In 2008 Detroit’s pitching was awful, but it had some help in allowing runs to score. After being a stellar defensive team in 2006 and a pretty good one in 2007, the ‘08 Tigers were awful. The team ranked 26th in UZR (-39 runs) and 24th in defensive efficiency. An emphasis on run prevention was the theme this offseason. And it seems to be working in the early going.
Last year the Tigers had very little stability in terms of defense. Miguel Cabrera did awful at third and learned first base on the fly. Carlos Guillen struggled at first and re-learned third base while battling injuries. Edgar Renteria got really old. And the relatively stable (stable in the sense that they weren’t shifting positions) outfield of Ordonez/Granderson/Thames (et al in left) saw regression from their past defensive numbers.
In ‘09 there are fewer question marks, or at least less shuffling. Brandon Inge is back at third, Cabrera has a season under his belt at first, Adam Everett is supposed to stabilize short. The only real question is left field where Guillen is learning on the job.
As for the stats, they show the Tigers as very good. They are the top rated team in the AL in terms of defensive efficiency at .726 and they rank only behind the Dodgers in all of baseball.
Looking at UZR/150, the Tigers are currently 5th overall and 3rd behind the Mariners and Rangers in the American League at 5.1 runs.
Looking at +/- the team leads the AL with a +9 and trail the Dodgers for the MLB lead. Moving on to RZR the team is 3rd in the AL overall, 1st for outfielders and 4th for infielders.
The bulk of the improvement has come from 2 positions, and one of them isn’t shortstop where Adam Everett has been pretty bad in limited playing time (like awful). Last year Detroit’s centerfielders ranked in the bottom half at –5.4 runs/150 games according to UZR as Granderson had a poor year defensively. So far this year he has corrected to his previous levels and is +2.1 runs.
The other big swing is at third base. With Inge manning the hot corner the team is +1.4 runs at third (5th overall) as opposed to the –14.0 they were last year (which ranked 28th).
Cabrera looks to be more comfortable at first and is +.7 this year whereas last year the team’s first basemen were –4.1.
Also showing a bump up this year is Polanco who according to UZR was essentially a slightly above average defender. This year the Tigers rank 2nd at 2nd (+1.8).
Of course sample size warnings should be heeded. Many stats are quite volatile a dozen games into the season, and many defensive stats are especially prone to this volatility. A bad week and many of these things will change. Still, the early results are encouraging, and I’m sure the pitching staff is appreciative also.