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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)


Porcello, Fister Should Fear Detroit's Infield D

The Detroit Tigers' decision to put $214 million man Prince Fielder at first base instead of DH and move Miguel Cabrera, who last played third base regularly five years and fifty pounds ago, to the hot corner has some wondering whether Detroit's quest for maximum offense might produce the worst defensive infield seen in years.

Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer probably aren't too worried, considering both are high-strikeout hurlers who induce fly balls when hitters do make contact. But Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, who put the ball in play and on the ground much more often, might be sweating the prospect of pairing the plus-sized corner infielders with shortstop Jhonny Peralta and a combination of Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago at the keystone.

Porcello's punchout rate (13.3% of batters faced) ranked in the 18th percentile among starting pitchers (meaning he was worse than 82 percent of starters). Fister (16.7 K%) fared better, but he still placed in the bottom half (45th percentile). With few Ks, Porcello and Fister both ranked in the top 20 among American League starters in the percentage of pitches swung at put in play:

PitcherIn Play Pct.
Joel Pineiro 53.6%
Brad Penny 51.2%
Jeff Francis 50.4%
Nick Blackburn 50.1%
Phil Coke 49.7%
Trevor Cahill 49.0%
Mark Buehrle 48.9%
Freddy Garcia 48.4%
Carl Pavano 48.3%
Rick Porcello 48.0%
Ivan Nova 48.0%
Blake Beavan 47.9%
Tyler Chatwood 47.5%
Zach Britton 47.3%
Josh Tomlin 47.2%
Tim Wakefield 46.5%
Bartolo Colon 46.5%
Jeremy Guthrie 45.9%
Brett Anderson 45.7%
Doug Fister 45.6%


And when batters put the ball in play against these two, it's often on the grass. Both had ground ball rates above the league average, with Porcello burning worms 54% of the time and Fister doing so 47%. Lots of balls in play, and lots of grounders: not a good combination for a club with four infielders whose best position is "hitter."

Porcello bore the brunt of sloppy infield D in 2011, as he had a .283 batting average on grounders put in play. That was 44 points above the league average for starters and was fourth-highest among AL starters (teammate Scherzer was third, though he had far fewer grounders put in play). Fister, by contrast, enjoyed a .196 BABIP on grounders while spending most of the season in Seattle. Suffice it to say, that's not likely to happen in 2012.

Miggy, Prince, Peralta and Raburn make for a formidable infield offensively, and their defensive foibles might not get that much notice on days when Verlander and Scherzer (second and 17th, respectively, among AL starters in K rate) are on the bump. But when pitch-to-contact, ground ball-centric pitchers like Porcello and Fister take their turns, look for lots of singles.


Delmon Young Shouldn't Be Your Tiger

After the Detroit Tigers picked up Delmon Young from the Minnesota Twins in a mid-August deal, he popped eight regular-season home runs and added five more in the playoffs as his new club reached the ALCS. That late-season power surge and Young's relative youth (he turned 26 in September) apparently has GM Dave Dombrowski willing to bring back the first overall pick in the '03 draft to be Detroit's regular left fielder in 2012.

Young, arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter, made about $5.4 million last year. MLBTradeRumors' Matt Swartz projects that the left fielder will pull down $6.3 million in 2012. Should the Tigers pay that sum and make Young an everyday player? In a word, no. Motor City power binge aside, Young remains the same hacking, platoon-worthy hitter who frustrated the Rays and Twins to no end.

Limited by oblique and ankle injuries with Minnesota, Young slugged just .357 and hit four home runs in 325 plate appearances. He increased his slugging percentage to .458 as a Tiger, but he remained a marginal hitter overall because of his famously lousy plate discipline. Young’s walk rate actually fell from 5.5 percent with the Twins to 2.8 percent with the Tigers, and his on-base percentage dropped from .305 to .298. Check out his swing rate by pitch location with each team. Changing unis certainly didn’t change his hitting approach:

Young's swing rate by pitch location with Twins, 2011

Young swing rate by pitch location with Tigers, 2011  

Young went after 39.4 percent of pitches thrown off the plate as a Twin. In Detroit, he chased 39.3 percent of out-of-zone pitches.

Due to the lower OBP, Young’s OPS+ with Detroit was just slightly above average, at 103. Even during his ballyhooed playoff run, his OBP was just .278. Considering that he’s a plodder defensively – Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating shows that he has been the worst left fielder among qualified players over the past three seasons -- and he's only a threat against left-handed pitching (.307/.343/.479 career versus lefties, .280/.312/.407 against righties), Young shouldn't be your Tiger.

Detroit figures to be highly competitive again next season, but giving regular outfield ABs and playing $6+ million to a glorified platoon DH would only help their AL Central foes make up ground.


A Little Bit of Luck

There is always a certain degree of luck involved with balls put in play.  This was perhaps most evident last night when Miguel Cabrera hit a ball off the third base bag in the sixth inning, scoring a run and kicking off a four run inning for the Detroit Tigers.  Had the ball missed the bag, it is likely fielded by Adrian Beltre for at least one out.  Instead, Cabrera's ball, not particularly well-hit, bounced over Beltre and into left field for a double, and the Tigers went on to win Game 5 against the Texas Rangers.

Interestingly enough, Cabrera hit .301 on ground balls this season, which ranks him in the top 15 percent of batters.  Of course, for someone like Cabrera it's tough to say whether this is due to his ability to hit the ball hard or just good fortune.  He's not particularly fast, and speedy players tend to have higher batting averages on ground balls due to their ability to get down the line faster.  However, Cabrera has consistently hit ground balls above the league average line over the past four years.  Between 2008-2010, he hit .283 on ground balls, which was about 40 points above league average.

One last interesting note: Prior to last night's sixth inning, Cabrera had hit nine ground balls this postseason, all outs.  Whether you believe he is particularly skillfull at hitting ground balls for hits or not, it's hard to deny that his 10th ground ball was almost purely a product of luck.  And as a result, the Tigers are still alive.