For those that aren’t aware – and I’m just guessing, but I would assume that it’s most – Tigers’ utility man Brandon Inge has become quite the polarizing figure in Detroit (Google it). And it’s my impression that what once appeared to be a fairly even split amongst the haves and have-nots, the odds have almost assuredly swung in favor of ridding the team of Inge, at any cost, in the eyes of most Tigers fans.
And do you know what my first thought was?
Damn, if I were a general manager I’d love to have this guy on my team, maybe not in an everyday role but something along the lines of a super-utility-type though, giving him between 400 and 450 plate appearances, similar to the way the Angels employed Chone Figgins during his prime.
Before all the Detroit fans start rambling about his horrendous offensive line – and, yes, his career numbers, .234/.304/.387, are horrendous – let me explain.
Brandon Inge is pretty bad at the one thing we can most accurately determine – offense – which also happens to be the measuring stick for most people. Eight games in to his twelfth major league season, Inge has been 20% percent below the league average offensive production throughout his career, which is pretty bad. Well, that’s probably an understatement.
But the two things Inge is best at – defense and versatility – are inexact sciences, highly ignored by many, and consequently underrated and underappreciated.
Defensive metrics have come a long way within the last few years, certainly more than the previous 120+ years, but there isn’t one single metric that can paint a complete picture. So, what the hell, let’s see what all the top metrics say?
According to Bill James, between 2001 and 2010 Inge has totaled 48.7 defensive Win Shares. In other words, he’s been worth about 16 wins on defense – about 1.6 every year – since Win Shares can be divided by three to determine the amount of wins.
According to Baseball Reference’s version of dWAR (defensive wins above replacement), Inge has been worth nine wins in the same time period, just under one per season.
FanGraphs’ top defensive metric, Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 Games (UZR/150), shows that he’s graded out as an above-average defender too: 5.6 UZR/150 at third base in 8297.2 innings; 20.5 in 297 innings in outfield (small sample size); 68.7 in 36 innings (way too small sample size) thus far at second base this season. Plus, he’s spent parts of five season behind the plate, where he was generally lauded as a solid defender.
All of this brings me to my second point: Inge has generally graded out as an above-average defender no matter his position. Yes, I know: Beware of small sizes!
But if the team’s in a pinch he has the capability of filling in well enough everywhere expect pitcher, for what could be a semi-long time. And there’s a lot of value in that versatility, particularly by adding depth to a team’s bench, an on-going pandemic in baseball.
Teams insist on carrying large bullpens. It’s wrong. And I wouldn’t do it. But they do. In fact, many teams carry a 12-man pitching staff, which leaves room for three or four bench players, depending on the league. One is ultimately a backup catcher, and usually not a strong offensive performer. One is a left-handed bat (probably an outfielder because the odds dictate that about a lefty); another is right-handed (probably an infielder). And the final one – if it exists – probably doesn’t even belong in the big leagues.
Four options, at least two of the lackluster at best.
Having Inge completely changes the dynamic of the team. They could conceivably go with him as the backup catcher. I know it would never happen; baseball is still too archaic in its thinking. But it’s a possibility. They could carry three left-handers if they want because of his defensive versatility.
He’s a stout defender anywhere on the diamond and could be used as a defensive replacement. He’s got decent power, is willing to take a walk (8.0% BB-rate in his career), and has hit lefties pretty well in his career (.264/.340/.457).
And then there’s the money issue.
I’m sure what most people see with Inge, unfortunately, is a perceived hefty price tag; he’s owed $5.5 million this season, a lot of money to a lot of people. But let me tell you something: $5.5 million doesn’t get you much in the post-arbitration world.
In fact, I’m positive that Inge is underpaid.
The going rate for one win above replacement on the free agent market is about $4.5 million. Historically, he’s been a league average starter, or worth about two wins. Yes, I know he was pretty bad last season but his peripherals (7.9% BB% and 24.4% K%)were close to his career norms. Plus, he actually hit more line drives and fewer groundballs last season. Basically, he was unlucky; his BABIP, .256, was the third lowest of his entire career and about thirty points below his career mark.
I know he’s getting up there in age (he’s 34 now), but his defensive prowess and versatility provide a lot of value. And at the very least, he should remain productive through 2013, maybe 2014.
Please, Detroit fans, if you want to rid yourselves of Brandon Inge send him to Cleveland; I’d love to see him in a Tribe uniform.
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