Part 1 - Overview
Part 2 - Offense
Today, in Part 3, I'll look at the fielding. In Part 4, I'll forecast the pitching and give my prediction for total Tiger victories in 2007.
In my analysis of team run prevention, I found that the Tigers ranked first in the American League in ERA but only third in FIP ERA. This is an indication that their pitching may not have been as good as their ERA. Their league leading DER (percent of balls in play converted into outs) suggested that their pitching might have been significantly aided by strong fielding.
Other measures such as Probabilistic Model for Range (PMR) developed by David Pinto and the Fielding Bible Plus/Minus System developed by John Dewan and others at Baseball Info Solutions used sophisticated play by play data to come to the same conclusion. Both PMR and the +/- system had the Tigers finishing in the top three in the league at converting fieldable balls into outs. More discussion of these methods can be found in my fielding folder.
PMR and Fielding Bible +/- along with zone rating (percent of balls in a player's fielding zone converted into outs) can also be used to evaluate individual fielding. The Fielding Bible also had a panel of experts including sabermetricians, media people, fans (If you participated the Fan Fielding Survey, then you were part of this) and video scouts rank the fielders at each position.
I used all of these measures along with my own observations and discussions with knowledgable fans to rate the Tigers fielders. They were very strong defensively at catcher, second base, third base and center field. Their weakest spots were the corner outfield spots and shortstop. With pretty much the same team coming back next year, we can probably expect similar strengths and weaknesses next year. Overall, they should be above average defensively again and this should help a staff which throws a lot of ground balls and does not strike out a large number of batters.
There is a fielding grade and capsule for each Tigers fielder below (C is an average grade):
Ivan Rodriguez (A) - Rodriguez has always gotten mixed reviews on his game calling but there is little question about his arm, footwork and instincts around the plate. He was voted the top defensive catcher in baseball by the fans and by the Fielding Bible panel.
Vance Wilson (C+) - is considered a capable backup catcher and the Tigers like him so much that they signed him to a two year contract extension last summer. That's not something that backup catchers usually receive.
Sean Casey (C) - Casey catches what is hit or thrown to him and makes very few errors. However, he has very little range so I'll give him an average grade.
Chris Shelton (B-) - Shelton will likely start the season in Toledo to work on getting more consistent offensively. He has worked hard at his defense and ranked very well statistically on most fielding measures. Based on statistics, I could have ranked him a little higher but many observers are still skeptical.
Placido Polanco (B+) - Polanco has above average range and one of the best gloves in the Majors. He is also an excellent third baseman but is rarely needed there for the Tigers.
Omar Infante (B-) - The versatile Infante will be a backup infielder and outfielder this year. He has had bouts of tendonitis in his shoulder which have affected his throwing at times. He also reportedly has occasional lapses in concentration. When healthy, he is athletic and has good range.
Carlos Guillen (C) - Guillen has average range but up until last year he was a very steady fielder. For now, I'm going assume that his numerous throwing errors in 2006 were a fluke and that it won't be a problem again next year (thus, the average grade). However, if he continues to have problems, he'll be a below average defender again.
Ramon Santiago (B) - If he makes the team, it will be because of his fielding. He has good range and a good glove.
Neifi Perez (C) - Perez looked very bad last year. If he makes the team, I will assume it's because he is playing well this spring (that is, at least an average fielder).
Brandon Inge (A-) - A lot of fans grumble about Inge's throwing errors but he has outstanding range and one of the strongest infield arms in the Majors. He is one of the most exciting fielders in the game and a gold glove should be in his future.
Craig Monroe (C) - Monroe would be a better fielder if he played in another park but his range is less than ideal for Comerica. He does have the ability to play all three out field positions (even center field in an emergency) which is a plus. He also has a strong arm.
Curtis Granderson (B+) - Granderson does not have blazing speed but has good instincts and this gives him above average range. He did a fine job covering comerica Park's huge centerfield in 2006. His one shortcoming is that he has a below average arm.
Magglio Ordonez (C-) - Ordonez catches what is hit to him but has below average range. he seemed to get to more balls in the second half of the season than the first half. He makes up for some his other shortcomings with a very strong arm.
Marcus Thames (D) - Thames is learning to be a first basemen but will still probably see some time in the outfield. He is an awkward fielder with below average range. He is on the team for his bat.
Gary Sheffield (C-) - Sheffield has lost some range and is not a strong defensive outfielder anymore. He will mostly be a designated hitter.