Though they currently lead the wide-open AL Central by just a half game, the Detroit Tigers showed Wednesday that they aren’t willing to stand pat by acquiring Wilson Betemit from the Kansas City Royals. Betemit may not have been the “sexiest” name on the market, but he represents a massive upgrade over Brandon Inge; the Tigers’ current starter at third base. In a division still up for grabs, this move could be the push the Tigers need to stay on top.
Although the move doesn’t seem like a massive upgrade at first glance, Betemit was viewed as a decent target for teams looking for infield help. While he won’t contribute anything defensively, Betemit has always shown the ability to take a walk and hit for power. Betemit is a career-journeyman, however, and has never received more than 412 plate appearances in a single season. Despite decent production in limited at-bats, Betemit has never been able to stick with one team for an extended period of time; making the move somewhat of a risk for the Tigers.
A quick glance at the Tigers’ complete ineptitude at third base this season justifies that risk. Brandon Inge — the Tigers’ primary starter at third base this season — has completely cratered offensively; hitting .177/.242/.242. Among third baseman with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Inge’s on-base percentage rates as the second worst in all of baseball and his slugging percentage puts him dead last. That’s right, Brandon Inge has hit for less power than Chone Figgins this season. While Inge has been a fantastic defender over his career, the Tigers could not afford to deal with his regression at the plate any longer. Inge’s performance this season has led to a -0.9 WAR; easily the worst of his career.
Inge’s complete failure at the plate is what makes this deal a massive upgrade for the Tigers. Betemit’s current slash line of .281/.341/.409 completely obliterates Inge’s offensive performance this season. Even though Betemit has only been worth 0.4 WAR this season, that’s a nice upgrade for the Tigers considering they have been employing a black hole at third all season.
By employing Betemit in a full-time role, the Tigers are going to suffer defensively. Over his career, Betemit has been a truly awful defender at third base while Inge has been a fantastic defender at the hot corner. This might not affect the Tigers all that much, however, as they can still employ Inge as a defensive replacement later in games; effectively hiding Betemit’s major weakness. Betemit also has the ability to play multiple positions, and while he plays none of them particularly well that versatility could come in handy if the Tigers suffer from any injuries during the second half.
Even though it seems like a minor move, the Tigers’ acquisition of Wilson Betemit could pay big dividends going forward. With the move, the Tigers effectively replaced one of the worst players in baseball this season with a player that should give them average numbers going forward. In a division where one win could be the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf in October, the acquisition of Betemit could tip the scales in the Tigers’ direction.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.