With Gary Sheffield beginning his rehab assignment I’ve heard quite a bit from Tigers fans that are actually concerned that Sheffield is coming back. Sheffield and his struggles have been received a considerable portion of the blame for the Tigers struggles. Now that the team is playing better and Sheffield isn’t around, people don’t want to mess with a good thing. That’s well and good, but why wouldn’t you want to upgrade a struggling position?
In June the Tigers DH’s are hitting 192/288/365. Jeff Larish has provided the bulk of that production with a few starts going to Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames. Prior to hitting the DL Sheffield was “producing” at a 213/344/331 clip. Awful to be sure, and not in line with his contract (who cares, sunk cost) or his reputation, but fifty points of OBP is pretty significant.
If there’s a chance that Sheffield can produce anywhere close to his pre-shoulder-injury numbers, don’t you want him back in your lineup? Yes I worry that he comes back and the shoulder still isn’t working and he’s allowed to flounder for an extended period of time. But the at-bats he’ll be taking will be mostly Larish’s. And yes you may give up a couple of Raburn’s and Clevlen’s at-bats and their gloves to a certain extent in the outfield which at this point the gloves would be the bigger loss.
I share the concerns that the Tigers are willing to let Sheffield completely dictate when he’s ready to come back. It’s that tricky trade-off of applauding a guy who tries to play through pain and chastising him when he doesn’t get removed from the lineup.
It’s a problem not unique to the Tigers. The Indians are dealing with the same things with Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. It caused Rob Neyer to question
Really? The Indians were better as a ballclub with a .216-hitting catcher with zero power? Speaking of which, Hafner’s batting .217/.326/.350 in 46 games. No, he wasn’t much good last season, but his numbers this season are simply beyond the pale. Here’s a question I’d like to see someone answer: How many games does the average team throw away in a season on guys who aren’t healthy enough to play, but do anyway? I’ll bet it’s more than three.
But here’s the rub, especially for stat-heads. When does it go from random fluctuation to performance impacted by injury? Batting average is highly volatile in and of itself and of course it impacts OBP and slugging. So when is that time when you’re no longer riding out a slump and are now throwing away at-bats?
A seemingly healthy Sheffield hit 200/369/306 in April 2007. That turned out to be a slump as he exploded in the subsequent 2.5 months to bring his season numbers more in line with career expectations. Now here you are in 2008 and your player says he is fine and the medical staff says he is fine, but he’s slumping. What’s the correct move for the team?
I think it’s clear that the Tigers waited too long with Sheffield. It became too long when Sheffield himself started admitting that the shoulder wouldn’t always “fire” like it should. When the player is saying that it isn’t working it’s probably time to shelve him. But the decision isn’t always so clear cut.