- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Tigers Infield: Depth Chart Discussions


One might think that writing about the Detroit infield would be easy. After all, how difficult could it be to say that “Prince Fielder & Miguel Cabrera are great and you should draft them”? Because, they are great. And you should draft them.

We can try to do better, though. Fielder’s debut as a Tiger was nothing short of a success, putting up a season that saw him lead all qualified major league first basemen in wOBA. (Joey Votto, of course, was far ahead, but missed too much time due to injury.) Fielder’s .398 mark was right in line with his .393 career average and there’s little to think he won’t be able to do it again, though it’s interesting to see that he got there somewhat differently than usual. His 30 homers tied for sixth among first basemen and were his lowest since hitting 28 in his rookie season of 2006. That’s partially due to the fact that he set a career low in flyball percentage (33.3%); while his HR/FB rate was within career norms, fewer flyballs is going to equal fewer homers. That’s not entirely a bad thing, because those balls largely turned into line drives, contributing to a career best .313 batting average. Fantasy players would like to see a few more of those hits end up over the fence, though either way, Fielder remains an easy top-three first baseman in all formats.

The same goes for Cabrera, except in his case “top-three” is selling him too short. With a .417 wOBA in a sport where no other third baseman topped .400, the defending MVP is undoubtedly the best player at his position and a pretty easy top-five overall pick as well. There’s an argument to be made that his Triple Crown year wasn’t even his best season of his last three, and an even bigger argument that he wasn’t the most valuable player in 2012 at all. It doesn’t matter here; Cabrera enters his age-30 season in the prime of what looks like a Hall of Fame career. You might not expect another 44 homer season given that it was partly due to a HR/FB that was higher than 20% for the first time in eight years, but that’s a tiny qualm. Draft him, and of course you don’t need me to tell you that.

As you’d expect, the remainder of the Detroit infield crew isn’t nearly as spectacular. Alex Avila couldn’t sustain his breakout 2011, disappointing many with a 2012 that saw severe drops in batting average, on-base percentage, and especially power. Avila was probably never going to match his 2011 .366 BABIP anyway, so some regression was to be expected and he’s unlikely to be that player again. That means that 2011 may have been more of a fluke than 2012, though the fact that he was banged up a bit last year means that my feeling is that his true talent level is somewhere in between. If that means a line of something like .260/.360/.400 with 10-12 homers, that’s a decent fantasy option, if still something less than the star he looked like he could be.

As it turns out, Avila may not even be the most valuable fantasy catcher the Tigers have, and no, I’m not talking about Brayan Pena. At 34 and coming off a knee injury that wiped out his entire 2012 season, Victor Martinez isn’t like to see any time behind the plate in 2013, but he should still be eligible at catcher in many leagues due to the 26 starts he made there in 2011. If he’s not eligible in your league, then he’s probably a late-round filler type, but there’s a lot to like if he can be positioned as a backstop. Martinez hit .330/ .380/.470 in his lone season with Detroit in 2011 — not far off his career line of .303/.370/.469 — and he should have plenty of runners to drive in batting behind Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Cabrera, & Fielder. Martinez also has timing working in his favor, because it’s already been more than a full year since his injury, and he might pick up first base eligibility if he gets occasional duty spotting for Fielder. Obviously, watch him closely in camp, but if he has catcher eligibility, he could prove to be a serious fantasy bargain.

That leads us to the middle infield, where Omar Infante followed some decent seasons in Atlanta & Miami with a disappointing return to Detroit by putting up a mere .287 OBP. That, plus a broken hand suffered in the World Series, masked a generally good season that had him putting up double figures in homers and steals for the first time since 2004. It’s difficult to imagine him stealing 17 bases again, considering that he’d stolen exactly 17 over the previous five seasons combined, and that limits his value. He’s not a terrible option, given that he’ll give you decent contributions in batting average and power, but “decent” is generally his ceiling. Fine if you need him, but very little upside.

Over at shortstop, Jhonny Peralta suffered along with Avila in being unable to recreate a successful 2011. Check out his wRC+ marks over the last four years, and tell me if you can see which one doesn’t look like the others: 83, 91, 122, 86. It’s the same with home runs: 11, 15, 21, 13. All five projection systems you’ll see on his player card here — yes, even the fans — are almost completely in agreement on what Peralta will provide, and that’s 13-16 homers, a batting average around .260, and no value on the bases. Simply because he’s a shortstop, the dingers make him useful, but his purpose in fantasy these days is merely as “space filler who won’t kill you,” not someone who should ever be targeted for a winning club.