Previewing the Offense – Infield Edition
Continuing in the season preview series, I’ll now take a look at the infield. To predict the offensive contributions I’ll be using Runs Created and Runs Created per 27 outs (RC27). Runs created in it’s shortest form is on base average times total bases. RC27 is the number of runs a team of 9 identical players would typically score in a game. There have been several refinements to this formula to take more into account. Last year the Tigers RC was 844 and their actual runs scored was 827, or a variance of 17 runs – so it’s pretty darn close.
Now on to the predictions…
A late power surge last year pushed Carlos Pena to a career high 27 home runs. Pena seems to have settled in as a .245 hitter who becomes more valuable by walking a great deal. He had 70 walks last year and posted a .338 OBA despite his batting average. He also slugged .472 which is respectable given his batting average as well. Given the fact that he is the Tigers only left handed power threat, he stands to play pretty much every day. The only thing that would deter him are injuries and playing really really poor. His RC27 the last 3 years has been rising (4.76, 4.92, 5.34) and following that line I’d peg him at 5.77. If he plays 150 games that works out to 96 runs created.
Dmitri Young will get the rest of the starts at first, and his RC27 numbers when healthy are between 6 and 7. Last year he dipped to 5.6. A return to 6.0 is feasible and he should account for an additional 8 runs created.
First Base: 104 Runs Created.
Change From Last Year: +10
Omar Infante started off last year trying to forget his previous season. In 2003 he was given the opportunity to start, only to be demoted to Toledo mid-season. He made the club as a utility player because the Tigers had signed Fernando Vina to play second base. An early season ending (and probably career ending) injury to Vina opened the door for Infante to play, and Omar capitalized. He slugged .449 as a 22 year old and played an adequate second base. He will get the bulk of the starts at second base health permitting. He’s had back problems in the past, and has battled a sore shoulder this spring which puts him at a higher injury risk than I’d like to see. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his power regress slightly (he’s never hit for that kind of power in his major or minor league career before), but I think his average and OBA will increase slightly. In short I’d expect the same kind of production as last year and he will contribute 73 RC over 140 games.
Jason Smith and Ramon Martinez will provide backup duties for second, third, and short. Smith’s RC27 last year was 3.9 while Martinez’s was 3.6. For simplicity sake we’ll call the backup infielder duo has 3.7 RC27. Over 22 games that is 9 runs.
Second Base: 82 Runs Created.
Change From Last Year: +5
Prior to 2004, Brandon Inge had a career .198/.254/.315 offensive line. That was the worst performance in the Majors from 2001-2003 (minimum 900 plate apperances). That’s what makes last year’s .287/.340/.453 so surprising. Inge made the team despite his offensive performance because he could back up 3 critical positions – centerfield, third base, and catcher. Given that Chris Shelton was holding on to a roster spot but not contributing that made Inge a valuable component. When Munson failed to hold onto the third base job, it became Inge’s for the taking.
Despite Inge’s success last year, the Tigers weren’t sold on it. They tried to acquire free agents to man the hot corner including Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus, and Edgar Renteria (to play short and move Guillen to 3rd). However the Tigers didn’t find any takers. Inge will probably get 130 starts or so at third if he can hit at all. I think his power was real last year as his isolated power has been on the rise (IsoP is slugging minus batting average) from .131 to .136 to .167 last year. His plate discipline has been fairly steady as well. I’d expect his average to dip though to the .250 range for a stat line of .250/.315/.410 or a reduction of about 9% in his OPS. His RC27 last year was 5.39 and if that is reduced 9% it would be 4.91. Over 135 games that is 74 runs created.
With the backup crew picking up the remaining games, that is 11 more RC.
Third Base: 85 Runs Created.
Change From Last Year: -4
If only the Tigers could trade minor league non-prospects for guys that find themselves in the MVP race every year…Carlos Guillen looked to be a good player heading into last year, and I expected a big season from him – like a .280 hitter who might slug in the low .400s. Instead the Tigers had to settle for .318/.379/.542 and a hitter that they could slot anywhere in the batting order. What remains to be seen is if this new level of performance is sustainable, or a freakish career year. My take is that he won’t be able to repeat his performance in 2004, but he won’t slip all the way back to his career levels either. His RC27 had been on the rise from 4.03 to 4.45 to 4.83 prior to last year’s 7.60. I think part of his jump was moving to a new team and environment that fit him. I also think part of it was related to his age. And part of it was simply luck. I’m going to guess that his RC27 will be 6.0 and that he’ll manage 135 games (that has definitely been more predictable over his career). The results is 90 runs created.
The back up crew will pick up the remaining games and will contribute 11 runs.
Shortstop: 101 Runs Created.
Change From Last Year: -21
I’ll cover outfield, DH and catcher in the next edition.