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Evaluating the offense: Most Tigers infielders trail league average

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You probably won't be surprised to learn that the Tigers' infielders can't hit.

Miguel Cabrera, you're excluded from this conversation.

What probably will surprise you, however, is that the Tigers have been getting better production out of the shortstop position, relative to league average anyway, than you'd expect for a team that isn't allowed to use a designated hitter for Adam Everett.

On my old blog Tigers By The Numbers I had started a series looking at a players total value graphically. I'm going to dive back into that somewhat and look at the Detroit Tigers offense at each position compared to the American League average.

I'm going to be breaking this up into two parts. Today, we'll look at the Tigers offensive production relative to the league average for the entire infield.

Before we get started with the numbers, what I've done is used the 2008 weights for the Weighted On Base Average. I use this, because I can convert it to a runs total. When I show an individual player's wOBA in this article, it will be derived from the 2008 weights and, therefore, won't align with what you see at Fangraphs because they are using 2009 weights for the 2010 season (to my knowledge; they may switch over to a custom set of 2010 weights but I've rattled on long enough of this nerdiciousness already).

For instance, I have Austin Jackson with a wOBA of .370 as of this writing (Monday night with statistics updated through Sunday) and Fangraphs has his wOBA at .374 -- not a big difference but a difference nonetheless.

Position League Avg Tigers Run Diff Per 162
C 0.309 0.253 -7.2 -32.4
1B 0.333 0.431 13.6 56.6
2B 0.313 0.289 -3.2 -14.0
3B 0.310 0.284 -3.5 -15.1
SS 0.289 0.274 -1.8 -8.6

Here, we've got the positions, the wOBA that I've calculated for the league average and the Tigers as a team. Run Diff is the run differential -- and this is why I love using wOBA as an offensive metric -- over the number of plate appearances each position has had for the Tigers thus far. Per 162 is that run differential extrapolated over 700 PA's -- what each position roughly sees over the course of 162 games.

On the team level, we stack up pretty close to average. Miguel Cabrera being a beast really boosts our first base numbers.

The thing I want to hit on the most right now, is just how anemic the shortstop position really is. Watching Adam Everett is akin to plucking someone from the batting cages at a miniature golf course and putting him up against professional pitchers, but the Tigers aren't far off from the league average in 2010, thus far.

But, that's just at the team level, who is responsible for most of this on an individual level? Well, I'm glad you asked.

On an individual level, I'm going to present a couple different numbers.

Player wOBA Pos. wOBA Runs
Miguel Cabrera 0.433 0.333 13.9
Ryan Raburn 0.306 0.313 -0.3
Ramon Santiago 0.332 0.289 3.2
Brandon Inge 0.289 0.31 -2.6
Scott Sizemore 0.261 0.313 -4.9
Alex Avila 0.260 0.309 -2.6
Gerald Laird 0.241 0.309 -5.3
Adam Everett 0.204 0.289 -4.4

Here, the runs total is the difference between each player and the league average wOBA over the course of the PA's the player has. In other words, Adam Everett has had 62 PA's. That is 4.4 runs lower than if a shortstop with league average offensive skills had taken those 62 PA's.

Bullet points!

  • Miguel Cabrera? Yeah, he's pretty good.
  • At some point I need to stop doubting Ramon Santiago. I'm going to be honest: I don't know if he's been so good offensively (relatively speaking) due to the way Jim Leyland's handled him or if he's a part-timer that should be a full-timer. I'm reaching the point where we should be exploring this option.
  • Alex Avila ... well even the best struggle. At least he's been good defensively!
  • I thought the average American League catcher's wOBA would be closer to that of the AL shortstop. Color me surprised (though, it is lower than the overall average).

One thing I like to look at are the updated and rest-of-season ZiPS projections on Fangraphs. I wanted to use this to see if we can gauge what to expect in the future from the players above -- for instance, Alex Avila is a better hitter than he's shown. So a reversion should be in the cards (but it doesn't mean that it will happen).

Player TT wOBA Pos. wOBA TT Runs
Miguel Cabrera 0.405 0.333 32.3
Ryan Raburn 0.344 0.313 7.3
Ramon Santiago 0.314 0.289 1.1
Brandon Inge 0.306 0.31 5.6
Scott Sizemore 0.303 0.313 -7.1
Alex Avila 0.300 0.309 -5.9
Gerald Laird 0.283 0.309 -15.3
Adam Everett 0.269 0.289 -9.0

Here I've used the rest-of-season ZiPS projections for each player and call it the "True Talent" wOBA (TT wOBA). Now, don't take that term to literal, it's just easier than making it the Rest Of Season wOBA (ROS wOBA). Like the table before it, I've converted these wOBA's to a runs total which I called "True Talent Runs." These don't match up with the Fangraphs player pages because I took the raw data (Plate appearances, singles, doubles, triples, etc etc) and used the 2008 wOBA weights to then compute my own rest of season ZiPS projections. The TT Runs are extrapolated out over the course of the projected PA's in the ZiPS update.

Bullet points, again!

  • I like Avila's odds of rebounding. He may still be below average, but if Gerald Laird's defense doesn't start picking up (as of today, throwing out 27.2% of runners as of Sunday night), there are no excuses for Alex Avila to not take over the starting role so long as the starting pitcher's are okay with it.
  • Like I said above, I don't know if Santiago is good because of the way he's been used or if he's just plain good, but I'd like to find out. I never hopped on the same train of thought regarding Marcus Thames in the past, but I and firmly on it with regards to Santiago -- and I've been an Adam Everett Apologist since we were looking for a shortstop after the 2008 season.
  • I'd expect to see Sizemore back in Motown, solely because I don't count on Guillen being healthy the rest of this season. Sizemore's bat is projecting to be below average the rest of the way, but he's a better talent than he showed in his first eight weeks of big league time.
  • Cabrera will slow down. That's fine. He'll still be a friggin' beast.

Part Two will look at all three outfield spots and the DH spot. What position interests you the most?