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Tigers’ Jeimer Candelario showed progress despite a bumpy 2018

Candelario had an up-and-down season, but still looks like a big piece of the Tigers’ future.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On July 31, 2017, the Detroit Tigers, in the midst of a fire sale, shipped closer Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila to the win-now Chicago Cubs for two of their top prospects: Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes.

Spoiler Alert: The Tigers won the trade.

Isaac Paredes was one of four teenagers to play in the Eastern League in 2018 (two of the others being breakout star Juan Soto and uber-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr.), while Jeimer Candelario played 144 games en route to a respectable 2.5 fWAR season. Not bad for his first full campaign in the big leagues.

Jeimer Candelario, meanwhile, deserves praise for posting a 2.5 fWAR campaign as a 24-year-old third baseman stuck at the beginning of a rebuild. That said, Candelario’s season is a two-sided tale. In 2018, Candelario excelled in the field, but took a step back at the plate.

Jeimer Candelario posted a very respectable 5.2 runs above average defensively per Fangraphs this season. This places him as the seventh-best fielding third baseman in MLB this past season, and the fourth-best in the American League. Only Matt Chapman (13.1!!!), Kyle Seager (8.8), and Yolmer Sanchez (5.3, but in 11 more games than Candelario) were better. This is a great sign for Candelario moving forward. Candelario was a 45-grade fielder as a prospect and was worth -1.4 runs in the field in limited action in 2017. Because of this, he was expected to be slightly below average as a fielder. With this impressive showing in 2018, however, Candelario has the potential to be an asset at the plate and in the field moving forward. This is great news as the Tigers continue to build their future around high-end pitching prospects.

Unfortunately, the brave souls who watched most of the Tigers’ 2018 campaign know that Candelario’s defensive progress was not what defined his 2018 season. Candelario slowed down as the season went on, and the Tigers better hope that he is more fully prepared for the marathon that is a 162-game schedule.

One big stat: .293 on-base percentage from June to October

While Jeimer Candelario exceeded expectations in the field this past season, he faltered at the plate. In 2017, Candelario posted all-around impressive numbers: a .359 on-base percentage, a nice 112 wRC+ mark, and 36 total hits in 38 games. 2018 was not as kind to him. He went from being an above-average hitter to a slightly below-average hitter, as his wRC+ fell to 95 and his on-base percentage fell to .317. Additionally, he only amassed 121 hits in 144 games. Perhaps the most concerning thing about Candelario’s season, however, was his regression as the season moved on.

Jeimer Candelario Offense by Month

March/April 0.283 0.367 106
May 0.262 0.368 65
June 0.172 0.304 93
July 0.182 0.217 77
August 0.226 0.3 106
September/October 0.217 0.29 92

Candelario had an impressive two months to start the seaspn, finishing with a .368 on-base percentage in 171 at-bats, eclipsing his .359 mark from 2017. After missing time with a left wrist injury, the wheels seemed to come off. He struggled through June to the tune of a .172 batting average, and while he was able to draw 16 walks throughout the month, opposing pitchers adjusted the rest of the season. As a result, Candelario posted an abysmal .217 on-base percentage in July, and from June to October posted a very disappointing .293.

Some of Candelario’s other splits are equally worrisome. He hit .199 against righties this past season after hitting .269 against them in 2017. The shift caught up to him in 2018, as well, as he hit .237 in 156 AB against the shift after hitting .313 in a small sample size of 16 AB against the shift in 2017.

So, is Candelario capable of bouncing back from this offensive regression to become the 4 fWAR player he is capable of being? Sure. He posted a 131 wRC+ against lefties, had a decently low .279 BABIP (implying he is due for a bounce-back 2019 campaign), and he walked 10.7% of the time in 2018 (it’s always nice to have a player with a walk percentage over 10 percent in your lineup). He also hit 19 home runs in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and was a beneficiary of the Ron Gardenhire regime, as he was worth 2.8 runs above average as a base runner throughout 2018.

For Candelario, 2018 was two steps forward and one big step back. His peripherals look good, his fielding looks great, and he will only be 25 entering next season. In a 2019 season that will be filled with anticipation for prospect debuts, remember to keep a close eye on the young third baseman.