Monday, June 11, 2012

Brandon Inge's Performance in Oakland

Brandon Inge has had a weird career.  He’s gone from catcher to third baseman to a second baseman (and even a little outfield in between).  He’s hit 27 HR in a season twice, but also hit 7 or 8 HR in a season.  He’s been an all-star, designated for assignment and released.  He can dunk a basketball, kick a 50-yard field goal, hit a golf ball 400 yards and some other less confirmed feats.  Fans either love him or hate him.  And now he’s hitting in Oakland after not performing at all in Detroit the last 2 years.

Since 2011, Inge hit .190/.255/.284/.538 in 289 PA for the Tigers.  He was done, finished, washed up and some say never was.  Then Oakland picked him up and now Inge is hitting .244/.333/.465/.798 and every night seems to be a 4-RBI night.  What happened?  Was Inge holding out on us?  Did the A’s hitting coach make him better?  Is this a fluke?

My theory has to do with Inge’s stubbornness, bad timing, his mentality (and a little bit of flukiness).  In the 2009 off-season Inge has surgery on both knees, but was (supposedly) ready to go to start the 2010 season.  During that season, he got hit in the hand by a pitch and missed some time with a non-displaced fracture.  The next season he missed some time with mononucleosis.  Now, I’m not calling the injuries themselves an excuse, but rather Inge’s stubbornness to play.  For example, when he fractured his hand, it was estimated that he would miss 4-6 weeks.  He was back in 2 weeks.  He was hitting .263/.342/.413/.755 before the injury and .223/.288/.371/.659 after.  Obviously he didn’t take enough time off for it to properly heal and it was affecting his performance.

Victor Martinez tore his ACL this past off-season.  As a knee-jerk reaction, Ilitch told Dombrowski to sign Prince Fielder to a 9-year deal worth over $200 million.  To make room for Fielder, Miguel Cabrera moved to 3B and Inge was left without a job.  Inge hates to sit on the bench, so he convinced Leyland to try him out at 2B.  Now I have to think that this affected his hitting.   He was trying a new position and probably taking extra time in for fielding practice – time that would have normally been put into batting practice.  Now, I don’t like to get into the psychology of the game; I have no idea what was going on in Inge’s mind.  But Leyland was quoted as saying that Inge wasn’t a "happy camper" when the Tigers signed Fielder.  I don’t think Inge wanted to play a new position and that too was affecting his play.  I’m not saying he was intentionally not giving 100%, but subconsciously I don’t think he was giving his all.  A popular theory is that fans were booing Inge and this was affecting his play.  I have to disagree with this.  Inge is a professional ballplayer and has played in the majors for 12 years.  He has had an up and down career.  I’m sure he’s encountered booing before, but has come back to perform again.  I don’t think that this time had any effect on him. 

Fast-forward to the move to Oakland.  It has been 2 years since his knee surgery and therefore he’s back to full strength.  His hand is healed up and his mononucleosis is cured.  He’s back in his comfort zone at 3B and now he has something to prove.  It shouldn’t come as a total shock that he’s now producing at least at some level.  But I want to look deeper into the stats anyway.

Inge has a .271 BABIP with the Athletics, .282 career mark; nothing out of the ordinary.  However, he has a 26.6% LD, 34.4% GB, 39.1% FB compared to his career numbers of 18.0% LD, 39.2% GB and 42.8% FB.  His 26.6% LD is the highest it’s ever been for his career and suggests that Inge might actually be under-performing.  His 39.1% FB is low as it’s usually been around 45% in Detroit.  His HR/FB ratio is 20%, double of his career mark of 10% and the highest it’s ever been since 2009 when it was 15.4%.  Can he sustain these stats?  Likely not, unless the hitting coach actually did work with him and got him to change his approach.  The HR/FB ratio looks like a fluke though; he’s not hitting as many fly balls as he usually does, yet the frequency of them being home runs is that high?  I’m not buying it. 

Brandon Inge is hitting a lot better in Oakland than he is on the road.  Since going to Oakland, Inge has a .303/.378/.697/1.075 line at home and a .208/.306/.321/.627 line on the road.  Oakland is often regarded as a pitcher’s park.  How is Inge hitting so well at the Coliseum?  He’s a career .177/.256/.323/.578 hitter there.  I have to think that it’s nothing more than a 9-game small sample size fluke.  Although this does give credence to the “booing” theory.  Cheering helps, booing hurts?  Yeah, I’m still not buying it. 

Then there’s the fact that he isn’t getting any younger.  Brandon Inge is 35 years old this year.  Most players don’t have their career years at 35 years old and I don’t think Brandon Inge is the exception.  I thought Brandon Inge was too old to go back and do what he did in 2004-06 again.  I thought that he was too injury-riddled and that he should have just retired after being released.  I was wrong.  However, how much longer can Inge go on playing like he has been?  I have to think that some of these stats are going to start evening out.  

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