Just How Bad Has Brandon Inge Been This Season?

Brandon Inge

Photo: autiscy, Flickr

is taking his share of criticism for the Tigers’ ongoing struggles at the plate. A cursory glance at the numbers seems to indicate that’s justified — Inge is batting just .208 this season, his lowest mark since 2008, and is on pace to finish with a mere four HRs and about 45 RBI.

But are things even worse than they appear for Inge?

The veteran third baseman has been a fixture in Detroit’s lineup for several years and, at times, has produced. He hit 27 home runs in 2006, then again in 2009. He batted .287 in 2004 and drove in 72 and 83 runs in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Those days appear long gone. In fact, through nearly two months of the season, you could make the case that Inge is one of the worst everyday players in the majors. How? Let’s take a look:

Batting Average: Let’s start with the obvious. As mentioned above, Inge is batting .208 this season. Amazingly, four other seasons in his career in Detroit, Inge has finished lower than that — the first three came when he was rushed to the majors as Detroit’s catcher; the fourth, 2008, he lost nearly 50 games to injury.

To be considered a “Qualified” player on baseball’s batting leaderboards, a player must average 3.1 plate appearances per team game, averaging out to about 502 plate appearances for the season. Inge’s .208 mark is the 14th-worst in the majors among players currently meeting that qualification (Ryan Raburn, at .204, is 11th-worst). He has less RBI (12) than every player below him on the BA list except Oakland’s Mark Ellis and the White Sox’ Alex Rios, who both also have 12 RBI.

Only Ellis (0) has less HRs than Inge’s one for players batting .210 or less. Inge’s .268 on-base percentage is 13th-worst in the league — every player below him on that list either matches or exceeds Inge’s RBI total.

W.A.R.: One of those Sabermetric stats (there’s at least one more to come), stands for “Wins Above Replacement” and measures a player’s value to a team compared to a generic “replacement” — to be specific, in this case, that means how many more or less wins the Tigers would have if Inge was bumped from the lineup for an average AAA player.

Inge’s WAR is -0.2. According to the WAR chart, anything less than zero places a player in the “replacement” category; A value of 0-2 equals a “reserve.”

To put Inge’s number in perspective, he hasn’t had a WAR number below zero since 2002, when he also chalked up a -0.3. On the current Tigers roster, the only players with values lower than Inge’s are Magglio Ordonez (-1.2 and on the DL) and Will Rhymes (-0.3 and demoted to Toledo).

Fielding Percentage: Still Inge’s saving grace, if there is one. He’s always been a strong fielder and he has been decent again in 2011. In fact, Inge has had more Total Chances (127) than any other 3B in the major. He has five errors, two off the league high at third, but his fielding percentage of .961 is right in the middle of the pack.

But …

Defensive Runs Saved: Another Sabermetric-lovers stat, this measures how many runs a player has saved or cost his team in the field. Zero is the average here — Inge is at -5 and on pace for -16. By comparison, last year’s Gold Glove winner at 3B, Scott Rolen, finished the year at a positive-2. Is it the product of Inge’s range decreasing as the years wear on? Of Jhonny Peralta not helping out enough defensively at SS? Whatever the case, Inge is having one of his worst years to date in this category.

Inge’s lowest mark in DRS at 3B was 2004, when he was a -6.

Year G Ch PO A E DP Fld% Rdrs Rdrs/yr
2009 161 444 143 281 20 41 .955 8 7
2010 144 395 119 267 9 24 .977 2 2
2011 44 127 40 82 5 6 .961 -5 -16

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

The Verdict: There are a bunch more Sabermetric stats that show Inge’s declining value, both at the plate and in the field. To sum it all up, FanGraphs.com converts that WAR stat to a dollar value to estimate what a player would be worth on the free-agent market. During his strong 2006 season, Inge graded out to a value of $14.5 million per year; Right now, nearly through May of the 2011 season, Inge is worth negative-$1.1 million — meaning his Sabermetric value would require him to pay a team to sign him.

Inge is still a fan favorite in Detroit and for good reason — he’s been an important member of the franchise (and the community) for several years now and always gives 100 percent.

Unfortunately, the combination of age (Inge is 34) and multiple knee injuries appears to be catching up with him. Is he the worst player in the league? Probably not. But he’s a lot closer to the bottom, numbers-wise, than a regular starter should be.

Unless he turns it around quickly, Detroit would be better off, statistically, finding an alternative at third.

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