It is easy to say that the Tigers lacked production from their right fielders in 2012. The collection of players who appeared in right field for the team posted just a combined line of .235/.285/.357 and an MLB worst OPS of .641 while playing the position. They also struggled defensively posting a UZR of -17.
Much of the production from right field can be attributed to Brennan Boesch and the struggles he had in 2012. The breakout season that some predicted from Boesch never happened as he went on to have an OPS of just .659. His walk rate was just 5.2% and he had a UZR of -12. His struggles toward the end of the season were so prevalent that the organization left him off the postseason roster.
Boesch’s issues opened the door for Avisail Garcia. After starting the year in Lakeland, Garcia advanced all the way to the major leagues and hit .319 in 47 at bats. He started the majority of the playoff games as the right fielder against left handed pitching.
Deeper Dive: Torii's Impact
The first move of the offseason for the Tigers was finding an upgrade for right field; in fact, of any potential moves, one could argue adding a right fielder was the only necessity for the team’s offseason plans.
They went out and signed former Angel Torii Hunter to a two year contract. While Hunter likely won’t produce at the same level he did in 2012, he will still be an upgrade in right field. His batting average of .313 is due for a decline as his BAbip of .389 he posted is highly unlikely to be repeated. Also, his 2012 walk rate was just 6.5% and he posted the highest strike out rate of his career at 22.8%.
Though he comes with some concerns, Hunter will provide some solid production in 2013. He is a .277 career hitter who is slated to hit second in the Tigers lineup and should benefit from the lineup protection from Miguel Cabrera. Despite entering the season at age 37, Hunter is still one of the better defenders in right field. His defense alone will make an impact for the Tigers as he is coming off a season in which his UZR was 10.4 and he saved 15 runs in the field.
Hunter will be the everyday right fielder in2013 and likely in 2014 as well, barring anything unforeseen. He should provide the Tigers with a solid bat in the lineup and a significant improvement defensively in right field. The two-year contract he signed should provide Avisail Garcia with necessary time to develop in the minor leagues.
Spring training will be big in terms of what happens with Brennan Boesch in 2013. If he remains in the organization he will likely battle for the starting job in left field and serve as the backup in right field as well, but available playing time and at-bats in right will be limited, as he’d be a downgrade both at the plate and in the field.