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Under the Radar League Championship Series Player: Omar Infante

Felipe Melecio looks at the unsung players who can make a huge difference in the playoffs.

Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante
Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante

Oct 8, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante (4) celebrates a double during game four of the American League divisional series against the Oakland Athletics at Comerica Park. Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Late in the game during the TBS broadcast of game four of the American League Division Series between the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers, color analyst Buck Martinez kept mentioning the clutch capability of Tigers’ second baseman Omar Infante. Almost on cue, Infante went on to hit a two-run double in the bottom of the eight as Martinez continued to marvel at Infante’s propensity to come up big in key situations.

This was a reminder that October baseball is not just about the big-name players grabbing the national headlines and spotlights, but it’s also about the little-known players that become household names because of the playoffs. Just look at Pittsburgh Pirates playoff appearance in 1992. That year, they faced a dangerous lineup that included David JusticeTerry Pendleton, and Ron Gant. But the player whose name we heard time and time again during the 1992 National League Championship Series was a pesky hitter by the name of Mark Lemke. Lemke went on to hit .333 and sport an on-base percentage of .462, helping the Braves advance to the World Series.

Fast forward ten years later and in 2002, pesky Anaheim Angels’ second baseman David Eckstein hit .310 and posted an OBP of .364 in the World Series, helping the Angels capture their first championship in franchise history. Eckstein, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, would go on to win the 2006 World Series Most Valuable Player award.

In 2012 NLCS, Marco Scutaro probably guaranteed himself another couple of years in the big leagues as he posted a whopping OPS of 1.140 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

It is with this backdrop that we take a closer look at certain, unsung players on the remaining baseball playoff teams. We begin with Infante because Buck Martinez said so.

So far in this postseason, Infante has struggled at the plate, posting a slash line of .222/.263/.278 (before game one of the ALCS). But as we’ll see, Martinez did his homework on Infante.

Infante has a BRS%—which stands for Base Runners Scored, the percentage of base runners that score on the batter’s play, not necessarily on an RBI—of 13 percent. Teammate Miguel Cabrera posted a BRS% of 21 percent. It’s not fair to compare Infante with Cabrera, but the other situational hitting scenarios bode well for Infante.

In situations where Infante goes up to bat with a runner on third with less than two outs, runners score 61 percent of his plate appearances. Cabrera’s rate is at 55 percent. With a runner on second and nobody out, with Infante at the plate, that runner will score 80 percent of the time. Cabrera’s rate is 62 percent. Then again, Cabrera has more opportunities in these scenarios, but from the Tigers’ perspective, it’s good to know that they have a hitter that has a history of contributing in these situations.

Other scenarios where Infante has succeeded along with his slash line in those scenarios this season:

  • Runners On: .326/.357/.460
  • Runners in Scoring Position: .325/.375/.430
  • Bases Loaded: .286/.412/.357

Here’s an advanced stats’ look at Infante’s 2013 season (check out fangraphs.com for a glossary of terms).

Omar Infante 2013 Season

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

UBR

wSB

wOBA

OPS

476

4.2%

9.2%

0.132

0.2

-0.2

0.346

0.795

As we can see, Infante’s game depends highly on his contact skills. He doesn’t take many walks, but he doesn’t strikeout much either. Surprisingly, Infante does not contribute much on the base paths, but just as surprising is his sneaky pop, which has contributed to a high OPS and wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average–a metric which according to Fangraphs.com, “measures a hitter’s overall offensive value, based on the relative values of each distinct offensive event”).

Among second basemen with at least 450 plate appearances in the 2013 season, Infante ranks fifth in OPS and sixth in wOBA. One quick look at his Line Drive Percentage of 23.6 percent and it’s no wonder Infante has been able to hold his own in these two categories. He’s not a home run threat, but he can definitely drive the ball.

So to reiterate, Buck Martinez is right in his evaluation of Infante. However, it’s worth noting that Infante’s Clutch Rating is a lowly -1.04, among the worst in baseball. Regardless, with his ability to drive the ball to the gaps and his successful 2013 season with runners on base, Infante can be a secret weapon the Tigers can utilize in key situations.

Stats courtesy of fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and espn.com.

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