2012 Top 10 Stories: #8 – The Black Hole at Second Base

Remember when Scott Sizemore was the answer to the Tigers’ second base question? After nearly five seasons of Placido Polanco’s wizardry at second, and in the number-two slot of the lineup, the Tigers tried to convince fans – and maybe themselves – that Sizemore could take over with gusto.

After 65 games spread across two seasons, Sizemore was dealt to Oakland and suddenly second base became a giant black hole. Again.

In 2010, Carlos Guillen and Will Rhymes both played more games at second than Sizemore, fully cementing the second-base-by-committee approach.

Last season, Ryan Raburn made his play for the job, appearing in 56 games at second and committing 10 errors in 201 chances. Backed by his usual second-half surge, he convinced the Tigers he could hold down the job full-time in 2012.

The assumption, naturally, was that Raburn would hit enough to mask some lead-gloved D. (The same was said of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and, to a lesser degree, Jhonny Peralta.)

Except, he didn’t hit well enough to warrant a job anywhere on the diamond. Neither did Plan B, Ramon Santiago.

Combined, Plan A and Plan B hit .189.

That’s why, as the July 31 Trade Deadline inched closer, the Tigers were linked to every available second baseman in the majors: from Darwin Barney to Kelly Johnson to the man the landed on July 26 along with Anibal Sanchez: the prodigal son Omar Infante.

Having a full-time second baseman certainly settled the lineup but Infante look anything but settled at times, at least defensively after his arrival. He made nine errors in 267 chances over 61 games at second, At the plate, he hit .257: 80 points higher than Raburn and 50 more than Santiago.

Heading into 2013, Infante is the incumbent at second and in the final year of his contract. Given the slim pickings in the Tigers’ minor-league system, a solid first half could earn the 31-year-old Infante a contract extension and make him the second baseman for the foreseeable future … just as he was in 2001.

Go figure.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Today’s Tiger: Jason Thompson

Jason Thompson

  • Born: July 6, 1954 in Hollywood, Calif.
  • Bats: Left Throws: Left
  • Height: 6′ 4″ Weight: 200 lb.
  • Acquired: Drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 1975 amateur draft.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 5 (1976-80)
  • Uniform Number: 30
  • Stats: .256 avg., 98 HR, 354 RBI, .779 OPS
  • Awards: Three-time All Star (1977, ’78 and ’82)

JasonThompson.jpg
On May 27, 1980, Tigers GM Jim Campbell traded my favorite player, first baseman Jason Thompson, to the California Angels for outfielder Al Cowens.

The Hollywood native joined the Tigers full time in 1976 and played 123 games that year, hitting .218, with 17 home runs and 54 RBI. Two of the homers cleared the rightfield roof at Tiger Stadium. It was in 1977, though, that he made his mark: .270, 31 homers and 105 RBI — and earned an All Star Game selection.

Continue reading “Today’s Tiger: Jason Thompson”

Checking in on Carlos Guillen’s Move to Second Base

GuillenHead.jpgIt’s been two months since the Tigers announced that Carlos Guillen, not rookie Scott Sizemore, would be the Tigers’ second baseman in 2010.

Who at the time would’ve guessed that the brittle Guillen could stay healthy for two months and regain his status as a productive member of the Tigers’ lineup?

But let’s be honest: the concern wasn’t Guillen’s offense, it was the defense. How many ground balls would he, could he, get to…without pulling a hamstring? Could he turn the double play with Adam Everett (and now Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth)? The answer to all those appears to be yes.

Let’s see if the numbers bear it out.

Continue reading “Checking in on Carlos Guillen’s Move to Second Base”

2009 Player Profile: Carlos Guillen

Carlos Guillen #9

  • Height: 6′ 1″ | Weight: 215
  • 2008 Stats: .286 – 10 HR – 54 RBI

GuillenHead.jpgYou can’t blame Carlos Guillen if he’d like to forget the 2008 season. After being tapped as the starting first baseman, Guillen lasted there only a few weeks before moving across the diamond to third, where his lack of range became glaringly apparent.

Offensively, though, Guillen put together a solid, if not spectacular first half to ’08 (.284/8/47). Back problems shortened his second half, limiting the Tigers’ All-Star selection to a mere 93 at bats and shelving him altogether after Aug. 25.

A bad back likely is the cause for the dramatic drop off in power numbers from a career-high 21 homers in 2007 to just 10 in ‘08.

The switch-hitting Guillen bats predominately from the left side and has few spots in the strike zone that he can’t handle. Inside pitches – both up and down in the zone – give him trouble but he’s skilled at hitting off-speed pitches, splitters and the fastball. From the right side (just 89 at bats in ’08), Guillen’s hot zone is the heart of the plate.

The Tigers are hoping a move to left field in 2009 will provide relief for Guillen’s back and trigger a return to the production levels he had from 2004 to 2007.

Of course, if the transition to the outfield isn’t the answer, the club could be looking at another Bobby Higginson scenario: a fat investment with meager returns.

The Top 10 Tigers Stories of 2008: #5 – The Emergence (and Trade) of Matt Joyce

Number 5When I began pulling together this list over the past month or so, it became clear that possibly the only positive story to come out of the Tigers season was the emergence of Matt Joyce. Joyce finished the 2008 season with a .252 average, 12 homers and 33 RBI in 92 games.

At long last, the Tigers appeared to have developed a left-handed power-ish hitter who could take over one of the corner outfield slots perhaps as soon as 2009.

But, when Jim Leyland announced that left field would be Carlos Guillen‘s position next season and when it became more apparent that Magglio Ordonez was going nowhere this offseason, Joyce’s role went from promising to fuzzy — at best.

Nevertheless, Joyce was a sign of progress in the Tigers’ farm system beyond pitching depth and maybe a budding star.

Until he wasn’t…at least in Detroit.

Three weeks ago he was dealt to his hometown of Tampa Bay for pitcher Edwin Jackson. From what we’ve read, the acquisition of Jackson will be a winning one for the Tigers. And in the end maybe it will be.

Still, it would be nice to see a young position player develop into a star — or something close to it — wearing the old English D.

The Top 10 Tigers Stories of 2008: #7 – Miguel Cabrera Can’t Field

Number7.jpgJust three weeks into the season — or perhaps sooner — Jim Leyland realized that Miguel Cabrera was no Brandon Inge at third base and, at the same time, knew that Carlos Guillen was not Sean Casey at first.

So what do you do when you have to immovable objects on the corners of your infield? Swap ’em, of course.

On April 22, Leyland announced the switcheroo (“I’m telling you all now so you won’t be surprised tomorrow. I’m not going to take any questions about it because that’s what we’re doing.”) and it was the first sign that a team with four designated hitters was in deep trouble.

Cabrera was flashing a cast-iron glove at third — five errors in just 14 games; .900 fielding percentage — but proved to be more than serviceable at first base (.992 and 9 errors in 143 games). In fact, I’d go so far as to say he’s going to be a decent first baseman.

He came to Detroit billed as the long-term solution at third and in that regard he was a bust. But, man, can he hit.

The Top 10 Tigers Stories of 2008: #9 – Edgar Renteria Can’t Play

Number 9Sure, it hurt when the Tigers sent Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez to the Braves for Edgar Renteria. There was some — i.e., a tad — concern about Jurrjens’ durability and, well, to get a player of Renteria’s caliber at such a vital position you have to part with some value.

We know how that worked out.

In 2007, Edgar Renteria hit .332 with 12 homers and a .390 on-base percentage. The most glaring part of the Failed Renteria Experiment was his .977 fielding percentage; but that tells only half the story. His fielding percentage was virtually .000 on balls he should’ve had. He and Miguel Cabrera and then Carlos Guillen helped give the Tigers one of the most ineffective left-sides of the infield in the majors.

If not for a strong second-half of the year, Renteria would’ve finished nearly 80 points below his ’07 average. (He batted .254 before the All Star Game, .296 after.)

Now he’s the Giants problem — maybe for two years. For Tigers fans, it only felt like two years that Renteria played in Detroit.

Discuss.