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

Trade Review: Tigers acquire Wilson Betemit

AP

Wednesday afternoon the Detroit Tigers announced a trade, the first in Major League Baseball since Francisco Rodriguez was sent to the Brewers on the night of the All-Star game. The Tigers kicked off what is sure to be a slew of near deadline deals in the next ten days by acquiring third basemen Wilson Betemit from the Royals in exchange for Single-A prospects LHP Antonio Cruz and catcher Julio Rodriguez.

Betemit’s offensive production (.281/.341/.409 in 226 PAs this year) will surely be a welcome addition to Detroit’s lineup, which is ranked fifth in the American League in runs scored despite getting a pathetic .186/.251/.249 line from third base this season. Brandon Inge, the longest tenured Tigers player, is the one responsible for that horrific triple slash line leading many to wonder as to why the organization signed him to a 2-year/$11.5M contract before the season. It’s not as if Inge’s 2011 struggles have come out of the blue as his triple slash line since the start of ‘07 is .226/.307/.375. The Tigers knew they weren’t signing an “offensive” third basemen this off-season, but perhaps they were a little overzealous giving that dollar figure to a middling player approaching his decline years.

The addition of Betemit plugs up the only gaping hole the Tigers had in their lineup. The question now becomes who goes from the 25-man roster to make room for Betemit when he joins the club for the upcoming Minnesota series. The candidates are Inge (of course), Ramon Santiago, and Don Kelly. Despite the fans and Manager’s love affair with Donnie Kelly, I actually believe that Santiago would be the more useful bench piece at the moment. The way the Tigers infield is currently with Betemit and Carlos Guillen, having a good defensive replacement off the bench is going to be key. That comment is directed at Guillen, who has shown very little in terms of range at second base in his short time in the majors. Kelly’s value, on the other hand, lies in the fact that he can play multiple positions which isn’t to say that he can play them all well as he can be quite shaky in the infield.

The prospects going the other way here represent a pretty decent return for Kansas City. Cruz is a young lefty who sits at 89-91 mph and has a potentially plus pitch in his curveball. Rodriguez has been called the best defensive catcher in the Tigers system and his fielding is so strong some think he could make the majors as a backup even if his bat never develops, though he’s hitting .283 at Lakeland. Needless to say, but the Tigers won’t be missing either of these players anytime soon.

Nick Shlain, a Journalism student at Eastern Michigan University, writes for Detroit Baseball Page.com. You can follow him on Twitter @nshlain.

The Daily Breakfast: July 17, 2011

Good Sunday Morning. How are you enjoying the growing number of Tigers trade rumors? First Ubaldo Jimenez, now Derek Lowe. In this update on the ESPN.com Rumors blog, they float Magglio Ordonez or Casper Wells as pieces going to Atlanta in a potential deal.

Leading Off: What’s the worst part of the Tigers two-game skid?

A) It smells like last year when they were swept by the Indians to start the second half.

B) They’ve lost six of their last eight series.

C) It comes at the hands of the White Sox.

D) A two-game losing streak is cause for concern?

Yeah, it could be all the above. Let’s add another one: they were blanked by Edwin Jackson. Jeez … On the bright side, Carlos Guillen returned to the lineup after 11 months and went one for three … From the AP story: “It’s a tough injury,” Guillen said. “Sometimes you feel good for one week, and the next day you’re sore. Right now, I’m at the point where I’ve been playing 15, 20 days in a row, and I feel good every day.” … Hey, speaking of second baseman, look who broke out of an 0-for-18 slump with a game-winning hit.

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The Tigers are in second place, one game behind the Indians.

Today’s game: Brad Penny (6-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. Phil Humber (8-5, 3.10 ERA) | 1:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1

There are 14 days left until the July 31 trade deadline.

Fifty years ago today, following a year-long illness, Ty Cobb died at age 74 in Atlanta.

On this date in 2000, the Tigers acquired outfielder Dusty Allen from the Padres for infielder Gabe Alvarez. In 1989 they traded outfielder Billy Bean to the Dodgers for outfielders Domingo Michel and Steve Green. Way back in 1942, they acquired righty Jack Wilson from the Senators for infielder Eric McNair (McNair refused to report).
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Around the Central: The Orioles did their best to blow it but somehow they held on to beat the Indians, 6-5 and end their eight-game losing streak. In Minneapolis, the Twins beat the Royals, 4-3.

A-Jax Still Hurting: Austin Jackson has missed the past five games with a sore wrist and seems likely to miss today’s game too. Speculation here is that if Jackson goes on the disabled list, Clete Thomas might be first in line for a call up. It sure would be nice to see ol’ Clete back in Detroit.

For Me, It was the Jason Thompson Trade: This blog post in the New York Times asks a terrific question: When Did You Lose Your Fan ‘Innocence’?

As we are constantly reminded, major league sports are, at heart, a business. Many personnel decisions are based on dollars and cents, not legacies and fan favorites, and it is often the fans who take these decisions the hardest.

What about you? What trade hurt you the most (and it doesn’t have to be a Tigers player)? Or maybe it was a work stoppage or something else.

Finally, Happy 94st Birthday to Phyllis Diller. Yes, she’s still alive.

All-Star Game Notes and Non Sequiturs

Sometimes I want to rail on Major League Baseball about the lameness of so many things it does — the vapid celebrity softball game, the interminable Home Run Derby, the “this-time-it-counts” angle on the All-Star Game — but then I realize it’s probably me just getting old.

  • The Tigers’ collection of All Stars is the largest since 1985 when the club sent six players to the Metrodome for the game managed by Sparky Anderson. Here’s a look at the largest classes of Tigers All Stars since 1984 and the team’s record that season:

1984 (104-58)
Willie Hernandez
Chet Lemon
Jack Morris
Lance Parrish
Alan Trammell
Lou Whitaker

1985 (84-77)
Willie Hernandez
Jack Morris
Lance Parrish
Dan Petry
Alan Trammell
Lou Whitaker

2007 (88-74)
Carlos Guillen
Magglio Ordonez
Placido Polanco
Ivan Rodriguez
Justin Verlander

2009 (86-77)
Curtis Granderson
Brandon Inge
Edwin Jackson
Justin Verlander

Clearly, the better the Tigers were, the more players they sent to the All-Star Game. For a long time though, the Tigers were a team that had little to offer the American League manager. From 1996 through 2003, Detroit sent a single player to the game. In some cases the pickings were particularly slim (see 2002).

1996 (53-109)
Travis Fryman

1997 (79-83)
Justin Thompson

1998 (65-97)
Damion Easley

1999 (69-92)
Brad Ausmus

2000 (79-83)
Todd Jones

2001 (66-96)
Tony Clark

2002 (55-106)
Robert Fick

2003 (43-119)
Dmitri Young

Ugly, no?

  • I still think it’s remarkable that Alex Avila is the starting catcher in tonight’s game. Whoda thunk it, especially after a dreadful Opening Day series against the Yankees when Avila looked about as lost as a player can look. I guess that’s why, as Rod Allen says, you play the games. Jason Beck has a nice piece recapping the Tigers’ All Stars’ respective experiences in Phoenix.
  • The water is so far past being under the bridge, but isn’t it still a bit weird to see Curtis Granderson starting in the All-Star Game … as a Yankee?
  • Six years ago today in the Home Run Derby at Comerica Park, Bobby Abreu destroyed the records for a single round, the championship round and the grand total for all three rounds of the derby by hitting 41 homers into every part of yard. The Phillies outfielder went deep 24 times in the first round, tacks on six more in the second round and finishes with 11 more in the championship round.
  • Looking ahead to the pitching matchups for this weekend’s series against the White Sox:

Friday | 7:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1
Justin Verlander (12-4, 2.15 ERA) vs. Gavin Floyd (6-9, 4.59 ERA)

Saturday | 4:10 p.m. FOX/1270 & 97.1
Max Scherzer (10-4, 4.69 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (5-7, 4.30 ERA)

Sunday | 1:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1
Brad Penny (6-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. Jake Peavy (4-2, 4.83 ERA)

Finally, on this date in 1979 the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers when more tha5,000 fans refuse to leave the field during Disco Demolition Night. I wrote about it on the 30th anniversary.

Saturday Snacks: Guillen’s Rehab, Verlander’s Toughness and Kiss My Grits

A busy week at the office often translates into a slow week of posting on the Fungo. Thanks to Nick for picking up the slack.

Here are some random tidbits I’ve collected the past few days:

  • So Carlos Guillen is now a Mud Hen and will see more time at second base. If you’re Will Rhymes how are you feeling. He was selected to the International League’s mid-season all-star squad. I wonder why the Tigers don’t give him more of a chance given the woes at second

  • From Buster Olney on Friday:

    How Verlander beat the Mets:

    A. He was tough in tough spots. Verlander wasn’t as dominant as he’s been the rest of the month, but the Mets couldn’t muster much in the clutch. The Mets were 2-10 with four strikeouts with men on base, including 0-5 with runners in scoring position.

    B. He loved being outside. Of the 120 pitches Verlander threw, 73 were on the outside part of the plate or wider. That is the most outside pitches Verlander has thrown all season and his most since throwing 76 on June 16, 2010.

    Per ELIAS, Justin Verlander became only the fifth pitcher to go 6-0 or better with an ERA below 1.00 in a calendar month since 1984. His stellar 0.92 ERA is only fourth on this list. Randy Johnson, Hideo Nomo and Rick Reuschel had better ERAs than Verlander in their undefeated month.

  • As maddening as the Tigers’ offense can be at times, it’s astounding to see where they rank heading into play tonight: third in batting average (.268), fourth in slugging (.421), fifth in on-base percentage (.335) and sixth in runs (381). And, even thought they’ve played three more games, the Tigers have scored 33 more runs than the Indians.

  • Speaking of Buster, this morning he ranked “the-non-all-star All-Stars”, among the Victor Martinez:

    He spent some time on the disabled list early in the year, and immediately began killing the ball when he returned, and this year, he’s hitting .430 with runners on base, .332 overall.

  • Given the aforementioned second-base woes, it sure would’ve been nice if the Tigers could’ve made a move for Mark Ellis or somehow included him in the Scott Sizemore trade. What’s that you say? Carlos Guillen is owed $13 million this season? Never mind.

Finally, 64th Happy Birthday to Larry David and Happy 74th to Polly Holliday, who often told Mel to kiss her grits on “Alice.”

Friday Fungoes: The 40-game Mark, Verlander’s No-hit Follow Ups, Magglio’s Demise

Every year someone (usually Tom Gage) rolls out the time-worn Sparky Anderson truism about not judging a team until after it’s played 40 games. I suppose it’s my turn.

On Saturday against the Royals the Tigers will play game number 40 and, at worst, will finish that game at an even 20 and 20. So what conclusions can we draw from these first 40 games? For that matter, what conclusions can we draw from the past week, which delivered some terrific baseball?

Are they as bad as they looked against the Royals in April and the Tribe two weeks ago? Or are they as good as the club the swept Chicago at home?

I hate to punt on this, but I think we’ll know more about the Tigers after another series against the Royals, Indians and White Sox.
What do you think?

In the meantime, here’s a look at the Tigers’ record after 40 games since Jim Leyland arrived in Detroit.

  • 2010: 23-17
  • 2009: 24-16
  • 2008: 16-24
  • 2007: 24-16
  • 2006: 27-13

As I’m writing this, Justin Verlander has kept the Royals hitless through four innings. Earlier this week I was wondering how he fared in the start following his June 12, 2007 no-hitter. Well, it was a bit different from his 12-strikeout torching of the Brewers. Verlander’s next start came against the Phillies on Sunday, June 17 at Citizens Bank Park. His final line: six innings, seven hits, two walks, three earned runs.  The Tigers won, 7-4.

I sure hope we haven’t seen the last of Magglio Ordonez, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list today.

“He’s been feeling the effects of his ankle off and on during the season here,” trainer Kevin Rand said. “We decided to look at it, and to err on the side of caution, we’re shutting him down.”

The stats are ugly: .172 with one home run and five RBIs in 26 games this season. I can’t believe that his hitting skills have plummeted to Gerald Laird levels simply due to age. You?

Buried at the bottom of the Ordonez story is this little update on Carlos Guillen.

Guillen was in the clubhouse as well and has started baseball-related activities again.

Guillen says he’s been able to hit, run and take ground balls, although there’s still no timetable for his return.

Talk about a forgotten man.

Finally, on this date in 1913, Joe Louis was born. He was the world heavyweight champion for a record-setting 12 years.

Have a great weekend.