There’s little doubt that the Tigers pitching staff disappointed in 2008. The Tigers 4.91 ERA was the twelfth best in the American League and while the 644 walks they gave up didn’t help, they also gave up 1,541 hits, which was eleventh best in the American League. In 2006, when they led the league with a 3.84 mark, they only gave up 1,420 hits. That’s a full 121 less then 2008. While some of that can be piled on the pitchers, the fact that the Tigers led the league in defensive efficiency in 2006 (.704 versus league average of .688 that year) and finished with a below average .686 defensive efficiency in 2008 (.691 was average) also has something to do with it.
Fortunately, the Tigers defense should get better in 2009. How much better do you ask? Well, we’ll focus on the left side of the infield and we’ll use a couple of different fielding metrics to figure out how much help is on the way.
First we’ll take a look at the Baseball Prospectus stats. Here’s a look at the Tigers who got time at third base in 2008 (the numbers represent fielding runs above a replacement level player adjusted for that season):
Carlos Guillen – 14 runs in 89 games
Brandon Inge – 10 runs in 51 games
Jeff Larish – 1 run in 12 games
Ryan Raburn – 0 runs in 18 games
Mike Hessman – 2 runs in 12 games
Ramon Santiago – -1 runs in six games
Mike Hollimon – 0 runs in two games
I know that doesn’t add up to 162 games, but it’s because some games had multiple third basemen. Anyway, if you add up all of those numbers you come with 26 runs. In 2006 Brandon Inge played 159 games at third and he logged 36 runs above replacement. That’s pretty good for a third baseman because the American League gold glove winner at third base had 28 that year (and for that matter, Chavez never finished with a higher mark then 30). That’s a ten run difference and while it’s not an exact science, ten runs usually equal about one win.
Now lets look at shortstop:
Edgar Renteria – 19 runs above replacement in 138 games
Ramon Santiago – 3 runs above replacement in 33 games
Mike Hollimon – 0 runs above replacement in 6 games.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. The Tigers 2008 total was 22 RAR. That’s not good. In fact it’s below average. Now the question is, how do we value Everett. The last time he played a full season was 2006 and he had an outstanding season with 40 FRAR. To put this in perspective, Omar Vizquel, who’s touted as probably the second best fielding shortstop of all time, never had a season above 35 FRAR. In 2007, Everett had 12 FRAR in 66 games in an injury marred season and then in 2008, he had 16 in only 44 games as a reserve.
So let’s do some back of the envelope math. For Everett to get to 40, he’d have to have another outstanding season. In 2007, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he would have gotten to 30 had he played a full year and then if you look at 2008, he could have fallen in the 35+ range if he had gotten to play every day. So let’s keep it simple. 32 isn’t out of the realm of possibility and it keeps the math simple because once again, Everett is 10 runs better then the Tigers compliment in 2008. That’s another win so if you use my sweet and simple method, the Tigers should be two wins better in the field with Inge and Everett at third and short respectively.
This also assumes that Inge and Everett play the entire year. For Inge, this is possible because he’s done it in the past few years. Everett hasn’t played a full season since 2006 so then the question is, how will Ramon Santiago, who would probably get those missed games, play in his place. While Ramon Santiago is a solid fielder, he’s not gold glove quality so the more games Everett misses, the more that the two game advantage will get chewed into.
The fielding measure I also like to look at is the +/- version that John Dewan created for his The Fielding Bible–Volume II. While this doesn’t give us a nice clean run or win number like FRAR does, it should help validate our findings above. The first volume of the Fielding Bible has 2003 through 2005 +/- figures and the short explanation of the figure is how many more plays that fielder made above what an average fielder at his position would have gotten too. For 2006 through 2008, you can find the numbers at Bill James Online. Keep in mind that we’re now talking about an average player and not a replacement player.
Anyway, using the Fielding Bible figures, Adam Everett is a stud. He led all of baseball in +/- in every year from 2003 through 2006. Even with the injury marred 2007, he still finished sixth and there wasn’t enough data to give him a rating in 2008. One interesting thing to note about Everett is, his numbers going to his right have come down considerably (from very good to just above average). Going to his left, he’s still great even if you just look at 2007. In 2008, Renteria was the 28th best fielding shortstop with a -9 ranking. He was good going to his left (but not nearly as good as in year’s past) and he was still bad going to his right.
At third base, Carlos Guillen was the 26th best fielding third baseman with a -8 rating. Inge was the second best third baseman in both 2006 and 2007 with a +27 and +22 rating respectively. Fortunately, Inge’s strength is going to his right so that should make up for any diminshed range that Everett has going to his right.
So again, let’s do some back of the envelope math. If you add Guillen and Renteria’s figured together we get -17. If Inge gets to +20, it’ll still be a good year and even Everett slides a touch and plays a whole year at +20 (his worst figure from 2003 through 2006 was +21, his best was +41 in 2006). That’s 67 plays more that you’ll see from Inge and Everett then you got from Guillen and Renteria. That’s more then one play every three games and while that doesn’t sound like a lot, I bet if you asked the pitchers, they’d definitely take it.
So there you go. Two measures and both show a big improvement. And that’s only two slots. Guillen should be an upgrade over the left field revolving door last year and something that went under the radar was that Curtis Granderson didn’t have as good of a year in the field as he did in 2007 or 2006. If both of those guys improve their positions, then it’ll just get better for the pitching staff.