Friday, May 25, 2012

What Can Berry Do For You?

By Sean Gagnier

Austin Jackson was having a renaissance season, he was hitting and drawing walks as well as playing the elite center field that Tigers fans have come to expect. But a funky swing in an at-bat in Chicago tweaked something in Jackson's back and it just wasn't right. He rested it for a number of days and when he felt it could be ready to go he stepped into the batting cage for some batting practice in Cleveland. However, Jackson's back disagreed with his time table for returning to the lineup and after re-aggravating it in BP the Tigers placed him on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to a week earlier, and called up Quintin Berry from the Toledo Mud Hens.

So who exactly is Berry and what can he do for the Tigers? First things first, he can play a tremendous center field. He has the range, plus some, of Jackson and so far with the Tigers he has shown that he has a decent arm from center field as well. While he might not have the arm that Jackson does in the field, he won't need to use it with the speed that he possesses.

Tigers fans have come to see Jackson as the only source of speed on their roster, and for the most part they are right, but the addition of Berry to the lineup gives the Tigers something they haven't had in a long time; blistering speed. Berry isn't just fast, he's Usain Bolt fast. With the kind of raw speed that Berry has, he can steal a base despite the entire stadium knowing that he is going to try for the steal.

That kind of speed can change games. Just think about the last time the Tigers played the Angels; every time one of their runners reached base they at least threatened to steal second, or even third, base. And because of that threat Tigers pitching threw over to the bag multiple times and the pitcher was unable to focus on the batter because he was thinking about the runner on base.

One thing that this Detroit team lacks is speed. Jackson was the Tigers only speed and possible base stealer, and opposing teams knew that. Once Jackson was off the bases there was no urgency paid to the runners and the pitcher was able to focus wholly on the batter. With the addition of Berry opponents will have to implement all the tools at their disposal to keep him from stealing; throws to the bag, look overs, pitch-out's, snap throws by the catcher.

But when the dugout and pitching battery are strategizing about the runner who has already reached base, that is a mental victory for the Tigers. Berry has stolen 55 bags in a season while in the minors, he is the real deal. When Jackson returns to the lineup, Berry should stay with him if the Tigers truly want to make a run.

Beyond stealing bases Berry makes the opponents rush every play that he is involved in. For instance, in Cleveland there were two plays where Berry's speed helped the Tigers despite neither of them being the theft of second base. Berry laid down a bunt, presumably to try to catch the Indians off balance, but due to his speed he pulled the second baseman out of position and turned an ordinary bunt into a bunt double and his first major league hit.

Another instance was when Berry rolled over a ball and the pitcher charged off the mound to grab it and throw him out at first. This is an ordinary play, but because the pitcher knew in the back of his head how fast Berry was he rushed the throw and pulled his first baseman off the bag.

While his bat hasn't shown up yet with Detroit, the sample size is still small and he should be given more of a chance. But if he does begin to get hot at the plate when Jackson is ready to return the Tigers need to keep him in the every day lineup. Berry could be shifted over to left field and Jackson would be able to reclaim his position in center field. Andy Dirks, who is currently manning left field, could be moved to the DH position.

The odd man out in that situation would be Delmon Young, who prior to his arrest in New York was the Tigers every day left fielder. Since his incident he has been the DH in almost every game that he has played. Seemingly Detroit would like to keep his bat in the lineup without sacrificing defense in left field. However, his bat hasn't really showed up and something needs to be done to spark this team and keep them hot.

Berry is that spark and that spark should be tindered and cared for until it goes out. Detroit needs to ride their lightning bolt as long as they can.

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