Sean Casey has been a major point of discussion ever since arriving in Detroit just before the trade deadline last year (2006). Much of the initial negative reactions were due to his replacing a fan favorite in Chris Shelton but looking back now, seeing Sheltons’ performance this year and last in Toledo, replacing him was the right move. Unfortunately Casey didn’t come into Detroit and produce as his historical stats had suggested he would and ended the season batting .245/.286/.364. before having a breakout postseason (.432/.447/.730).
Once he was signed again this past off season to a one-year $4M contract many felt the Tigers should have given Chris Shelton another shot at first or move Marcus Thames to first to gather more at-bats. In the end, Jim Leyland decided to take a middle road with the latter option. So far this year Leyland has started Casey when a right handed pitcher is on the mound and started Marcus Thames when a left handed pitcher is on the mound. Recognizing the gap in defensive play, Casey is often then substituted in late-innings when Thames was given the start.
This has worked out well, particularly when Casey was producing little during April, but since then Detroit has better options. Sean Casey has been a strong member of the Detroit offense since April batting .349 in May and .355 in June. At the same time, Craig Monroe has continued his massive slump and through June provided very little offense at all, 15 total hits to be exact. These combined have provided a better option to getting Thames at-bats by replacing Monroe in the lineup instead of Casey.
So why exactly is this better?
1) Marcus is less of a defensive liability playing left field than at first base.
Might sound funny but it is true. Sure, maybe this might not be true if he were given time to learn the position but there isn’t a reason to do so right now anyway. Marcus has surprised me with his play in left field and his stats spell this out. His range has been above league average and he has a 1.000 fielding percentage through 27 games. At first-base he has been below league average in both range and fielding percentage where Casey has been above in both.
With errant throwers such as Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge continuously peppering first base and forcing heroic picks out of the dirt; Casey is the preferred player for that position. Sure, it is true, Craig is still better in left field than Marcus but we loose less with Marcus in LF than 1B.
2) Offensive gains for Detroit are greater with Thames replacing Monroe than Casey.
When Marcus replaces Sean Casey, Leyland is trading average for power. When Marcus replaces Craig Monroe, Leyland doesn’t trade away average but still gains power. When Thames fills in for Sean Casey against LHP’s the reason is not because Casey, as a lefty, has a hard time against them. The reason is because Thames cannot hit RHP’s so lefties are really the viable option to give him at-bats. That said, Craig Monroe also struggles massively against right-handers and does more-so than Marcus.
In fact, 7 of Thames 10 home runs this year have come from RHP’s while his batting average against them is a measly .202. Monroe, on the other hand, is batting .185 against RHP’s.
I’m not certain what Detroit should do past 2007 at first base. My initial feelings are to sign Sean Casey for at least another year because Thames and Shelton are proving not to be everyday players. But regardless of what happens in the future, Sean Casey gives Detroit the better chance this year.