Quick, throw away all your E-troit* Tiger biases, forget whose your Tiger, and tell me which Tiger has had the best 2012 season at the half way point. *(Not a typo – the D has been removed until the Tiger’s exhibit anything resembling a Major League defense). I know, our biases are strong, we love our new Prince of Motown so let me help you out. Here are the slash lines for the top 3 Tigers in 2012:
Player A – .324/.383/.558
Player B – .335/.411/.552
Player C – .299/.379/.497
Now that we have gotten those biases out of the way, I’m making the argument that Player B, Austin Jackson, has been the best Tiger in the first half of 2012. While I realize slash lines can not tell the whole story I will go behind the slash line in my defense of A-Jax.
(A= Miguel Cabrera; C = Prince Fielder)
Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski’s plan entering 2012 was to field the best beer league softball team with two rather large (pun intended) defensive anchors at the corner infield spots. Unfortunately, the 2012 Tigers bats have not been able to score runs at the rapid pace their defense has been able to gift wrap runs for the opposing team. They lead the American League in unearned runs (43), and have the worst Ultimate Zone Rating (-27.2) (an advanced statistic that quantifies the amount of runs saved by a defense over the season) in the league. In fact, each Tiger player that started Opening Day has a negative Ultimate Zone Rating at their respective position in 2012, except for Austin Jackson (5.2). Jackson has been the sole Gold Glove candidate on a team that at times appears to be playing with gloves made of stone. Therefore, Austin Jackson gets a boost when measured against the other Tigers for playing stellar defense in center field, a position where defense is of grave importance, all while producing eye-popping numbers at the plate.
Since Austin Jackson came to the Bigs in 2010 Tiger fans have taken issue with their free swinging lead off hitter not getting on base in front of Miguel Cabrera. Jackson lead the league in strikeouts in 2010 and finished 3rd in 2011, which drained his value as a lead off hitter because he simply was not getting on base enough. This year, his strikeout rate is down and his walks are up resulting in an On Base Percentage of .411, tops on the team and good enough for second in the American League. And what does it mean to the Tigers to have their lead off hitter getting on base for the big hitters? Without Jackson in the lineup the Tigers are 8-14 (.363), and with him they are 34-28 (.548).
One could pose the argument that Miguel Cabrera has been the best Tiger in 2012 and I would listen. I’m a huge fan of Miguel’s but putting bias aside, my issue with the Cabrera argument is that is based on his counting stats. For instance, Miguel Cabrera has 18HR/52R/71RBI to Austin Jackson’s 9HR/53R/38RBI. Cabrera has produced great numbers, but only looking at a player’s counting stats to measure their effectiveness can be problematic because they are dependant on so many other factors. Case in point the largest disparity between the two players is their RBI totals. RBI are dependant on other players being on base when you get your hits. This negatively effects Jackson as a lead off hitter because he starts the game with no one on base and in the middle innings his RBI total is dependant on the bottom of the order, generally the weaker hitters, getting on base in front of him. The pro Cabrera camp would then argue that the two players have scored about the same amount of runs, a stat Jackson should lead batting first in the Tigers lineup. This argument brings to light another issue with only using counting stats. Miguel Cabrera has played in 22 more games than Austin Jackson and has had 92 more plate appearances ie more opportunities to hit HR’s, score runs, or collect RBI.
Many stats have been created to right the wrongs that counting stats create. One such stat is weighted runs created+ (wRC+), which seeks to quantify a players total offensive value measured by the runs they create. Austin Jackson has the third highest wRC+ score in the American League (163) behind Mike Trout and Robinson Cano. Miguel Cabrera’s 153 score is good enough for 5th in the League. Not a large disparity but all things equal A-Jax has been the more productive offensive player. Finally we will look at the amount of wins above a replacement level player (WAR) the two have added to the Tigers. WAR is a useful tool because it takes into account a players offensive and defensive contributions to determine a player’s overall value. Again Austin Jackson’s 4.0 WAR is higher than that of Miguel Cabrera (3.3 WAR). By no means am I arguing that Austin Jackson is a better baseball player than Miguel Cabrera, who has played at a consistently high level for 10 straight years, but for the first half of 2012 Austin Jackson has been the best player on the Tiger’s roster.