Detroit Tigers left fielder Andy Dirks has been receiving a fair amount of heat recently, which stems from his performance on the field last season. The criticism is understandable as a team generally expects production out of their corner outfielders, and the season Dirks turned in last year was even less impressive than the season Johnny Damon had with the Tigers back in 2010.
Granted, Damon played in 14 more games in 2010 than Dirks did in 2013 and Dirks did actually hit one more home run, but that is still saying something nevertheless.
As a result of Dirks’ underwhelming 2013 season, the 28-year-old lefty’s job appeared to be in jeopardy this winter. Moreover, the Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler trade created the absence of a true left-handed power threat in the Tigers’ lineup, and there were several powerful left-handed outfielders on the free agent market this offseason such as Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran who could have filled that void.
Although signing a high-profile left-handed bat to replace the offensive output of Fielder appeared to make sense for the Tigers, the organization neglected to do so and allowed Dirks to keep his gig. There are other MLB teams who would have opted for an upgrade in left field, but the Tigers were not one of them.
The Tigers did, however, add the speedy, right-handed veteran Rajai Davis, who is expected to platoon with Dirks and start in left field against left-handed pitching.
The Tigers’ decision to keep Dirks in left most likely boils down to three factors: Dirks has hit well in the past, the organization realizes that he was injured throughout much of last season, and Mike Ilitch wants to save every last penny he can so the team can make a serious run at re-signing both Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera.
Some fans are nervous about Dirks being the everyday left fielder, but they need to relax and give him a chance. Dirks is still the proud owner of a very healthy .276 career batting average, and some may also be interested to learn that he was a career .289 hitter in the minor leagues as well. Dirks has always had a very compact swing and knows how to hit a baseball.
Moreover, Dirks is not very far removed from a stellar 2012 season in which he hit .322/.370/.487 with eight home runs, 18 doubles and five triples in just 88 games. The season Dirks put together in 2012 was actually a big part of the reason why the Tigers decided to part ways with Brennan Boesch last March.
However, Dirks injured his knee in Spring Training of 2013 and was never quite able to return to full strength, which explains why his 2013 numbers were not nearly as impressive as his 2012 numbers. If he is at full strength in 2014, Tigers fans could be in for an exhilarating surprise.
Dirks has been given a chance to redeem himself, and he may just go out and force his critics to eat crow. He has always come across as a player with a very level head, and he does not seem to be the type of person who would allow last season’s performance or criticism from fans impact his confidence.
Dirks currently finds himself in a position where he is one of only three left-handed bats projected to be in the Tigers’ everyday lineup in 2014. No one is going to expect him to go out and hit 25 home runs and drive in 100 runs to fill the hole that the Fielder trade created, but he is still going to have to pick up some slack, which he is more than capable of doing. It would hardly be shocking to see Dirks have a batting average in the .290 range with 12-15 homers, 25 or more doubles and 10 stolen bases when the leaves turn brown next fall.
However, in order to get the most out of Dirks, it is imperative that he bats in one of the top two spots in the lineup as the evidence has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that is where he performs best. While Austin Jackson tends to press when he is at the top of the lineup, Dirks is a player who rises to the occasion.