A simple ground ball to third base during Monday night’s contest communicated how badly the Detroit Tigers miss CJ Cron
The Detroit Tigers fell to the Chicago Cubs Monday night 9-3; spoiling Casey Mize’s home debut and further confirming the idea that this team is not prepared to enter the next tier of competitiveness. Mize was the story coming in, but he would never meet his command and would ultimately get chased after just 3.1 innings.
As tough as it was to watch Mize attempt to find his feel, he also would not get much assistance from his teammates in the field–forcing an already high pitch count to climb further. Particularly, there was a play in the fourth inning that induced one of many head-shakes through the night from Tigers fans in front of their screens.
The play was a fairly simple ground ball to third base by Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner that was fielded by Willi Castro and thrown up the line. First baseman Jeimer Candelario attempted to apply the tag, but by doing so the ball snuck out of his glove and traveled up the first baseline along with Hoerner. Hoerner would steal second, advance on a fly ball, then ultimately score on a single by Anthony Rizzo to make it a 4-1 game.
The play is the perfect (or imperfect, depending on your viewpoint) example of the domino effect that was created when CJ Cron went down with a knee injury and ultimately opted for season-ending surgery. There was both uncertainty and speculation upon Cron’s absence of what the Detroit Tigers would do without Cron, but rather than promoting a true first baseman, the club decided to move third baseman Jeimer Candelario across the diamond and call-up Willi Castro to help cover third along with 21-year-old Isaac Paredes who was called up with Mize and Skubal.
Instead of choosing to take less offensive production from a player who had the defensive repetitions to handle first base right away, Candelario has been forced to learn the position on the fly. He does have experience playing the position in the minors but has played third base almost exclusively for the Detroit Tigers and has done a great job doing so. In 2020, “Candy” produced 2 Defensive Runs Saved according to Baseball-Reference as well as 2 Outs Above Average according to Statcast both of which suggest he is an above-average defensive third baseman.
The frustration is with Cron’s injury and Candelario moving to first is not only that Candelario is now put in a position where he is less successful, but also that the team opted for Willi Castro at third. In the minor leagues, Castro had played exactly one game at third base leading up to his six games there this year. While it is just a back-up role and while the shift from shortstop to third base is not dramatic, it is yet another instance where the team is putting a player in a position where they are bound to have less success. The throw which pulled Candelario off the bag at first Monday night while frustrating was not surprising for this reason.
This is not meant to be an overreaction to one play; I fully recognize it was one play in one game that likely did not influence the overall outcome in the game. Nor is it an indictment on Candelario or Castro’s play as they are just playing where they are told.
It is, however, a microcosm of the Detroit Tigers’ obsession with versatility, as I outlined last month. Putting their players in the best position to succeed is not only a way to build good rapport (I am sure it played a factor in Jordy Mercer electing free agency), but it is also the best way to get outs and win baseball games; something they were not able to execute Monday night. That play gets made with Cron at first and Candelario at third.