Day or night? For Tigers’ offense it makes a difference

Miguel Cabrera is hitting like an MVP during the day but like much less so at night.

Miguel Cabrera is hitting like an MVP during the day but much less so at night.

With Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers, it’s been like night and day this season.


Cabrera, is batting more than 200 points higher during the day than at night. At one point recently (through May 14), his OPS was more than 1,000 points higher in the daytime. He’s evened out his production more since then, but the difference is still remarkable. In day games, Miggy has been an absolute terror this year; in night games, he’s been a pussycat, hitting about as well as a weak-hitting utility infielder.

Largely because of Cabrera, the Tigers offense is much more productive when the sun is shining.

Until busting out in a Friday night game at St. Louis on May 15, the Tigers had hit 23 homers in day games but only seven at night. To date, the Tigers have scored about twice as many runs during the day than under the lights.

In that May 15 game, Cabrera hit his first and only home run of the year in a night game. He’s hit 10 during day games.

The Tigers have finally bitten the bullet and put Victor Martinez on the disabled list. The option of having him bat exclusively right-handed while he recuperated apparently never was considered. VMart had only one leg to stand on and no way to push off his back leg while batting left-handed. (Like Miggy to that point, he was a .400-plus hitter one way, and sub-.200 the other.) Finally, when VMart labored mightily trying to leg out a grounder to prevent a double play in a key spot in a recent game, Brad Ausmus overruled his DH’s desire to play every day.

Now the cleanup spot is manned by one of the streakiest players on the team. As April turned to May, J.D. Martinez endured an 0-for-25 slump. Then he went on a 6-for-11 tear over three games. Since the slump ended with a hit on May 9, he’s raised his OPS by about 100 points.

Strangely, J.D. hasn’t had much power against left-handed pitchers—just one homer in 37 plate appearances through May 24, as opposed to eight in 144 plate appearances against right-handed hitters.

No wonder the middle of the order has been a rather hot-and-cold affair this season—depending on if it’s day or night, if there’s a lefty or a righty on the mound, if J.D. is slumping or hot.

Perhaps the team’s day/night split is a freakish anomaly and it has already started to even itself out. But with Miggy, it was such an outrageously large difference that it had to be more than a statistical blip. It’s just common sense that you must not be seeing the ball as well under the lights if you’re Babe Ruth during the day and you’re Ray Oyler at night.

Is it a coincidence that the slugger has started wearing glasses in some games? What he wears during day games are “protective goggles” officially. Nothing wrong with his vision, say the Tigers. Are we getting the whole story?

But like VMart playing on one leg, it again raises a bigger question: Is Brad Ausmus exercising sufficient control over the playing time of his stars? It seems that if one of the regulars on the team swears he is fine and insists on playing every day, the Tigers’ young manager isn’t going to argue with him.

The Tigers started the year with four regulars in the lineup (counting Alex Avila and his repeated concussions) and two key men in the rotation recovering from injuries. Two of the four regulars are now on the DL, another two seem fragile (Cabrera and Iglesias), Verlander is still hurt, and Anibal Sanchez has not been himself, which makes you wonder if he’s really 100 percent.

I wasn’t a fan of Jim Leyland, but Leyland did give his regulars plenty of time off— if there was something bothering any of them, they’d sit down and get a rest. Strangely, the much younger current manager is more old school—he prefers to use his regulars day in and day out, night or day, 100 percent or limping, on fire or in a slump.