There are several elements to baseball. I believe pitching is by far the most important. That hardly puts me in a club of one. It is conventional wisdom.
But top pitching is greatly diminished if it is not backed by respectable defense. And top fielding can make a pitching staff much better, turning mediocre into good, and good to great.
It was constantly mentioned - and justifiably so - how much better Kansas City's bullpen was than the Tigers in 2014. However, the Royals' starting rotation was also better than the Tigers, a 3.60 ERA compared to 3.89 for Detroit. Part of this is the home ball parks. Kansas City presents a pitcher's delight, but both rotations had a 1.27 WHIP and the Tigers' starters missed a lot more bats and had better numbers across the board. What does that tell you? The Royals were much, much better defensively.
The Gold Glove Awards were announced this week. The Royals had three winners for the second straight year - left fielder Alex Gordon, catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Gordon is a brilliant defender, whose defensive metrics are off the chart. If I had an MVP vote, he'd be second on my ballot behind only Mike Trout. Perez is easily the best defensive catcher in the American League. The Royals are way better than the Tigers up and down the lineup with the exception of second base, and it's not like KC's Omar Infante is a stiff with the glove.
The Orioles, who swept the Tigers in the ALDS, also had three Gold Glove Award winners - shortstop J.J. Hardy, center fielder Adam Jones and right fielder Nick Markakis.
|Alex Gordon: A weapon with his glove|
After the Tigers traded center fielder Austin Jackson, they became particularly dreadful defensively. Only catcher Alex Avila and second baseman Ian Kinsler (he had by his best season defensively metrically) can reasonably be considered above average defensively. The left side of the infield was a disaster defensively, especially third baseman Nick Castellanos, whose lack of side-to-side range is stunning. The idea Andrew Romine is an above average defender is based more on wishful thinking than reality. He is a Triple-A defender. The outfield when Rajai Davis moved to center to replace Jackson was particularly vulnerable. Torii Hunter performed better offensively the second half, but his range defensively was a big issue throughout.
There is this groundswell for the Tigers to re-sign Victor Martinez regardless the cost. Martinez is not one of the best players in MLB - he is one of the best hitters. Now that's meaningful, but it should not be ignored he contributes nothing defensively. The last time the Tigers reached the World Series, it was the year VMart missed entirely (2012).
The Tigers haven't had a Gold Glove winner since Placido Polanco in 2009. Until they get better defensively, they won't get better overall.
That's the bottom line.
My Column: Stafford, Suh, Megatron, Detroit Lions at the crossroad of greatness and disappointment: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/sports/20141107/pat-caputo-stafford-suh-megatron-detroit-lions-at-crossroad-of-greatness-and-disappointment
My column. MSU vs. Ohio State about the Spartans offering a new course in history: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/sports/20141105/msu-vs-ohio-state-about-the-spartans-creating-a-new-course-in-history-pat-caputo-says
My column. Unsolicited advice for Dave Dombrowski about how to fix the Tigers: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/sports/20141102/pat-caputo-unsolicited-advice-for-dave-dombrowski-on-how-to-fix-the-detroit-tigers