Using Comerica Park Correctly

It’s often been said that teams are built for their parks. If you look at the San Diego Padres and their cavernous Petco Park, you’ll see a fleet outfield and solid infield for defense, as well as a team of gap hitters and speedy runners on offense. For the New York Yankees with their launching pad of a home park, you’ll see many left handed batters who can generate power towards right field, and a defense that while not spectacular, are still savvy and experienced. These two examples display teams that have a strategy for their settings, teams that don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole, so to speak. Something I’ve often wondered since spring of 2000 is why don’t the Tigers try to build a team that works well within the environment they play in?

To quickly clarify, this is not to say that for 12 years the Tigers have been fielding lousy teams (outside of Randy Smith and his “throw **** against the wall and see what sticks”-style of team assembling), or teams that don’t play well in Comerica Park. We’ve all seen the fruits of Dave Dombrowski’s labors in two playoff appearances, a World Series, a Division Championship, and basically the resurrection of a franchise. The main query this article is looking at is whether or not these Tiger teams have been properly constructed to work with the challenges provided by Comerica Park.

Comerica is, according to most anyone familiar with it, considered a “Pitcher’s Park.” It has a ridiculously spacious outfield (an absurd 422’ to dead center – about 18 feet further than Petco!), grass instead of turf, and generous foul territory. With that being the case, why in the world is Brennan Boesch playing the outfield? His UZR in left for this season is -4.0. His UZR in right field, where he plays on a consistent basis, is -11.5. NEGATIVE ELEVEN POINT FIVE. That defies rational thought! Austin Jackson is, thankfully, one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball, so his excellence can overshadow a bit of Boesch’s inadequacy, but that is still a horrible showing.

Andy Dirks, who has been battling leg injuries this year, has a -1.8 UZR in left, while Quintin Berry sports a -0.4. Reminiscing about Magglio Ordonez, Delmon Young, and Ryan Raburn isn’t glossing anything over, nor thinking fondly of Curtis Granderson (who, it should be known, has a -19.0 UZR for the Yankees this season). Keep in mind that the league average for UZR is “0”, so Dirks and Berry are passable but not league average.  With such a spacious outfield, one would think the emphasis on defensively talented outfielders would be imperative.

In terms of infield defense, well, the Tigers are interesting. We’ve seen for ourselves that Miguel Cabrera is a passable third baseman capable of making a good-to-great play every now and again (-5.1 UZR), while Prince Fielder is a passable first baseman who plays the position like Cabrera at third (although he sports a -1.5 UZR). With those two, their offensive fireworks overshadow their mediocre defensive play.  Omar Infante has been a Godsend, whose 7.4 UZR and great range have helped Fielder out in the field. Infante’s skills show us two things: He is the second baseman we as fans have been craving, and also that his defense is incredibly valuable to pitchers like Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. I could go on about him, but John Verberg’s article does it well enough so I don’t have to.

Which brings me to Jhonny Peralta.

Statistically, he seems to be a stalwart shortstop. Offensively, he is a .270-20-80 kind of hitter. Defensively, he limits his mistakes for a good fielding percentage and sports a 4.9 UZR. That can be deceiving, though; we’ve seen him play with all the range of a refrigerator. Within his little space, he is a great fielder because he doesn’t mess up the opportunities that are hit to him. When something is just out of his range, though, he won’t even make much of an effort, which is why his fielding percentage is so pristine. He doesn’t help Cabrera look like a better third baseman. Also, although not a speedster, he isn’t all that swift on the bases.

The crux of the dilemma I had hoped to address is that the Tigers should make an effort to try and acquire fast players with good defense to fill this huge park, to limit the defensive shortcomings of the players who won’t be shifted for a long time, and to score from first on doubles in the gap. They need to get players who can play to Comerica’s strengths. In a perfect world, they could do this by signing Josh Reddick for right field and trading for Elvis Andrus to play shortstop.

Let’s pause so you can call me a dummy, or other choice four-letter words to emphasize how ridiculous a notion that is.

Now, for Reddick. He currently sports a 9.2% walk rate (which is Cabrera’s rate) and has a 12.1 UZR (which would be the highest on the Tigers by just over 7). Reddick has good experience playing in a cavernous stadium in Oakland, and playing in high pressure environments in Boston. His defensive capabilities are fantastic (with a good throwing arm) and his offensive abilities fit into the Tigers’ strategy (taking walks and hitting homers, and this guy can steal some bases as well). He would be a tremendous addition. Reddick is finishing up his $485,000 contract with Oakland this season, and as we all know, Billy Beane is a stickler for not paying top dollar for players. He has no problem letting former MVPs walk because he knows he can acquire a younger player or set of players to make up the production lost. All the Tigers have to do is acquire his rights and sign him to an extension. Of course, it would take the right package, probably involving starting pitching prospects and maybe a positional player (Boesch perhaps?).

As for Andrus, it would be a bit tricky trying to acquire him. He is a Gold Glove defender (7.9 UZR) with an absolute gun for an arm, and his defensive range is essentially shallow right field-to-pitcher’s mound by third base-to-second base. He also has a 9.2% walk rate and can steal nearly any time he reaches base. He is young with a good contract through 2014. Why in the world would Texas give that up? Easy: Josh Hamilton needs to be resigned while they also have uber-prospect Jurickson Profar at shortstop, who they like more than Andrus. They can’t move him to second (Ian Kinsler), nor can they move him to third (Adrian Beltre and super-prospect Mike Olt). The problem then becomes what to give up to land a player of his caliber. With Chris Hannum’s Auction Theory column in mind, we have to think about what teams are in the market for shortstops, and which teams can give up more than the Tigers. It’s a very difficult scenario to work with, but I believe Mr. Dombrowski can come out on top if Ilitch gives him the green light. It may require Castellanos or another of the Tiger’s best prospects, but again, this is for a young, extremely talented shortstop who would be an asset for years; it would be worth it.

Of course, there are other different ways and players to acquire to fit the needs of the park, but those are just a few examples. All I hope for as a fan is to assemble a team that can successfully use Comerica to their strengths and charge towards a World Series. Or two.

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