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:
First Step: 71
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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