Tigers patiently waiting for Jeimer Candelario’s power to turn back on

Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — What to make of Jeimer Candelario’s offensive production to this point this season?

You could argue he’s been one of the Tigers’ most consistent offensive players. He went into play Monday hitting .265, with a .347 on-base percentage and a 101 OPS-plus. His .716 OPS is third best on the team.

You could also argue that he’s been one of the least productive.

He plays third base and hits either at the top or in the middle of manager AJ Hinch’s lineup. Candelario has fewer home runs (four) and RBIs (23) than Willi Castro. He hasn’t hit a home run since May 18, 152 plate appearances. In that same span, he’s knocked in just eight runs and posted a .313 slugging percentage.

“You know how it is, you just have to come and work really hard to get your rhythm,” Candelario said. “Mentally you’ve got to get your mind right. Just keep working hard and good things are going to happen.”

For subscribers: Wojo: Tigers picking up speed and steam, punch out another nemesis

His home run drought and his overall reduced production are two separate issues. Candelario has never has been a bona fide home run hitter. He hit 19 home runs in 619 plate appearances in 2018. In 2019 and 2020 combined, he hit 15 in 592 plate appearances.

Where did the expectation of 25-30 home runs a year come from?

“You know what, I’m not a home run hitter,” Candelario said. “I know I can hit the ball out of the ballpark. But for me, when I’m doing good, I’m thinking line drive and the home runs just come.”

That’s what’s concerning. By and large, the line drives haven’t been coming. According to Statcast, his barrel percentage (balls hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or better) is down from 10.3% in 2020 to 7% now. His overall exit velocity is down from 90 mph to 88 mph and his hard-hit rate is down from 47% to 36.5%.

“He’s been able to get on base and he’s been able to contribute on offense,” Hinch said. “His power has not been there for him, but you can’t just tell a guy, ‘Hey, go hit for more power.’ His swing is not necessarily built for power. But he can impact a baseball when he hits it.

“I’d like him just to be the best version of himself, that’s the key, however much power that is.”

Traditionally, third base and first base profile as power spots when clubs build their roster. Traditionally, middle of the batting order spots go to guys who hit with power and drive in runs. You should know by now that Hinch isn’t beholden to any antiquated notions of roster and lineup construction.

“I don’t like profiling players,” he said. “You can get power from any position. You can get speed from any position. I don’t think you have to play the game in a cookie-cutter way. Power to me is a product of the player’s strength and if that guy happens to play third base or shortstop or first or center field, I don’t really care.

“I know traditionally teams have tried to build their teams like that, but why do you have to build a team traditionally? Why do you have to do everything everybody else does? I don’t think every third baseman on successful teams has been the leading power guy on the team. That’s just a stereotype that’s not necessary in this day and age.”

That said, the Tigers are trusting Candelario will get back to driving the ball with more authority and get his OPS back up into the mid-to-high .800s.

“Pitch selection is so huge for him,” Hinch said. “And him maintaining bat speed on every pitch is very important. He tends to slow down his bat speed when the ball is slower. He can make contact on a lot of pitches by being creative with his swing, but that’s not always his most powerful swing.

“There are things he can do to increase his strength of contact. We just have to let it all play out and let him figure his way through it.”

Where’s the velo?

When Matt Manning was dominating Double-A hitters in 2019, his four-seam fastball was popping the glove anywhere from 95 to 98 mph. In his four big-league starts this season, after he missed virtually all of 2020 with a forearm injury and COVID-19, his average fastball velocity is 93 mph.

In his abbreviated start against the White Sox on Sunday, the fastball ranged in velocity from 90 to 96. He threw one fastball at 96. What gives?

“The more we look at these numbers the more we obsess over them,” Hinch said.

Velocity isn’t the end-all and be-all for a pitcher. Hinch has made that point repeatedly. Manning’s average fastball in his debut in Anaheim was 93 mph, but he was commanding it well and beating Angels hitters with it.

On the whole, though, opponents are hitting .354 and slugging .563 against Manning’s four-seamer.

“I think he’s a young kid who is trying to learn how to throw his best and how to execute his best,” Hinch said. “Sometimes that doesn’t mean full-throttle, empty-the-tank, throw it as hard as you can. Where’s he going to settle in, I’m not sure.

“It’s going to be how we develop him into being comfortable exerting at whatever percentage that he needs to execute the pitch he’s asked to throw.”

Hinch said Manning, like a lot of young pitchers feeling their way, can try to get too fine and try to place the ball in the strike zone instead of throwing it with full force, which will reduce velocity. It’s something he’s seen from rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal this season, as well.

“I watched Casey go from 91 mph to 96 mph and Tarik go anywhere from 92 to 98.9,” he said. “It’s pretty natural. As the attention shifts to what the velocity really means, it tends to overdramatize the range guys are going to pitch at. Most major league pitchers are going to have a wide range in fastball velocity, more than we often recognize.

“This is no different.”

Maybe not. Still, even Manning probably hopes that range is from 95 to 98, not 90 to 93.

Cameron crashes

The Tigers were taking batting practice in what for every player except Robbie Grossman was a stadium they’d never played in before — Globe Life Park.

Daz Cameron, originally slated to start in center field Monday, tracked a fly ball at full speed to the padded wall in right-center field. And he didn’t slow down. The wall got on him sooner than he thought. He caught the ball and crashed into it hard.

He seemed dazed at first and the Tigers assistant athletic trainer Matt Rankin ran out to tend to him. Cameron walked gingerly off the field and was scratched from the lineup. He sprained the big toe on his right foot.

Akil Baddoo was inserted into the lineup, and back in the leadoff spot, against the Rangers left-handed starter Kolby Allard.

Twitter@cmccosky

On deck: Tigers at Rangers

► First pitch: 8:05 p.m.

► TV/Radio: BSDet, 97.1

Scouting report:

► RHP Jose Urena (2-8, 6.22), Tigers: Rough times for the veteran right-hander. He was tagged for four home runs in 3.1 innings in Cleveland in his last start. Over his last four (25 runs allowed in 13 innings), hitters are slashing .385/.474/.846 with a 1.320 OPS against him. Velocity and spin have both been down, significantly, in recent outings.

► RHP Dane Dunning (3-6, 4.38), Rangers: He’s been on a pitch-count restriction all season and hasn’t thrown more than 89 pitches in any of his 16 outings. He’s had trouble sustaining effectiveness with his best pitch, the sinker. Opponents are hitting .286 and slugging .422 against it. When it’s right, it sets up his slider (38% chase) and change-up (37% chase).

—Chris McCosky

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