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Brandon Inge fading from Tigers' future

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.

Brandon Inge

Most of our polls make visual sense. If I give someone an A, they''ll mostly get A votes along with some B and maybe a trickle of C. If I give a B, they'll mostly get B votes with A and C thrown in for good measure. I am curious to see if Brandon Inge breaks that mold. He'll be the first player who gets failing votes, I'm certain of that.

As you know, Inge did not play an entire season at the major league level. He continued to field at an above-average level, but his bat was bad even by Inge standards. When Wilson Betemit was acquired in July, the Tigers had to make room for their new third baseman. The most logical step was to jettison their old third baseman, who wasn't getting the job done. The Tigers and Inge worked out an agreement where he would accept a demotion to Triple-A but be back up on the major league roster no later than Sept. 1.

That seemed to work out well for both parties. The Tigers had an immediate boost to the lineup from Betemit. Inge relaxed a bit in Toledo and hit the ball well. In his at bat when he returned to the Tigers from the minors on Aug. 20, Inge homered. Inge proved his worth even more in the postseason, where he hit .318 with a home run and an OPS of .923.

So at the very least, I guess we can say it was an eventful year for Inge. But was it a good one? Sadly, no.

If you're into WAR (wins above replacement), Fangraphs' or Baseball Reference's WAR figures are both in the negatives, making Inge not just below average, but below replacement level for the year. Ouch.


At the plate:

It's hard to see the numbers through covered eyes, but they're really frightening to look at.

Inge is known for not hitting the ball well. That is common knowledge. Yet, you have to go back to his rookie year to find a worse season. He finished the season with a .197 average -- yes, below the Mendoza Line. Fortunately, he did occasionally take walks, resulting in an OBP of .265 and an OPS of .548.

I guess you can blame bad luck for a bit of it. His BABIP was .256. That's pretty low. Of course, his xBABIP was .280, so he's not really falling on his face either. Still, that would have kept him above the Mendoza Line. His strikeout rate (24%) was a little bit above normal. His walk rate (7.9%) was a little bit below. His power (.086) fell off hard from 2010 (and his career norm) of .150.

So it was definitely not a good year no matter how you cut it.

In the field:

Sure, Inge occasionally comes up with a flashy play at third base. Unfortunately, he also comes up with too many wild throws along side it.

By UZR, Inge was slightly better at fielding than the average third baseman -- 1.8 By Defensive Runs Saved, he was slightly below -- -2. Either way, you notice an alarming trend when you look at the numbers: He's getting worse and worse every year. You might be able to accept a good fielding, no-bat third baseman (under limited circumstances).

Unfortunately, with each year he ages we are getting close to a no-glove, no-bat third baseman.

Fans at the 2011 Scouting Report still rated his instincts, glovework and throwing power as above average. However, his 63 score is down sharply from the 83 it was in 2009 and 79 in 2010. So I think the fans are in agreement with the advanced metrics.

Next year:

I could see Inge rebounding slightly at the plate. Honestly, it's hard to picture him batting worse. In the field, I think we'll continue to see what happens when a once-great fielder suffers from bad knees and aging.

As of right now, I'd say Inge has a chance to be the starting third baseman in 2012. I say that for three reasons: The free agent market isn't great, the uncertainty of a trade opportunity, and the money owed to Inge. Mind you none of those reasons, or even all of them put together, mean that he'll trot out to third base when the Tigers take the field on Opening Day.

But as of right now, I find it hard to believe the Tigers would just release him and eat his contract.