Is the Detroit Tigers Defense for Real?


Apr 29, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) fields a ground ball in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Detroit Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins 10-7. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

I was a 1984 Detroit Tigers junkie.  I know that dates me, but some of my earliest sports memories come from that year.  The amazing start; listening (yes, listening) to Ernie Harwell announce the game, the Bless You Boys slogan.  I can still name the batting line up, see the expression on Milt Wilcox’s face when he lost his no hitter in the ninth, and picture Larry Herndon making the final out in the world series (on a ball hit by Tony Gwynn, no less!)  I will confess that I don’t remember Rod Allen, but then again, no one else does either.

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That team won for a lot of reasons – starting pitching, a lights-out closer, and a good offense. But one thing that I remember about that team, that was preached about over and over on TV and on the radio, was their defense – especially up the middle. Lance Parrish at catcher.  Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammel at second and short, and Chet Lemon in center.

(By the way, I personally feel there aren’t enough people named “Chet” anymore.  But I digress.)

This year’s team bears a lot of resemblance to the 1984 from a defensive standpoint.  Alex Avila, despite everything else, is a solid defensive catcher. With the addition of Anthony Gose, the center field position has been upgraded defensively.  And with a healthy Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler at shortstop and second base, the infield has seen a vast improvement. The eye test says they are a better team defensively than last year, but upon examining the stats, the numbers seem to validate what we have been seeing.

The Detroit Tigers are currently tied for third in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which is a metric that determines the average number of run saved by the defense when compared to the league average, at a DRS of +15. Before we get too excited, however, we need to realize it is still quite early in the season. The Royals are already at 32 runs saved for the year, whereas the best team in 2014 only had a DRS of 67 over the entire season.  However, I will say the DRS for the 2014 Tigers was -65, which was 26th out of 30 teams. So there is a definite statistical improvement seen for these first 30-something games when compared to last year.

A professor in college once told our class the following: “There are liars, there are darn liars, and there are statisticians.” His point was that statistics can be slanted or skewed to show the results that you want, depending on the parameters and sample size that you select. The bigger the sample size, the better the statistics. That is why baseball, with a huge sample size of games played, is such a great sport for statistical analysis.

Are the defensive stats shown above indicative of how the Tigers have played to date? Visually I would say yes. Were the full season stats from last year a pretty accurate judge of the Detroit Tigers’ defense? I believe so. Do the stats indicate that Rod Allen played on the 1984 Tigers?  It does – he even went 0-3 in Jack Morris’ no hitter.

But the most important question, the question of whether the Tigers’ defense will continue to be a top ranked defense, still has yet to be answered. I sure hope so, but like with everything else in baseball, time – and statistics – will surely tell.

Next: Re-signing Victor Martinez was Always a Bad Idea

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