Color me surprised, Tigers like Cabrera’s glove

credit Roger DeWitt

I’d consider this the first bit of surprising news coming out of camp, but the Tigers are impressed with Miguel Cabrera defensively at third has had me a little nervous since the trade was made. A rotation with three southpaws, two of which are extreme ground balls pitchers, means that third base becomes very important. Whether or not this is spring-training optimism talking remains to be seen (Jose Macias was dubbed a gold glove centerfielder by Randy Smith one spring).

Defensive metrics have been quite unified when assessing Cabrera’s defense. It’s not that just that he rates poorly, it’s that he rates as one of the worst at this position.

His struggles had been largely blamed on his weight gain, which became most problematic last year. It’s been widely reported he has arrived to camp in great shape having lost that extra weight. But he rated at -14 runs per 150 games using UZR in 2006 as well. In 2005 when he was primarily a left fielder, he rated as -21 runs according to UZR. So his defensive struggles probably weren’t only the result of his weight.

Moving beyond the weight though the Tigers have been very impressed with his soft hands and are now thinking his defense could be a plus.

“We haven’t worked anyone hard yet as far as movement,” said manager Jim Leyland, “but I can see he has very good hands, soft hands. (Infield coach Rafael Belliard) has looked at tape after tape of him and has said to me that he has a chance to be real good.”Tigers love Cabrera’s glove

It raises an interesting question as to what extent the Tigers can “coach him up.” He apparently as the hands, and his arm strength has long been well regarded rating a 70 in the fans scouting report. Are the tools there to turn him into a defensive force? Can Rafael Belliard help him with positioning and throwing accuracy? I’m still skeptical, but also encouraged.

22 thoughts on “Color me surprised, Tigers like Cabrera’s glove”

  1. Just because they say they’re “impressed” with Cabrera’s glove does not mean he is actually showing a good glove, relative to other 3B. It might actually reflect their level of expectation — maybe they expected the equivalent of a 55-gallon drum down there.

  2. I have always heard that he had soft hands and a strong arm, it was his range and wild throws that killed him defensively. Hopefully losing weight will help with the range.

  3. Well Im very excited for Cabrera to be a offensive and a surprising defensive force for the Tigers at 3B. Because of his body structure I dont think he could ever be a Inge at 3B but he will be good or great. And if anyone can try to bring his defensive skills up it has to be Slick SS Raphy Belliard. One of hte premier SS in his time behind both Ozzie’s.(Smith and Guillien)

  4. The Tigers have improved defensively in LF, 1B & SS, while giving up a little bit of defense at 3B.
    I don’t think any one outside of the saber-rattlers will truly notice Cabrera’s defense – even if he boots another 20+ balls this year (which would be the average of the past three years for Detroit at that position) – because he’ll be tearing the cover off the pill. We’ll get .100+ pts in average, .200+ pts in OPS, 3x the HR and 1/4 fewer strikeouts from third base.

    None of this would be an issue if it weren’t for the irrational love-fest some folks still have for BI, our utility guy who’s played himself out of a job. A radio caller two days ago on 1130AM actually said, “I hope Cabrera tears an ACL on Opening Day so Inge can have his 3rd base job back.”

  5. I intentionally didn’t mention Inge in the post. I wasn’t comparing Cabrera’s defense to the past regime at third. I was comparing him to every other third baseman in baseball where he doesn’t match up defensively. This post had nothing to do with Inge or an irrational love fest.

  6. The “irrational love fest for Inge” argument has quickly become a strawman. No one is projecting “irrational”, positive opinions about him around here, or much of anywhere else for that matter — that is, aside from in this radio call Rings previously attributed to a Facebook comment.

  7. I’m sorry; I’m still laughing at the memory of Randy Smith saying Jose Macias could play some Gold Glove center field. Man, those were the days. What were you guys talking about?

  8. Dave, sorry to repeat the comment, but it was so shocking that its stuck with me and I first posted it from memory, forgetting the source. This comment was from a radio caller. The Facebook guy was the same sentiments, but not the same words. For the record (cut ‘n paste, hence the spelling):

    “I’m gonna be pissed if the Tigers let Inge go. He’s one of my favorite Tigers. He needs to get his bat going, but he’s one of the best feilding 3rd basemen in the league. He’s an amazing athlete and has been with the Tigers through their worst season in histroy. Screw Cabrrera, Inge is the man for the Tigers.”

    Aside from that, Dave, there HAVE been many passionate and semi-irrational defenses of BI on this site in the recent past. You won’t have to go back too far in the archives to find them.

    I hear ya, Bilfer, and apologize for bringing BI into it. However, my point is Cabrera’s defense is really only an issue in Detroit because of the “previous regime,” who’s defense was his oft-cited strength. There was barely a comment – much less exhaustive statistical analysis – from anyone about Jacque Jones, Edgar Renteria, Gary Sheffield (for when he played the field), or particularly Ordonez’ defense when they were acquired (Higginson, the previous RF, often led the league in outfield assists). Rather, most fans were pleased that we were getting an offensive upgrade and a better player at those positions.
    In Cabrera’s case, its become an much bigger issue because of Brandon. I’m optimistic that with the attention Miggy’s had for his “lack” of defense, along with his new dedication to fitness, he’ll probably be much improved this year and plenty adequate with the leather.

  9. I know allot of us are from Michigan, and we’re not used to hearing any of it….but my friends, I think this maybe something called good news….

    thank god for the tigers…it seems like every day offers a tasty, strong shot of promise…Does any one else mentally construct Tiger lineups on the way to work in the morning?

  10. Rings – fair enough and I agree that the issue gets magnified because Inge was so good on defense. Much like the offensive upgrade of Cabrera gets magnified because Inge was so bad last year.

    And I’d point you here for comments and statistical analysis about the defensive impacts of the Renteria and Jacque Jones acquisitions. And Sheffield was brought in as a DH so a detailed analysis of his defensive impact would go like this: 0 runs.

    As for Ordonez he had been an averagish fielder throughout his career and was fairly unremarkable in that respect. Plus, we have much more at our disposal now than we did prior to the 2004 season in terms of defensive statistics to work with.

  11. But Rings, the comment you quoted doesn’t express anything close to a hope of Cabrera tearing an ACL… oh, forget it.

  12. Fritz, that link totally made my morning (okay, early afternoon). It’s the exact same thing everyone else sarcastically says about Jeter, only it’s Yankees fans, and not at all sarcastic. Hi-larious. I sincerely hope that they all get their wish, and somehow A-Rod leaves while Jeter stays. As a matter of fact, I think Jeter is gritty enough to play the entire infield at once. Maybe worth a try. He could probably work a couple concession stands at the same time.

    And on topic, if Cabrera can somehow exercise/be coached into a league average third baseman… wow. I don’t see why not, Troy Glaus doesn’t exactly have an athletic build either, and he’s surprisingly high on that list. If Cabrera can get there through repetition and focus, this is gonna be one of the best everyday lineups in recent memory.

  13. I’m concerned about Cabrera’s defense because they have a heavily left-handed staff with some ground ball tendencies. I’d be concerned regardless of who the predecessor was. This story about his defense is somewhat encouraging but it also could be just spring training optimism. We’ll see. He makes up for lack of defense with his bat but that doesn’t doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore his glove.

    The thing about Jeter is that he ranks at the bottom of EVERY study. These new defensive measures are nor perfect and sometimes they will disagree on certain players but when every single merasure says Jeter is at or near the bottom, then I have to believe he is a poor fielder.

  14. I take everything I hear in spring training with a grain of salt. There is always unbridled optimism with absolutely zero criticism. Same goes for the Lions. You would think they were on their way to a championship every off season. “Lions defense promises renewed vigor”. “Talentless defense proving themselves a force to reckon with in practice.” I almost can’t take it. I much rather know what I should be worrying about.

  15. I’m not holding my breath.

    Baseball players are like puppies. You need to give them constant positive reinforcement to keep them working hard. Leyland knows this so never says anything negative about a player.

  16. Thanks for the reply, Bilfer. No implication intended that the “defense” of the others hasn’t been mentioned, but as your thread indicates, they’re mentioned as part of the “team” overall, not the focus of multiple threads, long discussions or ongoing saber-analysis.

    The focus on Miggy’s defense as an “issue” is largely because of Inge, which was my point above. As mentioned earlier, Cabrera’s young and has a good chance of improving with the leather as he may be motivated for the first time to work at it (he’s heard the criticism). But even if he doesn’t, he’s still an upgrade overall at third base.

    Why? I’ve maintained that third base is just plain not as important defensively, regardless of our staff (and I respect and hear Lee’s point), as other positions – particularly “up the middle.” While its not to be ignored, “third base defense” gets way more attention than it deserves from Tiger fans because of BI.

    As for Jeter, I concur with the majority. If he played for the Padres, you’d have trouble recalling his name (unless – like me – you lived in Kzoo when he was tearing things up in high school).

    A question however, only slighly off-topic, but MUCH more important: what the heck ARE the Tiger options if Wilson is not ready to go March 31st? (I’d rate the odds about 50-50 that he’s ready.) There’s been NO coverage of this issue! Obviously, BI is a reluctant option and Raburn is talking about giving it a try, but hardly reliable.

  17. rings, we only live 25 minutes apart. Jeter was considered a “god” back in the day and he was a true star coming out of high school. Remember when he brought Mariah Carey home to meet mom and dad? He could be on my team every day of the week.

  18. Third base isn’t as important as up the middle positions. But if you are looking at some one who is 2 wins below average fielding, they’re still 2 wins below average fielding. Does his hitting make up for it? Of course it does but that won’t help the ERA’s of Willis and Rogers.

    As for whether or not he’ll be adequate, time will tell. He’s been young for several years and he’s been bad at several positions, even before he put on the weight he’s now losing.

    Now in addition to the weight loss he may have done other conditioning to help and improve his defense, I don’t really know. But until he actual shows he’s an average defender, I’ll be skeptical.

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