Roster construction 2.0: Tigers might find more punch by keeping extra lefty hitters

Detroit News

Jupiter, Fla. — There have been presumptions made about the construction of this 2023 Tigers’ roster based on how consistently president Scott Harris and manager AJ Hinch have emphasized the importance of creating and exploiting matchup advantages.

“I think there’s going to be a little bit of a mentality shift here,” Harris said at the start of camp last month. “We’re looking at our team as 13 position players. We are looking at how they fit together and how they can produce as many runs as possible for us.”

Of those 13 position players, only a select few — Javier Baez at shortstop, Spencer Torkelson at first and Riley Greene in center — can be considered every day, one-position players.

The rest, we presume, will be mixed and matched based on daily pitching matchups. The premium in this camp has been on versatility. Regular catcher Eric Haase will play some in left field. Jonathan Schoop, a Gold Glove finalist at second base last season, will play some at third. Nick Maton and Matt Vierling will be playing multiple positions, infield and outfield.

Even Greene has played some innings in left and right – just in case.

We have presumed that if Tyler Nevin, Andy Ibanez or Ryan Kreidler make the roster, it’s because their right-handed bat would be a good complement to Maton’s left-handed bat at third base.

We have presumed that veteran non-roster infielder Cesar Hernandez has a leg up in the competition because he is a switch-hitter.

We have presumed that Hinch would not keep four left-handed hitting outfield-only players, meaning that Akil Baddoo and Kerry Carpenter were fighting for one roster spot.

All of that may end up being true.

But let’s introduce this one little wrinkle: Last season the Tigers faced right-handed pitchers three times more than lefties – 4,338 plate appearances against righties, 1,532 against lefties.

It’s not looking like that’s going to change.

As the rosters stand right now, between the other four teams in the Central Division, there are two left-handed starting pitchers and both play for the Royals — Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch.

The Guardians, Twins and White Sox presently deploy all right-handed rotations.

Although with a more balanced schedule in place this year and the number of division games has been reduced by six, 13 down from 19 – that’s still a third of the season where the Tigers might face just two lefty starters.

So, how left-handed conscious do the Tigers’ need to be?

The White Sox and Royals have left-handed heavy bullpens. The White Sox might have four lefties in the pen (Tanner Banks, Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet and Jake Diekman). The Royals could have four (Amir Garrett, Jake Brentz, Aroldis Chapman and Ryan Yarbrough).

Cleveland, presently, has one lefty in the pen (Sam Hentges) and the Twins have two (Caleb Thielbar and Jovani Moran).

Something to think about.

As camp goes on, right-handed hitting infielders like Zack Short, who started in left field here Saturday, Kreidler and Brandon Davis continue to take reps in the outfield in case they are needed to support Vierling and Jonathan Davis, the only right-handed hitting true outfielders.

And non-roster right-handed hitters Ibanez, Hernandez and Jermaine Palacios continue to get infield at-bats around the infield.

But when push comes to shove, it is entirely possible that the best offensive team Hinch can take into the season will feature four left-handed hitting outfielders (one of which could share the designated hitter spot with Miguel Cabrera), plus lefty Maton, plus switch-hitting Hernandez and maybe even a switch-hitting third catcher (Andrew Knapp).

Just another way to look at how this jigsaw puzzle might get put together.


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