Friday, July 13, 2012

Fixing the Detroit "D" relatively simple

Even bad defensive teams make good plays:
Detroit catcher Gerald Laird tags out
Minnesota's Darin Mastroianni.

Last week I posted a piece opining that the biggest reason the Detroit Tigers didn't live up to expectations int the first half was their offense -- that the defense, while bad, wasn't really much worse than expected.

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.
Jackson is often touted as a Gold Glove candidate, but the metrics aren't nearly as impressed with him as they are with Denard Span. The Tigers have run through a bunch of second basemen, with Santiago logging the most innings; none have been close to a plus with the glove. And Brendan Bosch has been brutal in right field.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I am not sure why you (or anyone else, for that matter) puts much credence in defensive metrics. Even their most frevent supporters usually add the caveat that it thats often a couple years for defensive metrics to be accurate.

    Now that type of thinking baffles me. By the time the metrics have enough data to be accurate, the player in question has probably gotten better or prehaps worse depending on age or injuries.

    Personally, I doubt if defensive metrics mean much. They either depend on observation by what are likely untrained observers.(How hard was that ball hit, was that a line drive or a fly ball, was that ball truly catchable by the average left fielder, etc. etc) Or like UZR they probably don't really measure anything about fielding.

    Any defensive metric that suggests that Fielder and Cabrera are close to average at their positions is highly suspect.