Everyone has heard the old cliche that goes, “you don’t know what you have until it is gone.” This could very well be what the Detroit Tigers are saying about left fielder Andy Dirks at the moment.
Obviously, one may be tempted to wonder why Dirks, a player who only batted .256/.323/.363 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs through 131 games last season, would be so sorely missed by the Tigers. The answer is because the Tigers have virtually no left-handed hitting other than the switch-hitting Victor Martinez.
Moreover, before the news of Dirks’ back injury broke, many were expecting him to have a bounce-back season in 2014. Dirks played through a knee injury throughout the 2013 season, which many blamed for his drop in production.
As recently as 2012, Dirks batted .322 through 88 games with the Tigers. This season, it was hoped that he could return to those numbers, or at least find a halfway point between his 2012 and 2013 seasons and bat around the .290 mark, which seemed to be a reasonable goal for him as he batted .289 in the minors. There are no words to describe how important a left-handed hitter who could bat .290 would be to the Tigers’ lineup right now.
That said, even if Dirks ended up having another season along the lines of the one he had last year, his numbers still might look better than those of the Tigers’ other left-handed hitters with the exception of Martinez, based on the way things have started.
Utility man Don Kelly is currently hitting .364 (4-for-11), but he is a lifetime .231 hitter and is not likely to keep up this pace. Platoon outfielder Tyler Collins is batting .143 (2-for-14), and backup shortstop Andrew Romine is batting .083 (1-for-12). Lastly, and most disappointingly, starting catcher Alex Avila is off to another poor start as he is currently batting .130 (3-for-23) with 14 strikeouts, and some fans are beginning to lose hope that he will ever return to his 2011 form. That is it for Tigers hitters who bat left-handed.
Simply put, the Tigers could really use another left-handed batter such as Dirks at the moment. After it was reported that Dirks was going to miss at least three months, it was initially not thought to be a very significant loss. A few weeks later, when it was announced that Jose Iglesias may miss the entire 2014 season, the Tigers’ left field problem paled in comparison to their shortstop problem in the eyes of many fans.
Now, however, it is becoming evident that the lack of a second player who can provide consistency from the left side of the plate is creating problems for the Tigers and people are finally beginning to talk about it. The Prince Fielder trade was absolutely necessary, but thus far the Tigers have failed to replace his left-handed production, although it should be noted that he is currently off to a very slow start with the Texas Rangers. He is currently batting .149 with zero home runs through his first 12 games.
Dirks remains on the DL and is still expected to return in June or July, but there is now a question of how well he will be able to perform upon his return. The Tigers might be very wise to begin brainstorming ways to get another left-handed bat to the Motor City.