Many fans were speculating throughout the offseason that the Detroit Tigers' Jhonny Peralta could be replaced due to a perceived lack of range at shortstop. It seems the Tigers might have found a replacement internally.
"We're happy with Peralta," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said after Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. "What happens is a lot of times, people talk about getting more athletic with our club. There are very few positions we can get more athletic. That is one of the spots that is often discussed, but we're happy with Jhonny Peralta. When you look at his numbers over the last couple years, we're very happy with him.
Dombrowski tried to quiet speculation with that comment, but the rumors about the Tigers attempting to find a new shortstop continued.
On Jan. 8, 2013 there was a report by Roch Kubatko of www.masnsports.com that the Tigers wanted to trade for Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who won a Gold Glove in 2012 and is known for his great range at shortstop.
Nothing transpired from the Hardy rumors and eventually the speculation went away. However, during spring training, Peralta, 30, has raised questions again due to his struggles at the plate.
Peralta hit a feeble .239 at the plate in 2012 and has started poorly in spring training by batting .182 in 34 plate appearances. The Tigers could probably forgive Peralta's hitting if his range were greater, but it's not.
In Peralta's defense, he has great hands. He had a .988 fielding percentage in 2012, which was second among major-league shortstops. He also only had seven errors, which was the second fewest among shortstops. The issue comes into focus when Peralta's range is measured. His range factor per game at shortstop last year was 3.95, which is below the league average of 4.40. That is why the Tigers need to have a defensive upgrade.
In the meantime, Tigers prospect Danny Worth, 27, was always known for his fielding, but not his hitting. That is slowly starting to change.
Worth is hitting .333 in 33 plate appearances and may have finally solved the last piece in becoming a Tigers starter.
Worth has played 112 games in the major leagues, but his career average of .244 has held him back.
It looked like Worth was competing with Ramon Santiago for a roster spot on the Tigers this spring training, but could the Tigers consider him as their everyday shortstop, making Peralta expendable?
Who should be the Detroit Tigers' starting shortstop in 2013?
Worth, who can play second base, third base and shortstop, has played 201 games in six minor-league seasons as a shortstop and has a great range factor per game.
Worth's range factor per game at shortstop is 4.56, which helps him get to a lot more balls than Peralta does. While Worth's fielding percentage in the minor leagues is only .960, the Tigers would take the tradeoff with a lower fielding percentage than Peralta's.
The lower fielding percentage from Worth can also be explained by his range. He can get to more balls, some of which are deeper in the hole, making it harder to get off an accurate throw.
With the Tigers being a serious World Series contender, they might need to gamble and take a chance on Worth as a starting shortstop if Peralta doesn't pick up his batting average.
Peralta's biggest benefit to the Tigers was his bat, and if he doesn't pick up his average and show an improvement, then he won't help the Tigers in 2013.
Normally, spring training statistics shouldn't be overanalyzed. An example of this is in 2011, when Peralta only hit .197 during spring training before hitting .299 during the regular season. However, due to his struggles at the plate in 2012, this year's spring-training stats have become more meaningful.
Peralta, who is a free agent after this season, is now on the clock to prove he can be a factor in 2013.
*All statistics are as of March 15