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Brennan Boesch shows gains in 2011

Just like last year, we'll be grading all the Tigers who contributed significant playing time over the course of the season, starting with the position players, then doing the rotation members, and finally finishing up with the bullpen and writing profiles for players without enough playing time to earn a grade. Each list will run in alphabetical order. These reviews will occasionally dip into sabermetrics so we can get a better idea why things happened, but I'll try to explain as we go through things.

Brennan Boesch

Like his rookie year, Brennan Boesch's numbers were a lot better in the first half than the second. However, he had a pretty good excuse for falling off in the final weeks of his season this year: A painful thumb that eventually required surgery to fix.

Boesch was actually batting as high as a .298 average (with an .841 OPS) on Aug. 2. His rate of strikeouts to plate appearances was 16.3%. Somewhere early in August -- I cannot find an exact date -- he hurt the thumb. Tigers trainer Kevin Rand said it was a Grade 3 sprain. Yet Boesch tried to play through it and even added up with pain in his biceps as he tried to compensate for the injury. So from Aug. 3 until the end of his year, Boesch batted .163 with a .479 OPS and strikeouts in more than 27% of his plate appearances. That torpedoed his second-half splits.

So a "Tale of Two Boeschs" storyline doesn't work here.

While he was healthy, he was a pretty good, mostly consistent batter. In the field, he was not a thing of beauty but he did well enough to start without scaring Tigers fans. (Low bar, I know.) He should continue to be a starter in the Tigers' uniform.

So when I add it all up, I give him a B.

At the plate

There were a few things to like about Boesch's season beyond what the bubble-gum card numbers tell you. (Those numbers, by the way: .286 average, 16 home runs, 54 RBI.) Boesch's on-base percentage improved to .341, his slugging to .458. His walk rate remained steady, while his strikeout rate decreased. Both of those numbers were obviously better before the injury.

Diving a bit deeper, we can see the biggest change in Boesch's game came in plate discipline. His rookie year, he chased everything. In 2011, he swung less often -- whether the ball was inside or outside the strike zone. His swinging strike percentage decreased, while his rate of contact increased.

Beyond the injury-dampened August, Boesch had one period of major struggle. After a hot start to April, he changed his approach at the plate in May. He hit a few more home runs, but he also ended up with plummeting stats and effectiveness across the board. After he got back to his game, he became a more consistent batter.

In the field

Across the board, he rates as below average. He had a -5.8 UZR and -5 defensive runs saved. On the 2011 Fans Scouting Report, he rated as a 43. (50 is average.) Fans saw him as having below-average instincts and glove work, but above-average throwing strength and accuracy.

My eye test agrees.

In the future

Looking at the stats that might tell us about next season, Boesch doesn't seem to have any regressing to do. His .315 BABIP matched his .315 xBABIP based on batted ball types. His line drive rate improved as well. We also saw several improvements in the right places, as I mentioned.

As long as Boesch returns in 2012 as a healthy player who remembers the approach at the plate that was most effective for him, I think he should be expected to repeat his performance. So an average closer to .300 than .250, and an OPS closer to .800 than .700 seems quite likely. However, if he reverts to a free-swinger who'll chase anything, those figures will definitely be on the lower end.

At this point, I'd consider him a starter in 2012.