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2006 Team Previews: Detroit Tigers, Positional Players

A great deal of "if's" rest on this next statement, but the Tigers do have a chance to compete in the American League Central in 2006. They have a a few talented starters in the rotation, as well as prospects like Justin Verlander, who may come up and make a difference later in the year. Their lineup is strong, and the team's defense is solid. It is a shame that the Tigers are now lumped in with one of the stronger divisions in baseball; a few years back, this team could've taken the division.

  • Acquired
  • No positional players
  • Lost
  • Rondell White
  • Fernando Vina
  • Gookie Dawkins
  • Bobby Higginson
Rondell White is a fine player, but the Twins need him around more than the Tigers do. The Tigers have multiple options for the outfield, and Magglio Ordonez is expected to play a full season in right, allowing Craig Monroe to switch over to left. Fernando Vina didn't play in all of 2006, and the Tigers have Placido Polanco anyways. Bobby Higginson only had 27 plate appearances in 2005, and his contract certainly won't be missed. Gookie Dawkins...well, I'll miss seeing him in Pawtucket with some drunken PawSox fan calling him "The Gookie Monster". Good times...

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Ivan Rodriguez .276/.290/.444; +12.07 pNRAA; +15.57 pNRAA/GP

2006: Ivan Rodriguez .281/.318/.446; +15.21 pNRAA; +16.73 pNRAA/GP

There is an expected drop in his defensive performance, which was stellar last season. That assessment seems sort of cautious to me, so I'll go ahead and say expect a tad more out of your 2006 Pudge. As far as offense goes, ugh. He's going to hit well, and hit very well for a catcher, but that walk rate needs a jumpstart. He walked in 2% of his plate appearances last year...his expected BB/PA this year is 5%; better, but still, not good at all. His defense and the fact that catcher's offense seems to be among the missing in many places as of late makes Pudge retain his value, but taking a few pitches here and there would bump it up a tad more.

First Base
2005: Chris Shelton .299/.360/.510; +6.47 pNRAA; +6.92 pNRAA/GP
2005: Carlos Pena .235/.325/.477; -10.57 pNRAA; -8.35 pNRAA/GP

2006: Chris Shelton .280/.361/.493; +9.86 pNRAA; +12.53 pNRAA/GP
2006: Carlos Pena .255/.349/.482; +1.50 pNRAA; +1.78 pNRAA/GP

Carlos Pena's most glaring problem is his defense; he is a few runs below average per 100 games, and that severely cuts into his value, especially considering he doesn't have much slack to begin with. PECOTA is very optimistic this year for Pena, and personally, I'd use him at DH if I were Detroit. More on that later of course. Chris Shelton looks to improve on his 2005, and with a full season under his belt should provide very good first base production for the Tigers. Just so everyone knows, Shelton's upper level in his range of projected outcomes is ridiculous, and all Tigers fans should pray fervently for it to whatever baseball deity you desire. These hypothetical situations are one of my favorite reasons to have access to PECOTA cards; if you don't have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, you are missing out on a great deal of information.

Second Base
2005: Placido Polanco .338/.386/.461; +19.55 pNRAA; +16.82 pNRAA/GP
2005: Omar Infante .222/.254/.367; -11.98 pNRAA; -14.50 pNRAA/GP

2006: Placido Polanco .304/.352/.420; +14.99 pNRAA; +19.64 pNRAA/GP

Polanco was a huge addition for the Tigers in 2005; not only did he lead the team in both pNRAA and pNRAA/GP (in only 86 games) but they were able to stop playing Omar Infante at second base. Of course, when Carlos Guillen didn't play, Infante did. In 2006 this is one of those situations that will add a great deal of value to the Tigers lineup simply by fixing itself.

Full season of Polanco + Healthy Carlos Guillen - Omar Infante = very strong middle infield production.

Obviously very advanced math I used right there. Good + Good - Bad = Very Good. Polanco is a fine defender, and can definitely swing the bat, especially for a second basemen. Considering the trouble that the player traded for him is into, kudos to the Tigers front office for this move.

Third Base
2005: Brandon Inge .261/.330/.419; +6.06 pNRAA; +9.69 pNRAA/GP

2006: Brandon Inge .257/.322/.416; +5.01 pNRAA; +7.07 pNRAA/GP

Inge's defensive projection seems a tad low after last year's excellent showing, so you can bump him up an additional run or two. Inge isn't anything special as a hitter, although he is league average for third base, and his plus defense allows the Tigers to keep him in the lineup. Inge is one of the keys to helping out the pitching staff, along with Polanco at second, Guillen at short and Granderson in center. These are the best defensive players they have (and Pudge is no slouch himself, as previously mentioned) and they can help the Tigers win a few additional games.

Shorstop
2005: Omar Infante .222/.254/.367; -11.98 pNRAA; -14.50 pNRAA/GP
2005: Carlos Guillen .320/.368/.434; +11.52 pNRAA; +10.02 pNRAA/GP

2006: Carlos Guillen .290/.352/.437; +17.43 pNRAA; +18.30 pNRAA/GP

Guillen is expected to be the second best player on the Tigers in 2006, according to pNRAA. He is obviously still capable of hitting the ball well, even after all of his injury problems. He is an above average defender (as good or better than Infante, whose redeeming quality is his glove) and if healthy, should provide the Tigers with the production his projection promises. Will Carroll's Team Health Report for the Tigers issued Guillen a yellow light, which is basically saying that the player is certainly at risk for injury, but I prefer a yellow to a red light.

Left Field
2005: Rondell White .313/.347/.489; +5.34 pNRAA; +5.18 pNRAA/GP
2005: Craig Monroe .277/.322/.446; -7.24 pNRAA; -11.36 pNRAA/GP

2006: Craig Monroe .279/.327/.464; +1.77 pNRAA; +2.32 pNRAA/GP

Monroe's defense, which was well below average in 2005, is expected to rise somewhat in 2006. Sadly, Monroe did not log enough innings in the outfield for David Gassko to have published the Runs Above Average fielding numbers for him. David Pinto has him below average as well, with -1.989 Runs Saved per 27 outs; second worst among leftfielders. He can certainly hit well enough, as his EqA (.278) bested the league average in left (.272), and his projection figures to be even higher (.281). If he can improve on his defense, as BP's numbers expect him to, than the Tigers certainly won't miss Rondell White too much. Really, it depends on what you would rather have. Someone who is a few runs higher above average and isn't going to play healthy all season in White, or someone who is at or a smidge above the league average who will be there for you all season.

Center Field
2005: Nook Logan .258/.305/.335; +0.65 pNRAA; +0.83 pNRAA/GP
2005: Curtis Granderson .272/.314/.494; +15.34 pNRAA; +7.21 pNRAA/GP

2006: Curtis Granderson .271/.341/.470; +21.57 pNRAA; +26.53 pNRAA/GP

And here is your expected pNRAA leader for the Tigers. Curtis Granderson had a meaningful 172 plate appearances in 2005, where he hit for power and played excellent defensive ball. If he can increase his walk rate to the levels he had in the minor leagues (10% BB/PA in 2005, as compared to 6% in Detroit), while maintaining some semblance of the power production he showed in the majors (.494 slugging), he will be a very valuable bat in the Tigers lineup. Add in his defense, which is expected to be tops on the team (an excellent thing for a centerfielder flagged by two poor defensive players) and you have yourselves a top-level talent. Nook Logan is a very good defensive outfielder, but he should not really be involved in a conversation with Granderson in a positional battle. I like the idea of keeping Logan around as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement though. Logan is expected to have a Rate2 of 104 in center, which is better than the 98 and 97 expected from Ordonez and Monroe, respectively.

Magglio Ordonez
2005: Magglio Ordonez .302/.359/.436; -0.68 pNRAA; -0.56 pNRAA/GP
2005: Craig Monroe .277/.322/.446; -7.24 pNRAA; -11.36 pNRAA/GP

2006: Magglio Ordonez .288/.350/.440; +3.75 pNRAA; +3.26 pNRAA/GP

Was Ordonez overpaid? Yes. Was the contrac too long? Yes. Was taking a risk on a player with injury problems a bad move? No. Ordonez is capable of hitting, although not at the levels of yesteryear, and he certainly presents an injury problem with his knee condition. He can provide above average production though, and his signing helped to show the Tigers front office was serious about putting a productive team on the field. I don't usually agree with that sort of move, but bringing the fan base back should be high on the list of things to do after your team almost sets the all-time single season loss record, and the Ordonez moves, as well as the ones that preceeded it, certainly seem to have succeeded in doing that. Let me quote Will Carroll, from that Team Health Report mentioned in the Guillen portion of the article:

The knee survived a season and that out clause is long gone. It was a hernia that kept Ordonez off the field for much of the year. That's easily and predictably repaired, but what has us wondering is if the time off for the surgery eased the load on his knee just enough to get him through his partial season. We'll know by the ASB if Ordonez's overseas surgery really did clear things up in his knee.

Time will tell.

Designated Hitter
2005: Dmitri Young .271/.325/.471; -2.94 pNRAA; -3.70 pNRAA/GP

2006: Dmitri Young .277/.333/.468; +3.28 pNRAA; +4.07 pNRAA/GP
2006: Carlos Pena .255/.349/.482; +8.66 pNRAA; +10.31 pNRAA/GP

My assessment here is simple: If Pena proves he can hit this season, like PECOTA expects him to, you either sit Young or move him if possible. Young is still a productive hitter, but Pena is younger, less expensive, and potentially more productive. A great deal of production has to be done on the margins, and the little gains made by maximizing the utility of players on your roster add up over the course of the season. The more situations you set yourself up for in regards to added production, the better the chance you will have gained more once all is said and done. I understand I didn't just come up with anything new by the way, but teams do need to pay better attention to maximizing the production of their roster, and in a situation such as this, playing Pena seems to be the obvious answer. With both on the roster already, you can safely see whether or not Pena is capable of hitting better than Young without any sort of transaction muddying things.

Let's take a look at their projected lineup according to David Pinto's Lineup Analysis tool, built via research by Ken Arneson and our own Cyril Morong.

  1. Lineup Analysis
  2. Guillen
  3. Shelton
  4. Ordonez
  5. Granderson
  6. Pena
  7. Rodriguez
  8. Monroe
  9. Inge
  10. Polanco
Anytime I don't see any controversial switches in the lineup created by this tool, I feel like the team has a deep lineup. There doesn't seem to be any real hole in it; the worst hitter in the lineup is Brandon Inge, which is certainly a good thing, but the best one is most likely Chris Shelton. It is a very balanced lineup, to be sure. This lineup would be expected to score 5.282 runs per game, or 856 on the season. Throw in the defensive skills of the team, and the pitching, which will be covered shortly most likely, and you have yourself a team capable of surprising a few people. To the same level that the White Sox surprised in 2005? Maybe not, but baseball is a funny game sometimes...my guess is that the division will be the bane of the Tigers' playoff hopes and dreams. If they can beat up their own division, they can make a run at the playoffs. Easier said than done though.