There are a number of different elements to fantasy baseball and fielding seems like it should be the last one. However, fielding impacts more parts of the game then you might think. It definitely impacts pitchers and their numbers, but it also impacts the players themselves. Some players seem to get a longer leash at the plate than others. Then, there are times when some players seem to sit even though they are fairly productive at the plate.
The Tigers have been a hitting first team for quite a few years. It got so bad one season that they moved Miguel Cabrera to third base in order to fit Prince Fielder into the lineup at first. That image might be changing some because those players are getting older and could be replaced by younger and more athletic players.
We use defensive runs saved from the Fielding Bible to rate our teams. billjamesonline.com has numbers for individual players and for teams. It breaks team data down by position and also includes a category for advanced shifting. We will look at the infield defense, outfield defense, and the total defensive efficiency rating (DER) according to baseball-reference.com.
There is a lot left to learn about the interaction between fielding and pitching. The difference between DER and defensive runs saved (DRS) can be stark. DER simply measures the percentage of balls in play that get converted into outs. DRS measures the types of balls hit to various fielders and whether they should make those plays based on how other fielders perform on similar plays. The shorter version of that explanation is that some pitchers give up harder contact and therefore give up more hits even if their fielders are top notch.
Last season, the Tigers pitchers were better than their fielders. That makes sense when you have a finalist for the Cy Young Award and the Rookie of the Year on your staff. Whether that success will continue remains to be seen. Hopefully, the fielders won’t make the pitchers work quite that hard.
Ian Kinsler is the only player on this team that remotely qualifies for this honor. He has had plus 51 DRS over the past three seasons. He has been worthy of Gold Gloves in the past, but he may not quite be at that level now. That being said, he certainly should be a finalist every year and that far surpasses anything else the Tigers can put out there.
There certainly is competition here, but the “honor” has to go to Nick Castellanos. The young third baseman has minus 50 DRS over the past three seasons. Fortunately, 30 of those runs came in his first full season. Still, he has averaged minus ten runs the past two seasons and he hasn’t even played every day. I would expect him to get some days off here and there just so they can get a better glove out there.
The Tigers officially made one change in the offseason. They let Cameron Maybin go and are replacing him with a collection of younger players. For the time being, Jacoby Jones will get the call, but his offense will dictate if he takes the job full time. Maybin has minus 25 runs DRS over the past three seasons, so Jones will hopefully be an improvement. Mike Mahtook is also in the lineup with J.D. Martinez on the shelf, but he likely will return to the bench when Martinez returns from the disabled list.
Martinez scored a minus 22 DRS last season, so Mahtook may end up keeping the position longer if he is able to hit some. Martinez is an impending free agent as well, so he could end up being trade bait if the Tigers are out of contention in July. The Tigers could go from being the worst outfield in the business to being above average.
The outfield has been a collective minus 79 runs over the past three seasons. There isn’t a team in baseball that can beat that kind of ineptitude defensively. However, the changes in center and right may turn the tide and that could have an unexpected effect on the pitchers. The Tigers have tried to employ strikeout pitchers to combat the bad defense. Strikeout pitchers also tend to be fly ball pitchers. They collectively had a 41.20 percent ground ball rate over the past three seasons (44 percent is average).
Justin Verlander has the highest fly ball rate of the group, so he could be the biggest beneficiary. That’s a scary thought considering he was already a Cy Young award finalist. Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris fit the same profile to a lesser extent. The defensive turnaround could propel the Tigers into unexpected contention.
On the flip side, Michael Fulmer had a little batted ball luck last season that helped propel him to the Rookie of the Year award. Most prognosticators are predicted that he will take a step backwards this season. He had a 51 percent ground ball rate last season to lead the staff. Their infield is still likely to be below average this season.