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To Swing Or Not To Swing: Tigers Have A Lineup Issue Heading Into Spring

Updated: Mar 22

Brian Gornick, Sports Editor

Tigers shortstop Javier Baez swings at spring training in Lakeland, Florida. Photo//Junfu Han

It is only six days until the Detroit Tigers take the field in Chicago to begin the regular season, and the excitement is certainly brewing. The American League Central seems to be up for grabs, and the Tigers will look to capitalize on this in a push to reach the postseason for the first time since 2014. 

However, spring training brings up issues that can sometimes be a window into what to expect from the team at large or specific players in the regular season. For shortstop Javier Baez, those issues are too large to ignore. 

Baez has been under plenty of scrutiny, being benched multiple times by manager A.J. Hinch during the season, as he continuously struggled to maintain poise in the strike zone. Baez finished last season with the lowest on-base percentage (OBP) in the entire American League, a batting average of .222, and a lackluster .592 in on-base plus slugging (OPS). 

His performance is especially disappointing considering the high expectations put on him by both the club and the fans. Baez signed a six-year contract worth $140 million in 2022 with Detroit, with many expecting him to be the hitting threat at shortstop the Tigers have missed for years. Two years in, and most fans believe his performance has not lived up to what the team paid him. 

Baez looked to shake off a bad season with a spring training to prove that he can change the tendencies that irked him last season, yet it appears he hasn’t changed. Through 35 spring training games, Baez has only three hits, a batting average of .086, and an OPS of .191. 

Baez also has double-digit strikeouts when he’s at the plate, a problem that has been an issue throughout most of his professional career. For a player who is by far the highest paid player on the Tigers' payroll for the upcoming season, stats like these are simply unacceptable.

Hinch has tried to levy the growing outrage from the fan base, speaking in an interview with 97.1 The Ticket that Baez would be batting in the bottom third of the order, but many say that’s not enough.

If the Detroit Tigers want to push for a playoff spot and/or win their division, they need to make a hard decision on what Baez’s future with the team will look like. A team can’t expect to make the playoffs when a player on their lineup is largely ineffective at getting consistent hits and consistently strikes out at the plate. 

The payroll makes the issue of benching for weeks or even months hard to justify, but if the public outrage continues to rise, Hinch and the Tigers may be forced to take the team towards a future without Baez. 

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