Monday, May 25, 2009

Improved Defense Helps Tigers

Much was made of the Tigers pitching problems last year and with good reason.  However, fielding was just as big of an issue and they finished near the bottom on several defensive measures.  They finished 24th in Major League Baseball in Defensive Efficiency Ratio (percent of balls in play converted into outs) at .685  Even more telling was their -39.1 runs below league average on Ultimate Zone Rating (26th in baseball).

They made a point of upgrading their defense during the off-season moving Brandon Inge to third and acquiring shortstop Adam Everett among other things.  A quarter of the way through the season, their defense has improved dramatically so far.  Their Defensive Effeciency is up to .705 which is 8th best in the majors.  According to Ultimate Zone Rating, they have saved 14.4 runs better than average.  If they keep it up, that is a 53.5 run improvement over last year which is huge.  

Adam Everett has not worked out quite as they hoped defensively but they have improved significantly every place else so far.  The Table below shows their improvement on Ultimate Zone Rating by position.  you can see that they are actually 2 runs worse at shortstop this year so far.  However, Brandon Inge replacing Carlos Guillen/Miguel Cabrera at third base has led to an increase of 17.7 runs saved.  Not far behind is the outfield which has steppep up by a combined 29.3 runs over 2009.  An improved Curtis Granderson in center field is part of the difference.  Josh Anderson has been reponsible for much of the improvement in left field and Clete Thomas has been an upgrade over Magglio Ordonez in right field when he has played.

One caveat is that individual defensive statistics are not very reliable over a quarter of season.  For that reason, I used the +/- statistic found at BillJamesOnline as a check (It's a pay site so you won't be able able to see the numbers without a subscription).  That statistic backs up the UZR results fairly closely except that it sees no improvement for Polanco.  It had him ranked pretty high last year already (+11 runs saved above average).    

Table: Tigers Ultimate Zone Rating by Postion

































* Through May 24 (42 games)

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