September 16, 2011; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers assistant athletic trainer Steve Carter (left) and third baseman Brandon Inge (right) celebrate in the locker room after the game against the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum. The Tigers defeated the Athletics 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Brandon Inge In The Outfield

If we are to believe Jim Leyland’s Pre-Spring-Training lineup forecast, we’re looking at Miguel Cabrera as the regular third baseman, Delmon Young as the regular LF, Ryan Raburn as the regular 2B and either Andy Dirks or Don Kelly (I’ll ignore any possibility of Clete Thomas making the team) playing some position or other so one of our defensive misfits can DH. Aside from which of the Kelly/Dirks duo is hitting 8th – everyone else is a lineup regular with a fixed slot. No platoons. I have no problem with that lineup whatsoever – looks potent and balanced.

The bench, on the other hand, is a little unsettling. That would make Ramon Santiago the backup at both second and short (and possibly third), Gerald Laird the backup catcher and either Dirks or Kelly (I’ll go ahead and assume it’s Dirks) the 4th outfielder. Since Kelly, Santiago and Raburn are so versatile that already alleviates any need for positional backups with one remaining spot on the 25 for a position player. So who should that 13th man be, and why?
(Inge, of course, the answer is Inge)

For one thing, I would say that the 13th man ought to hit right-handed and he should be a righty that mashes lefties. Your backup catcher is never going to pinch-hit (even if Laird could hit). Kelly is a lefty. Ramon Santiago is a switch-hitter, but one who hits better from the left side. Both he and Kelly are glove-first players who approach ‘league-average’ production overall through great defense despite approximately replacement level bats. In addition to filling in whenever someone simply needs a day off, those two could be used profitably as late-inning defensive replacements or filling in for the Tigers’ less potent righties in bad matchups. We might see, for example, Santiago at second, Kelly in right and Boesch at DH against a slayer of right-handers like Justin Masterson or Carl Pavano.

That’s all well and good. No problems there. With Fielder at first and more lefties for the outfield, the Tigers should be able to put 6 lefties in the lineup when they so choose. What I don’t like is the inability to sit Dirks/Kelly against lefties (replacing him in the lineup with Kelly in that scenario would definitely not be an upgrade). Dirks hit lefties well in Detroit last year and maybe he simply hits breaking pitches well enough so that this is not an issue, but those small sample results aren’t enough to ease my mind. Without a right-handed outfielder, the best option using the 12 roster locks would be Santiago at second and Raburn shifting to left.

Nonetheless, I’d be more comfortable with one more right-handed outfielder on the squad that could bash lefties and lefties alone while not embarrassing himself or others in the field. I don’t see the need for a right-handed infielder – that doesn’t seem like the optimal way to spell Raburn, Peralta or (particularly) Cabrera especially if that infielder doesn’t hit righties well if at all. Raburn, Peralta and Cabrera all hit well enough to be regulars at their position despite potentially shoddy defense – but their L-R splits are large. Anyone who is going to back them up – who is a worse hitter overall almost by definition – needs to be at their best when those three are at their worst, like Kelly or Santiago.

The Tigers will, no doubt, be looking at a number of righties in camp for that last bench spot. Ryan Strieby might get a look – as might Jerad Head and Ben Guez. Thought his major league experience is very limited, Head has an amusing L-R OPS split of .641/.000. As the title of this post no doubt already informed you, my pick for the spot would be Brandon Inge. Since Inge’s contract makes him untradeable, he is effectively free for Detroit despite his $5.5 million salary. He is likely worth keeping around as an insurance policy in case Cabrera should prove unable to play third due to bulk or nagging injuries. Though Inge has been a terrible hitter overall, he’s much better against lefties – with a career .800 OPS as compared to his career .652 OPS against righties. It has been a while since Inge played in the outfield and he has probably lost a half a step with age, but when he has played OF in the past he was a +20 fielder by UZR/150 – about as good as Don Kelly (which is saying something). I am aware that many of our readers at MCB would love to see Inge gone, but I don’t feel the same. He clearly isn’t good enough – at this point in his career – to be a starter at any position, but as the weak side of a platoon he’s almost ideal.

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Tags: Brandon Inge

  • Al Kaline

    This spring, I think Leyland will have to see if Inge is a better glove at second than Raburn. Since the team is unlikely to release him at the beginning of the season because he’ owed $5.5 million and he can’t be traded, the only option is that Inge plays 2nd and OF in a platoon situation. If Inge is better at 2nd or just as good as Raburn, wouldn’t the Tigers want to tighten up their defense against lefties by putting Raburn in left and Young at DH?

    • funkytime

      @Al Kaline I like that idea. I don’t mind Raburn in the outfield. Raburn regularly playing in the infield terrifies me.

      Fielder – Raburn – Peralta – Cabrera would have to be one of the worst defensive infields of all time. (though they really can mash)

    • Al Kaline

      @Al Kaline Told ya… We shall see if he works out there.

  • tiggs1

    Great idea! Whenever you have a rally going and need a double play to end it, Brandon is your man.

    • ChrisHannum

      @tiggs1 Oh, come on. Inge strikes out a ton and he hits a lot of infield pop ups, but he doesn’t hit into many double plays. Cabrera, Martinez and Ordonez were all pretty bad on that count. And besides, no one is advocating allowing Inge to bat against right handed pitchers.

  • timoteus

    Excellent post. Makes a lot of sense. Everybody keeps clamoring to “just cut the bastid.” Easy for us to say, but baseball teams are still a business. You don’t typically just decide “I think I’ll swallow this 6 million dollars. I mean, who needs it?” Those splits you brought up are huge. Inge, playing against lefties, can still be an asset to the team, given his defense (and I will certainly admit that he is not what he used to be, but he is still a whole hell of a lot better than a lot of what he have). If he’s cut, he’s cut. Ain’t like I’m going to cry any tears. But I’ve always like Brandon Inge. Always will. But, man-o-day, he can drive ya crazy, trying to pull that low-and-outside pitch to left field, and then walking back to the dugout.

  • Shelton

    “Without a right-handed outfielder, the best option using the 12 roster locks would be Santiago at second and Raburn shifting to left.”

    What is wrong that option, exactly?

    • ChrisHannum

      @Shelton Nothing, in my opinion – because I’m of the opinion that Raburn is a pretty good outfielder. Bear in mind, though, that Ramon Santiago’s career OPS against lefties is worse than Inge’s career OPS against righties – and their gap against lefties is about 160 points.

      • tiggs1

        @ChrisHannum @Shelton

        Seriously? Raybum is a “pretty good outfielder”? Do you even watch the games? Whatever he does at the plate he more than makes up for it by looking like a deer in the headlights on every ball thats hit to him. Except for a couple of short streaks the last couple of years, I believe he must have incriminating pictures of Leyland just to get into the lineup.

        • ChrisHannum

          @tiggs1 @ChrisHannum @SheltonHe does seem to have pretty terrible instincts for an outfielder, and he is gaffe-prone at any position on the field, but his range is good and his arm is fine. Overall, he makes the play at least as often as the average LF.

        • tiggs1

          @ChrisHannum @tiggs1 @ChrisHannum@sheltonhe

          How can a pitcher lower his ERA without changing his pitching at all? Have a guy in the outfield who has the range to get to EVERY ball but can’t catch a cold. That’s Raybum.

        • ChrisHannum

          @tiggs1 @ChrisHannum@sheltonhe It’s not like he has a fielding percentage of .122. For every 50 balls the average OF gets to, he’ll bungle one catch. Raburn would bungle two. But if he gets to 51 balls instead of 50, he can make an extra blooper-reel error and still be average.

      • funkytime

        @ChrisHannum @Shelton Santiago seems to still be in his prime though, while Inge seems over the hill. Listing his career stats against lefties is misleading. (Santiago has also had a very nice OPS against lefties the past couple years, albeit with a small sample size. Inge’s was much lower last year.)

        I think the difference between Santaigo’s and Raburn’s defense at 2nd is probably bigger than the difference between Inge’s and Santiago’s ability to hit lefties.

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