Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 3/25/12

From my season preview of the Tigers on Wednesday...

Burning Question
Is Detroit's offense going to be the best in the American League this year?

Let's look at this question statistically. The Tigers return most of their offense, but have a couple of change. Victor Martinez will miss the season, and will (essentially) be replaced by Prince Fielder. Brandon Inge isn't a starter anymore, and is essentially going to be replaced by Andy Dirks. Brennan Boesch is going full-time in right field to replace Magglio Ordonez. Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, Austin Jackson, Ryan Raburn, and a full season of Delmon Young will be returning.

Well...what's that tell us? Dirks had a .702 OPS last year, but that's a huge upgrade over the .558 mark posted by Inge in 2011. The broken down Magglio Ordonez had a horrendous .634 season, while the perennial platooner Bosch had a .798 season. The big switch, going from Martinez to Fielder, results in a jump from an .850 OPS (Martinez) to a .981 mark from Fielder. So all three switches that the Tigers made on offense this offseason should result in more runs coming across the plate for them. 

One thing that just looking at OPS doesn't tell us about is injury. The Tigers took a roundabout approach of improving their team. Instead of the seemingly obvious move of just throwing Fielder at DH and calling it a day, the Tigers are starting him at first, moving first baseman Cabrera to third, and DHing Young. Cabrera has already taken a ground ball off of his face and broken his lower orbital bone. Fielder has been the model of health, but having Cabrera (the team's best offensive player) at third base is begging for another bad injury. 

If something happens to Cabrera, the Tigers won't necessarily be in trouble, but they'll have an uphill battle. He had a 1.034 OPS last season as one of the best hitters in baseball. Throwing Inge, who had an OPS nearly 500 points lower than Cabrera's last season, at third to replace Cabrera would help out defensively, but would be a complete disaster on offense. Injuries really do happen, and it would benefit the Tigers a lot more if someone like Dirks or Young got hurt than if Cabrera, Fielder, or Avila were injured. Imagine if Avila, who broke out in a big way last season with an .895 OPS, took a foul tip to his throwing hand and broke it. Detroit's backup catcher is Gerald Laird, who had a .660 OPS last season as the Cardinals backup and had OPSes of .626 and .567 with the Tigers in 2009 and 2010. That would be a major blow to Detroit's offense. But if Dirks of Young got hurt, the team could easily plug someone in, be it a bench player like Don Kelly (.672 OPS in 2011), a career minor leaguer, or a cheap veteran looking for work.

Detroit's offense vastly improved this offseason, and they were a top five unit in 2011. It's completely conceivable that their offense could be the best in the game. As long as the Tigers avoid injuries, they have to be considered a threat to score 900 runs.

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This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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