At the beginning of the season, some baseball writers declared that the Tigers had put together one of the best lineups of all-time and could score 1000 runs, a feat matched by just a handful of teams in history. It was declared that there was no holes in the Tigers lineup (cleverly forgetting about players like Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn, and Delmon Young, all who have received a ton of playing time this year). MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds even declared that Brennan Boesch was “one of the best young hitters in baseball”. Of course, Boesch turned 27 at the beginning of the season, usually the peak season for position players (which makes him hard to declare “young”). Boesch has responded with an OBP of .286 and SLG of .338, good for a wRC+ of 78 and an 80 OPS +. Boesch is one of the worst all-around players in the Majors, the 3rd worst (behind Michael Young and Jeff Francoeur) in fWAR for “qualified” hitters, and 5th worst overall (behind Young, Raburn, Francoeur, and Ryan Kalish).
So what happened? While calling him one one of the best young players in baseball was over the top, he was decent in two previous years with the Tigers, posting an OPS + of 106, which is not bad for a corner outfielder (this year, the average corner outfielder has an OPS + of 109-110). He was a liability defensively, but he wasn’t the Tigers biggest problem. This year, aside from awful infield defense and exceptionally poor play at 2nd base (which was fixed by the Omar Infante trade), Boesch has been the Tigers biggest problem.
One of the first thing you notice about Boesch is an ugly downward hack. It isn’t quite Julio Borbon’s “can I chop this ball in half” swing, but it is a really bad looking swing. When he faced Yu Darvish this past weekend, the plan seemed to be: swing at the first inside fastball and pound it directly into the ground (this followed having his bat broken with the bases loaded against Mike Adams the night before). Not suprisingly, this has lead to a lot of grounders. Boesch has the 34th highest GB% out of qualified batters. For the most part, hitting ground-balls is not a great way to gain success. This year in the Majors, ground-balls have a .491 OPS compared to a .848 OPS for fly-balls. However, when you look at the 33 players with more ground-balls, they have an average WAR of 1.98. This comes with a caveat though, as those players average .88 baserunning value so far this year according to Fangraphs. Boesch on the other hand, has a positive baserunning value, but it sits at just .5. The point is, hitters that hit a lot of ground-balls in the big leagues stay in the big leagues because they have the skillset to back it up, whether it is good defense (or absolute power when they get the ball in the air in the case of Robinson Cano) or just the speed to beat out infield hits. Boesch is an above average runner, but not by much. He has 55 speed the last two years according to the Fans Scouting Report and 63 speed according to the Baseball Cube. I got 4.15 to first, which is above average but not burner speed by any means. The skillset doesn’t really lend itself to hitting a lot of grounders, especially once you factor in that his bat is his source of value since he is so bad defensively.
In the end, his approach/swing is just really bad. His BB/K is the 4th worst out of all qualified hitters (amazingly, the other 3 are on playoff contenders as well: Alexi Ramirez, Chris Davis, Dayan Viciedo). He walks just 4% of the time and strikes out roughly 19% of the time. That isn’t good.