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2006 vs. 2011: Which Tigers do you prefer (Part 2: Position Players)

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Cabrera. 2011 wins.
Cabrera. 2011 wins.

This morning, I kicked off a debate about the 2006 and 2011 Tigers by saying:

Some have brought up the question: Is this club better than the 2006 version? An obvious caveat is that it might be too early to ask that question if you believe a team must have postseason success to truly be considered great. We might have to wait a few weeks -- we hope -- to learn how deep these Tigers can go in the playoffs to make a true results-based comparison. However, we are two days away from knowing their win total. A sweep of the Indians would result in matching 95-67 results for the two iterations.

But I like to compare the players to answer the question. So today I'm going to do a 2 part series exploring how the 2006 and 2011 Tigers compared. The first part will be pitching, both starting and relieving. The second part will be position players. Then you can put it all together and decide which club you think is better.

So we'll move on from the pitchers to the position players now.

BATTING

As a glance at the runs scored column in the standings will tell you, both teams did a pretty darn good job producing runs. In 2006, 822. In 2011, 773 so far. So again, it looks like you award the victory to 2006.

However, here's how the batting order looked for the two clubs near the end of the year. I went with the 2006 ALDS lineup for Leyland to go with his "ideal." I went with an attempt to project how Leyland might write in the ALDS lineup in 2011. This of course assumes everyone is healthy. Wilson Betemit may not be. Leyland could swap any random player in the 2 and 8 spots if he feels like it.

# 2006 2011
1 L Curtis Granderson, CF R Austin Jackson, CF
2 R Placido Polanco, 2B R Magglio Ordonez/ L Andy Dirks, RF
3 R Sean Casey, 1B R Delmon Young, LF
4 R Magglio Ordonez, RF R Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5 S Carlos Guillen, SS S Victor Martinez, DH
6 R Ivan Rodriguez, C L Alex Avila, C
7 Craig Monroe, LF R Jhonny Peralta, SS
8 Marcus Thames, DH S Wilson Betemit, 3B
9 Brandon Inge, 3B S Ramon Santiago, 2B

As you know, that's no easy exercise because Leyland uses so many lineups. Several players are locked into their spots, and he randomly drops the bench players into the day's holes in the order.

First stat: OPS+. That's basically a measure of the team's offense compared to the rest of the environment that team played in. So like I wrote earlier, 2006 played during a season more runs were scored. In 2011, pitching is up, and offense is down. So the 2006 OPS+ was 99. A sliver below average. The 2011 OPS+ is 110. Above average.

The 2006 team had just four players with a OPS+ of above 100, led by Carlos Guillen (.920 OPS/ 136 OPS+). Magglio Ordonez (.827 / 112) and Marcus Thames (.882 / 123) were also above 100. Chris Shelton was too, but we know what happened to Shelton.

In comparison, the Tigers of 2011 have four batters above average: Miguel Cabrera (1.027 / 180 ), Alex Avila (.903 / 146), Victor Martinez (.837 / .129) and Jhonny Peralta (.825 / 125). Again, considering the run environment is lower now, that's just impressive.

This year wins by a mile.

* Stats from Baseball Reference.

FIELDING

2006 wins by a mile.

I guess you're going to want some numbers and analysis to back that up. Actually, you've watched the games. You probably don't need it.

Team fielding stats:

Stat 2006 2011
Defensive Efficiency .716 (rank: 3rd) .709 (rank: 17th)
Defensive Runs Saved 57 (2nd) -14 (20th)
Ultimate Zone Rating 34.1 (4th) 1 (14th)
Fielding percentage .983 (18th .983 (15th)

You might know what all of those numbers mean, you might not.. So a quick primer: Defensive efficiency tells you how often a ball in play is converted into an out. You can see the teams more or less bunch up around .700. (Thus why we say the average expected BABIP is .300.) The 2006 club was very good.

Fielding percentage you know. Basically, don't make errors. If you get to a ball out of your range but make an error, tough. You get punished by the scorekeeper. So if you're an infielder, make easy plays look easy, make hard plays your outfielder's problem. By this measure, the Tigers of 2011 are every bit as good as the Tigers of 2006.

Defensive Runs Saved is John Dewan +/- system used by Baseball Information Solutions with 0 the average. (Fangaphs' glossary on it.) It's similar to Ultimate Zone Rating, also compiled by BIS, where 0 is average. Essentially both are compiled by a person watching video of every play, classifying plays by location (zone) and how hard the ball is hit, if it's a ground ball, pop up, line drive, and other stuff. And then a formula. There's some technical differences, possibly explained here, if you really want to get into it. Advanced defensive metrics can get really complicated and hard to understand, to be honest, and there's no "best" one in my opinion. So I provided both.

Both make the same point: The 2006 Tigers fielders were saving runs. The 2011 fielders are at best average, at worst way below average.

The eye test tells you a lot of balls make it through the infield in 2011. However, a lot of fly balls, specifically those hit near center field, are turned into outs as Austin Jackson is simply an incredible fielder. However, he has Delmon Young on one side of him and sometimes Magglio Ordonez on the other. So, ...

Like I said, 2006 is the clear winner here.

*Fielding stats from Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus.

CONCLUSION

2006 fields better and still managed to put up a lot of runs. 2011 hits better, especially in this new world of the pitcher. Both were pretty good squads of players to have.

Fielding matters, clearly. Rick Porcello would look a lot better this year with a better defense. (Max Scherzer would look better with walls a bit further away, but I digress.)

But if I'm going to give the edge to this year's squad. They've got a pretty darn scary lineup, and they field well enough to get the job done.

YOUR TAKE

So which team's position players do you prefer? And which team overall do you like?

We might visit the "team legacy" question in the offseason as well, but it's too soon for that one!