Now that Tiger fans have had a chance to lick their wounds and the 2013 World Series has concluded, it’s time to consider a far more important subject–how are the Tigers shaping up for 2014?
The answer revolves around their prospective performance in the game’s three major areas–defense, pitching and offense. Since it’s far easier to view what lies ahead if you know where you came from, this first in a series of three articles will examine the Tigers’ defensive performance in 2013. It will be followed by similar pieces analyzing Tiger pitching and offense in the next two weeks.
Overall, the Tigers’ defense was a mixed bag this past season. They committed only 76 errors during the regular season, as compared to 99 in 2012, a significant improvement. They finished 7th of 30 MLB teams in fielding percentage with a .987 mark, compared to a 16th place standing (.983) in 2012.
On the other hand, base stealers ran at will against Tiger pitchers and catchers in 2013, succeeding 81% of the time, the second highest percentage in the majors. Only the Washington Nationals, at 82%, were worse.
Here’s a positional review of the 2013 Tiger defense:
Alex Avila and Brayan Pena (now an ex-Tiger) handled the lion’s share of the catching throughout the season. Statistically they performed about evenly, with Avila at a .995 fielding percentage and Pena at .993. Both marks fall into the “average” area for catchers, and there were no glaring deficiencies with their respective glovework.
The problem, as previously mentioned, began when the opponent placed a runner on base. While most stolen bases can be attributed to the pitcher, there are tools a catcher may use to slow down the running game. His throw to the base is obvious, of course, but other strategies such as pitch selection and location come into play. In addition, a catcher’s ability and willingness to tether the runner to the base with snap throws also enters into the calculus of theft prevention.
Obviously, whatever managerial and coaching regime is in place for next year will have to address the Tigers’ susceptibility to stolen bases. It was encouraging to see that the Tigers recognized this in September in preparation for the playoffs and Tiger pitchers improved their skills in this area during the postseason.
While Prince Fielder struggled defensively in certain situations in the postseason, it’s clear his regular season defense (6 errors-.995 fielding percentage) was vastly improved from 2012 (11 errors-.992). This did not make him a good first baseman by MLB standards, but is acceptable for a slugger of his ilk. Statistically he lands in the middle of the heap, which is a far cry from the weak defense he displayed in 2012.
Perhaps the bigger glove he employed in 2013 gave Fielder added confidence, as the Chubby One looked almost athletic (gasp!) at times ranging to his right. Fielder’s back-up, Victor Martinez, played sparingly at the initial sack in 2013, but handled 99 error-free chances.
All in all, the Tigers’ first base defense was middle-of-the-pack in 2013.
Omar Infante played a capable second base in 2013, though his defense is unspectacular and lacks range. He also has a penchant for missing hard hit balls that whiz by him, even though he’s in position to make the play. These typically go into the scorebook as hits, but would have died in the glove of an elite defender.
That said, Infante gives you a predictable presence and finished comfortably in the middle tier of second baseman with 10 errors and a .980 fielding percentage in 2013.
Hernan Perez, perhaps the second baseman of the future, flashes a lot of potential. He has significantly more range than Infante, the importance of which is magnified playing next to a largely immobile first baseman in Fielder. In limited play, he committed 2 errors and had a fielding percentage of .975.
Miguel Cabrera comported himself very well at third base throughout 2013. He made 12 errors in 283 chances, for a fielding percentage of .958. This placed him somewhere in the lower half of MLB third basemen for the year, but considering the offense you get from the man, this is more than acceptable. For comparison purposes, Texas’s Adrian Beltre, an elite defender, posted a .959 for 2013.
Cabrera lacks range but continued to exhibit surprising athleticism for a large man in 2013, handling both sizzling ground balls and bunts with aplomb. He also possesses an extremely strong and accurate arm, which he occasionally leans upon to retire runners whose speed he has underestimated.
The Tiger defense at shortstop in 2013 was sterling,whether it was the steady Jhonny Peralta or the acrobatic Jose Iglesias manning the position. Peralta made a miniscule 4 errors in 438 chances, for a fielding percentage of .991. Of course Peralta rarely ventured out of his own zip code, but he caught nearly everything hit to him. There is much to say for boring regularity.
Now the fun part. In this case fun is spelled J-o-s-e I-g-l-e-s-i-a-s. Iglesias had a fielding percentage of .988, which combined with Peralta’s .991, gave the Tigers, statistically at least, the best defense at this position in the major leagues. Numbers aside, though, what should thrill Tiger fans is that Jose Iglesias is the most exciting defensive shortstop in the game.
At times his sheer athleticism appears to be an illusion. If you enjoy the stupefying high wire acts of the Cirque du Soleil, you needn’t go to Las Vegas–save the airfare and hotel. Instead, buy a seat and a beer at Comerica Park next year, then sit back and enjoy the Jose Iglesias show. With his talent it won’t be long before chicks are digging the “caught” ball as much as they dig the long ball.
Left field is expansive at Comerica and Andy Dirks had a strong year patrolling those precincts. He finished with only two errors in 220 chances (.991). This was good enough to place Dirks among the top left fielders in MLB and qualified him for Gold Glove consideration. Though Kansas City’s Alex Gordon won the Gold Glove, Dirks was one of four MLB left fielders with over 200 chances and fewer than 3 errors.
Matt Tuiasosopo played respectably in a back-up capacity, committing one error in 98 chances (.990).
Austin Jackson is a rangy center fielder with a habit of making the spectacular play. A couple errors on the year in 307 chances resulted in a fielding percentage of .993, behind other stellar CF’s such as Denard Span, John Jay, Mike Trout and Lorenzo Cain.
Nonetheless, Jackson’s skills are in perfect harmony with the spacious Comerica Park, a fact which is easily overlooked until he’s out of the lineup.
I know Torii Hunter is 38 years old, but he was a bit of a disappointment in right field this year. He made many solid plays and wasn’t a liability but there were too many occasions where he left outs on the field.
The former Gold Glover has obviously lost a step, which is to be expected at his age. Nonetheless, there were too many balls that were either slightly misjudged or misplayed in some fashion for a defender of his caliber.
He ended the regular season with a .987 fielding percentage, which placed him in the middle tier of MLB right fielders.
Overall the Tigers played decent and at times spectacular defense throughout the 2013 regular season. They limited the unearned runs scored against them and were above average on team defense.
Their one glaring deficiency was allowing far too many stolen bases. Looking forward to 2014, there’s no doubt the incoming Tiger brain trust will be anxious to establish a little law and order in this department, hoping to prevent a recurrence of the outright thievery they were victimized by in 2013.
Next week: a breakdown of the 2013 Tiger offense