Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Detroit Tigers Preview: Infield Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos and Jose Iglesias

As one of the most productive infields in baseball last season, the Tigers return their unit from 2016, including key backup Andrew Romine. The key questions with this unit center on if the left side of the infield starts to see performance drop off as they enter their mid-30’s and if the right side of the infield can make a leap as they enter their prime years.

2016 Year in Review

 Miguel Cabrera:

 

G

PA

WAR

wRC+

BA

BAbip

xBAbip

OBP

SLG

BB%

SO%

SB/CS

DRS

DVal

158

679

4.9

152

.316

.336

.336

.393

.563

11%

17.1%

0 / 0

-6

-8.4

 

Ian Kinsler:

 

G

PA

WAR

wRC+

BA

BAbip

xBAbip

OBP

SLG

BB%

SO%

SB/CS

DRS

DVal

153

679

5.8

123

.288

.314

.329

.348

.484

6.6%

16.9%

14 / 6

12

10.6

 

Nicholas Castellanos:

 

G

PA

WAR

wRC+

BA

BAbip

xBAbip

OBP

SLG

BB%

SO%

SB/CS

DRS

DVal

110

447

1.9

119

.285

.345

.350

.331

.496

6.3%

24.8$

1 / 1

-11

-5.4

 

Jose Iglesias:

 

G

PA

WAR

wRC+

BA

BAbip

xBAbip

OBP

SLG

BB%

SO%

SB/CS

DRS

DVal

137

513

2.1

73

.255

.276

.333

.306

.336

5.5%

9.7%

7 / 4

3

17.6

 

Andrew Romine:

 

G

PA

WAR

wRC+

BA

BAbip

xBAbip

OBP

SLG

BB%

SO%

SB/CS

DRS

DVal

109

194

0.6

71

.236

.291

.373

.304

.322

6.7%

19.6%

8 / 0

-1

4.4

 

 

The Tigers infield was highly productive in 2016, with all four starters worth at least two wins, and Kinsler leading the way registering nearly six, and Cabrera not far behind registering almost five WAR, despite both players moving into their mid-30’s. Their performance was noteworthy for a couple of reasons – Kinsler for his offensive renaissance, and Cabrera for his health. Kinsler had been a productive player for many years, but hadn’t had the sort of offensive output he posted with a .356 wOBA since 2011. His power surge came with an ISO of almost 0.2 (0.196), along with 28 home runs. Cabrera meanwhile played in 158 games, nearly 40 more than 2015, and did so without battling through hampering injuries, like he has had to in years past. His .399 wOBA isn’t quite where he was in when he was in his prime when he regularly checked in above .400 and peaked at .455 in 2013, but it was still good for 4th in the AL.

 

On the other side of the diamond, it was a breakout season at the plate for Castellanos, showing the promise at the plate that many projected would come. His walk and strikeout rates remained steady, but his power surged, with an ISO jumping over 0.2, pushing his wRC+ over 100 for the first season in his career. His defense is still not good, but has maintained being passable – had he not suffered the broken hand late in the year, he almost assuredly would have belted 20 or more home runs. Iglesias meanwhile saw his offense take a step back, in large part due to a nearly 50-point drop in his batting average. His average on balls in play fell 50 points as well, but there was a minimal change in the mix of types of balls he hit, and his xBAbip remained solid.

 

 

 

2017 Player Projections

 

Miguel Cabrera:

 

Source

PA

WAR

BA

BAbip

OBP

SLG

wOBA

DVal

Steamer

626

4.1

.310

.340

.394

.541

.391

-12.2

ZiPS

583

3.7

.301

.330

.379

.521

.376

-10.1

 

Ian Kinsler:

 

Source

PA

WAR

BA

BAbip

OBP

SLG

wOBA

DVal

Steamer

637

2.7

.268

.294

.321

.420

.320

5.4

ZiPS

631

3.3

.275

.297

.325

.430

.326

9.6

 

Nicholas Castellanos:

 

Source

PA

WAR

BA

BAbip

OBP

SLG

wOBA

DVal

Steamer

518

1.1

.266

.322

.321

.446

.328

-7.7

ZiPS

550

1.2

.267

.326

.316

.446

.325

-6.7

 

Jose Iglesias:

 

Source

PA

WAR

BA

BAbip

OBP

SLG

wOBA

DVal

Steamer

468

2.0

.282

.305

.329

.377

.308

9.7

ZiPS

467

1.0

.265

.291

.312

.342

.288

8.3

 

Andrew Romine:

 

Source

PA

WAR

BA

BAbip

OBP

SLG

wOBA

DVal

Steamer

220

0.1

.242

.302

.298

.324

.275

3.2

ZiPS

246

0.3

.233

.292

.289

.296

.262

5.5

 

 

While the group collectively produced 15 wins last season, neither projection system is nearly that optimistic about 2017, with the group only projected to produce about 10 wins, with slight differences between each projection. Both systems forecast a drop in productivity from Cabrera, following the age curve, while they also view Kinsler’s season as anomaly and despite continued solid defense, don’t see him slugging anywhere near the rate he did in 2016, treating it as an anomaly and not a resurgence.

 

The projections also have a clear message for Castellanos; “show me”. Despite his age trending up, they’re not ready to believe in the bat, either his average or his power and project he’ll take a step back and be only worth roughly one win for the Tigers, while Iglesias has some disagreement between the two – Steamer sees slightly better defense and a return to close to his prior average, while ZiPS is much more down on Iglesias, and has him worth roughly only one win.

 

The TigsTown Take

 

Breaking down each of the different players, this group is going to be highly productive, it’s more a matter of exactly how productive. Some of that could come down to health as always, but some of it comes down to who can make a leap, and that may well drive exactly how good this Tigers team can be this year.

 

Kinsler is going to continue to be productive. It’s hard to see him reaching 28 home runs again or having that sort of power output again, but Kinsler is going to be worth roughly four wins between his reliable bat and Gold Glove caliber defense. Cabrera meanwhile should continue to be productive as long as he’s healthy, which will always be a question with him. His body type and history likely indicate he’s in line for another injury that will sideline and/or hamper him unfortunately, but he will still be among the best offensive players in baseball for most of the year.

 

The real intrigue is on the left side of the infield, and there’s reason for optimism here. Iglesias had a down year offensively in 2016, but was more consistent in the field, and all the monitoring metrics lean toward the year being an outlier due to his average on balls in play. Castellanos meanwhile could have a breakout season – his swing has always been pure, he’s more settled defensively, and the power came out in a big way last year. Castellanos is poised to potentially become an All Star in 2017, with a .300 average and plenty of power to come along with it.

 

The bench will rely on the steady Romine once again, and could be supplemented by Dixon Machado, who could prove to be a valuable defender off the bench, especially if Romine starts spending more time in the outfield.

 

 

 

 

2017 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only.  ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers. 


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