In yesterday's post, I broke down the Tigers 2007 and 2008 seasons into offense, pitching and fielding and showed how their fielding declined from 2007 to 2008 more than their hitting and pitching. In fact, if we use FIP as the measure of pitching, you could make the case that their pitching did not get any worse at all and that most of the increase in runs allowed was due to fielding. This led to a question from reader Jaymo about just how much their fielding cost them this year.
Using the +/- statistic at The Hardball Times site, The Tigers made 45 more plays than the average team in 2007 and 54 fewer plays than the average team in 2008. That is a difference of 99 plays. As Tom Tango explains intuitively on his site, a play made that another team doesn't make is worth .8 runs. Thus, according to the +/- statistic, the Tigers defense was 79 runs worse this year than it was last year. That's a lot of runs. Pete Palmer estimated that 10 runs equals a win so we can estimate that the fielding was responsible for eight extra losses in 2008 compared to 2007.
Who was responsible? Looking at the individual +/- statistics listed at billjamesonline.com and applying the above formulas, it can be seen that most of the decline happened at third base (an estimated 2.6 wins) and in the outfield where Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames were responsible for an estimated 4-5 wins. Granderson was the biggest culprit there with 2.6 fewer wins. They were below average at first base and shortstop and above average at second base both years.
The third base problem needs little explanation. Switching from Inge to Miguel Cabrera and then Carlos Guillen was an obvious downgrade. Ordonez is getting older and I never really believed that Thames was as good as his past fielding stats. The big surprise was Granderson who went from gold glove quality last year to below average this year.
The Tigers already addressed the third base problem by announcing that Inge (who had a +/- of +22 last year) will take over for Guillen (-12) next year. Of course, the concern with him is that he is capable of losing as many runs with his bat as he saves with his glove. I think center field will improve simply because the real Granderson is probably somewhere between the two extremes of 2007 (+20) and 2008 (-12). Shortstop is another position where defense could be addressed. Picking up an above average defensive shortstop to replace Renteria would be a major boost.
Now, I'm not suggesting that improving their fielding is going to solve all of their woes. They certainly need to improve their pitching staff especially the bullpen. My point is that fielding needs to be a major priority this off-season and that improving it will make the pitching look a lot better.