But you can’t argue with those numbers. The million dollar question, of course, is can Boesch do this for an entire season? If he does, it definitely makes the success stories of departed Tigers Curtis Granderson and Matt Joyce easier to swallow. Boesch remains a defensive liability, but he’s been an important part of the Tigers’ first half success with Magglio Ordonez hurt for most of the year. Finally, he’s only 4 doubles and 2 homers away from last year’s totals in 165 less plate appearances. Impressive, sir.

Magglio Ordonez, Right Field
.217, 3, 14, .290/.301/.591, 67 OPS+, -1.5 WAR
Grade: D-

$10 million for this? The ankle wasn’t healed after all. That became evident during Spring Training. Still, Maggs tried to make a go at it and the team was desperate/dumb enough to go along with it. After May 10th’s game, he finally hit the DL with a .172 average, 1 homer, and 5 RBI. He had been reduced to a statue of a defender in right field. The fair-weather Tiger fans all called for his head and proclaimed him finished, once again. Since his June 13th return, he’s hit .284 with 2 homers and 9 RBI. Is he setting the world on fire? No, but it’s a good sign, despite him still not having much mobility in the field. This will be Magglio’s swan song in Detroit, so let’s hope he’ll finish with a bang, instead of a whimper. A player of his talent, accomplishments, and character deserves as much.

Ryan Raburn, Left Field & Second Base
.213, 8, 31, .248/.360/.609, 70 OPS+, 0.2 WAR
Grade: D

I almost gave him a “C”, just to piss everyone off. But what’s not to expect from Raburn’s first half? This is what he does. He’s little more than a waste of a roster spot until late July and then he explodes. Maybe it’s a mental thing. But the most popular Tigers meme to emerge this season is that Ryan Raburn is the worst major leaguer of all time and he was/is/always will be. It’s ridiculous. Yes, he can’t hit during the first half. Yes, his defense is as comfortable to watch at times as a car accident involving your children. But occasionally he makes a sparkling defensive play like he did to win the game against San Francisco a week or so ago. Out of nowhere, he’ll hit a grand slam, like he did against the White Sox. Then in the second half, his offensive game carries the team for weeks at a time. Ryan Raburn is a frustrating player to follow every day and I get why so many are fed up with him. But if history repeats itself for the third time, Ryan Raburn is ready to go off. And he’d better, with Zombie Carlos Guillen lurking in the shadows once again.

Brandon Inge, Third Base
.184, 1, 17, .250/.251/.501, 41 OPS+, -1.1 WAR
Grade: F

Speaking of the worst Tigers of all time, Brandon Inge is trying to put up the worst Tiger SEASON of all time, the way he’s going. The hero of so many of the CoPa faithful has had a dumpster fire of a season so far. Blame the knees, blame his advancing age, blame mono, blame Canada…whatever. But the dude’s been a disgrace out there. And as much of a critic as I’ve been of the “Special Little Guy” over the years, I’ve taken no pleasure in his misfortune this year. Deep down, I’ve always wanted Inge to succeed and watching him for over a decade has just made me grow more and more frustrated with how little he’s progressed as a ballplayer, despite the fawning attention of the Tiger fans. He looks like he’s done. And if he doesn’t produce, and produce IMMEDIATELY in the second half, I don’t care how big of a contract Dave Dombrowski was foolish enough to sign him to in the offseason, Brandon Inge’s time as a Tiger may be near its end.

Ramon Santiago, Infield
.225, 1, 8, .279/.295/.573, 61 OPS+, -0.1 WAR
Grade: D

For years, fans have been arguing that Ramon Santiago should be given an opportunity to start for the Tigers. And if there was ever a year where that opportunity was there for the taking, it’s this one with the first half struggles of Rhymes, Sizemore, Raburn and Inge. Sadly, Little Ramon has responded by being nearly, if not as bad as those guys at the dish. He remains a solid defensive player, but his offensive ineptitude has shown that he’s never going to be a worthwhile starter in the show.

Don Kelly, Infield, Outfield, Catcher, Pitcher
.245, 3, 11, .297/.354/.651, 83 OPS+, 0.3 WAR
Grade: C+

You read that right. I just gave the bane of my existence an above average grade. Make no mistake, Don Kelly is not a good baseball player. But you know what…and it kills me to say this…he’s not a bad one, either. The guy has shown an ability to do whatever Jim Leyland needs to be done this year, including pitching and catching when the team needs him to. Not many guys are capable, or would even be willing to attempt to do so. So, Your Fair and Balanced Party Host grudgingly tips his cap to Don Kelly for his contributions to the Tigers’ first half this year. As long as Leyland keeps him out of the top six of the lineup, we can continue to explore this relationship.

Casper Wells, Outfield
.259, 4, 12, .320/.455/.775, 116 OPS+, 1.0 WAR
Grade: C+

I may occasionally poke fun at Casper, but I think the kid’s done a fine job this year, especially when you consider that Leyland sometimes goes days at a time seemingly forgetting that he’s on the roster. Casper’s not really great at anything, but he’s shown that he has a good glove and some pop in his bat if/when Leyland calls his number. I think Wells is the #4 outfielder the Tigers have been searching for for quite a while, but sadly I think he’s going to be the guy sacrificed when Carlos Guillen rejoins the team, due to Leyland’s affection for left-handed bench bats. That leads me to the next guy.

Andy Dirks, Outfield
.254, 6, 17, .303/.447/.751, 109 OPS+, 0.0 WAR
Grade: C

Rogo, you may say, why do you rank Wells slightly higher when he and Dirks have the same number of plate appearances (123), the same number of total bases (51), and Dirks has more homers and RBI? Well, first off, don’t ask me questions…this is my blog, not yours. And second, I just like how Casper has responded to do a decent job despite sitting on the bench and being a late-inning defensive player for the whole year while Dirks spent more time playing every day in Toledo. Plus Casper has more doubles (10 vs 4) and I’m a doubles guy, or something. Bite me. But Dirks is better than the “Clete clone” that I initially thought he was. He’s another serviceable #4 outfielder that has responded well in his rookie season. But I don’t see him ever being a valuable MLB starter. Casper, however, might be.

Danny Worth, Infield
.300, 0, 3, .344/.367/.710, 101 OPS+, 0.0 WAR
Grade: B

He’s only had 32 plate appearances in 18 games this year, but Danny Worth has done a fine job in the little action he’s seen. Unlike Lynn Henning who seems to adore Worth, I don’t see him as anything more than a utility guy in the majors. He’s never hit for much in the minors, but has a pretty good glove. I imagine him as the Ramon Santiago of the future for the Tigers.

Will Rhymes, Second Base
.221, 0, 2, ..321/.235/.556, 60 OPS+, -0.3 WAR
Grade: D

In the first month of the season, “Tinkerbell” proved what myself, most realists, and anyone but Jim Leyland and those that had seen “Rudy” too many times already knew: Will Rhymes is not an effective MLB starting second baseman. His Scrappiness may try hard and get his uniform dirty every day, but he still can’t get the ball out of the infield. In 81 plate appearances, he had exactly one extra base hit, a double. Rhymes might have a future as a backup that you count on for defense and the occasional single, but not much more. Nice guy, though.

Omir Santos, Catcher
.200, 0, 0, .200/.200/.400, 14 OPS+, -0.1 WAR
Grade: Incomplete

He got five at bats. Poor Omir was called up to sit around and get into a game only if Avila or Martinez hurt themselves, basically. I felt bad for the kid. But hey, he got into the show for a while. Not very many guys get to say that.

Scott Sizemore, Second Base
.222, 0, 4, .329/.238/.567, 64 OPS+, 0.5 WAR
Grade: F

He didn’t get the job done. And he was sent out of here. Now many, like myself, can argue that after all his build up, he wasn’t given enough time. I mean 74 plate appearances isn’t much. But facts are facts, he didn’t do dick when his number was called as a Tiger. Since then with Oakland?

.287, 4, 14, .350/.468/.818, 126 OPS+, 0.7 WAR

Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Then again, he’s only had 106 plate appearances in Oakland, too. Time will tell which guy is the real Scott Sizemore.

Tomorrow, the pitchers. For now, I go back to hoping that someone tosses a live grenade into Joe Buck and Tim McCarver’s announce booth.