Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Detroit Tigers, contenders or pretenders? Part 2 - Catching and infield

Before I give my somewhat snarky, totally biased and off the cuff thoughts on the Tigers catching and infield, let me say a couple of things. I believe much of what sabremetrics can tell you about a player. But I also trust my eyes just as much. So you won't see me use VORP, PECOTA, win shares, OPS+, and the like when talking about players.

On with the preview...


Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez: It's going to be an interesting season for the the best catcher ever nicknamed Pudge. He shows no signs of slowing down. Behind the plate, that is... Pudge is still an elite defensive backstop, without question. Teams run on the Tigers at their own risk. At the plate however, we'll never again see the 30 home run, middle of the order hitting Pudge of the 90's. The Pudge of the double aught's is a...Leadoff man? Next thing you'll be telling me is that Marcus Thames plays 1st base. According to Jim Leyland, against left handers, Pudge hits leadoff. Seriously. Against right handers, expect to see him quite low in the order. If any of the lineup tinkering tones down Pudge's free swinging ways, and increases his OBP, then that'll be another feather in Leyland's already feathery genius cap.

Vance Wilson: Was quite awful in 2005. Was quite good in 2006. 2007? Armed with a contract extension, Wilson should be...Hell, he's a good backup catcher, but if Wilson is getting lots of playing time, the Tigers have major issues.


Sean Casey: More contentious message board threads have started over the relative merits of Sean Casey than any other Tiger in recent memory. Talking about Casey will cause sabre-minded anti Casey fans to butt heads with the traditionalist pro Casey fans...

Anti Casey: Casey can't hit for power, can't run, and is a below average 1st baseman.
Pro Casey: Don't you remember what he did in the World Series? Plus he's a career .300 hitter.
AC: He's always injured!
PC: Everyone likes him! He's called "The Mayor" for a reason you know.

AC: He hasn't had a good season in 3 years. If he's not hitting for a high BA, he has little value.
PC: Every team team needs role players. Casey is a chemistry guy! Did I mention he's a career .300 hitter? I like him!
AC: The Casey you like is the Casey of 5 years ago! He's no longer that player.
PC: He's not very expensive, and it's only a 1 year contract!
AC: That contract is keeping Chris Shelton in Toledo. Didn't you see that Shelton was raking this spring?
PC: Shelton was awful from May on, you can't base what Shelton can do by 30 spring training AB's! Casey wouldn't have been signed if the Tigers thought Shelton was the answer.
AC: Tigers management can make mistakes, you know.
PC: You blow!
AC: You suck!

Believe me, it just goes downhill from there... Personally, I'm torn. I like Casey as a 1 year stopgap, and without question, he's a good clubhouse guy. You can't help but like him, as he seems genuinely thrilled to be in Detroit. That alone will make him a fan favorite. But he doesn't hit with the power you need from an infield corner position, 99% of beer leaguers can outrun him, and he walks a razor's edge when it comes to injury. I best stop here, or I'll start arguing with myself...

Carlos Guillen: Guillen was voted Tigers player of the year by "DIBS," and deservedly so. The Tigers best all around player, one of the nicest things resulting from the Tigers playoff success was the exposure the criminally underrated Guillen received on the national stage. It's was as if the Derek Jeter loving media said, "What's this? When you look at the stats, Guillen is just as good of a shortstop, if not better, than Jeter. That can't be right, can it?" Yes, it is. Guillen is that good. I'll add 1 disclaimer, he's that good when healthy. Guillen's health is always a huge concern. If he gets hurt, and misses a significant amount of time, the Tigers' playoff chances decrease exponentially. A very interesting note is that Guillen may be hitting some cleanup. The last time the Tigers had a shortstop hitting cleanup, Alan Trammell won was jobbed out of 1987 MVP. Could Guillen have a similar impact season?

Omar Infante: Most Tigers fans really like Infante. Tigers brass, Jim Leyland specifically, seem down on Infante. Who's right? On the plus side, Infante is still young at 25, has shown flashes of big time power (16 HR's in '04), can play 3rd, SS, 2nd, and OF, and best of all, he isn't Neifi Perez. On the minus side, Infante has had arm problems in the past, leading the Tigers to question his ability to play SS, and despite the potential he's shown at the plate, Infante has an awful career OBP of only .295. Considering the excellent middle infield combo of Guillen and Placido Polanco is blocking Infante, he seems destined to be a career backup if he remains a Tiger. The Tigers could do much worse for an infield backup. In fact, that much worse player is already on the roster...

Brandon Inge: Binge was rewarded with a nice 4 year deal in the off season, locking him in as the Tigers 3rd baseman. It still boggles the mind to think that Inge once looked Neifi-like at the plate. Honestly, he looked worse than Neifi, if such a thing is possible. Just reaching the Mendoza line seemed insurmountable. Now Inge just may be the most dangerous number 9 hitter in the majors. He's definitely the most powerful. Defensively, Inge has amazing range (Almost used the term "Range factor" there) and a rifle arm, which allows him to make plays and throws that would make Brooks Robinson jealous. Unfortunately, that freakish fielding ability causes Inge to attempt plays and throws that Brooks Robinson knew enough not to try. Considering the Tigers' history of having 3rd basemen who were either good field-no hit (Don Wert, Aurelio Rodriguez, Tom Brookens, Jose Macias, Chris Truby), or DH's in disguise (Eric Munson , Dmitri Young), with only 1 true all-star caliber 3rd sacker (Travis Fryman) in my lifetime, the Tigers are perfectly fine with Brandon Inge handling 3rd for the foreseeable future.

Neifi Perez: Sucks.

Placido Polanco: The MVP of the ALCS, Polanco is another example of the sort of player that traditionalists love, yet the sabres question his true value. You can take much of the above message board pissing match over Casey, and just change the name to Polanco. For example, traditionalists said Polanco's shoulder injury was the catalyst for the Tigers August '06 swoon. As soon as he went out of the lineup, the Tigers slumped badly. Polanco came back for the playoffs, and the Tigers stormed through the Yankees and A's. Sabres will come back saying that it was only a coincidence, 1 player should not make that much of a difference. The entire team slumped to end the season, and they found their swings again at playoff time, thanks to some favorable matchups. Both sides make sense, to be honest... Defensively, Polanco's very good. No arguments there. Offensively, Polanco is the prototype number 2 hitter. He's nearly impossible to strike out, but also nearly impossible to walk. If you need the bat on the ball, the Placidome is who you want at the plate. He's a career .300 hitter, but with his relatively low OBP, Polanco has to hit for a high average, as he lacks power and speed. But both traditionalists and sabres can agree on this...Dave Dombrowski's swindling of Polanco from the Phillies is 2nd only to the outright theft of Guillen from Mariners.

Overall, you have to like the Tigers around the diamond. A HOF catcher, a MVP caliber SS, a freakishly athletic 3rd baseman, and a slick fielding 2nd baseman who always makes contact. On the down side, age and health is a concern, the bench is weak, and Sean Casey's best case scenario is that he'll be a below average 1st baseman. (But I like him. I'm confused about it, too...)

Is it enough to win the division? I think so...


  1. Great preview. I enjoyed it and this comes from a saber! Your Casey dialogue was pretty funny because I've been part of the whole thing. I'm not a big Casey fan

    By the way, I like Polanco even though I'm a saber guy who thinks their slump had little to do with his injury last year. I love his fielding and I expect him to bounce back offensively this year.

  2. OMG, a saber likes my preview? lol Thanks Lee! I