|Born: May 19, 1977
Drafted: 2nd Round, 57th Overall, 1998 (Tigers)
How Acquired: Minor League Free Agent
College: Virginia Commonwealth University
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Inge has had an interesting career. He was considered a strong prospect coming up with the Tigers as a catcher, mainly on the strength of his glove. When he reached the majors, he struggled to lock down the catching job for three years, thanks to problems at the plate. Detroit eventually acquired Ivan Rodriguez to catch and moved Inge to third, and he responded with a three-year stretch in his age 27-29 seasons in which he was roughly average as a hitter. After that, he struggled at the plate, but managed to keep a regular or semi-regular job in the majors for another six years despite subpar hitting.
Inge’s profile as a hitter has remained consistent. He has decent, sometimes solid, power and has generally had a decent walk rate, but he’s never hit for average and has struck out in over a quarter of his ABs. He’s had big platoon splits, with a career OPS of .791 against LHPs and .651 against RHPs. What’s kept him employed is his glove. He was a good catcher and the same has been true at third, as defensive metrics have generally rated him among the better fielders there, sometimes among the best. He’s played a little in the outfield, mainly in center. He’s played very little at second and never at short. The Pirates signed him to a minor league contract for 2013 with an invitation to major league camp.
Inge hit for decent power in his debut, but had problems making contact. He threw out 35% of base stealers, easily his lowest rate as a minor leaguer.
In full season ball, Inge had largely the same season at the plate, although he improved his walk and K rates some. He threw out 43% of base stealers.
The Tigers jumped Inge up to AA to open the season. He continued to be remarkably consistent at the plate, hitting for a low average with weak plate discipline and decent power. He struggled more in 55 AAA games, but threw out over 40% of base stealers at both locations.
Inge opened the season as the Tigers’ catcher and played well defensively, including a caught-stealing rate of 45%. He struggled mightily at the plate, though, and was sent to the minors in late June, returning to the majors in September.
Inge opened the season in AAA, where he showed marked improvement at the plate. He came back to the majors in late April and, starting in June, handled the bulk of the Tigers’ catching duties. He continued to struggle at the plate in the majors, fanning in nearly a third of his ABs.
The Tigers again opened the season with Inge behind the plate, but they sent him to the minors in mid-June, at which point he was hitting just .150. They brought him back up in August and he posted a line of 258/309/405 the rest of the way.
The Tigers acquired Ivan Rodriguez to catch for them and shifted Inge to a utility role. In the end, he started 58 games at third (where Eric Munson struggled), 39 behind the plate as Rodriguez’ backup, and 20 in the outfield, 14 of those in center. He responded with the best hitting season of his career, although that may have had more to do with it being his age 27 season than with the move from behind the plate. He cut down significantly on the strikeouts.
Inge became the Tigers’ regular at third and played in 160 games. He had his second best hitting season, although his K rate vaulted back up.
Inge continued at third and had a power surge, although his offensive numbers dropped off otherwise. After the season, he signed a four-year contract extension worth $24M.
Inge declined significantly at the plate, with his power dropping off and his K rate increasing further.
The Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera after the 2007 season, seemingly ending Inge’s tenure at third. The team ultimately moved Cabrera to first, but shifted shortstop Carlos Guillen to third, leaving Inge as a utility player. He continued to serve as Rodriguez’ backup at catcher while also playing third and center. His hitting continued to decline.
With Guillen no longer able to play anywhere but outfield and DH, Inge returned to the regular job at third and started 157 games there. He had another power spike, but still put up only a 87 OPS+. He did drive in a career-high 84 runs.
Inge hit about the same as the previous year, except that some of his HRs turned into doubles. He had a big platoon split, posting an OPS of .817 against LHPs and .681 against RHPs. Despite the declining bat, the Tigers signed Inge to a two-year extension worth $11M, plus a $6M club option for 2013.
Inge collapsed at the plate. He also missed much of June with mononucleosis. In late July he was hitting just 177/242/242 and the Tigers designated him for assignment. Rather than forego the remaining three-fourths of his contract, Inge accepted the assignment to AAA. That lasted only a month, as the Tigers called him back up in late August. He hit only a little better the rest of the way. For the season, he actually hit for adequate numbers against LHPs, posting a .717 OPS, but he was helpless against RHPs, to the tune of a .449 OPS.
Inge served as a utility player for Detroit in April. During that time, he played in his only six major league games at second. Late in the month, the Tigers finally decided to eat the remainder of his contract and released him. Oakland picked him up a few days later and he shared their thirdbase job the rest of the year with Josh Donaldson. His power picked back up a little, but he continued to struggle at the plate. He didn’t hit much better against LHPs (.693 OPS) than RHPs (.636 OPS). He became a free agent after the season.
Inge had a terrible spring. It may have resulted in part from shoulder problems, as he was recovering from off-season surgery and then got hit in the shoulder blade with a pitch. Not surprisingly, he made the team anyway, although he opened the season on the disabled list.
The Pirates’ decision to keep an aging corner player with a career OPS+ of 83 is a continuation of GM Neal Huntington’s obsession with having veterans on the bench. His track record with veteran backups is, to put it mildly, abysmal. Chris Gomez, Luis Rivas, Jason Michaels, Craig Monroe, Ramon Vazquez, Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby, Matt Diaz, Casey McGehee and Nate McLouth II were all terrible or worse. Only Doug Mientkiewicz and, to a lesser extent, Eric Hinske were at all productive, yet the team seems to be learning nothing from repeated failures. Their unwillingness to go with their own draftees (like Jordy Mercer) or young players they’ve acquired (like Ivan De Jesus, Jr.) in the face of those many failures shows that either their judgment is bad (if these guys can actually play) or their scouting is bad (if they can’t).
In any case, it’s hard to see Inge being useful to the Pirates at the major league level. He’s not likely to hit much, especially considering that his only asset as a hitter is decent power and PNC Park is a terrible venue for right-handed power. His age also means that he’s at significant risk of collapsing, an outcome that’s been all too common with veterans acquired by the last two Pirate front offices. He won’t solve the team’s utility infielder problem because he has little experience at second and none at short. He’s played the outfield a little more, but the Pirates are overloaded with outfield candidates and all of them are far better hitters than Inge. The Pirates gave him a very small amount of time in spring training at first, another position he’s never played before, but that creates the same problem as playing him in the outfield. Given that he’s hit LHPs much better than RHPs, he could spell Pedro Alvarez at third occasionally, but that’s not an efficient use of a roster spot on a team that always carries at least 12 pitchers. Plus, with John McDonald on the team, it means the Pirates have committed two of their five bench spots to players who are likely to produce little or nothing on offense. History is not on Inge’s or McDonald’s side.
UPDATE: Inge struggled horrendously at the plate, hitting 181/204/238 through late July. His plate discipline collapsed entirely, as he had two walks and 32 strikeouts in 110 plate appearances. The Pirates were frustratingly reluctant to acknowledge the fact that Inge was hurting the team, but finally faced reality and designated him for assignment on July 23.
|Signing Bonus: $450,000
MiLB Debut: 1998
MLB Debut: 4/3/2001
MiLB FA Eligible: 2013
MLB FA Eligible: 2013
Rule 5 Eligible: 2013
Added to 40-Man: 2000
Options Remaining: 0
MLB Service Time: 11.095
|June 2, 1998: Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2nd round, 57th overall pick; signed on June 27.
2000: Contract purchased by the Detroit Tigers.
July 21, 2011: Designated for assignment by the Detroit Tigers; outrighted to AAA on July 26.
August 20, 2011: Called up by the Detroit Tigers.
April 26, 2012: Released by the Detroit Tigers.
April 30, 2012: Signed as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics.
October 29, 2012: Became a free agent.
February 12, 2013: Signed as a minor league free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
March 27, 2013: Added to 40-man roster by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
July 23, 2013: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.