October 31st, 2011

Jackson’s a Gold Glove finalist, Fielding Bible winner

For the first time that I can remember, the Gold Glove awards have a list of finalists, which not coincidentally sets up Tuesday night’s Gold Glove special on ESPN2. The side effect is that is sets up who has a realistic chance to win an award that doesn’t always follow the expected candidates.

In the Tigers’ case, they have two chances. Austin Jackson is one of three finalists for AL center field honors. Alex Avila is the same at AL catcher.

Because the outfield Gold Glove awards recognize center, left and right fielders separately, rather than three outfielders in general, Jackson has some of the toughest competition of any AL position. Jacoby Ellsbury and Peter Bourjos are two of the fastest men in the AL, and they use that speed to their advantage in center. Bourjos, in particular, showed a gift for running down drives into the gaps.

So, of course, did Jackson. And as the Fielding Bible awards suggest, he gets to way more balls than the average center fielder.

A day before the Gold Gloves are announced, ACTA sports came out with its annual honors to recognize the best Major League defender at each position in a given season. The Fielding Bible award in center field went to Jackson.

Unlike Gold Gloves, which are voted on by Major League coaches, the Fielding Bible award weigh heavily towards advanced defensive stats. Winners are decided by a 10-person panel that includes Fielding Bible co-author John Dewan, statistical analysis pioneer Bill James, MLB Network great Peter Gammons, acclaimed columnist and author Joe Posnanski, and former Major League outfielder Doug Glanville.

In the latest release of the Bill James Handbook, Dewan wrote that Jackson’s advantage was in the stats.

“He topped all center fielders with 21 Runs Saved in 2010, but Austin Jackson had to do it even better (with 22 Runs Saved) in 2011 to earn his first Fielding Bible Award,” Dewan wrote. “Jackson has made 63 more plays than an average center fielder over the last two years. That’s an incredible total. It’s on the plays over his head that AJ really excels (43 of the 63). Making 43 more catches than an average center fielder on balls hit deep is where those lofty Runs Saved totals come in, as he is saving doubles and triples when he makes these catches.”

Jackson got as many first-place votes (three) as Arizona’s Chris Young, but the difference was the five second-place votes he received, compared with just two for Young. The only vote that put Jackson outside the top three was something called the Tango Fan Poll.

Avila finished eighth in voting among Major League catchers, a category won by Matt Wieters. Not coincidentally, he’s one of Avila’s fellow finalists for the AL Gold Glove, along with A.J. Pierzynski (???). Avila threw out just under a third of would-be basestealers (40-for-125) while posting a .995 fielding percentage (five errors in 1,018 total chances). He was charged with seven passed balls, and Tigers pitchers threw 56 wild pitches with him behind the plate.

Wieters threw out 34-of-92 would-be basestealers, allowed one passed ball, and watched his pitchers deliver 25 wild pitches.

Among those left out among Gold Glove finalists was Jhonny Peralta, who statistically had a very underrated season at shortstop. But so was Texas’ Elvis Andrus. Erick Aybar, Asdrubal Cabrera and J.J. Hardy are the three finalists, though Peralta statistically had a pretty good case for a better defensive season than Cabrera.

Tigers cut loose Santos, Thomas

The Tigers cleared space on their 40-man roster and added to their free-agent list on Monday by outrighting the contracts of catcher Omir Santos and reliever Brad Thomas to Triple-A Toledo.

The procedural move essentially makes Toledo a stopover for them. They’ll become minor-league free agents later in the week, free to talk with any Major League team. While the Tigers could re-sign either of them, notably Santos, they’ll likely search for better opportunities elsewhere.

Santos essentially served his purpose as an insurance catcher, spending nearly the entire season at Toledo until he became Alex Avila’s backup down the stretch with Victor Martinez limited by a sprained knee. Santos appeared in 11 games as a Tiger, including single-game appearances in April and August, going 5-for-22 at the plate while throwing out one out of six would-be basestealers. He hit .245 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 49 games for the Mud Hens.

The Tigers are still expected to pursue a catcher to back up Avila and limit the wear and tear on Martinez’s knees to his duties as Detroit’s designated hitter. Though Santos could be that guy, Detroit might also look to somebody more established.

While Santos was a minor-league signing last winter, Thomas was a holdover from 2010, when the native Aussie came back to the big leagues to become the second lefty in Detroit’s bullpen as well as a two-time spot starter. He had none of that success this year, due mainly to injuries in his forearm and elbow that left him on the disabled list all summer.
Thomas, who turned 34 earlier this month, gave up 11 earned runs on 17 hits over 11 innings before forearm pain warming up in the bullpen in mid-May led to a DL stint. He spent close to a month on a rehab assignment in Toledo, giving up four runs on 10 hits over 10 1/3 innings with the Hens, when the Tigers tried to activate him and designate him for assignment.
Thomas complained of elbow trouble and requested a second opinion. Once the diagnosis came back, the roster move was rescinded, and Thomas spent the rest of the year on the disabled list.

Thomas would have been eligible for arbitration had the Tigers held onto him. Instead, he’ll likely look for another Minor League deal in the U.S. or head back to the Far East for another stint in Japan or Korea, where he spent time near the end of the last decade before the Tigers signed him after the 2009 season.