News and Views: Brandon Inge
News: The Tigers re-signed 3B Brandon Inge to a 2-year, $11.5 million contract, with an option for 2013. Inge would have been a free agent.
Views: What am I missing here? Most of Inge's value is tied to his defensive prowess at third base. However, his advanced fielding metrics have been in a steady decline since 2006 when he led the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating at 19.0. It fell to 11.2 in 2007, 4.1 in 2008 (when he also played C and CF), 6.6 in 2009, and 3.1 in 2010. While Inge is still above average, the trend is not your friend here. Nor is his age. He turns 34 next May.
Over the past five years, Inge has hit .236/.313/.405 with an OPS+ of 88. His OPS+ has only exceeded 100 one time — 109 in 2004 during his age-27 season. He strikes out at an alarmingly high rate at about once every four trips to the plate. The righthanded hitter has never hit for a high average on balls in play (career rate of .285 with a peak of .316 in 2004). His baserunning is nothing to write home about. To wit, he made 10 outs on the bases last year, excluding the three times he was caught stealing in seven attempts.
Shake it all up and it's difficult for me to see why Inge is worthy of such a contract. At best, Inge may add two wins above a replacement player. At $3M per win, he could be worth $6M (vs. an average annual salary of $5.75M). If you want to ascribe a higher value per win, be my guest. Either way, I believe the downside risk is greater than the upside reward. If Inge continues to lose range in the field, he could actually become a liability at the hot corner. In that case, Inge would be nothing more than a platoon player and pinch hitter (career .267/.342/.465 vs. LHP) and perhaps a positive influence on the bench and in the clubhouse.
The contract is not a disaster, but it's one that leaves me nonplussed.
For Joe Pawlikowski's take, be sure to read his analysis of Inge's contract at FanGraphs.