What's to make us -- or the Tigers front office -- believe that Carlos Guillen will remain healthy in left field, given his injury history? Even if he does, won't his lack of range be a defensive liability? I love having Carlos on the team, but it seems that his best chance of ongoing success will be as a DH at this point, as his best contributions come on offense.
-- David M., Pinckney, Mich.
If Guillen's back becomes a recurring issue, then you're right, left field won't hide that. But if he can get his back right this offseason, the expectation is that the outfield won't be as stressful on his knees. He wouldn't be making the same quick side-to-side movements he was at shortstop two years ago or at third base last year. And if he can make solid reads off the bat, range shouldn't be a question. Those are multiple "ifs", I know. But even with all his injuries the past few years, Guillen is such a natural athlete that it's hard to justify tucking him away at DH unless it's absolutely necessary.
While reading last week's mailbag, I agreed with one question. Why don't the Tigers move Nate Robertson to either a relief role or the closer spot? I've noticed that the majority of the time Robertson pitches, he gives up most of his runs in the first couple innings. I've played baseball for years, and I've noticed that a poor start from your pitcher puts a damper on the team for the remainder of the game. If the Tigers move him to a relief role or closer role, maybe it could put a different spin on the games he pitches?
-- Craig M., Windsor, Ont.
Statistically, at least, the bulk of the runs Robertson gave up came in the second (20), third (22) and fourth (22) innings. He gave up nine runs in the first inning over his 28 starts, which was actually a better ratio than he had in 2007.
Correspondingly, opponents' batting average rose from .265 in his first 15 pitches of an outing to .313 for his next 15 pitches, then .301, then .331. Opponents' OPS ballooned from .682 in his first 15 pitches to .967 over his next 15.
On the surface, that would make the case that he could be more effective in short relief. However, the problem coaches and scouts noted with Robertson this year is that he has to get the bite and command back on his slider, something that's going to affect him in any role. He has struggled to finish off left-handers for the past two seasons, and those would be big hitters for him in relief.
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If new pitching coach Rick Knapp can get Robertson's slider back on track, and if Robertson's offseason workout routine recaptures some flexibility for him, I think he can be an effective pitcher regardless of role. But if he can't, I'm not sure a relief role would hide any holes in his game.
Jason, I like the Rick Knapp hire because of his "throw strikes" approach, but I am concerned that he has never -- to my knowledge -- charted big league hitters and put together game plans for big league pitchers. Does the pitching coach have the primary role in putting together "books" on hitters, or does that fall on the advance scouts?
-- Ron L., Sylvania, Ohio
That's kind of a combination task. Part of it falls on advance scouting for the teams that have it. The Tigers had Bruce Tanner in that role the past two years before he was promoted to Major League scout this week. A lot of teams also subscribe to a scouting service that provides reports on most hitters.
A pitching coach comes in on the video end, looking at what upcoming hitters have done in recent games. Pitchers said former pitching coach Chuck Hernandez made a big difference on the preparation end when he came on board a few years ago. That's an area where bringing back bullpen coach Jeff Jones is expected to be a strength.
One thing Knapp mentioned about Jones is that he not only knows Tigers pitchers, he knows the league. Jones' experience can complement what Knapp brings on the instructional side.
Not a question, but a comment regarding the Jair Jurrjens/Edgar Renteria deal. What no one seems to remember is that the Renteria deal was done before general manager Dave Dombrowski had any idea that they'd go after Miguel Cabrera. The Cabrera deal drained more prospects out of the system than the Renteria deal. Second, without Cabrera, we needed a good offensive shortstop. Already having a good field/no hit third baseman (Brandon Inge), we couldn't afford a good field/no hit shortstop. If Dombrowski had known he'd have Cabrera in the lineup, defense would have been a higher priority at shortstop than offense. In short, if the Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis deal had happened earlier, they'd have never done the Jurrjens/Renteria deal.
-- Tom S., Grand Rapids, Mich.
Good point, Tom, and it's something Dombrowski referenced to some degree at season's end. He said they made the Renteria trade believing that Inge would be the third baseman, and that his range could help out Renteria. Dombrowski never said they wouldn't have done the Renteria trade if they knew Cabrera was coming, but he said Inge was in their thinking.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.