Delmon Young could be any number of things to the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Will he be a feared hitter, extending the lineup from the big boys in the middle? Will he continue to feast on fastballs early in the count as he did during his short time with the team last year? Or . . . will strikeouts pile up as he no longer hits in front of Miguel Cabrera? Will he be a defensive liability (I’ve seen cows graze with more initiative than Young shows in left field)? Will he hurt the chemistry in the clubhouse if he doesn’t open up to being a designated hitter?
Before these questions can be answered, another question must be asked: Would the Tigers be better without Delmon Young?
The question marks for the Tiger’s lineup in 2012 center around second base, left field, and DH. If Young were not on the roster, there would be much flexibility for Jim Leyland to utilize. Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, Andy Dirks, and Don Kelly would be the five primary players to fill these rolls. All of these players are versatile, both offensively and defensively. There are two left-handed hitters (Dirks and Kelly), two right-handed hitters (Raburn and Inge), and a switch hitter (Santiago). All five players have average to above average speed, something the Tigers lack throughout their lineup. Raburn and Inge, when on top of their game, provide good power, while Kelly, Dirks, and Santiago have shown the ability to hit for average and put the ball in play consistently. These players also provide Jim Leyland with lineup flexibility. Raburn can bat just about anywhere but leadoff, while Kelly, Dirks, and Santiago could hit at the top or bottom of the order.
There is no question the Tigers would benefit defensively if Delmon Young were not around. The five aforementioned players provide as much defensive flexibility as offensive. Raburn can play left field, second base, or would fit well as DH some days. Kelly can play everywhere, but excels at third base and the outfield. Dirks can play all three outfield positions very well, and showed a strong enough bat last year that DH would not be out of the question. Inge and Santiago, meanwhile, can play across the infield capably.
If Jim Leyland had the luxury of moving these players around as he wished – playing the match-ups, playing for defense or offense, speed or power – without having to worry about a lineup spot for Delmon Young, the Tigers would actually be a stronger team.
Some would question whether or not those five players could replace Young’s offensive numbers. Let’s look at Ryan Raburn as a primary replacement. For a 162 game average, Raburn has 17 home runs, 66 RBI’s, a .269 average, and an OPS of .779. Young, on the other hand, has a 162 game average of 16 home runs, 91 RBI’s, a .288 average, and an OPS of .749. If Young’s numbers look slightly better, it should be pointed out that these projections are for only 443 at bats for Raburn, but 619 at bats for Young. Raburn would also provide more competent defense; despite his famously bad plays, he possesses better range and far superior arm strength.
Even if Raburn struggles against right handed pitching as he has in the past (.229 average last year, as opposed to .288 vs. left handers), Dirks and Kelly could be used to provide a left handed bat.
It is certainly possible that Delmon Young will prove to be a vital part of the Tiger’s roster this season, especially if he opens up to the DH spot. However, should the Tigers find themselves in need of a fifth starter or a bullpen piece, shopping Young around could be addition by subtraction.