So you thought the Tigers were going to come into the 2012 season, sleep walk through the entire thing and end up winning the division by 10 or so games. Hey you’re not alone, prior to the beginning of the year many pundits from around the country picked the Tigers to without a doubt win the AL Central comfortably especially after the addition of Prince Fielder to a lineup that already consisted of Miguel Cabrera. So given all the firepower in the lineup and quality arms in the rotation it’s very surprising that the Tigers are sitting three games out of the division lead with a very short time left in the season right?
Well not really…
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs.com highlights the Detroit Tigers’ season thus far and came to the conclusion that it’s the Chicago White Sox and not the Tigers that are the surprising team in the AL Central. In fact, Sullivan says given the statistics the Tigers aren’t having a bad season at all.
Here’s how the Tigers rank in the American League in various team statistics…
Rotation FIP: 1st
Bullpen FIP: 7th
Furthermore, the Tigers’ OPS is 32 points higher than what they give up while the White Sox’s OPS is 19 points higher than what they give up. Sullivan notes that this is the fifth highest gap in the American League behind the Rays and ahead of the Athletics.
What about the defense though? Well… this is where the problems for the Tigers start to add up. According to Sullivan the Tigers have allowed highest BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) in the AL and have a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) which is good for 12th. Now that may not seem so bad however it’s 15 runs behind the 11th spot.
The surprising thing about the Tigers’ defense though is where the problems lie. Heading into 2012 it would’ve seemed that the biggest problems on defense for the Tigers would be in the infield with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder on the corners. However, Sullivan reveals that the problems with the Tigers’ defense aren’t in the infield, they’re very much in the outfield and here’s the UZR numbers to prove it…
Tigers infield: -2.2
Tigers outfield: -27.0
It gets worse though… The Tigers outfield is more than five runs worse than any other outfield in the American League. And when you compare it to the Angels, statistically the best defensive outfield in the AL, we’re seeing a difference of 60 runs or as Sullivan puts it nearly SIX WINS.
So who’s the biggest culprit in what appears to be a disaster of an outfield? Sullivan seems hesitant to say but eventually mentions that the Tigers perhaps could be tied or in first place all by themselves if Brennan Boesch played less outfield for Detroit in 2012.
The guy UZR really hates is Brennan Boesch, and while I don’t want to get too deep into talking about single-season UZR, I’ll note that Boesch has batted 500 times and owns a -1.1 WAR. In retrospect, less Boesch and more someone else might have the Tigers in first, in a tie or by themselves. That’s speculation. Let’s forget about Boesch and focus on the overall picture: the Tigers’ defense has indeed been a weakness, but the numbers suggest the weakness hasn’t been in the infield, but beyond it.
Ultimately though it’s not surprising that the Tigers have had problems on defense, this was considered to be their biggest weakness heading into 2012. Other than that though the Tigers were suppose to hit which they have (.268 team batting average good for 6th in the AL) and they were suppose to pitch which again they have (3.82 team ERA, good for 4th in the AL). At this point though you just have to tip your cap to the White Sox who so far have simply played better.
h/t: Fan Graphs