Will They Catch The Ball? The Detroit Tigers’ Defense


“You can take it off the board, YES!”

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Alright, so it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as Hawk Harrelson’s signature call celebrating  a run for his beloved Chicago White Sox.

But you don’t need a math degree to figure out a run saved by the defense counts exactly the same as a 400-foot homer.

As they are projected to have one of the American League’s more powerful offenses this year, there’s little doubt the Detroit Tigers will collect their share of those tape-measure dingers.

But will they catch the ball?

Let’s break it down position-by-position to get a sense of how this year’s defenders compare to last year’s.


Incumbent Alex Avila is back behind the dish and is recognized as one of the league’s better defensive catchers. He has sound receiving skills and threw out an impressive 34% of would-be base stealers last year.

Throughout the season he committed five errors and allowed three passed balls, both modest totals considering the number of innings he logged. His fielding percentage was also a stellar .995.

Twenty four-year-old James McCann‘s time has apparently arrived, and if he makes the team he’ll provide an upgrade over last year’s back-up, Bryan Holaday, who struggled at times with the gear on.

Like Avila, McCann is an advanced  receiver and has impressed in Florida with his throwing game. Last year at AAA Toledo he threw out a stout 42% of potential base stealers and had a fielding percentage of .993.

With McCann probably in line to handle at least a third of the games, the defense behind the plate should be improved from last year.

First Base–No Change

Miguel Cabrera returns to handle the action at first base. He committed only five errors last year and had a solid fielding percentage of .995.

Second Base–No Change

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Tiger fans were treated to a second baseman who could do it all last year, as Ian Kinsler was a paragon of efficiency.

His range was superb and he exhibited unerring instincts handling a broad spectrum of defensive chances. Whether diving to his left and throwing out a runner, precisely relaying a throw from the outfield, or gracefully pivoting at second base to complete a double play, Kinsler was immaculate in every phase of the game.

Though he was not voted a Gold Glove (which was awarded to Dustin Pedroia), he won the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award for major league second basemen, which is based solely on defensive metrics.

Expect more of the same in 2015.


In the absence of Jose Iglesias last year, the team defaulted to a revolving door policy at shortstop with decidedly mixed results.

This year the maestro himself returns and will be composing his usual masterpieces in the vicinity of shortstop and beyond, thanks to his stupendous range.

With Iglesias and Kinsler, the Tigers will sport one of the game’s most harmonious keystone combinations–a circumstance which will not go unappreciated by the men on the mound.

Third Base–Improved

Twenty three-year-old Nick Castellanos will again be hitching up to the hot corner.

To many observers, of course, that is exactly the problem, as last year he was widely panned for a lack of range. Castellanos makes most of the routine plays, but at this point possesses neither the instincts nor adroitness to play third base at a high level.

The Tigers hope intensive coaching and greater exposure to the position will at some point soften the rough edges that were evident last year in Castellanos’s game.

Considering his youth and modest professional experience at third base, that’s a reasonable assumption and some degree of improvement should be visible this year.

The question is, how much?

He’ll be given every opportunity to succeed, but whether he remains a major league third baseman in the long run is an open question.

Left Field–Improved

J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis mostly handled left field duties last year in an unspectacular fashion, so the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes will materially upgrade the left field defense.

Though Cespedes may not perform circus tricks with his glove, his arm is lethal, as he regularly appears among the league leaders in assists.

Considering the liberties opposing runners have recently taken with Tiger left fielders, it’s comforting to know Cespedes will soon be gunning down those gamblers who haven’t gotten the word there’s a new sheriff in town.

Center Field–Improved

Austin Jackson would have made an incorruptible prize fighter, because the former center fielder steadfastly refused to take a dive.

Personally, I prefer “b***s to the wall” outfielders, and it appears the Tigers have acquired one in Anthony Gose. Though Jackson made sterling plays in a Tiger uniform, Gose promises to be special.

If one were to concoct a recipe for the ideal Comerica Park center fielder, it would include equal parts lightning speed, accurate ball-tracking ability, and a rocket arm.

With Anthony Gose patrolling those precincts this year, the Tigers have created that perfect cocktail. Let’s call it the “Gose&Getzit,” a tall drink which should be enjoyed all summer by Tiger fans seeking pure refreshment.

It should also work well as a chaser.

Rajai Davis will also spend some time in center field when spelling Gose. Though his raw speed plays well there, his instincts and execution are imprecise.

Right Field–Improved

Like third base, right field was a pronounced defensive liability last year. The team paid the price for playing an aging Torii  Hunter there and will re-locate last year’s left fielder, J.D. Martinez, to right this year.

Aside from reaching over the wall to snare would-be home runs, Martinez doesn’t appear to have extraordinary defensive skills. But right field is his preferred position and he should play it competently and with greater range than Hunter could muster last year.

The Bottom Line

Both statistical indicators and the “eye test” suggest the Detroit Tigers had a below average defense last year.

In fact, most advanced metrics placed them securely in the bottom third of American League teams.

But 2015 is a distinctly different scenario.

Most importantly, the addition of premier defenders Jose Iglesias and Anthony Gose to the line-up dramatically transforms the core of their defense.

Fresh arrivals Yoenis Cespedes and James McCann should also contribute to the defensive renaissance brewing in these parts.

Last year’s Tigers took a fair amount of criticism for not catching the ball.

With an infusion of fresh talent, this year’s edition should far more sure-handed.

And yes, you can put that on the board.

Next: Opening Day starter, Ausmus on hot seat, Iglesias like football player