It’s no secret that Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge has struggled this year. He battled mononucleosis earlier in the season, a condition that sapped him of strength and caused some weight loss. But even if his illness could be responsible for some of his lack of production at the plate, it surely cannot be held accountable for his entire mess of a season.
Since coming off the disabled list on June 24, Inge has collected all of four hits. Four. In 43 at bats covering 14 games. He’s hitting .093 in that span. He hasn’t reached base since July 3 and has struck out in five of his last ten at bats while also grounding into a double play during that stretch. His slide has resulted in seeing his season totals dip to .186/.253/.255/.508 this year. His defense hasn’t been as good as in previous years, but he’s still rated above average at third base, last night’s first-inning error not withstanding.
How bad has it gotten? Last night he came to the plate with the bases loaded and no one out and promptly popped up to the third baseman in foul ground. Inge stood at the plate for an extra few seconds, almost in disbelief. I’m right there with ya, Brandon, it is hard to envision any player having this much difficulty at the plate and still being employed.
In 2009, there were cries throughout the first half that Magglio Ordonez was “done” and the Tigers would be wise to simply release their former MVP candidate before his contract could vest. Detroit stuck by their man and Ordonez turned in a great second half. These two situations are different in many ways, but the question remains the same. Is this the right time to simply part ways with a respected veteran player?
Ordonez, at the time, was two years removed from a should-have-been MVP award in 2007 when he lead the league with a .363 average. His power numbers began to slide in 2009, however, and in mid-June he was benched by Jim Leyland. The benching didn’t last long and while he finished the year with only nine home runs, he raised his average from the .260 range all the way to .310 by season’s end. When talk of releasing Magglio was at it’s peak that summer, his OPS was sitting at .673.
Granted, most of the chatter about Ordonez getting released was centered around a vesting option in his contract, one that would pay him $18 million in 2010. Surely, the thought was, the Tigers could find a good use for that kind of coin. Inge, on the other hand, has a contract already guaranteed for next season, but at a considerably smaller $5.75 million.
Inge has never been the kind of threat that Ordonez has been throughout their careers. Inge entered this season with a career line of .237/.307/.394/.701 over almost 1300 games. This season he’s obviously well below all of those numbers with a difference of almost 200 points worth of OPS. Even at Ordonez’s lowest point of 2009, his OPS stood at .663, which is still almost 150 points higher than where Inge is at now.
Ordonez, in 2009, was dealing with a major off-the-field distraction as his wife battled cancer. Inge, as far as we know, if not only free from such devastation, but also completely healthy, at least according to FSD’s Rod Allen during the broadcast last night. But for whatever reason, at age 34, it appears that what little offense he could typically offer is gone. It is only thanks to his defense that he still offers any kind of value at all, but even with that included, he’s been worth -0.5 WAR this year. In other words, your average Don Kelly type player is better than Inge has been.
This season, Inge has fanned in 27.5% of his trips to the plate. That number is higher than his career mark of 25.8%, but not the highest of his career. He’s walked only 7.5% of the time, which is lower than his career average, but not the lowest of his career. His BABIP is .248, which is a bit low even for Inge (career .283), but not so low that you can chalk it all up to luck. The biggest difference in his batting this year is in his power numbers, which isn’t a shock given his one home run this year.
If you look at all the players with at least 200 plate appearances this year across baseball, only four (Adam Dunn, Chone Figgins, and Dan Uggla – all of those guys make a lot more money than Inge) have a lower batting average than Inge has produced. Only three (Figgins, Vernon Wells, Ryan Raburn) have a lower OBP, only one (Figgins) has a lower slugging percentage, and only one (Figgins again) has a lower wOBA. Inge is having a historically bad season, no matter how you look at it.
Considering that his track record was never impressive to begin with, unlike Magglio’s, there is just no reason to think we’ll see a return to normalcy for Inge. Maybe this is the new normal. That’s a scary proposition.
I don’t know if the Tigers should release him (though I can’t think of a good baseball reason why not), but I do know that his days as the starting third baseman should be over. The Tigers need to begin to try Raburn at third again, or maybe even Carlos Guillen when he comes back. Heck, even Kelly would be a significant upgrade on a full-time basis.
If he really is fully healthy and this is the best he can offer, the Tigers just don’t have any choice but to make other plans. I suggest they do it quickly.