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Is Tigers' defense historically awful?

8/1/2012

OK, you see the question in the headline. The quick answer: No.

That doesn't mean the Detroit Tigers' defense has been good or even solid.

The Tigers knew before the season that they weren't exactly throwing a replica of the 1970 Orioles out in the field. Entering Wednesday's games, the Tigers ranked 26th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved at minus-33 runs below average. (The Rockies rank last at minus-62.)

Even given the unexacting nature of evaluating defense, nobody is going to disagree that Detroit's defense has been lousy.

The biggest culprits have been Brennan Boesch at minus-9 runs in right field and Prince Fielder at minus-5 runs at first base. Surprisingly, at least according to Defensive Runs Saved, Miguel Cabrera has been fine at third, with zero runs saved. His range has been fine, he's made just nine errors and has started 22 double plays. Austin Jackson, who rated as the best defensive player in the majors in 2011 at +29 runs, is rated at zero runs saved in 2012.

I was interested to see how many playoff teams have had this bad of a defense. Prorated over 162 games, the Tigers are on pace for minus-51 runs saved. Baseball Info Solutions has tracked DRS since 2003 (although the system has been refined through the years). Here are the five worst defensive teams that made the playoffs since then:

1. 2005 Yankees: minus-115 runs

2. 2004 Yankees: minus-80 runs

3. 2011 Phillies: minus-59 runs

4. 2005 Padres: minus-51 runs

5. 2009 Twins: minus-48 runs

That 2005 Yankees club, by the way, rates as the worst defensive team by DRS since 2003. Only seven clubs have been as bad as minus-80 runs. Derek Jeter (minus-27), Bernie Williams in his next-to-last season (minus-26), rookie Robinson Cano (minus-22) and Gary Sheffield (minus-14) were the biggest offenders. Hideki Matsui even played 222 innings in center field. Yes, that was a bad defense.

Anyway, the Tigers aren't historically awful, although certainly well below the +8.7 DRS average of the 72 playoff teams since 2003. No, the defense has done what many projected. The big disappointment has been the offense: The Tigers are just seventh in the American League in runs scored and seventh in slugging percentage.

Many expected the Tigers to cruise to the AL Central because of an ability to lead the league in runs scored. That isn't happening and now the Tigers are in a tough fight. They added Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to hopefully help the run prevention, but it's the offense that needs to starting producing better.