In this corner wearing the colors of the Detroit Tigers….standing 5’11″ and weighing 275+ pounds, I give to you Prince Fielder “of Dreams”! And in the opposite corner also wearing the Detroit Tigers colors….standing 6’4″ and weighing 240+ pounds, I present Miguel “Hands of Stone” Cabrera. (You may stand and applaud now.) Combined, the duo could account for 80 home runs, 240 rbi, and more errors than you can count in a month of Sundays.
Of course, the Tigers could conceivably score 850 or more runs this season. That same Detroit team could also allow 750 or more runs despite having a pitching staff led by all-world ace Justin Verlander. The run differential may be the product of a very good season, but it may not be especially pretty to watch. Newly planted third baseman Miguel Cabrera unintentionally provided what amounts to a microcosmic preview of what Detroit fans may be subjected to all season long.
Watching Miguel Cabrera take one off of his face for the team was almost painful to watch. By about the 20th replay, it was not nearly as bad. No, the lack of compassion has nothing to do with any personal animus directed at Miggy. The change was simply due to a replay that clearly showed the ball glancing off of the lens of Cabrera’s sunglasses. While the ball did make short work of the glasses, it may have been the glasses that caused most of the really obvious damage and bleeding.
Hunter Pence certainly struck the ball forcefully enough to do damage, and the ball absolutely appeared to take a bad hop when it hit the ground. Most importantly, Cabrera looked like a grizzly bear hunting moths with chopsticks trying to make the necessary adjustment on the ball. Most experts agree that Cabrera probably will not turn into a Gold Glove caliber defensive stalwart, but he has yet to show the potential to be even an average fielder at the position. Technically, he was not spectacular flashing the leather at first base either, but that is a story for another paragraph. Even “below average” would probably be perfectly acceptable to the Detroit Tigers, but his short tenure at the 6 spot has me pondering just how bad this could get.
Could the “Miggy Experience” be bad enough to be considered epically bad? If you find that question worth pondering for a moment, then maybe you can define what exactly constitutes “epically bad”. If you would rather use the definition I provide, then that works as well. Consider the ultimate zone rating (UZR) and ultimate zone rating per 150 innings (UZR/150) for players who spent a significant number of innings playing 3rd in 2011. Since I am the captain of this vessel, I chose 750 innings as the minimum threshold for qualifying for this extremely unscientific “study”. Also, a bit of on-the-napkin math shows that playing 9 innings a game for half of a season would total 729 innings.
In all of MLB in 2011, there were 22 different players who accumulated 750+ innings at third base. Placido Polanco had the highest UZR at 14.0, and Alex Rodriguez had the highest UZR/150 at 20.2. Perhaps not all that surprisingly, the player with the lowest UZR (-22.8) and the lowest UZR/150 (-30.3) was Mark Reynolds. Admittedly, Reynolds fields the position like a gorilla dodging ping pong balls shot out of an air cannon. In his defense, he can also lift heavy things and knock the cover off of a baseball. Sound like anybody else you know? Maybe Miggy will find his inner Polanco and float like a butterfly at the hot corner, but I am more inclined to believe that he will wobble like a Butter Bean.
Lest you begin to think that Prince Fielder will be spared the UZR treatment, please think again. To add a certain element of credibility to this study, I searched Fangraphs for all the players who had played 750+ innings in a season at 1st base. This time the search included all players from 1966 to the present. Why 1966? Well, that was the year that the Houston Astros first started playing on Astroturf, and it seemed sensible to divide baseball into a pre-turf era and a turf era.
During the turf era, the highest UZR for a season belongs to Albert Pujols who played 1324 2/3 innings at 1B in 2007 and finished with a UZR of 24.7 (21.7 UZR/150). The worst season during that period belongs to Adam LaRoche who managed a whopping -18.2 UZR for Atlanta in 2005. The worst UZR/150 went to Mike Jacobs who cranked out -24.7 UZR/150 in 927 1/3 innings for Florida in 2005. Cabrera’s worst year at first base was 2010, and he struggled to a -6.2 UZR and -6.1 UZR/150. That may not sound too bad until you learn that his UZR placed 32nd lowest of over 200 player seasons that qualified. In other words, there were only 31 player seasons worse than his between 1966 and 2011. The good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it is that 4 of the seasons worse than Cabrera’s are owned by Prince Fielder.
At the sound of the bell, come out swinging with your gloves up. Protect yourselves at all times. No, really.
FYI: 3 seasons worse than Cabrera’s were produced by baseball “analyst” Kevin Millar.
FYI Part Deux: The lowest UZR of anybody who played 3rd base from 1966-2011…….-27.7 (Ryan Braun). #MVPee
NOTE: Alex Rodriguez was listed as 6’3″, 230 pounds. If Cabrera is 240 pounds, then he must be playing with a hollow leg.