Prince Fielder and the New Detroit Defense

On first base for your Detroit Tigers; the Michelin Man, Prince Fielder! At second base; the man with the iron glove, Ryan Raburn! At shortstop; the sure-handed statue, Jhonny Peralta! And at third base; the first baseman, Miguel Cabrera!

Granted, Jim Leyland has some opportunity to get creative with the infield as the roster is currently constructed. Ramon Santiago will get starts up the middle and, like Don Kelly, will enter plenty of games in late innings as a defensive replacement. Kelly, along with Brandon Inge, will see some time at third base. Cabrera and Fielder will be rotated to designated hitter on some days. But the players I’ve announced for you above are almost sure to take the field for Detroit, as written, for a good number of games.

In a crazy, morbid, immensely regrettable way, I kind of can’t wait to see it. That is, for like, one game–maybe against the woeful Oakland Athletics on a getaway day.

In all seriousness, though I’m cautiously optimistic about the Fielder signing, I believe that this team could feature one of the worst infield defenses in recent history. Never mind that Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch, none too defensively inclined themselves, are both going to spend quite a bit of time roaming, sometimes aimlessly, around the vast Comerica Park outfield.

I won’t bore you with all of the advanced metrics–Jason Beck has a fantastic piece out analyzing Cabrera’s capacity to play third, by the way–but it’s pretty obvious just by looking at our two hefty corner infielders that they’re not exactly going to have the range of Roger Federer out there. Neither, for that matter, is Peralta. Raburn, meanwhile, is regarded by many as one of the worst infield defenders in the game today not because of his range but for his hands.

The Fan Scouting Report conducted annually by Tom Tango has some interesting numbers for the Tigers’ infield. Cabrera’s speed was given a 21 rating out of 100. That was okay hidden away at first base, as he has above average hands, but moving across the infield, his lack of agility will hurt him immensely. Among qualified first basemen, only Aramis Ramirez and Casey Kotchman were rated slower than Cabrera by the fans this year, each with 19 ratings. Fielder, on the other hand, had the second worst range and hands of all qualified first basemen, better only than Mark Reynolds in both categories. Overall, he was rated the worst first baseman in baseball with a composite score of 19. Keep in mind that the only reason he’s pushing Cabrera across the infield is because the latter is more athletic; naturally, Detroit will get worse at both spots. Peralta makes plays on the balls he gets to, but in each of the categories of instincts, first step, and speed, he ranks near the bottom of the league. Raburn’s hands? The fans all agree and they’ve rated his hands a 12; out of 82 players listed as second basemen, his glove is thought of more highly only than those of Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I have confidence that Cabrera will work hard to become the best third baseman he can be. He surprised a lot of people by turning himself into an above average first baseman and one who was actually enjoyable to watch in the field. He will get himself in the best shape he can get into and take thousands upon thousands of bunts and hard grounders to prepare for the season. But no matter how much he improves himself, he’s not going to bounce around like a young Brandon Inge. With his range and Peralta’s on the left side of the infield, we’re going to see a lot of soft singles sneak through to Young in the outfield. Recall that Peralta was moved to third base before being traded to the Tigers by the Cleveland Indians because Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena were better up the middle. Raburn could settle in at second if left alone there for awhile, but that’s not likely to happen this year as he figures to see a good bit of time in the outfield in order to move Young to designated hitter.

The Tigers can’t possibly put all of these guys on the field when one of Doug Fister or Rick Porcello–maybe even Jacob Turner–is on the mound, can they? I haven’t done extensive research on this (and nor has anyone else that I can find), but it seems, generally, that a poor infield defense is thought to hurt groundball pitchers like the aforementioned pair immensely. We’ll likely see Leyland forced to ignore platoon splits at times in order to get a defense suitable to his sinkerballers on the field. He’ll have a tough job this year and with it will come increased expectations.

Every ground ball will be an adventure; it’s another interesting storyline that comes with our new, high-profile addition, as if we needed more to talk about.

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Tags: Brandon Inge Brennan Boesch Delmon Young Don Kelly Doug Fister Jhonny Peralta Miguel Cabrera Prince Fielder Ramon Santiago Rick Porcello Ryan Raburn

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