Can Tigers' Victor Martinez Challenge for the Batting Title in 2013 Comeback?

Ron JuckettContributor IIIMarch 6, 2013

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Victor Martinez #41 of the Detroit Tigers bats during the game against the Atlanta Braves on February 22, 2013 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The Tigers defeated the Braves 2-1.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Coming off an injury that kept him sidelined the entire 2012 season, Victor Martinez figures to be a vital cog in the engine of the Detroit Tigers offense.

Slated to bat fifth and be the everyday designated hitter, Martinez does have a shot at winning the batting title.

In his last full year, 2011, Martinez hit .330 with the Tigers.

That average would have won him the batting title last year in the American League outright over teammate Miguel Cabrera.

Martinez’s .32962 was better than Cabrera’s .32958. He would have denied Cabrera the Triple Crown.

In 2011, however, that mark was only good enough for fourth place—still, a career-high.

A .303 career hitter, Martinez has finished in the top 10 in batting average three times. As the 2013 season gets underway, he is 12th on the currently active list in hitting.

Martinez is part of a stacked Tigers lineup. The top six all hit above .300 last year or in the last season they played. Hitting behind Prince Fielder and ahead of Andy Dirks, Martinez will get good pitches to hit.

The key will be Dirks.

Last year, in a season where he platooned with Quintin Berry in the outfield against left-handed pitchers, Dirks hit .322. If Martinez is to have a shot at winning the batting title, Dirks’ average cannot go any lower than .290. Dirks must not give pitchers a reason to pitch around Martinez to get to the back end of the lineup.

From leadoff hitter Austin Jackson all the way down to Dirks, AL pitchers will have a very rough time trying to find the weak spot to pitch to in the top of that lineup. They will be further pressured if Martinez can drive in the hundred runs he is expected to as well.

The other key for Martinez is going to be how many games he plays.

He will be 34 this year and will be coming off that injury. Even though Martinez may sparingly play first base or catch, manager Jim Leyland will take full measure to rest him at times.

No one expects Torii Hunter to play 150 games in right field. Hunter will get some chances to rest his body as the DH as either Berry or Brennan Boesch will get some chances in the outfield.

Also, do not be surprised if Fielder and Cabrera get a few games in his DH spot as well. Whether Leyland would rest Martinez really depends on how Victor feels and how important that game is for the Tigers.

Remember, a player needs 502 at-bats to qualify for the batting crown. Martinez only had 540 in 2011.

He qualified, but a smart manager like Jim Leyland is going to do what is best for the team. If keeping three or four players in the mix for designated hitter is best for the Tigers this year, then that is what Leyland has to do to get back in the playoffs.

After seeing Delmon Young struggling to hit in the designated hitter role last year, Tiger fans must be giddy having Martinez back in the lineup every day.

In some ways, it is like he is a new player all over again. His individual success will be a very good barometer of how the Tigers are faring overall.

With all that hitting talent on the team, however, winning the batting crown will be a tough task to achieve. Tigers fans can console themselves with the fact that they possess so many hitters with a legitimate chance to actually win the batting title.