Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bye Bye to Brandon Inge?

The Brandon Inge era may be entering its final week in Detroit.

He is the longest current tenured Tiger, first appearing in the Old English D back in 2001. Over that time, he has played in nearly 1300 games hitting .237 with 134 homers and 561 RBI. He has a career OPS+ of 85, a stat where the MLB average is 100. He just set the all-time Detroit Tigers record for strikeouts with 1100, breaking Lou Whitaker’s record of 1099. He stands at 1101 now, in only 4311 at bats, as Whitaker’s number came in 8570 at bats, almost double Brandon’s. “The Special Little Guy”, as I have sarcastically nicknamed him, has made me utter the “f” word so many times over the years that truckers and porn stars alike would be left feeling uncomfortable around me.

Exactly how in the blue hell has Brandon Inge not only lasted in Detroit for so many years, but in that time become one of the most popular players in Tiger history?

Honestly…I don’t know.

His first three years on the team, he hit .180, .202, and .203. The Tigers responded by acquiring a future Hall-of-Famer, Pudge Rodriguez, to become the team’s catcher. Brandon would still catch a bit, but also spend time in the outfield and third base, a position that he would come to love. The move from away from catching seemed to help his bat, too, as he would hit a career high .287 in 131 games, with another career high 109 OPS+ in ’04. His first full year at third, though, was a rough transition for him. He would lead the league in errors in 2005 with 23 and see his average fall to .261. (He’d lead in errors again in 2007 and 2009.) He would never see his batting average finish that high again.

The World Series year of 2006 saw my personal frustration with Inge grow as he fell in love with going for the long ball. He would hit a career high 27 homers (equaled in 2009) that year, but would see his OPS+ drop to 98 as he became an all-or-nothing hitter at the plate. Defensively, though, his acrobatic diving catches became the norm for the Tigers and were making many fans forget about his shortcomings at the dish. 2007 would see his offensive numbers regress further, as he would hit .236 with only 14 homers in 577 plate appearances.

In 2008, the Tigers would acquire NL All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins. Inge seemed to take this as a slap in the face and requested a trade. Sadly, no matter how remarkable his defensive abilities could be at times, there weren’t any teams willing to trade for a .230 hitting guy that was making over $6 million. So, the Tigers kept him as a utility player that would see him open the year in center field while Curtis Granderson recovered from injury. He would also see time at third and catching. He sulked through 113 games in ’08 hitting a miserable .205 and an OPS+ of 76.

Amazingly, the Tigers decided in 2009 to move Cabrera to first base and make Inge the full-time third baseman again. Brandon would respond be being named to his first ever All-Star team, despite finishing the season hitting only .230 with an OPS+ of 87. 2010 has seen his power numbers be more than cut in half from ’09 as knee injuries may be having more of an effect on Inge’s abilities than he is willing to let on.

But here we are now. Eight games to go in the 2010 season and the light-hitting Inge remains, at the very least, one of the three most popular Tigers with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. In 26 years of watching baseball, I have never seen a guy get more out of a career with so little hitting ability. And he is a free agent. What do the Tigers do?

Do they let him walk and risk the ire of the fans a year after letting fan favorites Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco walk away? Do the hand the job to ex-Indian and Tiger-for- two-months Jhonny Peralta? Do they explore free agency and offer the big bucks (as I have suggested) to current Red Sox third sacker Adrian Beltre?

Or do they stick with the face of the franchise, the face of futility in my opinion, Mr. Charles Brandon Inge?

No. You let him walk. And you don’t look back.  We need something better if we're going to be a real playoff contender in 2011.

Thanks for the great diving plays, Brandon. Thanks for trying to play when hurt (even though it cost us the AL Central in ’09). Thanks for all the kind words about Detroit and all the time you spent with sick kids. Thanks for all the goofy grins that made me want to steal your lunch money at recess. Hell, thanks for all of the silly material you’ve managed to supply me for this ridiculous blog. Thanks. Seriously.

But it’s time for a change. Adrian Beltre. Jhonny Peralta. Chris Pittaro. Anyone.

A quote from Jim Leyland after Saturday’s win over the Twins, where Brandon actually got the game-winning hit, sums it up for me:

"You worry that he might try to pull a lefty like that. We were yelling at him, 'Don't try to pull him. Stay on him'.”

After ten seasons in the majors, Brandon Inge still does not have the confidence of his manager to do the right thing with the game on the line.

It’s time to say goodbye. It’s been time for a long while now.

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