17 March 2012
The numbers for Brandon Inge this spring don’t appear to be all that great on the surface – a sub-.300 on-base percentage should impress no one – but he’s doing exactly what should be expected of him, and that’s produce against lefties.
We’re all well past the point of expecting Brandon to be a plus hitter. Even in his peak years (2004-2006), he was ‘only’ good for an OPS in the mid-to-upper .700’s. The numbers he’s put up this spring – .240/.296/.440 – would probably be on the extreme high end of what could be expected of him in a full season. They could probably pass for a full-time second baseman with average (to slightly above) fielding prowess, but it’s how he’s accumulated these numbers that show us why he shouldn’t be expected to replicate them as an everyday player.
Inge’s lefty-righty splits are currently pretty extreme. Versus righties this spring, he’s batted for a slash line of .154/.214/.231 (.445 OPS). Versus lefties, those numbers jump to .333/.385/.667 (1.051 OPS). The problem here, though, is that he’s had an even number of opportunities against each type of pitcher (14 PA’s versus right-handers, and 13 PA’s versus left-handers). An everyday player wouldn’t be afforded that luxury. Generally speaking, about 70-75% of starting pitchers are right-handed, so an everyday player would face in the neighborhood of 2.5 times as many righties as lefties.
I still think Brandon Inge is the best option the club has at third base every time a left-handed pitcher shows up on the schedule. Even last year, when his power completely left him, he still managed a .339 on-base percentage versus left handed pitchers. Neither Miguel Cabrera nor Prince Fielder will be the designated hitter full-time, we’ve known that for sure for a while, but each player should see a number of games there anyway. I say: split the DH duties between the big fellas when a lefty is on the mound (probably about 50 games, or 25 each), use the other one at first base, and slide Brandon in at third.
It’s seems there’s never any middle ground for Brandon Inge. Some fans love him and want to see him in the lineup everyday wherever possible, and some hate him and wish to see his immediate release. But I’m in that middle ground; convinced he’s one of the best 13 position players in camp, but also convinced that he’s likely not one of the nine ‘regulars’.
I know Brandon won’t like it himself – he’s always thought of himself as an everyday guy – but he’s a platoon player now. No more, no less. His batting numbers really showed that last season (forcing a trade for Wilson Betemit), and they’re continuing to in the same direction this spring.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.