Cabrera's defense key for Tigers

Examining players whose defense is critical to their teams' playoff hopes

Updated: August 18, 2012, 2:29 PM ET
By Ben Jedlovec | Baseball Info Solutions
Miguel CabreraMark Cunningham/Getty ImagesThe Tigers need Miguel Cabrera to maintain his current level of defensive performance.

The Tigers accommodated free-agent slugger Prince Fielder this offseason by moving first baseman Miguel Cabrera to third base, receiving a boatload of criticism in the process. After all, as recently as 2008, the Tigers tried to use Cabrera at third base, but that experiment lasted all of 14 games before Jim Leyland was forced to make a change to improve the team's defense. Since April 2008, Cabrera had been a first baseman, and he's only grown older and heavier since.

When Cabrera originally surfaced with the Marlins in 2003, he was trying to find his way in the outfield. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to take, and he moved full-time to third base. He fared no better there, with minus-10 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2006 and minus-19 DRS in 2007 (third-worst among third basemen that season).

Although his bat is powerful enough to overcome those defensive shortcomings, Cabrera's defense put a large dent in his overall value. Then just 24 years old, it was unlikely that Cabrera's athleticism would improve enough to handle the position long-term.

To the general surprise of, well, everyone, the Tigers' new third baseman has been ... decent. At the plate, he has been his typical MVP-caliber self; no surprise there. In the field, he hasn't been as bad as expected. He looked awkward, especially early in the season, but at other times he's shown athleticism and agility.

His range rates below-average for the season, but he's started double plays very efficiently and he's made a few heads-up plays that saved the team a handful of runs. Overall, Baseball Info Solutions' DRS system estimates that he has played average defense thus far.