Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ryan Raburn Deserves a Real Chance

In 2009, the Tigers opened the season with Josh Anderson as their opening day left fielder and handed innings to no less than seven different players at the position before Ryan Raburn finally cemented himself at the position, closing the season with a very good run, by posting an OPS of 1.043 on a not wildly unsustainable (though still very high) BABIP of .350.

That display of offensive prowess wasn't enough however to keep the Tigers from seeking an upgrade, and this offseason they brought in All-Star veteran Johnny Damon to try and solidify the position. Damon was coming off a very strong 2009 of his own that saw him post a .854 OPS - his best mark since 2004. However, most teams shied away from him and his asking price on the basis that most viewed him as more of a DH than regular in left and over concerns that his performance had more to do with other factors (like the shiny new stadium in the Bronx). But the Tigers saw an opportunity to buy low on a guy who had finished the game of musical chairs that is the MLB off season without a job, and signed him for a one year 8m deal.

It turns out those concerns were largely justified. Damon posted an OPS of just .763. His defense has been ok, as he posted a +5.3 UZR/150 in limited action, getting most of his playing time at DH when Carlos Guillen (again) landed himself on the disabled list and Brennan Boesch emerged as an offensive force through the first half.

Raburn was again relegated to bench duty, pinch hitting work, and the occasional spot start. Not surprisingly, he struggled with the inconsistent at-bats. But then Magglio Ordonez went down with injury, and Boesch eventually came back to Earth after his BABIP fell out of the 400s. Suddenly there was another chance for Raburn.

Again, Raburn has taken his chance at every day work and run with it. Since Ordonez went down on July 24th, Raburn has picked up the slack, hitting .333 with a 1.005 OPS and 11 home runs in 173 at-bats. After posting a .891 OPS in 2009, he's backed it up with a .827 this year and for his career - one that spans nearly a thousand at-bats - he now has an OPS of .802. And, despite a reputation of struggling against righties, he's posted OPS marks of .800 in 2009 and .769 in 2010

There should be little doubt about it, he can hit.

To be clear, Raburn is a liability in the field, but his defense in left throughout his career has been passable. I tend to think the +1.7 UZR/150 in left that he's accumulated throughout his career isn't indicative of his real fielding abilities (which aren't that good) but he's not nearly as bad as the reputation he's received either.

In total, Ryan Raburn is a guy who can, and will, hit. He'll do so while playing a below average left field, but his bat should more than make up for that and I can't see any reason why he shouldn't be able to provide 2/3 WAR for the next few years.

Oh yeah, and he won't run the Tigers 8m either.

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