Detroit Tigers, KC Royals–AL Central’s Best Infield Defenses


We live in an era where virtually every commodity on offer to the consumer is subject to a ranking system.

Need to know which hotel to stay at in Lakeland, Florida?

There’s a list for that, complete with numeric ratings.

More from Motor City Bengals

Want to dine at one of the best restaurants in downtown Detroit before or after a Tiger game?

Someone has ranked them for you.

Since we here at Motor City Bengals specialize only in Detroit Tigers baseball, I can’t help you with either of those first two concerns.

But I can be of assistance with those burning issues that induce insomnia among rabid Tiger fans, especially as we launch a fresh season with a team that has spawned a panoply of questions.

This week’s topic?

How does the Tigers’ infield defense compare to its competitors in the American League Central division?

To answer this question, we’ll use the following statistical indicators, in tandem with the observations of this writer:

FP%: (fielding percentage); the percentage of times a defensive player properly handles a batted or thrown ball

% CS (catchers): percentage of base stealers caught stealing

DRS: Total Defensive Runs Saved–how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position (as a guide, the website Fangraphs suggests +15 is Gold Glove caliber, 0 is average, and -15 is awful)

UZR/150: Ultimate Zone Rating averaged over 150 games; the constituent parts of this measurement are too complex to list here, but again according to Fangraphs, “UZR is an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data recorded by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year.”  Whew! The same performance parameters as DRS apply here: +15 Gold Glove caliber; 0 is average; -15 awful.

So let’s turn to my rankings, which list each starting catcher and infielder in the AL Central:

Rank-Catcher                                  FP%                       %CS                   DRS

1. Royals–Salvador Perez             .992                          31                          +8

2  Tigers–Alex Avila                         .995                          34                          +5

3. Indians–Yan Gomes                   .988                          32                          +2

4. White Sox–Tyler Flowers        .991                           30                           +3

5. Twins–Kurt Suzuki                   .995                           25                            -5

Rank-First Base                             FP%                       UZR/150          DRS

1. Royals–Eric Hosmer                 .991                            0.4                         +3

2. Tigers–Miguel Cabrera.          .995                            3.9                         -1

3. Twins–Joe Mauer                       .997                            2.0                       +4

4. Indians–Carlos Santana         .995                            0.9                        -4

5. White Sox–Jose Abreu             .994                           -3.2                       -11

Rank-Second Base                     FP%                       UZR/150           DRS

1. Tigers–Ian Kinsler                     .988                           11.2                    +20

2. Royals–Omar Infante              .978                           -3.0                       +1

3. Twins–Brian Dozier                  .980                           -4.4                         0

4. Indians–Jason Kipnis              .989                            -9.7                       -11

5. White Sox–Micah Johnson*             (rookie–no MLB data)

*minor league statistics and scouting reports suggest Johnson is a below average fielder who legitimately should be ranked last in this group

Rank-Shortstop                              FP%                       UZR/150          DRS

1. Tigers–Jose Iglesias (2013)      .989                            8.3                       0

2. Indians–Jose Ramirez              .983                           18.9                    +4

3. Twins–Danny Santana            .983                            -5.1                     -1

4. Royals–Alcides Escobar           .976                              1.3                    -4

5. White Sox–Alexei Ramirez      .978                            -0.7                    -4

Rank-Third Base                           FP%                        UZR/150         DRS

1. Twins–Trevor Plouffe               .960                               7.7                       6

2. Royals–Mike Moustakas         .947                               2.9                      -2

3. White Sox–Conor Gillaspie    .961                             -9.1                     -12

4. Indians–Lonnie Chisenhall   .931                           -15.0                    -15

5. Tigers–Nick Castellanos          .950                           -19.1                    -30

Team Results

By applying a simple point system to the above five positions (e.g., “1” for first, “2”for second, etc) we arrive at a rough approximation of the relative strength of the American League Central division’s infields (of course fewer points is better).

It breaks out like this:

First Place–Kansas City Royals–10 pts. (two firsts, two seconds, one fourth)

Second Place–Detroit Tigers–11 pts. (two firsts, two seconds, one fifth)

Third Place–Minnesota Twins–15 points (one first, three thirds, one fifth)

Fourth Place–Cleveland Indians–17 points (one second, three thirds, one fourth)

Fifth Place–Chicago White Sox–22 points (one third, one fourth, three fifths)

The Bottom Line

Defense is notoriously difficult to quantify, and though sabermetricians have made an admirable attempt to do so, mere mathematical values fall short of capturing the ultimate truth.

Simply stated, there’s no substitute for a practiced eye when evaluating a player’s defensive acumen.

Of course the problem with the “practiced eye” approach is twofold–it’s not possible for one person to watch every play made throughout a major league season, and in any case each judgment is subjective.

To form our opinions, then, we must to some extent rely upon the information-gatherers and formula-builders who manipulate the vast body of data spun off by Major League Baseball, even as we acknowledge the limits of their methods.

In this case that process has helped deliver a simple finding–the Detroit Tigers’ infield defense is among the top two in their division.

Now I don’t know much about Lakeland hotels or restaurants in Detroit, but I do know this:

Based upon a wealth of statistical data supported by my own observations, the Tigers’ infield defense should be making an appearance on the “A list” throughout all of 2015.

Next: AL Record for Tigers, Lobstein's chance, Blyleven blunder