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How much has the Tigers' defense improved since 2014?

Spoiler alert: A lot.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past couple years, we have seen an inordinate amount of turnover on the Tigers' roster. Nearly all of the team's everyday players from 2013 are now playing elsewhere, and a fair number of regulars from 2014 will be in different roles next season.

There has been a consistent theme to all of the new additions, though. Nearly every player the Tigers have added over the past couple seasons is a defensive upgrade over the player he is replacing. Jhonny Peralta was replaced by Jose Iglesias in 2013. Omar Infante was replaced by Ian Kinsler. Nick Castellanos was supposed to be a better defender than Miguel Cabrera. And the revamped outfield is going to be light years better than 2014's version.

How much better? I originally anticipated on answering this question in a previous mailbag, but the answer got complicated enough for its own post.

First, let's take a look at the positional breakdown of the Tigers' defense in 2014.

DRS UZR UZR/150
C 2 - -
1B -6 -3.7 -2.8
2B 21 13.6 11.6
3B -32 -21.6 -18.8
SS -10 -1.5 -1.3
LF -4 -7 -5.7
CF -7 -9.1 -8.2
RF -22 -18.9 -16.3

For the purposes of this exercise, we're going to ignore the catcher and first base positions. Alex Avila's DRS numbers are all over the map in his career, and the stat I want to use (DRS/150) doesn't apply to them. We can also probably assume that Miguel Cabrera will put up similar numbers at first base in 2015.

Because there are a lot of small sample sizes involved with the defensive metrics we are using, expectations based on the analysis below should be tempered somewhat. This is a crude and imperfect example, but one that will show a rough estimate of how big of a difference we will see in 2015.

Second base: -10 runs

Ian Kinsler had a spectacular 11.2 UZR/150 and was worth +20 defensive runs saved last year, placing him among the best second basemen in baseball. However, this was a bit of an abnormality for him, especially considering his age. He has a career UZR/150 of 2.3, but has finished with a positive DRS in each of the past seven seasons, with 10+ DRS in four of those seven seasons. It should be safe to pencil him in for another 10 DRS. Unfortunately, that's a big dropoff from last season.

Third base: +5 runs

This one is a total guess. Nick Castellanos was much worse than anyone anticipated in 2014, finishing with some of the worst defensive numbers in baseball. I'd like to think that he will be better in 2015, but any estimates at how much of an improvement we will see are nothing more than blind dart throws.

Shortstop: +25 runs

Unfortunately, we don't have any reliable numbers to predict what Jose Iglesias will do with a full season's worth of innings at the shortstop position. He was spectacular in his time with the Tigers in 2013, but his sample of just 331 2/3 innings resulted in an 8.1 UZR/150 and 0 DRS.

Instead, it might be easier to use the numbers of Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has posted consistently mind-blowing numbers in the past two seasons. Simmons is better than Iglesias, but the two were mentioned in the same breath in 2013. Simmons has been worth an incredible 69 defensive runs saved and a 40.1 UZR in the past two years. I wouldn't expect Iglesias to come near these amazing numbers, but I think a +15 DRS is attainable.

Left field: +10 runs

Yoenis Cespedes is a better fielder than people have given him credit for. Sure, he misplays the occasional ball, but his phenomenal arm has more than made up for the blunders on multiple occasions. He has much more range than any Tigers left fielder not named Andy Dirks in recent memory, and should be a fair bit better than J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis were in 2014.

Center field: +15 runs

Of all the positions, this was the toughest to predict. Anthony Gose doesn't have a reliable sample of big league innings under his belt, and we have no idea what the split in playing time between him and Davis will look like. Rajai has graded out as a league average center fielder in over 3500 career innings, while Gose's career 13.6 UZR/150 suggests that he could be worth a win or two if he were a full-time player. The estimate above is a pure shot in the dark, and maybe one of the more optimistic guesses we have here, especially if Davis sees more playing time than a strict platoon split.

Right field: +10 runs

How bad was Torii Hunter in right field last year? J.D. Martinez grades out as a below average defender, and he still might be a two win improvement. Martinez was worth -3 defensive runs saved last year, while Hunter was worth -18. The overall position was an abysmal 22 runs below average, the second-worst rating in baseball.

Total: +55 runs

This seems like an outrageous number, but I took a shade off of just about every estimate I came up with in order to keep expectations tempered. Adding 5-6 wins on defense alone is a massive improvement, and it goes to show how poor the Tigers' defense was in 2014. Will it happen, though? This is a very crude and imperfect look at how much better the Tigers' defense could be in 2015, especially since we don't know what the actual roster will look like. Regardless, it's tough to see the defense being anything less than a huge upgrade compared to 2014.