Note: This is the second of a two-part series of midterm assessments of the Tigers’ roster. The grades for pitchers were in Thursday’s editions.
Detroit — When you look at the position-player parts individually, it’s fair to wonder how the Tigers managed to win 39 games before the All-Star break.
Offensively, for all the gains in plate discipline and controlling the strike zone, they still rank near the bottom of the Major Leagues in every top-line statistical category: Batting average (.231, 29th), on-base percentage (.300, 27th), slugging (.367, 29th), OPS (.667, 28th), wRC-plus (87, 28th), runs (346, 28th), home runs (82, 25th), average with runners in scoring position (.235, 28th), average with the bases loaded (.186, 29th).
They have one player hitting over .300. They have nine hitting under .230. They have just three players who are worth at least one win above replacement (FanGraphs), none worth more than 1.8.
Defensively, there have been significant improvements. They have the seventh-most defensive runs saved in the game (20) even with an untenable minus-11 rating at third base. According to Sports Info Solutions, they turn more balls hit in the air into outs than any team in baseball.
But they are among the worst at turning balls hit on the ground into outs. They’ve also committed the third-most errors (57) and their overall defensive rating by FanGraphs is 1.5, 14th-best in baseball.
Given that, squeezing out 39 wins could be considered a feat.
What this shows, maybe, is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Manager AJ Hinch’s ability to mix and match his hitters and create more favorable opportunities throughout games has been vital. It hasn’t been perfect — as he will be the first to attest — but it’s often given them a fighting chance to succeed.
Same with his ability to align his better defensive players into positions where there’s a higher probability of balls being hit. There is a reason, for example, for when Zack Short enters the game at third base or second base. It’s based on where the pocket of upcoming hitters generally hits the ball against whichever pitcher is on the mound.
This is part of president Scott Harris’ design plan for this season. The Tigers aren’t blessed with five or six quality everyday position players. They have, essentially, three (shortstop Javier Báez, first baseman Spencer Torkelson and center fielder Riley Greene). The others, minus the catchers, are multi-positional, platoon-ready options.
It’s not ideal and it’s not forever. This is, for want of a better word, a transitional season. Still, it’s had its moments. The Tigers are 8-6 in extra-inning games, 12-11 in one-run games and 11-6 in two-run games. Trying to follow and anticipate all the chess moves adds some intrigue to these games.
Here’s an assessment of the Tigers’ position players at the break: