DETROIT -- The Tigers had just committed $214 million to add what should be the best left-handed power bat of the Comerica Park era last month, when team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski pointed out that it isn't his favorite base hit.
It takes some explanation. He isn't going to frown at a homer, obviously. But for a team-building GM whose three teams have all played in spacious ballparks, his favorite hit is appropriately a double to the gap. And despite the presence of Prince Fielder alongside Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers reflect it.
"I mean, I'll take a game-winning home run over anything," Dombrowski explained, "but what I have found in my experience, is if you're hitting doubles, you're hitting the ball in the gaps a lot of times. And that means you're not changing your swing to be pull-oriented. I've seen too many guys in their careers [do that], and I understand it's a power game. But some guys that shouldn't be power [hitters], that are not power hitters, that try to be power hitters, and all of a sudden, their batting average goes way down, their doubles go way down, their home runs pick up, but you're not as good a club. So to me, if you can hit the doubles in the gap, [you're better]."
The Tigers once had no shortage of homer-or-bust hitters when they played at Tiger Stadium. Their 1991 team won 84 games with a lineup that included Rob Deer, Pete Incaviglia and Mickey Tettleton to complement slugger Cecil Fielder after his 51-homer breakout year, producing four of the top seven strikeout totals in the American League that season. They boasted 32 more homers and 142 more strikeouts than any other club in the league.
Detroit's 1996 club fanned its way to 109 losses with 1,268 strikeouts, a total no AL team topped for another 11 years. The Tigers led the league in strikeouts for six straight seasons, and finished first or second in home runs in five of them. That's how they were built for the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
Then came the move to Comerica Park, where slugging home runs wasn't going to happen for many. The Tigers have only led the league in strikeouts once since then, and that was the 2003 team that lost 119 games. They've done more to add good overall hitters in 10 years under Dombrowski, both at the big league level and through the Draft, rather than focusing on power.
Detroit's biggest addition last year, Victor Martinez, drove in 103 runs despite just 12 home runs, mainly because he tied his career high with 40 doubles. The Tigers added a home run champion in Miguel Cabrera, but one better known as an overall power hitter than a simple masher. His home runs are just as likely to go to the opposite field as they are to be pulled.
"Prince Fielder's that type of guy, too," Dombrowski said, "because he doesn't have to try to pull the ball. He does pull the ball, but he can hit that ball out all over the place. If you see his home runs, boom, they shoot out the opposite way."
Fielder hit exactly half of his 38 home runs last year toward the middle of the field, according to baseball-reference.com, compared to 15 homers pulled to right and four sent out to the opposite field.
Fielder's doubles totals aren't massive for the number of at-bats he gets. He hasn't had more doubles than homers in a year since his rookie season in 2006, though his 36 doubles last year in Milwaukee came close -- and explained, in part, his .299 batting average.
A third of those doubles went to left, again according to baseball-reference.com. Another 15 went up the middle, compared to pulling just nine of them.
Whether those numbers shift with the move to a different ballpark could be interesting to watch for in Fielder's game. He's just a .213 career hitter at San Diego's Petco Park, another stadium known for its huge gaps, but he's 9-for-35 there -- with three doubles and a home run -- over the last three seasons.
More important could be the hitters around him. Cabrera, for instance, has 93 doubles over the last two years, more than half of them on the road. Delmon Young's career year in Minnesota in 2010 came mainly on the strength of 46 doubles. Brennan Boesch, despite his prodigious raw power, has had better success with doubles.
"Again, I'll take 50 home runs," Dombrowski said. "I mean, I'd love to have 50 home runs. But you want that guy to be productive. I don't like the all-or-nothing [hitter]. That's what I'm saying.
"And I've known guys that have hit 35 home runs and knocked in 70. That's not what you ideally want. If that guy hits 30-35, you want him driving in 100."