Detroit Tigers: How long do you give Niko Goodrum?

Mar 1, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Niko Goodrum (28) runs to first base after hitting an RBI single against the New York Yankees during the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Niko Goodrum (28) runs to first base after hitting an RBI single against the New York Yankees during the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Detroit Tigers have had their share of glove-first players. Eddie Brinkman, Aurelio Rodríguez, and Adam Everett are some of the names I was discussing with a few of our fellow contributors. And we can safely assume Niko Goodrum is in this category now.

We are not even 10 games into the season and Tigers fans are wondering on social media why Niko Goodrum is getting starts, or for that matter, why is he even on the team. And if you go back to spring training, Goodrum has given fans some ugly stats.

When discussing Niko Goodrum, it’s helpful to look at his career splits, which are interesting:

RHP: .206/.282/.383 29 HR 97 RBI OPS .665

LHP: .323/.383/.480  4 HR 21 RBI OPS .863

He hits for average at a higher clip against lefties, and shows more power against right-handers.  but during spring training, he also scuffled against lefties. Facing a heavy dose of high fastballs and breaking balls away, Goodrum never really got going in spring training.

He discussed some potential adjustments with Chris McCosky of the Detroit News ($) a few weeks ago, but those changes could take some time. But there is still value to keeping Goodrum on the roster, and perhaps giving him more time.

The PART system

According to FieldingBible.com, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is a baseball stat that measures the number of runs a player saves or costs his team on defense compared to an average player.  In 2020, Sports Information Solutions made a change to how they measure DRS and they are now applying the PART system. What is the PART system exactly? 

"“separates positioning (P) from an infielder’s ability to field balls hit in the air (A), his range (R) and his throwing success (T)”“At its core, the PART System’s goal is to split a fielder’s contributions into its individual components. This differs from its predecessor, which calculated and reported a fielder’s positioning, range and throwing contributions as a single number.”"

Goodrum has gotten better defensively since joining the Tigers in 2018. Let’s look at his infield work.

2018:

Innings spent at 1B: 222.2

Innings spent at 2B: 505.1

Innings spent at SS: 75.2

Innings spent at 3B: 75

DRS:-8

2019:

Innings spent at 1B: 152

Innings spent at 2B: 184.2

Innings spent at SS: 326.2

Innings spent at 3B: 9

DRS:-1

2020:

Innings spent at 2B: 88.2

Innings spent at SS: 264

DRS:  2

If you break it down by position on FanGraphs, it was his work at shortstop in 2020 that made him a plus defender and deserving of the Gold Glove nod.  His DRS was 3 at short, while he earned a-1 rating during his 88 innings at second base.

On Statcast, Goodrum is in the top 10 in the stat called Outs Above Average (OAA) with 6, among players such as Nolan Arenado and J.P. Crawford. OAA is defined by Baseball Savant as:

"“Outs Above Average (OAA) is the cumulative effect of all individual plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them. For example, a fielder who catches a 25% Out Probability play gets +.75; one who fails to make the play gets -.25.”"

So I have laid out all the defense data for you. How long do you give him now as the facts are presented? For a team that struggled with walks last season, Goodrum was second only to Miguel Cabrera among regulars in 2020 with a 10.1% walk rate, and has been among the team leaders the past three seasons.

Now, granted, I know what you are going to say, “The roster isn’t good, of course, this stat will stand out” but if you look at the other players on the roster like Victor Reyes and Harold Castro, who both walk under 5% of the time, they too have larger targets on them to start producing at a higher clip.

Goodrum’s glove makes him valuable and he knows he has to hit. But looking at the state of the roster, I think Chris Brown said it best on a recent piece.

"“The Detroit Tigers are in year five of their interminable rebuild, and they haven’t stepped into the deep end of the free-agent pool since 2016. But for the past two seasons, fans have heard assurances from the organization, relayed through beat writers and columnists, that the dollars will flow again when the time is right.”"

Waiting in the wings is Isaac Paredes, who can field multiple positions in the infield like Goodrum, but with a little less pop. But the question is, once you bring him up, who does he replace? Goodrum is a reserve, and ideally Paredes will be a starter.

And once Paredes comes up you are looking at a system with little depth in terms of impact infield bats. At some point we may see what Kody Clemens is capable of, but with Jonathan Schoop seeing time at first base, we get a pretty good idea of why the Tigers did not bring Renato Nunez up to Detroit.

But it speaks to the bigger picture than just Niko Goodrum’s struggles. Those defense-first players I first brought up? Teams these days can’t afford to carry them as they once did. It’s strange to think that Ed Brinkman was an All-Star in 1973 with a .237 batting average, but it was a different game then.

Goodrum should have more time until the Tigers address the infield much more urgently than with band-aids.

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