Brandon Inge has been a Detroit Tiger for life. The Tigers drafted Inge in 1998 and he made his major-league debut with the team three years later. Inge came up as a catcher but transitioned to third base in 2004, when Ivan Rodriguez landed in Detroit.
Inge’s defense at the hot corner has been consistently very good, according to UZR/150, aside from 2004, his first season there. And it was his defense that kept Inge in the Tigers lineup. Inge’s career slash is a paltry .235/.305/.388 with a career wOBA of .301 and wRC+ of 81.
This season, Inge couldn’t sustain even his low career offensive numbers. His defense suffered, as well. And so on July 20, the Tigers designated Inge for assignment. Most people, including manager Jim Leyland, thought it was the end of the road for the 34-year-old.
No other team showed interest. The Tigers still owed him about $7 million on the two-year/$11.5 million deal he signed before this season. Inge could have taken the money and gone home. But he didn’t.
Instead, Inge reported to the Toledo Mudhens, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate. In 29 games, Inge batted .287/.389/.519 and hit seven home runs. The Tigers recalled him in late August.
Inge has played in nine of the Tigers’ ten postseason games. In 18 at-bats through Thursday’s game, he’s hitting .333/.455/.556. In Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, Inge hit this game-tying home run off previously-unhittable Alexi Ogando in the seventh. Yes, the Tigers lost the game, but it wasn’t because of Inge. On Thursday, with the bases loaded and one out for the Rangers in the top of the sixth inning, Inge started the 5-3 double play to end the Rangers’ threat. The Tigers then scored four runs in the bottom of the inning to take the lead 6-2. The Tigers won the game, sending the series back to Texas, in no small part due to the efforts of Inge.
Inge’s rare feat?
Based on my research, Inge appears to be the only player in the past 10 years with more than five years of major-league service who was designated for assignment, then was recalled by the major-league team that sent him down and then went on to play a significant role in the postseason.
Let me explain a bit about my research, because figuring this out wasn’t easy.
I researched box scores for every ALCS and NLCS game from the 2001 season through Tuesday night’s games. I then reviewed the transaction history of every player who started in at least two games in the LCS. O.K., not every player. I eliminated the guys I was certain hadn’t been designated for assignment or waived at any time in their careers.
I found no examples other than Inge.
There are some other good stories in the past 10 years of players who were designated for assignment, then were picked up by other teams and played a significant postseason role for their new teams.
Pat Burrell is a good example. Burrell played left field for the Philadelphia Phillies from 2000 to 2008, compiling a line of .257/.367/.485 with 253 home runs. He then signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays before the 2009 season. Things didn’t go well for Burrell in Tampa Bay, and the Rays released him in mid-May 2010. The San Francisco Giants signed Burrell and he played a key role in the Giants’ run to the NL West title. Burrell didn’t play particularly well in the postseason — but without his efforts from June through September — the Giants likely wouldn’t have been playing for, much less winning, the World Series.
Another is Bobby Kielty and the 2007 Red Sox. Kielty bounced around the American League from 2001 to 2007, playing for the Minnesota Twins, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Oakland Athletics. The A’s released Kielty in July 2007 and the Red Sox picked him up. Kielty started two ALCS games for the Red Sox and batted .500/.571/.1000 in the postseason.
But Inge is special.
From what I’ve seen, no player in the past 10 years accomplished what Inge has accomplished with the Tigers in 2011. My research methodology wasn’t perfect, but I was so intrigued by Inge’s story that I was determined to try and figure out how rare it was.
Very rare, indeed.
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