Odds are…Tigers defense is poor

I wasn’t planning on writing about the Tigers’ poor defense, but then David Pinto published his Probabalistic Model of Range for 2004. I love fresh stats, and this will dovetail nicely with the defense independent discussion from last week.

Pinto’s stats are compiled by looking at play by play data and measuring how likely it is that given ball will be turned into an out. He looks at the direction the ball was hit, the type of hit (grounder, flyball, linedrive, bunt), how hard it was hit, the park, and the handedness of the hitter and pitcher. Pinto’s method is very similar to Mitchel Lichtman’s Ultimate Zone Rating which I used extensively in my defensive preview last year. Lichtman went an additional step and expressed a player’s defensive contribution in terms of runs. Unfortunately for us (fortunately for Lichtman) he’s working for the Cardinals now and won’t be publishing his results.

The Probalistic Model shows the following totals for the Tigers

Balls-in-play: 4524
Acutal Outs: 3091
Defensive Efficiency: .683
Predicted Outs: 3169.2
Predicted DER: .701

The gap between the Tigers actual DER and predicted DER was the 4th worst in the majors. The result is that the Tigers missed out on converting 78 balls-in-play into outs. The pitchers are the real losers in this because innings get extended, run likelihood increases, and so does workload. And it’s not just a matter of pitchers having to face an additional 78 hitters. Considering that 64.9% of the batters against reached base (this includes the non balls in play as well), that means that Tigers pitchers faced an additional 120 batters over the course of the season.

Now hopefully I didn’t just mess up all those calculations and I don’t look like an idiot. Regardless, this just helps to support the commonly held belief that the Tigers defense is below average. The mainstream media typically point to errors and fielding percentage which are horrible measures of defense, but the Tigers were so far behind the rest of the league in those stats they still illustrate the point. It also meshes nicely with Jaffe’s dERA calculations which show that as a team the Tigers allowed 30 more runs than would be expected.

Here are some other defense related Tiger stats:
From the Hardball Times Baseball Annual:
-The Tigers line drive allowed percentage is 17.5% against a league average of 18.2%. This is signifcant because line drives are the type of ball in play most likely to turn into a hit.
-The Tigers groundball/flyball ratio is 1.25 against a league average of 1.15.
-The Tigers had 144 errors last year and 48.5% were throwing errors. The league average is 46.5% of errors are throwing errors.
-From a catching standpoint, the Tigers caught stealing rate was 37% against a league average of 32%. Pudge however only threw out 29% of runners while Brandon Inge threw out 38%. However Pudge’s reputation kept runners from trying to steal on him. With Pudge behind the plate runners tried to steal only .48 times per game. With Inge behind the plate they were trying 1.38 times per game.

Other Stuff
-Happy 4th Birthday to Tigers Central. Ryan and his crew do a great job over there.
-I received a bunch of emails from different website operators who want me to link to them. I’ve read your emails, I just haven’t had a chance to incorporate your links yet.


  1. David Pinto

    January 24, 2005 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for the link!

  2. Jason R.

    January 25, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    Billfer –

    Thanks for the links. Lazy so-and-so that I am, did you find anything that points the finger at the infield or the outfield specifically?

    The groundball/flyball ratio you noted indicates a fairly neutral staff with groundball leanings, from which you could reasonably assume the infield is to blame. Too many balls in play turned into hits, most of the balls in play were groundballs, thus …

    Problem is, that seems counterintuitive to what I would wager most Tiger fans see as the defensive deficiencies on the club. An outfield of Sanchez, White, Monroe, and Higginson presumably leaves whole lot to be desired. But if they aren’t called into action as often as the infield, then how much did they really hurt the club?

    I am an unabashed supporter of the Staff of the High Strikeout Rate, and as such am curious to know where Detroit’s total number of balls put into play ranks against the rest of the league.

    While you can certainly exchange offense for defense as a means to an end, I think you can just easily relieve the burden on a poor defense by putting guys on the mound that don’t allow hitters to put the ball in play in the first place.