Early this season, we’ve gotten a few surprised reactions when we noted that the Tigers outfield leads the majors in how often they turn a ball hit in the air to the outfield into an out and were leading the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (they’re now tied in the latter with the Mariners)
The Akil Baddoo, Riley Greene, Matt Vierling combo wasn’t on anyone’s radar as being the best outfield in baseball entering the season. But so far, they’re faring pretty well compared to everyone else.
So let’s explore this a little bit:
We do batted-ball classifications a little differently than others who chart baseball games every day. Sure, we chart balls hit in the air as you traditionally would, as fly balls, line drives, and popups. But we also have two categories, ones that cover the in-betweeners.
We call them fliner-fly, and fliner-liner. We’re not going to give exact definitions to preserve our proprietary system, but we can tell you that fliners are balls that are in-between fly balls and line drives. A fliner-fly follows an arc close to a traditional fly ball, but not quite. A fliner-liner is that ball that more closely resembles a line drive in arc, but isn’t quite one. Our Video Scouts evaluate which classification each batted ball belongs in based on its hang time and arc.
We bring this up because this Tigers outfield happens to be pretty good at catching fliners, particularly fliner-liners.
Here’s Baddoo making a fantastic catch on Joey Ortiz. This one was worth 0.8 runs
Matt Vierling snagged this one, which is worth 0.75 runs.
Brief aside: Though the Tigers catch rate on fliner-flies is about league-average, Vierling has been quite good at those too, including this HR robbery
Here’s Kerry Carpenter catching a ball worth 0.7 runs.
And Greene pulled this one off the turf to net himself an out and 0.6 runs saved
In all, the Tigers have caught 40 of 82 fliner-liners this season. That’s nearly 50%. The MLB average catch rate of fliner-liners this season is about 33%. The Tigers are much better than that … so far. There’s some skill involved. You’ve seen the video. There’s also been some good or fortunate defensive positioning that has allowed these catches to be made. The Tigers lead all teams in Defensive Runs Saved from Outfield Positioning.
Is the Tigers early-season success related to skill or just an aberration? I don’t know and it’s too early to tell. My biggest takeaway is that fliner-liner catches are fun to watch. And the Tigers being good in them so far makes the team a bit more watchable than they were expected to be in 2023.