Mensching: Add third base to Tigers’ fix-it list

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

Al Avila has even more work to do during his first offseason as Tigers general manager than first thought.

Everyone knows Detroit needs to bulk up its starting pitching this offseason. Whether you think the Tigers need two add two starters or three might depend on your optimism regarding the return of Anibal Sanchez and the development of Daniel Norris. In any case, replacing half your rotation isn’t going to be an easy task.

The bullpen, too, is an issue. As it is every year, but this year worse than ever. Although it’s common for sabermetric fans to say that a team shouldn’t invest much in trying to purchase a closer, it sure would be nice if manager Brad Ausmus had at least one pitcher he could trust in the ninth inning. Just don’t spend too much money there though, because Ausmus needs some help filing his seventh and eighth innings, too.

Then you’ve got the left field conundrum. Yoenis Cespedes probably isn’t coming back, not at what he’s going to cost. The Tigers have too many pitching problems to pay Cespedes on top of it. But they’ll need a left fielder.

Center field hasn’t exactly been a position of confidence, either. Let’s ignore that for today, though.

Got all that? Good. Now it’s time to find a third baseman. Nick Castellanos just isn’t getting the job done well, either.

Castellanos not satisfied with gains he's made in 2015

Sunday’s game was a microcosm of Castellanos’ issues.

Starter Randy Wolf deserves a lot of the blame for the six-run second inning. However, Castellanos allowing the second batter of the inning to reach on what should have been a routine grounder to third only made a bad inning worse. That was his 10th error.

While Castellanos’ defense actually is much improved, it’s still not good in comparison to his peers. Among advanced metrics, Castellanos ranks 15th among third baseman with more than 1,000 innings this year at 10 Defensive Runs Saved worse than an average player. He ranks in similarly in Ultimate Zone Rating, which gauges Castellanos to be 15 runs worse than average per 150 games played, per Fangraphs.

That might be acceptable if he could hit better, but he has failed to deliver on that promise as well. Castellanos went 0-for-4, marking the 50th game he went 0-fer as a starter this year. With that his batting average dropped to .256 with a .305 on-base percentage and .421 slugging average.

The average and on-base percentage are nearly identical to Castellanos’ rookie season, while his only gain has been a slight improvement in his power numbers.

Castellanos’ wOBA — weighted on-base average, a better measure of offense than OPS — ranks 17th among qualified third basemen.

A glance at Baseball Reference’s wins above average chart points out the effect. The Tigers rank 1.1 wins worse than average at third base, placing them 25th of 30 teams, with Castellanos as the primary starter.

Starting pitching, relief pitching and designated hitter have all been worse positions, relative to their peers, for the Tigers this year.

But they’ve hardly made a gain at third, which ranked dead last in 2014. The position is an issue.

You can hope it’s going to get better for Castellanos, and properly point out the priority this offseason has to the pitching staff.

But if the opportunity arises to make an improvement at third base, Avila shouldn’t bypass it hoping for the best. Improvement anywhere is welcome at this point. With the relative weakness of the position and Castellanos’ apparent stagnation as a batter, the opportunity is there for the taking.

Hoping for the best just doesn’t seem like a good solution at this point.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.