Miguel Cabrera Vs. Third Base

Among other significant changes to the Detroit Tigers 2012 season is the reality that Miguel Cabrera will probably be moving to third base on a full time basis, something he hasn’t done full time since 2007. There are a lot of concerns, opinions, and criticisms out there, of course, but the reality of his experience at third base, based on his two full seasons with the Marlins back in ‘06 and ’07, is that he performed at a below average/nearly awful level.

Age Year Ch E UZR Rtot FLD%
23 2006 397 17 -3.4 -6 .957
24 2007 389 23 -4.2 -11 .941

This position, revisited, could have disastrous implications. What if Cabrera collapses? What if his offense is affected by his fielding concerns? Of course, this is pointless speculation and I should be slapped for worrying everyone so. I mean, consider the young third baseman the Tigers traded away last summer?

Player G Ch E UZR Rtot FLD%
Scott Sizemore 91 196 13 -6 -10 .934

He certainly wasn’t very good in a half season over in Oakland, now was he? It seems even Cabrera was a better hot corner glove in his two years at the position.

Then, throw in the Tigers third basemen last year:

Player G Ch E UZR Rtot FLD%
Don Kelly 41 103 4 0.8 0 .961
Wilson Betemit 34 80 6 -5.5 -5 .929
Brandon Inge 77 248 9 1.8 2 .964

Thanks to Betemit, the numbers are skewed in an extreme negative slant, but moving Cabrera there and moving Inge away probably isn’t a difference of more than 10 runs, and given Miggy’s offensive output, he’d be the best “overall” third baseman in the league…if he can handle the transition.

2011 team third base defense
Team Ch E UZR Rtot FLD%
AL east
BAL 390 37 -26.6 -28 .905
BOS 442 18 4 1 .959
NYY 422 16 6 1 .962
TAM 472 16 13.9 18 .966
TOR 526 20 8.6 19 .962
AL central
CHW 407 14 0.8 -0 .966
CLE 507 16 9.1 10 .968
DET 465 22 -5.8 -6 .953
KC 446 22 -1.1 1 .951
MIN 395 20 -7.8 -20 .949
AL west
LAA 455 18 10 24 .960
OAK 393 28 -7.8 -15 .929
SEA 418 18 -2.8 9 .957
TEX 449 20 7.5 7 .955
american league
AVG 442 20 - 2 .954

Each division has one horrible third base defense. Baltimore, Minnesota, and Oakland. The Tigers were the next worst and so, how much worse could Cabrera make them?

top nine third basemen in 2011 by most games played
Player G Ch E UZR Rtot FLD%
Danny Valencia 147 351 18 -6.1 -18 .949
Evan Longoria 130 367 14 10.7 11 .962
Alberto Callaspo 129 365 15 7.6 15 .959
Brent Morel 125 297 14 0.9 -2 .953
Mark Reynolds 114 253 26 -22.8 -18 .897
Kevin Youkilis 112 273 9 -2.3 0 .967
Adrian Beltre 112 312 11 11.2 14 .965
Jack Hannahan 104 296 5 8.7 8 .983
Brandon Inge 99 248 9 1.8 2 .964

Cabrera isn’t one of the best hitters in baseball because he’s simply talented. It’s because he strives to be the best, he works as hard as he possibly can during the season and makes the necessary adjustments when they’re needed. The same concept can be applied to third base. And the Tigers expect nothing less. Is he a natural? No, but he is a natural baseball player. Is he a great fielder? No, but he can certainly be adequate.

Then again, what if he can’t make it? The excellent Eno Sarris over at Fangraphs explored first baseman who transitioned back to third base after being away for more than a year:

So, basically, since 1980 there hasn’t been a poor defensive first baseman at least one year removed from playing third base, who went back to the position for more than one season. There is no comparison for this. It hasn’t been done.

So we leave with that. Cabrera is an unknown until we see him play for two months.

One last small thought:

If Brandon Inge, an adequate glove with a troubling bat is making $5.5MM in 2012, wouldn’t it be best to try him at second base if third is occupied rather than have him rot on the bench?

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