Detroit Tigers Might Just be a Good Defensive Team


Apr 13, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop

Jose Iglesias

(1) fields a ground ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If we know anything about the current state of defensive metrics in baseball it’s that they’re fickle and prone to swings from year-to-year. Batting stats do the same, to some degree, but the general rule-of-thumb is that (on the player level, at least) three years of defensive data tells us the same thing as one year of hitting data does.

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With that caveat in mind — that it’s too early to draw any real conclusions about 2015 — one might be interested to note that the Detroit Tigers are currently second in all of baseball according to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at 13 runs above average.

Last year the Tigers were rated third-worst in all of baseball by DRS with a final tally of 65 runs below average. They also finished third-worst according to Ultimate Zone Rating at 48 runs below average, but UZR rated them as above average as late into the season as mid-May. UZR and DRS are not the same system (UZR numbers have not been released yet this season), but it goes to show that these sorts of things can change in a hurry as the pile of data grows.

Of course, it helps having Jose Iglesias back on the field making plays like this (from last night) after missing all of 2014 with stress fractures in his shin:

And Yoenis Cespedes and Anthony Gose came to Detroit with good defensive reputations in left field and center field respectively. These are all reasons to believe in a real, significant defensive improvement for the Tigers.

One of the biggest improvements, however, might come from a new player, but a returning player taking drastic strides in his game. Last year Nick Castellanos famously ended the season as the worst rated defender in all of baseball at -30 defensive runs saved. He was reportedly focusing on his defense in the offseason, and has already made some nice plays in the field. Castellanos is currently rated at +3 by DRS, tied with Iglesias and Gose for the team lead.

It’s probably unreasonable to expect Castellanos to stay rated as even an above-average defender at third base, but if he can improve from being the league’s worst to just mildly bad, that could represent a 20+ run improvement for the team defense. Combine that with the aforementioned improvements at shortstop, left field, and center field, and we could be looking at a real-life above-average defense in Detroit for the first time since 2011 (when Austin Jackson‘s +29 DRS rating in center field carried the team).

Again, April is way too early to make any bold defensive claims — this article may well look foolish in a month — but, for the first time in forever, at least they’ve got a chance to be a good defensive club.

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