|Even bad defensive teams make good plays:|
Detroit catcher Gerald Laird tags out
Minnesota's Darin Mastroianni.
Which hardly means the defense is blameless in the Tigers' struggles to play even .500 ball. As I said last week, the defense appears to have turned one of the American League's better pitching staffs into one of the worst. The offense has been disappointing, and the defense is preventing the pitchers from picking up the slack.
One thing that I found in looking at the Baseball Info Systems defensive metrics on the team is how little the plus-minus and runs saved stats agree with my perception of the Tigers defense. And if these metrics truly reflect reality, the defense can be pretty quickly fixed.
My perception: Of the eight defensive spots, one (Austin Jackson in center field) is well above average, one (Alex Avila at catcher) is about average, and the other six are below average. Ramon Santiago, utility infielder, is the best middle infield glove.
The metrics: Two positions -- second base and right field -- have been dreadful and everybody else is about average. And Santiago, in truth, isn't helping in the middle infield.
First baseman Prince Fielder and third baseman Miguel Cabrera are slightly worse than average defensively by these numbers, and shortstop Jhonny Peralta is slightly better. I would have expected all three to be near the bottom of the league at their respective positions. They aren't. (Watching Fielder butcher a high one-hop throw during the All-Star Game gives me further pause; I doubt I've seen a full-time first baseman who has more difficulty with bounced throws than Fielder. Still, the numbers are what they are.)
|Jhonny Peralta probably isn't as bad a shortstop as I think.|
The Tigers opened the season playing Delmon Young every day in left. After his arrest and suspension back in late April, Young was assigned to the DH job, and left field --largely Andy Dirks (now on the DL) and Quintin Berry -- became a defensive plus. (As a group, the non-Young LFs are +9 in plus/minus with seven runs saved; Young is -7 and -5. Berry -- and this is odd for an outfielder with his speed -- is -2, -2.)
Assuming that Berry is not really that poor an outfielder, I think the Tigers could really improve their lineup simply by acquiring a competent full-time second baseman in the coming weeks. Even an average defender who can hit would upgrade the position in two ways. Right now they have poor defense and weak offense there.
Fix second base, and the Tigers are in good position to win the divisional title. Let it continue to fester, and they will continue to struggle.