Detroit Tigers: David Lough is a Better Center Field Option than Tyler Collins

Jul 2, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles left fielder David Lough (9) dives to catch Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos (61) (not pictured) fly ball in the eighth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 2, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles left fielder David Lough (9) dives to catch Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos (61) (not pictured) fly ball in the eighth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Minor league signee David Lough is the Detroit Tigers’ best center field option which is a troubling sign as spring training looms.

The Detroit Tigers are ostensibly going to compete for a World Series crown in 2017 but they have a major problem: no one in their organization can play a competent center field. That’s sometimes fine — platoons are great and teams can sometimes create value out of almost nothing that way — but the Tigers maybe don’t even have a competent platoon duo.

Case in point: David Lough, a player the Tigers just signed to a minor league contract this week, is probably the team’s best option to patrol center field on most days.

That’s not praise of Lough, either. He’s a flawed player who was both (1) available and (2) willing to sign a minor league deal for a reason. That reason being that he’s not very good. The left-handed swinging Lough is a career .254/.300/.371 (.295 wOBA) hitter across five seasons for three different big league clubs. He’s accumulated more than 200 plate appearances in a season only one time in his career.

When teams have Lough they don’t tend to play him very much and then they tend not to keep him around for the next season. Again, because he’s not very good.

More from Detroit Jock City

The presumed leader for center field duties on most days is Tyler Collins. I say most days because the Tigers will probably go with a platoon at the position, but the left-handed hitter ends up playing much more often because there are far more right-handed starting pitchers to go up against (both Collins and Lough hit left handed).

Collins is a better hitter, I’m willing to concede that right away, but I don’t think he’s a good enough hitter to overcome his defensive limitations. Collins has hit .253/.309/.401 (.309 wOBA) in his young career that spans only 380 plate appearances.

The Steamer Projections like Collins better as a hitter looking forward to 2017 as well with a projected margin of 10 points of wOBA. We’re more concerned with their production levels against right-handed pitching, however, since we’re expecting them to serve in a platoon role with someone else (Mikie Mahtook, perhaps).

Collins, for his career, has much more favorable platoon numbers against right-handed pitchers. He’s hit for a career .326 wOBA against righties compared to Lough’s .299 wOBA mark. But, as with any statistic in baseball, we have sample size concerns and can’t just assume that recent seasons or career marks are accurate representations of True Talent Level. In order to set reasonable expectations we have to regress the numbers.

Fortunately smart people have done the work for us and we get to mirror their method. The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball laid out the method for estimating platoon skill, a method that is mirrored in this FanGraphs post.

Skipping the gory math details (it’s not that difficult), we should expect Collins to hit for a .300 wOBA and Lough for a .290 wOBA versus right-handed pitching given their career batting line, observed platoon splits, and 2017 Steamer Projections.

Related Story: Detroit Tigers All-Time 25-man Roster

So, if we convert the wOBA difference to runs, we would expect Collins to be 3.3 runs better than Lough in 400 plate appearances versus right-handed pitching. 400 is just a number I picked to represent a strong-side platoon player (600-ish PA is often used for a full season for a full-time player). In reality they would see some left-handed pitching as well in the form of relief pitchers and whatnot, but assuming it’s all versus righties makes the numbers look most optimistic for Collins.

Anyway, 3.3 runs is what we figure Collins’ advantage to be on the hitting side. That’s the best we can expect, at any rate. Things will vary because baseball is not easy to predict.

So let’s turn to defense for a minute. Neither Collins nor Lough have played that much center field in the majors because neither has played that much overall. Collins has 208 innings at the position while Lough has 347. Defensive metrics can be tricky — especially with small samples — so we’ll have to tread lightly here.

In their limited center field time, Lough has rated as six runs better than Collins by both UZR and DRS. Neither of them have played even a half a season at the position, so we’re doing a lot of estimating here but I think it’s clear that Lough is a significantly better defensive outfielder. Let’s expand our look a bit. In the outfield overall, Lough gets a +25 run grade from UZR in his 1,800-some innings. Collins get -3.5 runs in a bit over 700 total innings (DRS is even more extreme on both players).

It’s not difficult to imagine that, given two-thirds of a season for both players, Lough might out-perform Collins in center field by up to 10 runs defensively. It’s certainly not a stretch to see him making up the 3.3 runs of offense plus an extra run or two.

Next: 5 Ways for Tigers to Win AL Central in 2017

Lough doesn’t look like enough of an upgrade for me to necessarily advocate for him to make the team. He’s not on the roster so they’d have to boot someone that maybe they don’t want to part with, and Collins still has some future with the organization as a corner or fourth outfielder type player, but I think this analysis underscores just how bleak the Tigers’ center field situation is.