Hanley Ramirez Not Likely to Excel at Third Base

Over six seasons with the (now) Miami Marlins, Hanley Ramirez proved to be a mediocre defensive shortstop. If history is any guide, he will likely be a worse defender at third base.

With the Marlins signing Jose Reyes to a six-year contract worth $106 million, Ramirez will no longer be the Marlins shortstop. Every indication is that he will be moved to third base, although Ramirez is expressing his extreme displeasure with the move.

Reyes is by far the better defender at short. In more than 8,800 innings at short, Reyes has a cumulative UZR/150 of 2.1, with 8 Defensive Runs Saved. Ramirez, by contrast, has logged more than 7,150 innings at short, amassing a cumulative UZR/150 of -9.1, with -49 Defensive Runs Saved.

Reyes is six months older than Ramirez — Reyes turned 28 in June and Ramirez will turn 28 at the end of this month. But Reyes has maintained more of a shortstop’s physique. He’s 6-1/200 pounds. Ramirez is 6-3/229 pounds.

For these reasons, playing Reyes at short makes the most sense for the Marlins. The question is what kind of defense they’ll get out of Ramirez at third.

If history is any guide, Ramirez will be an even weaker defender at third than he was at short.

The two most notable examples of everyday shortstops moving over to play third are Cal Ripken, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. Meausred by the metrics available at time, Ripken played a much better shortstop than third base. Over 15 seasons and more than 20,200 innings, Ripken had a .979 fielding percentage and a Total Zone rating of 176. Ripken moved to third at the beginning of the 1997 season, and over the next five seasons, had a .958 fielding percentage and a Total Zone rating of 0. Of course, Ripken’s defensive downgrade may have had as much to do with age than a change of position, but the numbers still show a decline.

A-Rod moved to third at a younger age than Ripken did, but still showed a defensive decline after the move. With the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, Rodriguez logged nearly 11,000 innings at short and flashed a .977 fielding percentage and a Total Zone rating of 18. Using the same metrics, Rodriguez has had a .965 fielding percentage over nearly 9,300 innings at third base and a -40 Total Zone rating.

UZR information is available for 2002-2003, A-Rod’s final two years as a shortstop with the Rangers. In 2002, he had a UZR/150 of 12.7, the best among American League shortstops that year. In 2003, he was second-best in the American League behind Jose Valentin of the Chicago White Sox with a UZR/150 of 11.2. He also had 8 Defensive Runs Saved in 2003, the first year that informationis available.

In eight seasons at third for the New York Yankees, A-Rod has a cumulative UZR/150 of -1.0, although that number would be much lower if not for a UZR/150 of 20.2 this season for the 762 innings he played at third. Injuries kept him out for a big chunk of the season. He also amassed -11 Defensive Runs Saved in his time with the Yankees.

There are additional examples of players shifiting from shortstop to third and seeing their defense suffer. Rich Aurilia was the every day shortstop for the San Francisco Giants from 1998-2003. Over 9000+ innings, he had a .974 fielding percentage. In 2002 and 2003, the first two years of UZR data, Aurilia posted UZR/150 numbers of 8.9 and 4.2, respectively. Not a defensive whiz, but better numbers than Hanley Ramirez has posted in any one season playing shortstop. After he left the Giants after the 2003 season, Aurilia converted to a utility infielder, playing mostly first, short and third. In nearly 1,400 innings at third, Aurilia posted a -2.3 UZR/150 and had -9 DRS. Again, age almost certainly was a fact or, but switching positions did not work well for Aurilia defensively.

The silver lining for Hanley? Believe it or not — Miguel Tejada. From 1998 to 2009, Tejada was the everyday shortstop for the Athletics, Orioles and Astros and amassed a Total Zone rating of -58 in those seasons. His best UZR/150 rating was 10.1 with the Astros in 2008 but he posted negative UZR/150 numbers in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Not good numbers. In 2010, the Astros moved Tejada to third and he’s played just under 1,200 innings at third over the last two seasons. His UZR/150 over that time is -.6 but he has 1 DRS. Essentially, he played poorly at third in 2010 but played well there in 2011, albeit only in 372 innings. Not much of a silver lining perhaps, but some slim hope that Hanley can turn it around defensively at third base.

But skills, age and history are not on his side.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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Steve
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Steve
4 years 6 months ago

I don’t know if A-Rod has anything to do with Hanley. A-Rod said when he knew he was going to shift to 3B, he bulked up so he could add power at the expense of some of the agility he presumable wouldn’t need. Recently, he’s dropped the bulk and become a much better 3Bman despite getting older. He actually looked quite good this year at 3B, despite all the injuries.

tdotsports1
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

What’s the diff, when Reyes goes down on opening day with a pulled hammy/quad Hanley will be back to SS soon enough!

Gregory
Guest
Gregory
4 years 6 months ago

So what about the fact that they would have declined at SS if they hadn’t move?

Earl Sweatshirt
Guest
Earl Sweatshirt
4 years 6 months ago

Exactly, huge selection bias here.

Justin
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Justin
4 years 6 months ago

Is it, though? They are all defenders who were forced off second. The thesis is that people don’t succeed in that shift. Yes, if you’re forced off SS, it probably means you’re due a decline (except A-Rod…). That’s not a selection bias in as much as it is the sample you want to answer the question.

The only quibble I’d have is that Ripken and A-Rod were above-average to elite defenders, whereas Hanley fits best with the last example in the article, Tejada. Anecdotally, it almost suggests that awful SS’s handle the shift better than above-average ones.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 6 months ago

Indeed. I don’t normally like to sound so critical, but this article is way off base. The few examples cited in the article are all guys who declined due to age/injuries. None of them made the move at age 28.

The reason for the difference in the positional adjustment between SS and 3B (7.5 vs 2.5) is because, historically, players moving between the two positions added/subtracted 5 runs/year.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 6 months ago

The way to correctly do a study like this is to find players who played both positions at the same time in their careers.

For instance, a utilityman like Craig Counsell has spent a ton of time at both SS (3536 innings) and 3B (2604 innings) throughout his career. Looking at the rate stats, his UZR is 10.2 runs/season better at 3B, his TZ is 6 runs/season better at 3B, and his BIS-DRS is 4 runs/season better at 3B.

Brad Johnson
Member
Member
4 years 6 months ago

Today’s quibble is very minor.

“Reyes has a cumulative UZR/150 of 2.1,”

Should read “average UZR/150.” Cumulative implies addition.

A-Rod seems to be quite crappy at handling reaction plays. On the other hand, he was pretty rangy for a guy his size back in his SS days. I half suspect Hanley will transition better to reaction plays and grow to enjoy the lesser range requirements of the position. That’s my 2 cents.

Kris
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Kris
4 years 6 months ago

Is there not a BASEBALL! stylebook? Averaging prorated stats seems almost more goofy than adding them. Either way, I vote “lifetime.”

dougiejays
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I don’t know, seems like some weird correlation/causation stuff here. Guys generally get moved off short in the first place because they’re a) aging and b) losing a step. Not to mention that the average SS has a lot more total chances than the average 3B and positions himself further from the batter’s box. (What’s the overall average Fielding % at third vs the average at short?)

TK
Guest
TK
4 years 6 months ago

Maybe Ramirez won’t be good at third, but he was awful at SS, so moving him seems smart. What would you suggest?

Brian
Guest
Brian
4 years 6 months ago

It’s just my opinion, but Ramirez is a lazy SS.

Had Ramirez been hard working and dilligent, he could be at least an average defender, but his laziness caused him to go from bad to worse.

I like to compare Ramirez to Jeter. Jeter is a terrible defender at SS, but there were a few years you could cleary see when Jeter tried to put in the effort. Despite never being worthy of winning any Gold Glove awards, I could at least accept Jeter as a passable defender in the early 2000’s.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Ramirez.

Whether or not he lacks the natural talent to be a good defender is another question.

Mark Geoffriau
Guest
Mark Geoffriau
4 years 6 months ago

Michael Young seemed to improve (though not dramatically so) moving from SS to 3B.

Young SS UZR/150 = -10.2
Young 3B UZR/150 = -7.5

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Michael Young is a grown man, Hanley, well not so much.

Corey
Guest
Corey
4 years 6 months ago

I’m not a fan of UZR, but that said, your conclusion here is exactly the opposite and your methods far less rigorous than those presented by Baseball Prospectus in “Baseball Between the Numbers,” where they suggest that a move to third from short should mildly improve defense. Now a scouting, rather than statistical approach might look at specific tools at Ramirez’ disposal and conclude what the best move FOR RAMIREZ would be, but the fact that moving in a small number of cases hasn’t worked out, independent of any considerations on aging, isn’t tremendously compelling here. To begin with your ARod example, you’re completely comparing apples and oranges here, ARod was a tremendous defensive shortstop with good range before the move to 3rd, a quick reaction-low speed position. Ramirez lacks A-Rod’s range or overall ability at short, and it’s entirely possible 3rd is more appropriate for Ramirez’ skill set anyway. Even taking UZR at face value this is really uncompelling. To accept this analysis one would have to believe either that 3rd base is incompatable with Hanley’s skill set, something you’ve made no effort to address, or that 3rd base is a harder position than shortstop, which is inconsistent with past research.

Josiah
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Josiah
4 years 6 months ago

I agree with the correlation/causation point. It seems that this article just makes the point than ARod and Ripken were worse defensively as they aged. They just happened to be moving to third. Considering that playing 3B is moving down the defensive spectrum from SS, players should generally play better defensively there.

M.Twain
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M.Twain
4 years 6 months ago

No offense Wendy, but your last two articles suggest that defensive metrics are not your strong suit.

jordan_s
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jordan_s
4 years 6 months ago

hanley is going to be poor at third not because of his range, but because his throwing accuracy is horrific.

JP
Guest
JP
4 years 6 months ago

The author and comments note the correlation/causation issue here (was it just age causing both the position change and worse performance?)

Hanley is still in his prime, so let’s assume for at least the next couple seasons, he will not suffer any age-related decline.

SS ranks higher than 3B on the defensive spectrum. I know the defensive spectrum isn’t hierarchical, (catchers can’t just run out and play CF). Generally though, isn’t it the case that many SS’s could play 3B, but not as many 3B could play SS? There’s a reason we have plenty of examples of players moving from SS to 3B, but not the other way around. While the skills are not identical, 3B is a bit easier to play than SS.

So assuming no age-related decline, maybe things won’t be so bleak for Hanley at the hot corner (or no bleaker than they were for him at short).

Ideally, I guess we would want to measure Hanley’s skills at SS that will be most important at 3B (arm strength, quick reactions on hard hit balls) and de-emphasize skills that will not be so relevant (ability to cover longer distances, going back on pop ups to CF, etc.)

Lewie Pollis
Member
4 years 6 months ago

The A-Rod and Ripken examples are interesting, but they’re the exceptions, not the rule. I think it’s pretty much accepted that shortstop is more difficult to play than any other infield position. That’s why there’s a positional adjustment in fWAR.

I agree with your conclusions, but for very different reasons. Ramirez will need some time to adjust to 3B (and he’s reportedly unhappy about moving), he’s not getting any younger, and—most importantly—he isn’t a very good fielder to begin with.

Anyway, interesting piece, but I think the idea that SS is easier than 3B has been pretty well debunked.

Schu
Guest
Schu
4 years 6 months ago

“Hanley’s displeasure” link is broken

Max
Guest
Max
4 years 6 months ago

It’s just missing a colon after the http

spliff(TONE)
Guest
spliff(TONE)
4 years 6 months ago

I would strongly disagree with the notion that Tejada played well at 3B in 2011. Dude looked like a teetering cement statue.

Julian
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

With the exception of one awfully lazy play against the Nationals, in which he seemed to let an easy groundball roll right past him, I thought he was solid at third. Good enough range/arm at third, though his SS defense was certainly awful.

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 6 months ago

Sorry but nothing Tejada did last year was “solid”

JSprech
Guest
JSprech
4 years 6 months ago

My thoughts echo some of the other comments… there is definitely a selection bias for high-profile players here. I know it would be more work, but in order to have a completely accurate and objective look at what the transition from SS to 3B or vice versa has on a player defensively, you would have to take a look at every player who has made the switch, or at the very least take a larger sample size than A-Rod, Ripken, Tejada, etc. Only looking at ‘marquee’ players leads me to completely disregard this article. Hopefully I kept my criticism constructive.

Phylan
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Fielding percentage and single-season UZR values are probably not the way to make this case.

Fjs
Guest
Fjs
4 years 6 months ago

What about Travis Fryman?

Perceptron
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

NOTE: This is just for fun.

It doesn’t add much to the discussion, but we can attempt to look at this from a scouting perspective. Click on my name for a link to the positional averages for each rating from Tango’s Fans Scouting Report. I also included Hanley’s ratings for the last three years.

The fans really don’t like Hanley’s throwing accuracy, which doesn’t play well at 3B for obvious reasons, just like it didn’t play well at SS. He’s much faster than the average 3B, but I’m not sure that gives him much. However, his instincts, first step, hands, and release are all about average for a 3B, although poor for a SS. His speed and arm strength play well above average at 3B.

Thus it seems whereas Hanley is sub-average at SS in most areas, he is average among 3Bs. His accuracy remains a problem, but his strength could help. My guess is that he will play at about the same level as he did at SS, which isn’t great but I wouldn’t expect him to be even worse at 3B

mike
Guest
mike
4 years 6 months ago

hands and instincts would be more important at 3B then SS because of shorter reaction time at 3B compared to SS. so how could he be rated average for those at 3B and poor at SS? it seems contradictory to me. also (if we are speaking from a scouting perspective) hanley seems to have less troubles with balls that are hit hard and require him to act quickly and decisively, where slower balls that he has time to square up and make a throw seem more difficult. (this could be seen as a result of hanleys questionable mental make up) with that type of observation it seems as though he would have a much better time a 3B as compared to SS.

dusty baker's toothpick
Guest
dusty baker's toothpick
4 years 6 months ago

They should probably move him to center field. Doesn’t need a good arm. His quickness/speed/reactions would all be an asset there

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 6 months ago

Wasn’t ARod a better shortstop than Jeter when he got to NY? With his speed, maybe Hanley might make a better outfielder than a 3B?

BlackOps
Guest
BlackOps
4 years 6 months ago

A-Rod is probably still a better shortstop than Jeter is.

Mark Geoffriau
Guest
Mark Geoffriau
4 years 6 months ago

Hanley in the outfield reminds me too much of Soriano’s move the LF (granted, again, a move that happened as he was aging past his prime).

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 6 months ago

UZR views Soriano to be an above average LF, a few years ago he rated as the best GD LF’er not named carl Crawford. Seriously he back-to-back seasons of +33 and +16 UZR. He still rates above average.

Hanley should be better than that.

I’d prefer to have him in the IF.

Mark Geoffriau
Guest
Mark Geoffriau
4 years 6 months ago

Yeah, I’m aware Soriano rated well above average when he first moved to the OF. He can be tough to watch, though. And while there was often talk that Soriano could play CF, he was moved to LF, not CF, as is being talked about here with Hanley.

Mark Geoffriau
Guest
Mark Geoffriau
4 years 6 months ago

Besides, they’ve put up with his sub-par defense at SS for years — if he is remotely serviceable at 3B, he retains more value than as an outfielder.

John
Guest
John
4 years 6 months ago

He has tremendously more value as a center fielder. How many CF are there that hit 900+ OPS every year? Assuming he won’t be a defenseive liability that is the only move for the Marlins to make.

Mark Geoffriau
Guest
Mark Geoffriau
4 years 6 months ago

Well, last year, for example, there were 3 CF’s with 900+ OPS (Kemp, Ellsbury, and Granderson, with Hamilton knocking on the door). There was 1 3B with 900+ OPS (Sandoval, and Beltre just missed the cut off).

In 2010 it was pretty close (3 3B with 899+, 2 CF with 900+).

In 2009 CF was tougher (5-6 3B within a few points of 900+, only 1 CF).

In 2008, 4 3B with 898+, 1 CF.

In 2007, 6 3B, and 3 CF.

Granted, counting the number of players with 900+ OPS is a pretty poor measure, but I can’t say that it supports the conclusion that Hanley is tremendously more valuable as a CF.

Mark Geoffriau
Guest
Mark Geoffriau
4 years 6 months ago

Some further research indicates that the average CF is indeed a weaker hitter than the average 3B. Therefore, if we can assume that Hanley would offer similar defensive value at both CF and 3B (something that remains to be seen, since we have no data on his performance at either position), he would in fact be more valuable in CF than at 3B, as John rightly suggests. Hat tip, John.

This THT article was particularly helpful.

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-burdens-of-being-average/

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 6 months ago

We’re looking at SS UZR, where range is paramount, and making assumptions at how the player may perform at 3B, where reactions are most important.

3B and SS require different strengths. SS is range. 3B is reaction.

So a good SS may not inherently be a good 3B due to the different nature of the positions. Still, more times than not one would expect a SS to be able to play a good 3B.

Others have addressed the ARod/Cal age selection bias that would result in them being declining fielders regardless of position.

I don’t know enough about hanley to know where he has the reaction to play 3B. He certainly doesn’t have the range to play SS as evident by all of the balls that get by his backhand side. One can see that in a limited sample even.

But, at 3B he’s not going to be fielding balls that are 2 steps away. He’ll basically have 1 step and a lunge/dive.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 6 months ago

Agree that a lot of people forget how important quick-twitch reactions and having good instincts is at 3B. But having a strong and accurate arm is also important.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 6 months ago

I was commenting with the assumption that a major league shortstop has a strong accurate arm.

YazInLeft8
Member
4 years 6 months ago

You butchered the word measured.

Be kind to measured.

MGL
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

There is no doubt that moving a player from SS to 3B, on the average, at the same point in his career, creates a better defender (relative to other players at that position of course). If that were not the case, then you would not see much better hitters at 3B than at 3rd. There are 2 principal reasons you see better hitters at one position than another, with the first reason being much more important. One, if a position is more difficult (or distasteful, like catching) defensively, then the pool of players to choose from is smaller – hence worse hitters. Two, one position may require certain physical attributes that are correlated negatively with hitting.

In any case, we get the defensive spectrum and the defensive adjustments precisely from looking at players who have played more than one position at around the same time in their careers (age-wise). We can also get some evidence from scouting (e.g. you don’t have to study the numbers to see that the average first baseman is a worse defender than the average SS). Typically, we also put the better defenders at a position that gets the most opportunities per game. SS gets many more opps per game than 3B, so again, more evidence (not that we need any more) that the average SS is better than the average 3B.

Now, all that being said, to address the issue of “history tells us” is fine, however, using anecdotes or cherry picking players is not very helpful. If you want “history to tell you something” you need to choose a large, unbiased, random set of players that match the player in question as closely as possible.

Also, when we talk about average translations from one position to another, we know intuitively that it varies considerably from player to player because of the different skills needed at the different defensive positions. This is one of those (not so frequent) times when knowing something about the “average player” is not very useful when discussing a particular player (unless you know nothing else about that player other than the position he is moving from and to and perhaps his age). For example, if a 2B has a terrible arm, it is likely that he will do particularly badly at SS or 3B and probably wouldn’t be moved there in the first place. If a player is big, with quick and sure hands, but not very agile or rangy he may do much better at 3B than at SS or 2B. If a player is very rangy, but does not have a strong arm or quick hands, maybe he would do better at SS than at 3B even though on the average players do better at 3B than at SS (again, relative to their peers at that position).

Finally, as many people have pointed out, the “reason” (maybe not the only one – again, these are just anecdotes) that these players did worse at 3B was because of two things: age and regression toward the mean. Age: players decline significantly with age at most positions, so if you take a player at SS, say in years 1-5, and then move him to 3rd, you have quite a bit of aging probably more than enough to make him “worse” at 3B. If you take a player from years 1-10 (or more) at SS and move him to 3B, like Ripken, of course he is going to much worse! Regression: This is hard to understand for many people, but if we choose purposely or accidentally, players who were above-average in a certain metric, then in ANY other sample, be it at another position or the same position, they will appear to decline (their metric will be worse) simply because the in-sample (original) metric was an overstatement of his true talent in the first place – i.e., on the average, the player got lucky in that first sample.

Hope that helps…

MGL
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

” correlated negatively”\
I meant just correlated (positively or negatively)…

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
4 years 6 months ago

Just pulled out this list of guys from the past 5 years or so, without going to much effort. There’s some sample size issues here-I arbitrarily tried to make sure they had at least 700 innings at each position, but more would have been better.

Bill Hall was slightly better at third base than shortstop.

Macier Izturis seems slightly better as a shortstop.

Juan Uribe is a better defender at third base than shortstop.

Jerry Hairston seems to have been more effective as a shortstop than a thirdbaseman.

Jamey Carroll looks like a better third baseman than shortstop.

Willie Bloomquist played better defense at shortstop than third base.

Emilio Bonifacio was not as bad a third baseman as he was a shortstop.

Carlos Guillen seems to have been more effective as a shortstop than a thirdbaseman (this might be subject to selection bias, though, as he was moved off of the shortstop position when he lost the ability to play there)

Jeff Keppinger seems like a better defender at third base than short stop.

Jhonny Peralta doesn’t seem to be noticeably better or worse.

So it’s a mixed bag. SSS caveats all over, but several of those played both positions with the same seasons, and still proved to play shortstop better than third base. I don’t know that we can draw any assumptions from the numbers alone.

A bit of thought tells us that someone who has been a shortstop that doesn’t take the effort to learn to field a new position is likely to succeed than someone who embraces being moved, and continues to work to improve their defense there. Unfortunately, there’s no measurable for “dedication,” so we can’t really know until after the fact.

fergie348
Guest
fergie348
4 years 6 months ago

If we did have a measurement for “dedication” I”m pretty sure that Hanley would have a low value. He’s mad talented but he’s coasting..

TheBigsdisciple
Member
TheBigsdisciple
4 years 6 months ago

Has anyone thought about 2B for Hanley?

TheBigsdisciple
Member
TheBigsdisciple
4 years 6 months ago

Omar Infante puts his best defensive numbers up at 3rd anyway. Emilio to OF.

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