I come to bury Ryan Raburn, not to praise him.
May as well get that out of the way, forthwith, because I don’t want you under any illusions here. Those who are here to read a balanced, Devil’s advocate piece about Mr. Raburn, the Tigers’ mockery of a second baseman, click away, right now. Hit “back” on your browser. Anything—just get the hell out of here.
Listening to Pat Caputo on 97.1 The Ticket this morning, I was told that the reason the Tigers keep Raburn on the roster is, frankly, because of money. Raburn’s contract, set to pay him about $2 million next season, is signed, sealed and delivered. Caputo said that the choice is simple: keep Raburn or release him and eat the contract.
Let me tell you, it would be the best $2 million the Tigers have ever shoved down their gullets.
This shouldn’t even be an issue. Ryan Raburn isn’t a big leaguer. At least, not now, he isn’t. Certainly, he’s not an everyday second baseman.
I’ve seen some hack jobs and frauds come through Detroit: Nate Colbert, Rob Deer, Bip Roberts, to name a few. But never have I seen a player get as much playing time as Raburn gets with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of—are you sitting down?—66-to-8.
Let me repeat: 66. To. Eight.
That kind of ratio simply cannot be tolerated on any big league player’s stat line—at least not of any player who’s playing for a team that is in playoff contention.
The Tigers are trying to pull a real humdinger if they think they can win even the putrid AL Central with an infield that’s half made up of Raburn and Don Kelly. But this isn’t about Kelly, who currently is the team’s starting third baseman by default. This is about Raburn.
Raburn brings nothing to the table these days. His glove, I’ve written before, was welded, not laced. He doesn’t run particularly well. But it’s his bat that is the most offensive part of his game.
Big league hitters need to make contact, at least some of the time. Home run hitters are prone to the strikeout, but they’re home run hitters. You can live with 150 K's if the dude is also smacking 30-40 big flies a season.
Raburn, in 185 at-bats this season, is hitting .200. But that’s not the worst of it. There’s the 66-to-8 ratio previously mentioned, and the home run total is a mere five. Raburn has nearly twice as many strikeouts as he has base hits. If he draws a walk, it’s by pure accident or because the pitcher’s arm is dangling off his shoulder.
Raburn is a sucker for the high fastball, above the letters and right about at his eyeballs. He’s also prone to being called out on strikes, and swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. Did I leave anything out?
Raburn is an abomination—a disgrace as a big leaguer. The fans at Comerica Park, who have amazed me by their Job-like patience in the past, have taken to booing Raburn with zeal in recent games.
Manager Jim Leyland says he’s sitting Raburn down tonight against the Seattle Mariners.
“I'm going to get him away from it. Maybe a couple of days," Leyland told Tom Gage of The Detroit News. “He's fighting himself. But he also had a couple of borderline pitches that didn't go his way. That's what happens when you're struggling a little bit—which obviously he is."
Leyland is at his wit’s end with Raburn. The manager even pinch-hit Ramon Santiago for Raburn in the ninth inning of Friday night’s loss to the Mariners, after Raburn had a three-strikeout night.
There’s no good reason that Raburn should occupy a spot on the Tigers roster, including his contract situation. If Gary Sheffield’s monster contract can be devoured, as it was when the Tigers released him just before the 2009 season, then certainly Raburn’s can, too.
The Central Division has never been as ripe for the taking as it is this season. The Tigers’ main competition, the teams we all thought would be their nemeses—the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins—are down in the dumps. The Twins aren’t coming back. The White Sox are still a distance from .500.
The Cleveland Indians are taking their predictable plunge. The Tigers just have to win this division, their first in 24 years.
But they can’t do it while playing a “second baseman” who hits .200 and who strikes out more than eight times for every time that he walks. Oh, why did the Tigers let Placido Polanco walk away from them after 2009?
Forget trading Raburn, if that’s what you’re thinking. Who would have him? He has no trade value. His numbers aren’t written in invisible ink, you know.
The Tigers are trying to hide Raburn, but that’s impossible. No matter where they bat him, a rally inevitably seems to find him—and that rally promptly has its air released from it, replaced by the air of Raburn’s bat swooshing into nothing.
Raburn had a good second half last year. But this is big league baseball, not Little League or high school baseball. This is the big time. Professional sports can be a heartless business, because it’s so predicated on “What have you done for me lately?”
Last year was last year. Those wins don’t get added to this year's record, and Raburn’s numbers can’t be blended into this year’s stats to dilute their stench.
If the Tigers are serious about winning—and I mean truly serious—then they’ll do things befitting that seriousness. That means making decisions that are based on performance, not contracts or what someone did last year.
Magglio Ordonez is coming back soon from his ankle injury. Speculation is that someone who “doesn’t deserve” to be optioned to Toledo will be lopped off, i.e. Andy Dirks or Danny Worth.
Two things: the Tigers are carrying one more relief pitcher than normal; and why does the optioned player have to be Dirks or Worth?
Ryan Raburn ought to be cut the moment Ordonez sets foot in the Tigers clubhouse, which could be as soon as Monday.
These are the big leagues. And this is a pennant race in the making. The Tigers aren’t bottom-feeders who can afford to wait to see if Raburn will come around. We’re into mid-June, almost. In the big leagues, if you don’t perform, they get rid of you and give someone else a shot.
The Tigers are insulting the intelligence of their fanbase if they think they can trot Ryan Raburn out to second base every day, with his .200 average and 66-to-8 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and call themselves playoff contenders.
Shame on them if they think that. And shame on them if they keep Raburn much longer, whose impersonation of a major league baseball player wouldn’t even last five minutes on the stage at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle on amateur night.