Thursday, July 19, 2007

Once again, Lynn Henning asks the "Burning questions," TWFE has even more answers

For the 2nd time in a week, the Detroit News' Tigers writer, Lynn Henning, dips into the "Burning questions" shtick. I felt compelled to answer the questions myself, turning this into a continuing shtick running feature for TWFE. Be prepared to cover the Craig Monroe situation in depth. Again...

Q: What's the story behind Craig Monroe's demise? Will he straighten out, or are the Tigers in a bind?

Henning: Here is one of the more complex cases from a 2007 season that has been anything but simple for the Tigers. Monroe should have been good for 25 home runs and a batting average somewhere in the .250-.275 range. Instead, at age 30, he is batting .220, with nine home runs and a miserable .269 on-base average, with 78 strikeouts in 277 at-bats heading into Wednesday night's game.

No question, he could find his old groove and become a sturdy second-half contributor. But how long can a team wait? The Tigers finally had to deal with reality and replace him in left field with Marcus Thames, at least when pitching matchups call for it.

Big Al: What's the story? Monroe is on the decline, and has been for 3 seasons. I went off on Monroe situation earlier today, and if he wants to remain on the roster, Monroe has to start hitting. Immediately.

I don't think the Tigers will give Monroe much more rope. It spoke volumes that Timo Perez was in the lineup against the Twins this afternoon. Volumes...

Q. So what happens to Monroe?

Henning: The Tigers will be reluctant to give up on him. He still has youth, he has power, and most of the time he plays capably on defense. The Tigers can't be sure that rookie outfielder Ryan Raburn is ready for the big leagues. Nor is 32-year-old Timo Perez, who has done a marvelous job at Triple-A Toledo, necessarily a better bet for this season and beyond, even with his left-hand bat.

Big Al: Monroe rides the pine, unless a favorable matchup against a left handed pitcher comes along. That's what happens. That's all that can happen, as he seems to have fallen out of favor with Jim Leyland.

Raburn and Perez might not be better options, but it appears that the Tigers are going to play them regardless, and find out for sure.

Q: So, they make Monroe a part-time outfielder and right-hand bat off the bench?

Henning: That's the safest route. How it is received by Monroe is another question. He is a proud, sensitive player who thrives on being a contributor. Sitting on the bench won't be an easy adjustment for him.

Big Al: If Monroe doesn't take to becoming a part time bench player, and rocks the clubhouse boat, he won't be a Tiger for much longer.

Dave Dombrowski pretty much gave away another player who had outlived his usefulness as a Tiger, Mike Maroth. I bet someone will be willing to take a chance on Monroe with a PTBNL, thinking that a change of scenery will help his ailing bat. Especially if the Tigers eat some of his contract. It might come down to that, the Tigers eating what's left of his 1 year deal.

Q: Can the Tigers trade him as part of a package for another outfielder -- maybe a left-hand hitter who can also play first base?

Henning: The market for Monroe is going to be exceedingly thin. This is another of those situations where fans assume a player is more valuable than the marketplace has determined him to be.

Big Al: Thin? Thinner than Karen Carpenter. The question is, who would want Monroe? A corner outfielder whose main value is in hitting home runs, but has stopped hitting home runs, has no trade value. Period.

As I said, the Tigers would have to give Monroe away. I'm guessing they'd be lucky to get minor league roster filler. An actual prospect is out of the question.

Q: How will Thames hold up if he plays more regularly? He hit .199 during the second half of the 2006 season.

Henning: He will win some ballgames, even if his batting average slides (.257 heading into Wednesday's game). He has game-breaking power that becomes more of a factor because of Thames' tremendous ratio of home runs to at-bats. He is simply a very good man to have in the lineup, and a hitter other pitchers have to be super-careful against.

Big Al: I could care less about Thames batting average, just his slugging percentage. Over a full season, Thames will hit 35 home runs, if only by accident. So what if he hits .220? A modern day Rob Deer still has value. More value than Craig Monroe, at the very least.

Q: Why doesn't Thames hit for greater average?

Henning: He is a pull-hitter in the extreme. Notice how many foul balls he hits down the third-base line. You can practically count on at least one per at-bat, almost always early in the count. If he hit to all fields in the manner of Magglio Ordonez, he would be an All-Star. But he is more comfortable -- and probably more lethal from a power standpoint -- with his personal pull-hitting style.

Big Al: Again, Thames batting average means absolutely nothing. So what if he's a dead pull hitter, as long as the home runs come, that's fine by me. Thames has a better HR/AB ration than Gary Sheffield. This season Thames goes yard every 14 AB's, compared to Sheff's 15. Not that bad of company to be keeping.

Q: Speaking of Ordonez, will he cool off during the second half?

Henning: Sure. He already has dropped 20 points from his batting average, although that .378 stuff wasn't going to last forever. He still hits the ball hard to all fields. But it would not be surprising to see him dip, maybe significantly, during the second half as fatigue takes its toll.

Big Al: Even though his average has dropped, Ordonez's bat won the 1st 2 games of the Twins series. Pretty much single handedly...

I'd be hard for Maggs not to cool off, as he was scorching hot before the All-Star break. Still, .360 is nothing to sneeze at. That .360 average is coming from your clean up hitter, which is almost unheard of. Lest it not be forgotten, Magglio is still on pace to have marvelous power stats at the end of the season.

To be honest, I'd be perfectly fine with Ordonez's average dropping, if he continues to turn on the ball as well as he did against the Twins. Magglio with a power stroke is more valuable that Magglio as a singles hitter. Which is what Maggs was when his average went into the ozone.

Q: Second-half thoughts on the Tigers' race with Cleveland and the Twins?

Henning: How the Tigers won Tuesday night's game was extraordinary, all because that is precisely the game Minnesota always wins against Detroit in the Metrodome. I thought the called third strike Nate Robertson got on Joe Mauer was the game-winning moment -- the sliver of luck the Twins normally have go their way.

As for Cleveland, how the Indians continue to win comeback games is more than incredible. Percentages and probabilities suggest it can't continue. How the Tigers have remained in first place in the face of those comebacks is even more amazing.

Big Al: The Tigers sweeping the Twins at the Hefty-Baggie-Homer Dome had to be demoralizing. Especially irking to them had to be that the Tigers won 3 1 run games. That was stunning to even the most rabid Tigers fan.

The Twins, at home mind you, which as been a Detroit house of horrors for 2 decades, couldn't beat the Tigers, and their iffy bullpen. Not even with Johan Santana on the mound.

The Twins need to get some offense before the trade deadline. They have to get at least 1 more bat, probably 2, to compete with the Tigers and Tribe.

As for the Indians? With solid starting pitching, a good bullpen, and an offense nearly as good as the Tigers, means they are in the race for the duration. Travis Hafner alone is capable of carrying the Tribe for long stretches. If Hafner and Grady Sizemore both get hot, look out.

But the Tigers winning their series against Cleveland, along with sweeping the BoSox and Twins, 3 of the best teams in baseball, let everyone know that Detroit is the the team to beat if you want to win the AL pennant.

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