The White Sox, Tigers and Defense

September 21, 2012

The White Sox hold a two-game lead over the Tigers today in the race for the AL Central Division title. One of the key reasons the Sox are on top is defense. Not because theirs is so good, but because the Tigers’ is so bad. Detroit has the worst defense in the American League. Compared to the average team, they have lost 39 runs on defense. The White Sox’s defense has saved five runs, which makes them an average defense.

That's a difference of 44 runs, a difference of four games in the standings.

When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to team up with Miguel Cabrera, the plan was to supercharge their offense. While both players are having excellent seasons, it hasn't worked as well as planned. In 2011, the Tigers scored 4.9 runs per game. This year, they are down to 4.5 runs. Defensively, both Fielder and Cabrera are hurting the team. Ten of the 39 runs lost on defense are from those two, five apiece at their respective positions.

I am somewhat surprised that Cabrera hasn’t been worse at third base. In playing third base with Florida in 2006 and 2007, he lost 29 runs defensively. He was moved to first base with good reason. Returning to third base this year, we projected him to lose about 15 runs for the Tigers this year, and he’s only lost 5 so far. Here are the defensive performances of some of the other players on contenders that have changed positions this year:

Notable Players with New Positions
Player 2011 Pos Runs Saved 2012 Pos Runs Saved Change
Mark Reynolds, BAL 3B -22 1B -3 19
Alex Rios, CWS CF -9 RF 6 15
Hanley Ramirez, LAD SS -13 3B -11 2
Miguel Cabrera, DET 1B -3 3B -5 -2
Brennan Boesch, DET LF 5 RF -8 -13


Atop the list is a player that has never been synonymous with good defense, Mark Reynolds. This season, Reynolds has moved from third base to first and held his own. His defensive improvement has been a major part of the Orioles’ late-season success and helped him consistently remain in the lineup.

Next to Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez was the biggest name to move to a new position this season. His move has not fared as well. Ramirez has cost the Marlins and Dodgers an estimated 11 runs at third base after costing them 13 runs at shortstop last year. Unlike Cabrera, Ramirez moved to third from a more-demanding position. His teams likely hoped for a bigger improvement.

In the outfield, Alex Rios and Brennan Boesch have become primarily right fielders this season. They are responsible for 14 runs of the 44-run disparity between the White Sox and Tigers, more even than Cabrera and Fielder. That is a flip of last year, when Boesch was 14 runs better in left field than Rios was in center.


COMMENTS (2 Comments, most recent shown first)

Not only has Hanley been primarily a SS for the Dodgers this year, he also missed a good portion of last season too.

In 2011, at SS, he was -13 in 755 innings (or about 84 9-inning games). In 2012 at SS, he's -5 in 46 games. Pro-rating 2011 down to 2012, that -13 becomes -7, so it's a tiny improvement.

In 2012, at 3B, he's -10 in 98 games, which is what you'd have expected based on his 2011 numbers.
10:57 AM Sep 22nd
This is good stuff. But Ramirez has been playing SS for the Dodgers. And very badly, to the naked eye.
7:49 AM Sep 22nd
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