| The Detroit News
Detroit — Tigers manager AJ Hinch, speaking on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM on Sunday, gave a little clue as to what general manager Al Avila might still be looking to add to the roster this offseason.
“If you give an analysis of our team last year, we were 30th against right-handed pitching,” he said. “We have to do a better job against right-handed pitching.”
The Tigers have been near or at the bottom of baseball against right-handed pitching the last two years. Their .673 OPS ranked last in 2019 and only the Texas Rangers in the American League had a lower batting average and OPS last year than the Tigers’ .227 and .652.
The Tigers’ OPS-plus of 77 was the lowest in baseball.
To illustrate the importance of hitting right-handed pitching significantly better than that — the Tigers had 1,676 plate appearance against righties in 2020, 400 against lefties.
The signing of switch-hitter Robbie Grossman should help. Grossman last season hit .260 against right-handers, with an .878 OPS, a .370 weighted on-base average and 140 runs created.
“One person helps it,” Hinch told hosts Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden. “But I don’t think one person fixes it. Robbie will help but there’s probably an opportunity to go add another hitter who hits right-handed pitching.”
Hinch suggested that could be either a catcher or an infielder, and it could come via trade or free agency. Coming up with potential trade scenarios is limitless and most times pointless, so for this exercise, let’s stick to the free agent market.
Let’s also assume the Tigers aren’t going to make any wildly expensive buys this off-season. Grossman’s two-year contract ($10 million) was the first multi-year deal they’ve given out since 2016.
“We are being opportunistic,” Hinch said when asked why the Tigers wouldn’t be more aggressive on the market. “It also stunts the growth of your kids. If you want to find out about your young players, you can’t add five, six, seven (free agent) names that make you feel good in January, but don’t necessarily advance your team any closer to long-term success.”
The Tigers in 2021 are going to find out if Willi Castro is a long-term answer at shortstop, if Jeimer Candelario is a legitimate middle-of-the-lineup hitter, if JaCoby Jones can stay healthy and be the dynamic athletic presence he’s shown flashes of, if Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron are ready, if Jake Rogers is ready.
So that doesn’t leave a lot of holes for a hitter who mashes right-handed pitching. Maybe a second baseman, maybe a first baseman, maybe a catcher.
At the risk of irritating Avila and infuriating analytics boss Jay Sartori — both of whom have a far deeper data base and a much more nuanced understanding of which players might fit — here is a short list of potential free agents who could beef up the Tigers lineup against right-handed pitching.
►First baseman Danny Santana: For the Rangers in 2019, the switch-hitting Santana slashed .286/.323/.535 with an .858 OPS, a .351 wOBA and 110 runs created against right-handers. His 2020 season was limited to 15 games. He’d hit just 17 home runs in his first four seasons in the big leagues with the Twins and Braves, but he broke out with 28 in 2019 (19 against righties). He also stole 21 bases.
►First baseman Mitch Moreland: Yes, he’s 35, but he fits the bill. Over his career, the left-handed swinging Moreland has slashed .256/.325/.469 against right-handed pitching and hit 154 of his 176 homers off them. In 2019, he slugged .549 and posted a .387 wOBA and a 145 OPS-plus against righties.
►First baseman/third baseman Renato Nunez: He is entering his age-27 season and coming off two seasons in Baltimore where he produced 43 home runs (29 off righties) and 121 RBIs. He’s a right-handed hitter, but against righties in 2020, he slugged .526, had a .363 wOBA with 129 runs created.
►Catcher Jason Castro: This might be a reach, since he’s going into his age-34 season and has been limited to 115 games the last three years. But, he played for Hinch in Houston and he has hit right-handed pitching well through his 10-year career (.242/.328/.421 with 77 of his 88 career home runs). In 2019, he had a .358 wOBA and 123 runs created against right-handers.
►Catcher Alex Avila: Besides his overall value (16 career WAR), his ability to lead a pitching staff and his obvious history with the Tigers, Avila, soon to be 34, has always hit right-handed pitching (.240/.357/.416, 94 of his 104 career home runs). In 2019, 80 games, he posted a .330 wOBA with 101 runs created against right-handers.
►Second baseman Jonathan Schoop: He was one of the Tigers’ best hitters against righties last year — .815 OPS, .338 on-base average, .350 wOBA, 121 runs created. In his career, he’s hit .261 and blasted 107 of his 141 home runs against right-handers.
►Utility player Marwin Gonzalez: Another player with ties to Hinch, the switch-hitter had 54 home runs and 213 RBIs between 2017 and 2019 — 39 home runs came off righties. He struggled late last season and he’s entering his age-32 season, but Baseball Reference projects a 16-home run, 61-RBI season with a .701 OPS for him in 2021.
►Outfielder Joc Pederson: Maybe this is ambitious (re: too expensive), but if you want to beef up your lineup against right-handed pitchers, here’s your guy. In 2019 he slugged .571 with a .920 OPS against righties. Since 2019, he’s posted a .377 wOBA and 137 runs created against them. For his career against right-handers, he’s slugged .501 with an .849 OPS and hit 121 of his 130 home runs.