“We’re not picking anybody up as an offensive group,” Zack Short said. “It’s tough. It hurts.”
The numbers are rough. Detroit batted .124 (23-for-186) on the trip, the lowest batting average the team has posted in any six-game stretch within a single season since July 1962. The team went hitless through the first three innings in five of six games, hitless through four innings in the last four games, and hitless through at least six innings twice.
What can Detroit do to improve? Here are some key factors and ideas going forward:
Riley Greene‘s leg injury further threw out of whack an offensive roster that was fairly balanced in left- and right-handed hitters. He’s likely a ways off, but the Tigers got a left-handed impact hitter back when Kerry Carpenter returned from the injured list Friday. Carpenter went on the injured list at the end of April with a shoulder injury, and was limited to DH through the first week and a half of his rehab stint until he started in right field for Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday.
Carpenter was batting just .212 off right-handers at the time of his injury, but eight of his 14 hits off righties went for extra bases, including three home runs. Just as important, he was crushing fastballs for a .342 average (13-for-38) and all four of his homers. The Tigers have struggled mightily against velocity recently, batting .236 off fastballs entering Thursday, second-lowest in the Majors. Carpenter’s return will also allow the Tigers to move another left-handed hitter, such as Akil Baddoo or Nick Maton, into a supporting role.
A.J. Hinch has said multiple times since Greene’s injury that the Tigers have to find a different way to produce offense without him. That might well need to involve different modes of hitting.
When Short laid down a squeeze bunt to drive in Detroit’s first run Thursday, it was just the fourth bunt single by the Tigers this season. Half of them took place on the trip, including Baddoo’s bunt single for the first hit off White Sox starter Michael Kopech last Sunday. Just five AL teams entered Thursday with fewer bunt hits.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s 37 stolen bases put it under the AL average. Likewise, Tiger baserunners entered Thursday having taken an extra base — two bases on a single, three bases on a double — in just 38 percent of opportunities, fourth-lowest among AL clubs, according to Baseball Reference. Only the Yankees had gone first-to-third on a single fewer times, and only the A’s had gone second-to-home on a single less often.
Some of that comes from the makeup of the roster, which isn’t flush with speedsters. But with Miguel Cabrera in a part-time role, the Tigers have players who take extra bases more often. Whether or not it’s a viable long-term plan, it’s at least a short-term method to try to eek more offense out of limited opportunities.
The hitting stats have been ugly, but the metrics suggest some Tigers could improve with time and repetition. Spencer Torkelson entered Thursday with a .227 batting average but a .264 expected average and .341 expected slugging percentage — both above average for Major League hitters — based on exit velocities and launch angles. Zach McKinstry ranks in the top seven percent in expected batting average and top 20 percent in expected slugging. Even Jonathan Schoop would be expected to hit .245 with a .372 slugging percentage rather than .196 and .250, respectively.
It doesn’t always even out; that’s the nature of baseball. But the law of averages suggests a little more time to find out.
One solution that isn’t likely to happen is a heavy influx of Minor League help, because there isn’t much. Justyn-Henry Malloy is still working out of a difficult stretch from May, and Parker Meadows is doing the same. As for Colt Keith, some have suggested fast-tracking him, but the Tigers appear more inclined to let him keep learning than rush him from Double-A to the Majors.