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Brandon Inge a polarizing Tiger, but he falls somewhere in the middle

Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.

For the most part, our player polls have tended toward the middle. Will that change with today's featured player, Brandon Inge? Fans either seem to love him or hate him. It seems like there is no middle ground. Or is there?

The average third baseman in the American League batted .260 with a .314 on-base percentage and .414 slugging average. Brandon Inge was slightly beneath these numbers. On the other hand, Inge hangs his hat on his defense, and he was again above-average at the hot corner.

If you like, you can add in the fact Inge is a gamer. I guess that's an intangible. I shy away from it, as it can go either way. He returned from the disabled list after fracturing a bone after just 16 days. While trying to plate hurt is commendable, his decision to play with injured knees in 2009 likely hurt the team in what turned out to be a razor-thin race.

What's this all add up to?

I'd say a C+ player overall myself. What do you say?

At the plate:
Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2010 33 144 580 514 47 127 28 5 13 70 4 54 134 .247 .321 .397 .718 94
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/14/2010.

The reputation Inge carries is that of a batter who is just really bad at hitting. But compared with others at his position, he's really not bad at all. Obviously, he's not above-average either. But there's nothing bad about being average, especially because for an above-average defender.

Inge batted .247 with a .321 on-base percentage and .397 slugging average. With runners in scoring position, he actually improved as a batter in all three categories. His home run numbers dropped way off from last year, 27 down to 13. That meant he had a lot less power this year than the average third baseman, who hit 19 homers.

The knock on Inge is that he strikes out a lot. He did so in 26.1 percent of his plate appearances this season, and memory would tell you a number of the times were poorly timed from the Tigers' standpoint. If you want to dive into sabermetrics, Inge's "clutch" statistic listed at Fangraphs was the lowest on the team. His win probability added ended up a negative, and again was the lowest on the team. (Glossary).

In the field:

Inge's UZR rating was 3.1 runs better than the average third baseman. He ranked sixth among AL regulars. This is good, though a lot less so than it was earlier in Inge's career. The 2010 Scouting Report by the fans pegged Inge as the Tigers' top defender. He listed above-average for his instincts, speed, glovework, throwing power and throwing accuracy.

Inge can again frustrate here, because the very thing that make him a good defender detract from his overall abilities. He just thinks he can make every play. That allows him to make quite a few plays other defenders wouldn't make. It also inspires him to overthrow first base on plays he has no real opportunity to get the baserunner out on. You just feel like a little self control might make Inge a better overall fielder. But instead, too much cautiousness could actually make him a worse one. It's a tight rope.

What 2010 tells us about 2011:

This season looks like the average Inge season. It's hard to predict which direction he could go because of that. If you want to hedge your bets, I'd say he'll show some decreases across the board next year. But he could show a slight uptick as well if things break right.

As well, his defense seems to be dropping off a bit with age. He's good, but good is getting awfully close to average.

Inge is a free agent this offseason, and there's been talk the Tigers have offered him a multi-year deal. He'll likely accept it. Whether or not this is good for the team can be debated. While Inge is a nice player to have, the possibility remains the Tigers could upgrade the position. For their part, the Tigers likely view a few more years of Inge at third base as a bridge to the next generation and a better overall solution than paying more for a free agent this offseason.

Resources:

I used Baseball-Reference, ESPN.com, Fangraphs and the 2010 Scouting Report.