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

Is Detroit Still a Great Baseball Town?

With the Tigers marching toward three million in attendance for 2012, this might seem more than borderline preposterous. But stick with me.

I lobbed a tweet last week about how Tigers fans are coming unglued online and on the air. I could even take it a step further and suggest the faithful are assuming the personality traits – obsession, paranoia, rage – of Yankees fans.

Last Thursday morning, listening to Power Alley on MLB Network Radio, a Tigers fan called in to rail on Joaquin Benoit and how he just can’t be trusted, Leyland shouldn’t use him in the 8th inning anymore. Why? Well, he allowed four runs to score in an 8-6 win over the White Sox. And, well, because.

Hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette politely disagreed that Benoit was a problem – much less the problem, as the caller also suggested – and that in fact he’d been quite good of late and for the majority of the season. They acknowledged his stretch of surrendering home runs (looking at you, Taylor Teagarden) but that he’s certainly not someone about whom Tigers fans should waste energy.

This is just one example. Since April, Tigers fans have been scorching Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Jose Valverde and, of course, Jim Leyland*.

*Recently Reds GM Walt Jocketty was on Power Alley and he answered a question from the hosts about Dusty Baker‘s approach to resting players throughout the season, even into September. Jocketty defended his manager and talked about how the great managers know who needs a rest and when – and how this can payoff late in the season. He mentioned Leyland by name as another skipper who knows when to give his players a day off. Then he said something like, “I heard on this show a Tigers fan was complaining about Jim Leyland resting players. Jim’s one of the best in the game at this and I can’t believe they’re complaining about it.”

How did this happen? Is it all because of pre-season expectations and the season drawing to a close? Is it the number of outlets fans have to air even the flimsiest arguments? Yes to both, I think.

I acknowledge this is likely coming across as Old Man Thinking and to some degree it is. What’s really puzzling to me is that Detroit has a reputation as being a great baseball town. And it is.

Or it was. Right now, I’m not so sure.

I’ve never witnessed such vitriol being sprayed in so many places against a manager and his players – ever. Fans are treating Leyland like they do their political villain of choice. (Two years ago I wrote my case for Leyland and stand by it today.) It wasn’t long ago that the Tigers had managers the likes of Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish and, inexplicably, Luis Pujols. People: Luis Pujols.

Granted, you could argue (and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you) that the days of Bell, Parrish and Pujols were dreadful seasons in which most Tigers fans were apathetic at best. But people still went to the games, followed the team and called into the sports talk shows to complain about Bobby Higginson. Some people cared … but not many, and not much. But still.

Does all the moaning and groaning mean Tigers fans are as engaged as ever? Or does it mean Detroit has lost its collective mind when it comes to baseball and the expectations of a team that, for an enternity, was an embarrassment?

What do you think?

Avila at Third? Not All That Uncommon in Tigers History

Tonight Alex Avila is the Tigers’ starting third baseman in the opener of a three-game series in Denver against the Rockies.

Avila’s never played third in the majors but he’s not the first Tigers player to be pressed into action there. Did you know that Al Kaline appeared in two games at third during his career?

In 1961, he played a full nine innings at third, fielding a pair of chances cleanly, with a putout and an assist. Four years later he played 5.1 innings of a game with three chances, two putouts and an assist.

Johnny Wockenfuss, who played mostly at first, catcher and in the outfield, became even more of a utility man for Sparky Anderson when he played … parts of two games – all of 2.1 innings – at third base but never saw any action.

Like Kaline, in 1965 Willie Horton played third but outlasted him be two-thirds of an inning. In one game he played six innings, fielded two chances and earned an assist on both.

Others taking a turn at the hot corner include:

  • Mickey Stanley: 18 games over two seasons (1975 and ’76), 61 chances, 13 putouts, 46 assists and two errors
  • Alan Trammell: 43 games in two seasons (1993, ’96), 100 chances, 26 putouts, 69 assists, five errors
  • Ty Cobb: 1 game in 1918, two chances, with an assist and a putout.
  • Charlie Gehringer: 6 error-free games (and 26 chances) in 1926 for The Mechanical Man

I’m looking forward to this experiment. Having Avila’s bat in the lineup is huge and having him at third, well, can’t be any worse than Ryan Raburn.

What do you think?

Game 162: Vintage Verlander

ESPN highlights available here.
ScorecardXSmall.jpg

The Score: Tigers 5 – White Sox 3

The Gist: You couldn’t ask for more than Justin Verlander delivered on Sunday afternoon in the Tigers’ home finale of the as-yet-undecided 2009 season. Ryan Raburn went yard twice and the resurrected Magglio Ordonez went 4 for 4 to power most of the offense. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tigers game without a wasted inning with a starter, this time John Danks, on the ropes. A win is a win, though this win would’ve been better on, say, Thursday.

The Quote: “I wasn’t sure right away I was going to get there.” Curtis Granderson, referring to either his diving catch in the eighth which saved the game from looming disaster OR the Tuesday playoff game in Minnesota.

The Stat: 12 and 13 – The Tigers’ record this year on Tuesdays

Magic Digit: 1

Up Next: Tigers @ Twins – Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET on TBS

Rick Porcello (14-9. 4.04 ERA) vs. Scott Baker (15-9, 4.36)

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