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Half time report card: Tigers get a D- for Defense

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This is the fourth and final article in a series measuring the Tigers on their performance through 81 games. We've graded the Tiger rotation, bullpen, and lineup separately. I've saved the worst for last.



The Tigers’ defense has been downright awful in the first half of the 2012 season. There is no other way to put it. In all likelihood, their poor defense has kept them below .500 and made the difference between the team being in third place, as they currently are, and leading the division.

By almost every defensive metric available, the Tigers are the worst fielding team in the American League. Baseball prospectus shows that the Tigers are last in the American league in Defensive Efficiency Rating. In 2,795 batters faced, they have converted just .688 percent into outs, The definition of DER is found here, but to summarize, DER is the percentage of balls put in play that are converted to outs.

Using another method, the Tigers are last in the league in Defensive Runs Saved, with a negative 23 runs thus far in 2012, through 6519 innings in the field. DRS is a measure of individual or team defense created by John Dewan, author of The Fielding Bible, and now published by Fangraphs, and described here.

One can also look at UZR which shows the Tigers last in the league with a negative 27.2 runs attributable to their fielding. The Tigers are second last in double plays, last in out of zone plays, second last in passed balls, and second last in assists, meaning that they have to rely more heavily on direct putouts and strikeouts than other teams do.

We always have to caution about using small sample sizes, such as partial seasons, when using defensive metrics, because a player will only get so many chances to make a play in a limited time frame, and random variation can skew the numbers with a different result from just a couple of plays. Here, however, we have the combined efforts of an entire team of players over half a season, more than 6500 innings, so the trends are worthy of a look.

Going position by position, the Tigers rate last in the league at second base and in right field, and rank tenth or lower at third base, left field, and first base. They’re in the middle of the pack at shortstop, and only in center field are the Tigers above average, where they rank third in DRS and UZR. In fact, Austin Jackson is the only Tiger with a positive UZR and DRS on the entire team after 81 games.

I wish there was reason to believe that things are going to get better, but I don’t see that happening with the players that they currently have. Moving Delmon Young to DH and getting him out of left field was a good move, and every time they put Raburn in the outfield instead of the infield, they’re turning a negative into a positive. But that being said, the Tigers have used four players at second base this year, and not one of them has either hit well or fielded the position well. Even the usually reliable Ramon Santiago is having a sub standard season in the field- small sample granted.

The Tigers could rearrange the chairs on this titanic defense, maybe moving Fielder to DH and Cabrera back to first base, Raburn to right field and put Boesch and Delmon on the bench or on a different team, but that’s not going to happen, so we’re going to have to wait for a change in personnel before the Tigers stop giving away extra outs. Even adding a defensive whiz at one position only goes so far.

Tiger management made a decision when they started the season, to go with the players that they have. Several of them are slow and have limited range, even if they’ve had good RBI numbers in the past. Bad defense is an obstacle that they’re just going to have to overcome for the rest of this season.

We always have to use caution when using small sample sizes, such as partial seasons, when analyzing defensive metrics, because a player will only get so many chances to make plays in a limited time frame, and random variation can skew the numbers by altering the result from just a couple of plays. Here, however, we have the combined efforts of an entire team of players over half a season, more than 6500 innings, so the trends are worthy of a look.

Going position by position, the Tigers rate last in the league at second base and in right field, and rank tenth or lower at third base, left field, and first base. They’re in the middle of the pack at shortstop, and only in center field are the Tigers above average, where they rank third in DRS and UZR. In fact, Austin Jackson is the only Tiger with a positive UZR and DRS on the entire team after 81 games. Small samples for each player, to be sure, but enough to know that this is a serious issue.

I wish there was reason to believe that things are going to get better, but I don’t see that happening with the players that they currently have. Moving Delmon Young to DH and getting him out of left field was a good move, and every time they put Raburn in the outfield instead of the infield, they’re turning a negative into a positive. But that being said, the Tigers have used four players at second base this year, and not one of them has either hit well or fielded the position well. Even the usually reliable Ramon Santiago is having a sub standard season in the field- small sample granted.

The Tigers could rearrange the chairs on this titanic defense, maybe moving Fielder to DH and Cabrera back to first base, Raburn to right field and put Boesch and Delmon on the bench or on a different team, but that’s not going to happen, so we’re going to have to wait for a change in personnel before the Tigers stop giving away extra outs. Even adding a defensive whiz at one position only goes so far.

Tiger management made a decision when they started the season, to go with the players that they have. Several of them are slow and have limited range, even if they’ve had good RBI numbers in the past. Bad defense is an obstacle that they’re just going to have to overcome for the rest of this season.