Over the winter, the Cardinals made the controversial decision to release Adam Kennedy and replace him at second base with Skip Schumaker, a career outfielder with almost no experience at the position. They felt he was athletic enough to make the conversion and could handle the duties of the keystone well enough to justify the experiment.
Early in the season, they were taking a beating for it, as the move looked like a disaster. As RJ noted in mid-May, Schumaker had the worst UZR of any second baseman in baseball, standing at -7 runs in just six weeks of baseball. He just wasn’t making the plays necessary at the position. The learning curve had proven steep.
Schumaker’s UZR since May 17th? -0.7. After a rough start, the best defensive metric we have thinks he’s been basically average for the last four months. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Cardinals themselves have improved a great deal since then as well, running away with the NL Central in the process. And they’ve done it by preventing runs with a heavy ground ball pitching staff.
Knowing Dave Duncan‘s desire to spread the gospel of the two-seam fastball, the Cardinals know the importance of infield defense to their success. Despite the risks, they were still willing to take a gamble on Schumaker’s ability to turn himself into a decent defender at the position, and they held to their convictions even after a really bad start to the season. Their reward? A league average hitter who can hold his own as a middle infielder.
The Cardinals deserve a lot of credit for not just making the move, but sticking with it. I have a feeling they won’t be the last team to get away from strict mindsets about what types of players can play certain positions. As teams experience success moving guys like Schumaker to second base, I have a feeling we’ll see this trend take off.