(Photo credit: The Majors.net)
Fielding has been a sore spot for the Tigers for the past few years. Some might say a gaping wound. According to the Defensive Runs Saved statistic, poor defense cost the Tigers -32 runs in 2012, -66 runs in 2013 and -64 runs this year (See Tale 1 below).
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski tried to address the issue last year with the additions of second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Jose Iglesias, the subtraction of first baseman Prince Fielder and shift of Miguel Cabrera from third base to first base. His plan was derailed in spring training when it was learned that the slick fielding Iglesias would miss the entire season due to stress fractures in both shins. It got even worse when rookie third baseman and veteran right fielder Torii Hunter performed worse than imagined in the field.
Once again, the Tigers are looking to shore up a defensive unit which cost them an estimated six wins compared to an average defense in 2014. As it stands now, the major additions will be a healthy Iglesias at shortstop and recently acquired center fielder Anthony Gose. The most significant subtraction looks to be Hunter in right field.
It's still early in the off-season, but here is how the Tigers are looking position by position at this time:
2014: -7 runs. The addition of David Price ( +1 from 2012-2014) and possible subtraction of Max Scherzer (-4 from 2012-2014) could save five runs. Of course, they would be a better team with Scherzer than without Scherzer, but this post is only about defense. 2015 Projection: -2 runs.
2014: +2. Alex Avila's base stealing prevention numbers improved last year thanks, in part, to an emphasis on pitchers delivering the ball quicker to home plate. He was also better at blocking pitches. Even if he continues to miss time with concussions and other injuries, they should have a more capable backup than Bryan Holaday this year in Brian McCann. 2015 Projection: +2
2014: -6 Cabrera rated better on other defensive measures and was good in the first half when healthy, but struggled later with injuries. Assuming better health for Cabrera and less field time for designated hitter Victor Martinez, they should be at least average at the position next year. 2015 Projection: 0
2014: +21 Kinsler was the only well above defender on the team this year. He might regress a bit next year, but should still be strong. 2015 Projection: +15
2014: -32 Castellanos was a butcher at third last year, but he was also asked to make a position switch for the second time in two years. He'll never be a good defender, but he's bound to improve a little bit. 2015 Projection: -25
2014: -9 The combination of Alex Gonzalez, Andrew Romine and Eugenio Suarez not only didn't provide much offense, but they also were below average defensively as a group. Assuming Iglesias is truly healthy enough to play a full season, he should be a substantial improvement at shortstop. 2015 Projection: +10.
2014: -4 Once J.D. Martinez settled into left field, it became mostly an offensive position for the Tigers this year and the same should be true next season. 2015 Projection: -4
2014: -7 Austin Jackson was a disappointment offensively and defensively in 2014. Speedsters Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis should give the Tigers above average defense in center next year. 2015 Projection: +5
2014: -22 One-time defensive standout Torii Hunter seemed to be indifferent at times last year and just old and slow in other instances and the results were awful. It will be addition by subtraction defensively in right. I'm not sure the Tigers are done dealing with this position, but the current combination of Tyler Collins, Davis and Steven Moya should provide close to average defense. 2015 Projection: 0
The above projections sum to +1 meaning the Tigers defense should be about average in 2015. In fact, the defense appears to be about six wins better right now than it was last year. As it stands now, the batting order and rotation might not be as strong as in 2014, but if they don't win as much next year, it probably won't be because of fielding.
Table 1: Tigers Defensive Runs Saved 2012-2015