How Brandon Inge stacked up vs. the field
If we are looking purely on merit and overall production, Inge did not stand much of a chance of getting in. Amongst all qualified third basemen in the first half of 2009, Inge ranked seventh in fWAR at 2.8 (tied with Scott Rolen). Looking at just the American League side, Inge was fourth in fWAR and significantly behind Evan Longoria (3.8), Chone Figgins (3.7), and Kevin Youkilis (3.4). Youkilis played first base a bunch as well in 2009 and made the ASG roster at the position, so we aren’t going to worry too much about him from this point forward.
Longoria was basically what Tigers fans wanted Inge to be as he was an amazing defender back then and he also hit for average and power. He seemed like a mortal lock for the starting spot based on merit and visibility with his .285/.362/.535 line and 134 wRC+ with 17 homers and sterling defense.
Where things get sticky is the debate between Inge and Chone Figgins. Figgins had been strictly better overall in the first half of the 2009 season as his 3.7 fWAR was nearly a full point better than Inge thanks to a .301/.393/.410 line with 27 stolen bases and excellent defense as well.
The problem here is, well, dingers and that is where objective reasoning starts to give way to the subjective. Brandon Inge led all American League third basemen in the 2009 first with 21 homers. In fact, in the American League only Carlos Pena (24), Russell Branyan (22), and Nelson Cruz (22) had more homers than Inge at the time. Objectively, we know that homers are not the end all, be all…but that doesn’t mean that folks don’t look at the home run leaderboards when evaluating guys, either.
And this is where we get to the “scam” that ultimately got Inge in.