For many who will live through this era of Tigers baseball, what will stand out in history are big bats, and power arms. What the Detroit faithful may choose to forget will be team defense, and bullpen efficiency. However, the 2015-16 season could change the perception around baseball of what can be expected from a team built by Dave Dombrowski. Furthermore, this team could provide a benchmark for future teams, and even produce a championship for Mike Ilitch.
Alex Avila, a staple in the Tigers’ lineup for years, should help anchor this defensive renaissance, if healthy. Despite health concerns, Dave Dombrowski chose to exercise Avila’s club option rather than buy him out for $200K. If Avila can stay off the DL, and remain behind the dish, he serves as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. According to ESPN, at his position the 27-year-old ranked first in fewest passed balls allowed (3), second in runners caught stealing (36), sixth in defensive WAR (1.5) and 11th in CERA (3.97). Avila’s DWAR rating was tied with Yadier Molina who has won the National League Gold Glove Award every year since 2008, according to BaseballReference.com
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Beyond Avila, the Tigers will regularly send out what projects to be a truly memorable middle-infield. Ian Kinsler won the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2014 by leading all second basemen in DWAR (2.9), as well finishing sixth in fielding percentage (.988), second in assists (467), and seventh in range factor (4.82). He will be paired with Jose Iglesias, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2014, but who is also regarded as one of the best young defensive players in baseball. In 2013, according to ESPN, Iglesias boasted a .989 fielding percentage, and 6.074 zone rating, which was higher than the total zone rating posted by JJ Hardy, who won the Gold Glove Award in the American League.
Avila, Kinsler and Iglesias are all familiar faces in Motown these days. A newcomer who could drastically improve the Tigers’ defense is Anthony Gose, a former Toronto Blue Jay, who Dombrowski acquired for Devon Travis.
According to the Tigers’ GM Gose is “a true center fielder that can provide [Detroit] with above average defense in center field with a good arm,” and he’s right. Says Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com, Gose is “perfectly capable of playing center field based on scouting reports from his prospect days and defensive metrics such as UZR/150 (+13.6 in a 900 inning sample) and Defensive Runs Saved (+2).”
Gose provides Detroit with the defensive presence that they lacked in the wake of the David Price trade.
In Bull Durham, Crash Davis yells to Nuke Laloosh, “Come on, meat, show us that million-dollar arm, ‘cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours!” In Detroit, fans are used to a five-cent defense, but the Tigers may have just put together the pieces to utilize a defense that rivals that million-dollar offense.