Speed For Second Base

Over the last few days, we’ve talked about the positional relationship between second base and third base. In trying to figure out which position actually has the superior defenders at it, we’ve looked at players who spent time at both spots, and their performance at both positions. Despite second base having a reputation as a premium defensive position, guys who play third base and then move to second don’t seem to perform any worse after moving, which suggests that perhaps the crop of second baseman isn’t actually all that much better defensively than the crop of third baseman.

However, there’s an issue of selection bias here. By looking at players who spent a decent amount of time at each position, we’re looking at players that major league managers have already decided have the ability to handle both positions at least well enough to play there on a limited basis. Our sample isn’t randomly selected, but is instead selected based on another person’s predetermined positive view of their defensive skills.

How do we get around the selection bias problem? After all, what we really are wondering is how players who haven’t been moved to 2B would perform if they were to be shifted, and for those players, we clearly don’t have any UZR data for them at second base. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have any information about them at all. We do have the Fans Scouting Report, which provides us some skill based info about what the fans of each team think about the respective abilities of these players, and allows us to compare skills across positions.

I took all second baseman and third baseman and sorted by speed, since that is the thing that most people agree is more important at second base than at third base. Not surprisingly, the fastest of the fast play second base, and the slowest of the slow play third base. This is what we’d expect. It’s the guys in the middle that are the ones that we’re mainly discussing, though, so I filtered only players who had a speed rating between 60 and 70 (remember, 50 is average). These are players whom, based on just their speed rating, should qualify as potential second baseman. This gave us 17 players. Of these 17, one is an SS playing out of position (Asdrubal Cabrera), seven are full time second baseman, six are full time third baseman, and three are utility players. That worked out pretty nicely.

In terms of their average ratings by skill, the 17 players were as follows:

Instincts: 73
First Step: 71
Speed: 64
Hands: 69
Release: 70
Strength: 60
Accuracy: 65

Now, here are the averages for the six third baseman who should qualify as potential second baseman just based on their speed score. In parentheses, I’ve put the number representing the 3B ratings above or below the average of the eight true middle infielders included (I’m throwing out the utility players).

Instincts: 83 (+7)
First Step: 74 (+0)
Speed: 64 (-1)
Hands: 80 (+7)
Release: 78 (+2)
Strength: 74 (+16)
Accuracy: 67 (-6)

According to the Fans Scouting Report, the fast third baseman have better instincts, the same first step and speed, better hands, the same release, much stronger arms, but the latter comes at a cost of some accuracy.

Overall, though, there’s nothing in the skills analysis of the Fans eyes to suggest that the six “fast” third baseman – Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Adrian Beltre, Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Eric Chavez – are inferior defensive players to the eight middle infielders on the list – Kaz Matsui, Asdrubal Cabrera, Orlando Hudson, Howie Kendrick, Aaron Hill, Chase Utley, Mark Ellis, and Akinori Iwamura.

However, there is one significant difference between the two groups. Yep, you guessed it.

Average 3B height: 6’1
Average 2B height: 5’11

Of players who were rated by their teams fans as having enough speed for second base, the tall guys end up at third and the short guys end up at second. There are no other disqualifying aspects of their ratings that would cause these third baseman to be unable to play second base. They’re just apparently too tall.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


64 Responses to “Speed For Second Base”

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  1. Doc K says:

    What will become of Emmanuel Burriss ? Are there any legit probabilities of trade or is that strictly speculation ? Peace and be safe, Doc K

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  2. Derek Rabideau says:

    Interesting. I wonder if we will be seeing the “Cal Ripken” type at 2nd base now. With Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, and others all ready showing their can be power out of a good fielding second baseman. I wonder if more “3rd base” type players will be playing second to help give their lineup more pop.

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  3. JWay says:

    Explains why in highschool even though my arm and defense was better than the 3B we had (possibly the SS for that matter) that I got stuck at 2B, I was the shortest player on the team.

    :)

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    • qqqqqqqq says:

      It’s nice to see someone who plays baseball is interested in sabermetrics. That said, it’d be cool to see Brian Bannister comment on Fangraphs.

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  4. david h says:

    Isn’t arm strength a significant difference?

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Not one that would explain why these guys are disqualified from playing second base while simultaneously accepting the notion that second base is a more important defensive position.

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      • david h says:

        True. But in the reverse, doesn’t it qualify them to play third more than their second basemen counterparts? While the second basemen who have moved to third may have performed equally well there, I think we’d need to see how the subset of weak-armed second basemen perform at third. (David Bell was pretty good over there and, at least from my own observations, he had a terribly weak arm, which was perhaps compensated with a very quick release)

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  5. Matt says:

    I’ve liked following this 2B/3B series of posts, but honestly trusting anything voted on by fans, much less something as involved as scouting is more than a little ridiculous to me.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      The Fans Scouting Report correlates quite well to UZR. Do you think using UZR is ridiculous?

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      • patrickc says:

        How many ballots do we need to get an accurate Fan Scouting Report? I ask because I noticed that the ratings you used for Eric Chavez in a previous post came from only 10 ballots…

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      • Matt says:

        These are the fans voting on Tango’s site, so there is a good chance they have seen good defensive metrics, even if it says not to look at nunbers. So that is not entirely surprising.

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      • Matt says:

        They know who is a good defender, that doesn’t mean they can pick out individual traits with any regularity.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        So, you’re willing to admit that fans know a good defender when they see one and that the results of the FSR correlates well to the advanced defensive metrics, but even with those concessions, you believe the report is useless?

        Okay, fine. I don’t know how to help you. Believe what you want.

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    • JWay says:

      I believe the fans that voted on this watch baseball. Are they professional scouts? No, but if you watch your home team play 40 times a year, you get a decent look at how many balls drop in LF, or how many plays your 3B seems to make, etc.

      While it could be received as a popularity contest, the ballot and voting process took more time than most non dedicated fans would probably give.
      If it correlates, and there’s a decent sample size, there’s no reason to throw out their reliability. Would I swear by the accuracy personally? No, but generally I’d say its useful information.

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  6. patrickc says:

    Why do you assume it’s height and not weight/build? I averaged the weights for the players you list and got 222.5 for the 3B and 188.2 for the 2B. That seems more substantial than the 2″ of difference in average height. (I took weights from ESPN.com for no particular reason, other than BR listed A-Rod at 190 lbs, which seems outdated.)

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      There are quite a few fat/stocky second baseman. Ronnie Belliard, Dan Uggla, Jose Lopez, Juan Uribe, and Howie Kendrick are all thick bodied guys.

      There aren’t any tall second baseman.

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      • david h says:

        Jeff Kent, who’s been terrible lately, though that can largely or entirely be attributed to various nagging injuries and age.

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      • Terminator X says:

        Of which Uribe is the only one who is a significantly above average fielding 2B. Belliard/Uggla/Lopez are all average to a tick below average, and Kendrick only has ~1700 innings logged there so you can’t really draw any meaningful conclusions from his +3.8 UZR/150. Hell for that matter Uribe only has ~1000 innings at 2B so I’m not sure how much you can infer from his +10.8 UZR/150, but it’s probably safe to say he’s a plus defender.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        The point, though, is that teams will let the short/stocky types play second base, but not the tall/thin types. This disputes the notion that weight, not height, is the thing that teams are focusing on.

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      • Terminator X says:

        Then yes, that would appear to be correct. Interesting.

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  7. Dave Cameron says:

    Apparently, we can’t reply to a reply.

    How many ballots do we need to get an accurate Fan Scouting Report?

    More than 10, certainly, but Chavez isn’t an unknown. A’s fans filled out 50 ballots on him in 2007, and he was better across the board then than last year. It’s highly unlikely that we’re overrating Chavez’s defense here.

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  8. patrickc says:

    Except Alexei Ramirez, right? And, the weight I pulled for Howie Kendrick was 200, which is still substantially less than the average from your group.

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  9. don says:

    How good is data from the Fan’s Scouting Report, really?

    It doesn’t seem to correlate very well with the statistical data, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a huge ‘reputation’ factor in it.

    As an example, Chase Utley was ranked as the 10th best fielding second baseman. He was behind, among others, Alexei Ramirez and Orlando Hudson. Hudson’s probably there by reputation, I don’t know about Ramirez. In any event, +/- and UZR disagree. As another example, the Fan’s Scouting Report has Adrian Gonzalez about 10 spots ahead of Carlos Pena.

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  10. Dave Cameron says:

    These are the fans voting on Tango’s site, so there is a good chance they have seen good defensive metrics, even if it says not to look at nunbers. So that is not entirely surprising.

    Then how do you explain the positive correlation between the Fans Scouting Report and players who we had no data on, such as rookies? The fans rated Longoria as an elite defensive player, and they obviously didn’t have previous season’s UZR’s for him.

    They rated Upton as a terrific defensive CF – UZR thought he was a problem out there last year.

    Rockies fans loved Tulowitzki before they’d ever seen a UZR on him. Same with Twins fans this year and Carlos Gomez/Denard Span.

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    • Matt says:

      I thought Tulo and Longoria were going to be great defenders before I had ever seen them play because I had read scouting reports. I don’t doubt that the fans can pick out good defenders. I doubt they can pick out individual traits well enough without bias to be making the argument you are.

      I mean I completely disagree with a bunch of the traits on the Marlins and I watched about 150 games last year, although the overall numbers mesh with about what I thought for most players.

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      • Matt says:

        Upton is a perfect example for my argument. League average instincts are you kidding me? With his physical traits if he had league average instincts he’d be a ++ defensive player.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        +5 as a CF is a ++ defender.

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      • Matt says:

        I mean he was -4 the year before, with an even higher instincts rating.

        That correlation page is very interesting. I still have a hard time believing that people voted Jorge Cantu as league average arm strength, or Hanley Ramirez’s instincts as a 72.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        For a more instructive discussion, why don’t you point out the ratings of the third baseman listed above that you disagree with. Tell me why Adrian Beltre can’t play second base. Tell me why Ryan Zimmerman can’t play second base.

        That’s what I want to know.

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      • Matt says:

        Look at my argument, it doesn’t say that they couldn’t. I don’t know if they could or couldn’t.

        What it does say is that taking fans scouting of individual characteristics is a poor way to go about looking at this. There is too much bias, and crazy outliers. How many fans know what 70 instincts looks like? Narrowing the reason down to a 2″ difference in height from this seems like a stretch. I mean there are professional scouts who do this for a living and recommended moving them to that position.

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  11. drew says:

    I can’t help but think about “Dollar sign on the muscle” when they talk about how thick legged players won’t age well up the middle. And that you need guys with skinny legs to play 2nd and SS.

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  12. lookatthosetwins says:

    I was wondering what you would think about trying this from a different angle. I was thinking of looking at the “speed score” for 2nd basemen and 3rd basemen. “Speed scores” can be calculated a number of different ways, but it generally would be a measure of stolen bases/attempts, first to thirds, etc. etc. It might not be perfect, since running the bases is different than playing the field, but it would be nice to see this from a few different angles.

    I like the fan’s scouting report, I think its certainly a good tool. It isn’t perfect either though, people’s minds are definately skewed by things they read and hear. I guess just seeing some sort of baserunning metric would help to cement the point, especially for those who dismiss the fan’s without cause.

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  13. Reality Rog says:

    #37 overall 2008 draft pick Conor Gillaspie is said to be athletic enough to shift to second base, even though he isn’t considered to be a great third baseman. He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds.

    Do you have any knowledge, Dave, that would reflect on his ability or inability to make the switch should the Giants decide to make a stab at it?

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  14. Dave says:

    There you have it people. The only possible confounding variables in this study can be found in the awesomely biased fan ratings. Thus, height must be the reason players play third instead of second. I also liked the arbitrary 50 to 70 speed range selection. Good study all around

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  15. Dave says:

    The fans scouting report is not proven useful in this manner because it correlates well with defensive metrics. Everyone knew Longoria was a good defender before any metric came out because many scouts said so. Same with Upton. Confirmation Bias.

    And even if fans did know how good overall a defender is, that does not mean they know much about how good his instincts or hands or any other specific abilities are.

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  16. Ryan says:

    The height/weight issue could be tied to expected offensive performance. A young hitter without much power and good defensive skills would more likely be shifted. Whereas, a guy who’s bat “plays” at 3B might not even if he can play the position.

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  17. Dave says:

    I think Matt phrased it perfectly in this thread previously when he said:

    “I thought Tulo and Longoria were going to be great defenders before I had ever seen them play because I had read scouting reports. I don’t doubt that the fans can pick out good defenders. I doubt they can pick out individual traits well enough without bias to be making the argument you are.

    I mean I completely disagree with a bunch of the traits on the Marlins and I watched about 150 games last year, although the overall numbers mesh with about what I thought for most players.”

    Of course Dave did not answer that but opted for the snarky reply to a much less in depth comment

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    • Terminator X says:

      I appreciate all that Dave does and am a regular USSM reader, but I agree that the snarky dismissive replies and strawman arguments to anyone that provides a legitimate counterargument grow old quickly. If the fan scouting reports were as simple as Range, Glove, Arm Strength, and Arm Accuracy it seems like they might be more reliable (note: I’m not saying they’re NOT reliable – I know little about them). I just find it unlikely that fans can accurately break down fielding into such specific attributes with a terrible amount of repeatable success from simply watching games on TV or from likely less-than-ideal seats.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      I’m happy to have a productive discussion with people who have an open mind. I’m not going to waste my time with “fans are dumb, this whole thing is pointless.”

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      • Terminator X says:

        But the thing is I don’t believe anyone has said that, explicitly at least. I think there was a guy or two who strongly implied they were unreliable and shouldn’t be used, but I believe most of us agree they have some value – as a group we just need to collectively make sure they’re being used in their correct manner.

        “How many fans know what 70 instincts looks like? ” is an extremely valid question that deserves an answer. Not necessarily from you, but from someone (Tango?).

        “I mean there are professional scouts who do this for a living and recommended moving them to that position.” This however is essentially an appeal to authority, which fails to prove anything, and is especially useless when the basis of the discussion is on challenging conventional belief.

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      • Matt says:

        You’re right and I should not have put that line. However, I still stand by the rest of the argument.

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  18. Ken Arneson says:

    Just talked to my business partner, who played 3B at a Pac-10 school, about this. He’s a perfect example of this sort of “discrimination”: he hit like a second baseman (no power, lots of speed), but because he was 6’2″, he ended up at third base. I teased him, “Man, if you had been 5’11”, you’d have been a second baseman and someone would have drafted you.”

    He made an interesting point: he said he had a hard time at second base because his long wingspan made it difficult for him to turn a double play quickly. Guys with shorter arms can wind up and release it faster.

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    • Terminator X says:

      Your point on turning two is interesting, but suffers from the same problematic assumption that the leg length argument does when you try to apply it to a large group and come to conclusions (which I don’t believe is what you were doing, but regardless) – that arm length does not necessarily evenly correlate to height.

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  19. Eric M. Van says:

    I’m not as dismissive of the Fan Scouting Report as some, nor as confident in it as Dave is. But there’s one thing I can guarantee you can’t be counted on: comparisons *across positions* of everything but speed. First step, instincts, arm strength, hands — all those are automatically evaluated in comparison to same-position peers. Even though Tom asks fans to rate these aspects independent of position (and he has great reasons for doing so), I think that’s a difficult task for a professional observer and an impossible one for the average fan. I mean, Kevin Youkilis’ first step looks better at 3B than it does at 1B. It’s just a bitch to get right.

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  20. David says:

    I think you have to remember, every team has a different set of personnel to choose from. let’s look at Tampa Bay. would Iwamura be a decent choice at 3rd base? yes. would Longoria do the job at 2nd base? yes. is it better to play Longoria at 3rd and Iwamura at 2nd (ignoring the whole height-weight point you keep bringing up)? yes. why? let’s use the fan scouting reports.

    Longoria is better than Iwamura across the board. assuming 2B relies more on speed and 3B more on the arm, we’ll notice that Longoria is (on average) 3 points better in the speed attributes (first step and speed), but on average 17 points better in the arm attributes (release, strength, accuracy). ignoring the fact that Iwamura is small and Longoria is big, I think we can at least understand why the Rays might want to arrange their personnel in this way. (there’s probably other factors involved – maybe Longoria has never played 2B at the professional level in his life)

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  21. tangotiger says:

    Great discussion guys. I enjoy it very much.

    The readers that dismiss the Fans Scouting Report out-of-hand: you have to be fair and take the time to understand the process and results. If you don’t want to do that, then state that up front, since obviously we are not going to have a productive discussion.

    The readers that dismiss the Fans Scouting Report after giving it some consideration: it is really irrelevant that you provide a summary conclusion as to why you disagree with it. It’s the same thing as having an unsupported opinion. Again, no productive discussion can take place, unless we have something we can talk about. Some basis, something.

    The readers that dismiss (or discount) the Fans Scouting Report with thoughtful analysis: good. There is nothing, nothing at all in the world, that has a reliability of 1. These are samples, and samples have biases. So does UZR. So does OBP, and K/IP. The question is how reliable are these samples. I can tell you that after 15 ballots, reliability is at .90. Gallup will kill to get numbers like that with just 15 votes.

    As for the individual traits, and the position-bias: certainly that is possible. I’m asking humans in an uncontrolled setting. It’s the best I can do here. But, two MLB teams asked their scouts to fill out the ballots. And they agree that the results were very similar. They disagreed on instincts, which is no surprise. They have value. How much is the question of course.

    I will say that given the UZR of rookies, and given the Fans results of those same rookies, I would trust the Fans much more. Look at how UZR thought of Zimmerman in his rookie year, then look at the Fans. And year after year, the Fans have Zimmerman high. But UZR only was that high on him in his 2nd year.

    Perhaps this is a confirmation bias, but so what. All the Fans results are telling us is what is representative of what they think. If what they think is influenced by what they read, then fine. However, as someone else noted, filling out the ballot is not for everyone. It takes time, and it takes some effort. And some 1500 or 2000 people think it has enough value for them to fill it out.

    Finally, what is it that you’d like to see to confirm, or not confirm, that the results have any value? So far, the reasons I see is “because I’ve seen this guy and he’s not good”. But, that goes against the 20 or 50 or 100 people that did see this guy, that spent time to tell me. Why would the one person who didn’t participate count for more than the 30 that did?

    Oh, and it’s not people from my site. It’s from all over the web. SBNation, Fanhome in the past, Primer, Hardball times. A bunch of blogs and forums link to it.

    In short, there’s alot of misconceptions and prejudging going on, and that’s not really worthy of discussion, since opinions have been made without basis in fact or evidence.

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    • Terminator X says:

      Do you have a link to the best explanation of your Fan Scouting Reports available off-hand? I’ll go digging through your site later looking for it myself, but I’m just headed out the door to work and it seems many of us could benefit from seeing a more thorough explanation of them. Thanks the the input.

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  22. Matt says:

    You can just google Fan Scouting Report, there is an explanation.

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  23. Dave says:

    I don’t think the fans scouting reports should be thrown out at all. My problem is when someone tries to draw a conclusion solely off of fan scouting reports. Any study using strictly the fan scouting reports should not be used to draw a conclusion on the abilities of a player, but the fans’ perceptions of a players’ abilities.

    The fans scouting reports are interesting and very well could be excellent estimators of defense. However, much more evidence than correlation with overall defense metrics is needed to show that they offer us anything beyond what other metrics do. Until, more evidence is shown anything using fans scouting report should come with a big confirmation bias red flag.

    Again, I am not saying they should be thrown out at all. It just makes me uneasy seeing people so accepting of something that has some HUGE bias questions unanswered.

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    • Matt says:

      I completely agree, and have probably been rash in the way that I presented my opinions, and definitely not nearly as articulate as I wish I was. But this is what I wanted to say. I participated and think it is an interesting study, but just not to be taken the way it has been here.

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    • Terminator X says:

      Unfortunately however, it appears to be the only real source we have readily available that breaks defense down into more specific pieces. I think we would all love to have more information available to us but unfortunately this is about it as far as breaking down defense into isolated areas. Tom is clearly a smart guy however, so until I get around to researching the FSR’s myself I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and take his word that once you reach 15 ballots reliability is at ~.90. For the time being at least.

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      • tangotiger says:

        I should note that while reliability is .90, that simply implies consistency among voters. It doesn’t mean they are right… just that they are representative among people who read blogs, like all of us fine folk.

        In addition to having two pro scouts fill out the ballots to confirm the fans, I asked Dave Cameron here, a trustworthy fan of Mariner baseball to evaluate and compare against the 100+ MAriner fans who filled in the ballots. You can read it here:
        http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-fans-scouting-report/

        I think it gives a pretty good primer on the Fans Scouting Report.

        I appreciate the more reasoned responses here. It’s easy in a message board to say whatever, but seeing that we spend a bit of time here, there’s no reason we can’t try to make this as productive as we can. So, I look forward to hearing additional constructive dialogue.

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  24. Matt says:

    Tango, question. As I look through the rankings the agreements are all lower than .90. Just wondering why then the reliability you are talking about comes up as that? Thanks.

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  25. tangotiger says:

    Matt, those reliability numbers you are referring refers to something else.

    What I am saying is that if you have 30 ballots, and you split them up randomly into two 15-ballot groups, the correlation between the two groups will be .90. That’s an enormous level of agreement.

    This is similar to when I ask my readers to vote on how much CC will get paid, or ARod will get paid, etc. After 20 or 30 votes, the results barely change, even when I’m up to 150 votes.

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  26. John says:

    The issue with the 2nd vs. 3rd thing is underrating the extended, quick mobility needed at 2nd base versus the short, reflex based mobility needed at 3rd. Taller players are at a disadvantage in the movements of playing 2nd since that position needs quick, choppy steps as well as the point above about turning the double play. Look at a 2nd basemen and the type of steps that are used to range and field, the short steps are especially necessary when getting closer to the ball, taller players would tend to misstep unless they were excellent athletes. 3rd almost exclusively requires a one step movements and thus doesn’t need many short steps. During my collegiate summers I played in a competitive summer league where I played many positions and the only position I couldn’t play well/average was 2nd because I couldn’t chop my steps well enough.

    Basically, if you have a tall, athletic enough player to play 2nd, they usually end up playing SS since height will correlate to arm strength in general as well. Think Ripken, A-rod, etc.

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    • david h says:

      This is a common problem among many of the comments regarding these 2b/3b posts. The quick step issue, the strong arm issue — all that would be reflected in the defensive performance when a tall 3b moves to 2b. Dave is arguing, with examples, that when third basemen move to second base, their performance at second is no worse.

      Regarding turning the double play, and its possible relation to arm length and arm length’s correlation to height, this might be a valid point. I am not sure, but if I recall correctly, UZR does not account for double plays, so if a 3b goes to 2b and does everything as well as he did at third, and as well as a short guy, except turning a double play, UZR will show no decline.

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  27. John says:

    David h

    At least my comment was going more toward an explanation for why more tall players aren’t put at 2nd instead of 3rd. While dave’s examples do indicate a similar performance he does admit that the pool is somewhat biased versus the average 3b because teams/managers have concluded that the 3rd basemen could play 2nd, thus why we have data for them at 2nd. We’ve seen a decent amount of 3rd base prospects tried at 2nd because of blocking issues but not many of them end up at 2nd (think Ian Stewart not making it after a trial). I think if we had data from these players playing 2nd (the ones deemed not able to play 2nd but able to play 3rd) we’d have a better feel for performance differences.

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  28. Dave says:

    I doubt anyone will read this, but how do you say justin upton is a +5 CF when he was -5 at RF. CHONE has him in the negatives at centerfield next year to on baseball projections. Very annoying that someone like Dave would post that he is plus 5 CF like it is a fact.

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  29. Dave says:

    Well, nevermind I guess we may have been talking about B.J. instead of Justin. My bad

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  30. Charlie says:

    I recall Bill Madlock was a bit on the chunky side too.

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    • buttsecks? says:

      Whoo-hoo! I never would have had any idea that there was still any activity in this thread otherwise.

      Thanks a billion, David. I know I said a million earlier, but now that I’ve actually seen it in action I multiplied it by a thousand.

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