While pitching in the minor leagues, I’m sure Duane Below was subjected to some shoddy infield defense from time to time. If there is an injury or two and all of a sudden the organization begins shifting players around to keep their rosters full at each level, there will be games where infielders have to roam the outfield and catchers have to play first base.
But when you’re making your second career major league start, in the heat of a pennant race, and trying to convince your bosses that no trade for a new starting pitcher is necessary, you’d like to think that your defense would be a benefit and not a hindrance.
When the Tigers traded for Wilson Betemit and designated Brandon Inge for assignment, we all knew they were sacrificing some defense in the change. Today, in an attempt to get the ever-warming bat of displaced outfielder-turned displaced second baseman Ryan Raburn into the lineup, Tigers manager Jim Leyland is doing what he himself said there was very little chance of happening; he’s starting the defensively-challenged Raburn at third base.
Now, it’s easy to point to Raburn’s misadventures in the outfield and say he’s not great with the glove, but in reality he’s really not that bad at all, at least not in the outfield. In fact, according to UZR, Raburn has been well above average defensively as both a left fielder and a center fielder over his career. In contrast, as a second baseman, Raburn is solidly below-average by UZR, coming in at -11.4 total and -24.2 when adjusted per 150 games played. This season, Raburn has seen 278 innings at second base and been rated 3.4 runs below average.
But in his career, the only position where he has fared worse than second with the leather is when he’s played third. We all remember a pair of late-inning errors in 2009 that may well have cost Detroit a divisional crown, and since then he’s played all of 3.1 innings at the hot corner, none of those coming this year. Raburn’s career UZR at third base is an unthinkable -4.3 in only 128 innings, or -46.2 over 150 games.
Betemit’s reputation with the glove is that he is a below average defender and it is well-earned. Third base happens to be his most effective position among those he’s played with any regularity, but he’s still a career -13.1 in UZR/150 at the hot corner.
When you make a move like this, placing Raburn in the line of fire at third base, you do so while hoping beyond hope that no one hits the ball at him. You do this and pray that Raburn’s repetitions at second will somehow have caused him to get better at third. You do this, in my opinion, and you understand that you are in all likelihood, setting Raburn up to fail. You just hope that he can create more runs with his bat than he surrenders with his glove and you hope the Tigers can get an early lead so you can bring in a defensive replacement late.
Betemit is not an upgrade defensively over many players, but in this case, Raburn makes him look like Brooks Robinson at third. Here’s hoping Duane Below gets a lot of routine fly-balls tonight.