Sunday, April 5, 2009
Third Base presents an interesting situation for the Tigers. In 2008, the team started off playing Miguel Cabrera at third base, displacing former Brandon Inge to serve as a backup catcher and super-utility player. This move also pushed Carlos Guillen to first base and the result was a defensive disaster at the corners. A few weeks later, the two flip-flopped and Guillen went to third. The result was an upgrade over Cabrera (interestingly, Cabrera was also an upgrade over Guillen at third) and Carlos was rewarded with the Tigers' only All Star nod. Of course, all of those moves left former starter Brandon Inge wearing catcher's gear and carrying a Gatorade bottle.
Not really the picture you're hoping to see out of your 2009 starting third baseman, but I'll take it. Here's why. Inge is an incredible defensive third basemen, with his only notable weakness of a propensity to throw the ball away when he goes to second. While he is renowned for being a poor hitter, he is actually a significantly better hitter as a third baseman than he is elsewhere in the field. Fantasy owner's take note: Inge will provide his 3B production with Catcher eligibility, FYI.
Of course, we didn't really know all of this about Inge in 2006. He had been a catcher and utility man before being displaced by Ivan Rodriguez. By 2006 he was starting at third again, and seems pretty happy about it:
2006 was a breakout year for Inge, offensively. While he strikes out a lot and doesn't hit for a high average, he has substantial power that creeps up out of nowhere. With 20+ HRs in 2006 he landed a major contract to keep his a third base mainstay, a position he returns to in 2009 after his '08 hiatus. So, how does Inge breakdown?
Upgrade: 2009 Inge
Here's the deal. Offensively and defensively, there is no reason to expect 2009 Brandon Inge to be any better or worse than 2006 Brandon Inge. I say this under the perspective of Inge before the 2006 season not after the breakout. Certainly, Inge's breakout year on 2006 was a large contributor to the Tigers' success that year. As for an upgrade, Inge is actually a downgrade offensively from Carlos Guillen. However, the defensive improvement is SO LARGE and defense was such a problem for the team in 2008 that it makes up for drop-off in average and increase in strikeouts. To say it another way, 2009 Inge is a bigger improvement over 2008 Guillen than 2006 Inge was expected to be over 2005 Inge. In this sense, the re-addition of Brandon Inge to a third base role will have a major impact on this 2009 team, more so than his role at third had on the worst-to-first season of 2006.