The Tyranny Of The Corner Label

At some point in baseball history, someone decided that there were two groups of player types – “up the middle guys” and “corner guys”. For whatever reason, it was decided that defense was important at catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field, while offense was the priority at third base, first base, left field, and right field. Little guys were shuffled towards the middle of the diamond, big guys were contained in the corners, and the self-fulfilling prophecy became a convention.

The problem is that this is an overly simplistic way of separating players, and it doesn’t actually reflect where each position draws its talent from. Rather than cutting the diamond in two, we should really slice it into thirds based on the traits that actually land players at one spot or another.

The True Premium Athletes – SS, CF

It’s no secret that the best athletes in the game play shortstop. On nearly every high school team in the country, the shortstop is the best player on the field. However, there are some top notch athletes who don’t play shortstop, and it’s simply due to the fact that they throw left-handed. One of the prerequisites for playing SS is being able to throw with your right hand, and so the super athletes who throw with their left hand end up moving out to center field.

Because the right-handed throwing premium athletes can play both shortstop and center field, but the left-handed throwing premium athletes are essentially confined to center field, the pool of talent available at SS is inherently smaller than CF. This is why it’s harder to find a good hitting shortstop than any other position on the diamond.

The Good Athletes – 2B, 3B, and RF

This is the main area where the middle/corner divide breaks down. Second and third baseman are essentially children of the same parents, as they’ve been pre-selected to be right-handed throwers who were either judged to be too large or too slow to stick at shortstop. The tall kids with good arms go to third base and the short ones with iffy arms go to second base. Beyond that, there’s really not a big difference between second base and third base, which is why you see so much crossover between those positions.

Right field is the landing spot for left-handed throwers who aren’t quite good enough to stick in center field, and it is also the primary landing spot for a large right-handed thrower who was moved off of shortstop but had problems adjusting to the quick reaction times necessary at third base.

The Mediocre Athletes – LF, 1B, and C

These are the three positions where handedness and size don’t really factor in all that much. Left field is the spot for outfielders who don’t have the arm to play right, while first base is the spot for big guys who don’t move well enough to cover much ground. Because of the inherent advantage in having a tall left-handed first baseman to receive throws, there are some players at the position who could handle an outfield job but whose skills are best suited to first base.

Catchers often have similar athletic abilities to LF/1B types, but they are the ones who also have strong arms and aren’t overly tall, allowing them to be nimble enough to have good footwork behind the plate. There are also mental requirements for catching that a lot of players don’t measure up to, which makes this a shallow talent pool as well. You could argue for catchers being given their own section, but it’s becoming more and more common for catchers to share time at first base as they get older, suggesting that there is a natural shared talent pool here.

These are all generalities, of course, and there are examples of a player at every position who doesn’t fit the stereotype. However, breaking down the positions this way better reflects the actual peers for each position, and especially helps eliminate the bias against third baseman, who are unfairly compared against different player types who have different skillsets. This middle/corner breakdown is likely part of the reason why third base is the most underrepresented position in Cooperstown, and shifting away from that kind of mindset would help us better understand the value of players at differing positions.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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snapper
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snapper
5 years 4 months ago

Excellent point with regards to the HoF.

In general I think people may understand position adjustment less today than they did in the olden days, particularly wrt awards.

Great catchers used to routinely win MVP awards even thought their raw totals weren’t the gaudiest in the league. Likewise excellent SS w/o big hitting stats. Jorge Posada has numbers that would have made him a slam dunk HoFer if he played in the 30’s or 40’s.

Colin
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Colin
5 years 4 months ago

One thing, catchers are generally right handed. Since most batters are right handed, right handed catchers have a clear throwing lane to second base.

Other than that, great points.

Basil Ganglia
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Basil Ganglia
5 years 4 months ago

If that were true, it should show up in stealing statistics – the success rate should be higher on steals of second when a left-handed batter is at the plate.

Is it? I have a dim recollection of seeing some data on this about ten years ago that indicated there was no difference.

Russ
Member
Member
Russ
5 years 4 months ago

I’ve read that left handed catchers slightly disorient pitchers. I don’t know if this is true, but it is plausible.

Paul
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Paul
5 years 4 months ago

I think there are no lefty throwing catchers because they would really struggle throwing out people stealing third.

TC Pedobear
Member
TC Pedobear
5 years 4 months ago

If the batter is right-handed, a LH catcher should be able to quickly flip the ball behind the batter to 3rd, without really having to move. A RH-catcher has to pivot back before he can safely throw behind the batter. This is why runners take third when the hitter is RHB more than LHB.

Paul
Guest
Paul
5 years 4 months ago

So a left handed throwing catcher would not need to rotate his feet 270 degrees to throw to third? The right handed catcher has to move his feet significantly less to be in proper throwing position to third base. People steal third more with RHBs at the plate because they obstruct the catchers throwing lane. The reason there are no LH throwing catchers is the same as why there are no LH throwing SS, 2B, and 3B. It is easier to throw across your body.

Sean
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Sean
5 years 4 months ago

You see plenty of snap throws to 1B. I imagine a lefty catcher throwing to third base would be just as quick.

AK707
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AK707
5 years 4 months ago

Ever see a pickoff of first by the catcher? It would work the same. I never really thought that it couldn’t be done.

omniart
Member
omniart
5 years 4 months ago

Jack Clements! Right-handed catchers can snap a throw to first just fine, so throwing to third shouldn’t be a problem. I think the conventional wisdom that catchers need to be right-handed is another self-fulfilling prophecy–in fact, I seem to remember reading once that the biggest impediment is probably the lack of left-handed catchers mitts.

Paul
Guest
Paul
5 years 4 months ago

Right handed catchers do not snap a throw to first. They rotate their feet. If catchers could whip throws down to first straight out of the squat with any velocity and accuracy runners would not be able to get secondary leads.

Sean
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Sean
5 years 4 months ago

I don’t know what game you’re watching. “Snap throw to first” is a pretty common phrase in the broadcaster lexicon.

lastplaneout
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lastplaneout
5 years 4 months ago

The glib explanation that I’ve always liked for why there are no left-handed catchers is that anyone who can throw left-handed with enough accuracy is going to end up being a pitcher, not a catcher.

Steve Jeltz
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Steve Jeltz
5 years 4 months ago

Most catchers are right handed? Try ALL. The last lefty-throwing catcher was Jack Clements, PHL-N catcher at the turn of the century. As in 1900. Anyone since then that that you can think of.

On the topic of talent pool and the great positional sorting hat, if you have a dynamo left arm, you’re going to shepherded to the other end of the battery. Not catcher.

Jay
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Jay
5 years 4 months ago

Benny Distefano caught at least a few games for the Bucs in the 1980s as a lefty throwing catcher.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

I caught from 9U ball until high school (as a lefty). I remeber the guy from the Bucs.

Looking at this from a different perspective …

The chances are very high that ANY lefty with a strong arm is put on the bump and told “you’re going to pitch”.

If there was a lefty that was deternined to catch and provided great value there, he could/would catch in the majors.

Lefties are steered away from catching at early ages.

It is possible that there are no longer any really good reasons against it. My “gut” or “instinct” or “experience” tells me strong-armed lefties are rushed to the pitching mound as fast as possible.

AA
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AA
5 years 4 months ago

1) I’m left handed and write with my right hand because I learned that way, and because of the writing system. I saw a photo somewhere of Randy Wolf, a L/L pitcher/hitter, writing with his right hand.

2) Pablo Sandoval is left-handed but learned to throw with his right in order to play more positions.

3) There have been left-handed catchers and it would be the easiest of the “right handed positions” to convert. The only real disadvantage is that there are more RHB than LHB, though the difference isn’t as much as in regular society because of the inherent advantages LHB have in baseball.

4) I wouldn’t put catchers in the “less athletic” group. Craig Biggio converted from catcher to become a quality 2B and a passable CF. Pudge Rodriguez would have likely made an excellent SS or 3B if his skill set and body type wasn’t so perfect for catching. Mike Piazza and Russell Martin both converted from 3B, Martin being known for his defensive ability before converting to the plate. Dale Murphy came out from behind the plate to be a force in CF and RF.

Mike H
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Mike H
5 years 4 months ago

For every Dale Murphy, there are 10 Bengie Molinas and 4 Ramon Castros

sporkless
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sporkless
5 years 4 months ago

‘Handedness’ is a big a factor at C as it is at 2B, SS, 3B. There are NO lefty catchers.

phoenix2042
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phoenix2042
5 years 4 months ago

no lefty throwing catchers, but they do hit lefty still. same with SS. this is also why SS and C can be switch hitters: they were natural lefties who learned to throw righty in order to have more positional availability, so they can use both hands!

Ryan
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Ryan
5 years 4 months ago

yeah, both joe mauer and brian mcann hit lefty but catch righty.

BlackOps
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BlackOps
5 years 4 months ago

Or, more than likely they’re righties who learned to hit lefty in order to gain an advantage at the plate.

TFINY
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TFINY
5 years 4 months ago

I doubt that they start lefty; then they would be switch hitters to get more value. A right thrower and lefty hitter means they learned to throw righty, not hit lefty.

Matt
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Matt
5 years 4 months ago

wrong. some people throw righty and bat lefty naturally

BlackOps
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BlackOps
5 years 4 months ago

If you think that’s the case then go find some pictures of Mauer and McCann signing autographs. They’re righties. This is a fact that cannot be disputed.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Some people do natural bat right and hit left, but more times than not … it’s taught.

In baseball terms, every dad/coach knows that if your kid fields right and hits left, they have an advantage. In the field they can play more positions. At the plate, they face a lot of opposite-handed pitchers.

It does happen naturally, but I would posit very rarely due to physiological reasons (dominat eye, dominant side of the body, mind-muscle connection (neuromuscular pathways), etc).

MintyRoadkill
Member
MintyRoadkill
5 years 4 months ago

I throw and write left handed but bat right handed. I’m a pitcher.

Last year, there was another lefty on the team who also batted righty.

The starting catcher on our team is a natural lefty batter but righty thrower/writer.

It’s actually quite common.

Russ
Member
Member
Russ
5 years 4 months ago

Ricky Henderson threw lefty and batted righty. That’s just the way that he is.

I’m just speculating, but this might have some thing to do with “occular dominance,” or “eyedness.” Some people are right handed, but have a dominant left eye, and vice versa.

jmarsh123
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jmarsh123
5 years 4 months ago

I am right-handed and hit lefty all through high school. I started hitting switch around 12 or so and found that my stroke left handed was much better and just switched full time.

Walter Guest
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Walter Guest
5 years 4 months ago

Dale Long caught two games for the ’58 Cubs.

Scott
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Scott
5 years 4 months ago

I agree in general. In that you need to match skill sets to position. I think that 2B, SS and Catcher require skills that aren’t just athletic. For example you look at Brian McCann, He physically would probably be more of a 1B cause he doesn’t have a great arm for a catcher. But because he has honed his mechanics and has great hands he’s a solid defensive catcher. Same with 2B. I have heard former SS say how tough 2B is cause it’s all about quick hands, athleticism plays a role but it’s more about how fast you can get the ball from your glove to your hand, especially on double plays.

I think in general guys should play a position they’re good at. If you can field SS and you’re built like Albert Pujols than you should play it.

DanMac
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DanMac
5 years 4 months ago

Getting the ball quickly from your glove to your hand IS an athletic skill. Just as general coordination is also an athletic skill. Forgive me, but I think this is overlooked today, mainly due to ESPN.

rotofan
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rotofan
5 years 4 months ago

So who are the third basemen that should be in the HOF but are not? Looking at the voting for last year, of 30 or so players who received votes, only two played games at third, Edgar Martinez, who played about 4 seasons worth of games there, and Lenny Harris, whose mother must have had a vote. Martinez belongs in the Hall but not because of his glove at 3rd or short tenure there.

More importantly, when you argue third basemen are underrepresented in the Hall, while that is true as whole it has not been the case for players who played most of their careers post-1950. During that time, five third basemen have been elected. The total for shortstops, second basemen, first basemen and catchers has been 23 — an average of 5.3 per position. Assuming the period covers players who retired between 1960 and 2005, that a difference of .07 fewer third basemen elected per decade.

My numbers on positions comes from the HOF site; I combined the other infield positions because the Hall lists then at one position even if they logged significant time at another position — Rod Carew and Ernie Banks are both listed as first basemen, as an example.

I also think you over-state the case that third basemen are the victims of bias because they are lumped in on other corner guys and not considered with second basemen. I think you would have trouble finding even a casual baseball fan who believes the defensive demand at third are no more than at first or in left field. There’s a reason third has been long called the Hot Corner and I believe most fans would rank its defensive importance behind only short stop, centerfield and catcher.

Finally, your argument for including catchers with first basemen is a questionable one — that catchers as the age share time at first so the defensive/athletic skill set must be similar. First, all players, not just catchers, who can still hit but struggle at their first position, are considered for shifts to first base — Carew and Banks being HOF examples. Second, when you write of the athletic skills needed to play a position, surely you mean the athletic ability to play it well. If a catcher can no longer do so, or playing too often leaves them vulnerable to injury, then that catcher is no longer capable of playing the position well on a consistent basis.

snapper
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snapper
5 years 4 months ago

Santo. Nettles.

Chipper should be talked about as a no brainer 1st ballot guy, but isn’t. Rolen will have a tough road.

There are only 7 3B’s in the HoF, and arguably, Kell and Traynor don’t belong.

omniart
Member
omniart
5 years 4 months ago

Lindstrom doesn’t belong either, though there are more than 7 (Schmidt, Brett, Boggs, Robinson, Mathews, Baker, Collins–and don’t forget the Negro Leaguers, Ray Dandridge & Jud Wilson).

gnomez
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gnomez
5 years 4 months ago

I’ll think of more 3B later, but as for catchers…
BILL FREEHAN!!!

Steve Jeltz
Guest
Steve Jeltz
5 years 4 months ago

Judy Johnson

omniart
Member
omniart
5 years 4 months ago

Definitely Santo, Nettles, & Dick Allen. Probably Sal Bando. Buddy Bell & Ron Cey should be strongly considered.

rotofan
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rotofan
5 years 4 months ago

Ron Cey deserved more consideration than he received, which was barely more than nil, but the reason he he was in the shadow of Steve Garvey during their career and in HOF voting had little to do with their defensive positions and everything to the emphasis that voters and analysts of the day placed on batting average rather than OBP. Cey hit .262 while Garvey almost reached .300 and voters simply didn’t consider that Cey walked far more often and had a higher OBP. That’s also why Garvey garnered almost twice as many all-star games. Sal Bando was hurt by the same issue.

As for Dick Allen, who play a one-third of his games at the hot corner and played more often at first base, his exclusion from the Hall was the product of many things, some unfair, but his defensive position(s) was hardly significant. When he did play third he was very error-prone so it’s not as he was a great defender whose contributions were overlooked.

Nettles probably received more recognition for his defense than any third basemen since Brooks Robinson. And at first glance it appears Nettles put up better offensive numbers — by then you consider Robinson’s peak occurred during the 1960s when pitchers were dominant; Nettles later, after the mound was lowered to give hitters an edge. I haven’t checked but I would guess Robinson did better offensively compared to league norms than did Nettles.

Santos may have the best argument among excluded third basemen; his one negative was his career was a bit shorter than some but he was clearly at or near the top of his position for a sustained time. Buddy Bell was a quality defender and a solid, well-rounded hitter but lacked power, averaging 11 HR a season. You could argue he would have gotten more leeway with his numbers at second base.

So that’s two by my count that have a real beef related to their position over 45 years.

Harold
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Harold
5 years 4 months ago

Nettles retired with the most Home Runs of any 3B was a stellar defensive 3B (though overshadowed by being in a division by Brooks Robinson who was still winning gold gloves on reputation after his defensive skills had eroded). Nettles played in an era when home runs over all were down

Ron Santo also should be in. DIck Allen was mostly a 1B (he probably deserves to be in but should not be part of this discussion).

Today’s HOF voters rely too much on gross numbers and don’t put the, in the context of the era guys played in. They also completely disregard intangibles and don’t care much about defense.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 4 months ago

Dick Allen should be in for his bat and is not in because he is a black man who spoke his mind in an era where overt societal racism was still rampant. I wouldn’t call him a 3B any more than I would call him a 1B or LF, though it is interesting to note that TZ rates him as just a -2 in the season in which he committed 41 errors. Says something about his range.

As for true 3B who should be in – Santo is clear, he should have been in on the first ballot, and it is a crime that he died before they put him in. Nettles should be in as well. Bando and Cey are right there.

For the recent guys – Chipper is and should be a shoe-in. Larry’s a media darling and plays in an era in which OBP is understood. As for Rolen, he has arguably been a better player than Chipper. Certainly more well rounded, because of his insane defense. It will be a lot harder road for him to get in, but he certainly deserves it.

Steve
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Steve
5 years 4 months ago

Strong throwers in RF and there isn’t really a handedness bias. Other than that, I agree with the descriptions.

baycommuter
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baycommuter
5 years 4 months ago

Very interesting post, Dave.
Not sure I agree that the best player on the field in high school is the shortstop. As the father of a 12-year-old I know Little League better than high school, but in LL, the best player is almost always the pitcher, if you can strike guys out and not walk them you almost always win at that level. Once the pitcher has reached his maximum pitch count, he might be sent to shortstop for the rest of the game. I suspect high school managers also go pitcher-first.
In LL, of course, the worst athlete plays RF, not LF, since arm strength is less important than whether you can catch a fly ball.

Not David
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Not David
5 years 4 months ago

I guess this would mean something if every inning of every game were pitched by the same player.

MintyRoadkill
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MintyRoadkill
5 years 4 months ago

Our two shortstops on my high school team are both also pitchers, and the two best players are actually both guys who trade off as C/RF.

Most of the time though, SS IS the best athlete, and often is also a pitcher. The last team we played had their SS come in as a RP, for example.

Isaac
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Isaac
5 years 4 months ago

Why combine LF and 1B?

Those who can run and throw play CF, those who can run but can’t throw play LF, those who can throw but can’t run play RF, and those who can’t do either play 1B.

It seems to take a lot more athletic ability to play LF than 1B, which would explain why many LFers move to 1B when they can’t run anymore.

OGC
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OGC
5 years 4 months ago

Tell that to lance berkman!

Ian R.
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Ian R.
5 years 4 months ago

That’s a bit of a simplification, as there’s really two sets of players that get stuck in LF. First you have the Carl Crawford or Juan Pierre types that have speed but can’t throw, as you said. But there are also outfielders who just can’t play defense very well, and so get stuck in left (Carlos Lee, anyone?)

lex logan
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lex logan
5 years 4 months ago

I read an article somewhere that argued catching requires a good arm, but a strong-armed southpaw is more valuable as a right fielder if he can hit or as a pitcher if he can’t. There is no inherent handedness bias at catching. Also, catching is not a premium defensive position, but good hitters generally migrate to other positions to avoid the wear-and-tear of catching.

MintyRoadkill
Member
MintyRoadkill
5 years 4 months ago

Most high school teams realize it’s a bad investment to buy a left-handed catchers mitt, so you see mostly righties there. High school ball has arguably the most influence on where hitters end up, so unless a LH thrower has his own catcher’s mitt, you won’t see him catch.

OzzieGuillen
Member
OzzieGuillen
5 years 4 months ago

The degree of difficulty is higher at third base than it is at second base. The throw from 3B is much more difficult, the time and room for error is tighter, and the bunt play is perhaps the most difficult defensive play in the game. Second base gets more defensive praise than 3B because of the sheer volume of plays, and the dramatic effect of turning a double play. It’s also fun for fans to think of middle infielders as a double play combo, possessing special chemistry like Trammell and Whitaker.

I think the best support for the argument that 3B is underappreciated and 2B is overappreciated is that Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame while Ron Santo (whose WAR was twice that of Mazeroski) is not in. I’m not saying Santo should be in, but Mazeroski unfairly got the “defense is important” break for being a second baseman.

OzzieGuillen
Member
OzzieGuillen
5 years 4 months ago

Of course, maybe Lou Whitaker being excluded proves good defense in general is not factored into the voting process to the degree it should be.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Mazeroski also has one of the greatest world series moments in history. Not that, by itself, catapults him into the HoF, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

I do agree that there is not a standard that is universally applied. So much, especially before the “stat era” seems to revolve around perceptions, milestones, and post-season.

Larry Smith Jr.
Guest
5 years 4 months ago

Not only one of the greatest WS moments in history, but at the time he was inducted, it was the only one of its kind.

matt w
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matt w
5 years 4 months ago

Depends on how you count; it wasn’t the only walk-off that ended a World Series at the time of his induction (he was inducted in 2001, after Joe Carter’s walk-off). It’s still the only walk-off in Game 7 of a World Series, which I think is more important, but I’m a Pittsburgh homer.

PeteJohn
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PeteJohn
5 years 4 months ago

@Larry

Joe Carter would like a word with you.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
5 years 4 months ago

Oddly enough, the counterargument to what you said is right there in your argument. The degree of difficulty is indeed higher at third base, which explains why third basemen routinely have the lowest fielding percentages on the diamond. But the second baseman makes (or doesn’t make) many, many, many more plays.

As such, a good defender at second is more valuable than a good defender at third, because the second baseman will have more opportunities and thus will provide more outs.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

At some point in baseball history, someone decided that there were two groups of player types – “up the middle guys” and “corner guys”.

You mean “After years of baseball experiments, observations, and experiences …” … the way you composed the words almost makes it sound like it happened by accident or by decree.

No one just up and decided that little guys play SS and 2B and bigger guys played 3B and 1B.

What managers likely noticed was that SS had the most ground to cover, so the players with the most range played SS. Most times that guy turned out to be the most agile and quickest player, often in the form of a small frame.

Since 3B essentially just take a step or two to the right or left, range is secondary (a good SS will also take all the popups in shallow LF, fair or foul).

You say “for whatever reason” in terms of defensive priority when you should say “because most of the BIP go to …”.

Baseball has been around for 100 years, the specialty player types by position is not accidental. There are very few guys that can REALLY hit. They HAVE to play somewhere. They are placed at the defensive positions that require the least amount of fielding prowess/ability.

Big range at SS and 2B can essentially cover much of the IF, allowing the 3B and 1B to essentially “guard the line”.

You guys at least played Little League baseball right? You should know which positions require the best defender and why.

What we very often see is that there are very few “prototypical” players. There aren’t that many guys that are both elite fielders and/or hitters. So, managers have decided to place the weakest defenders at the less active/demanding positions.

Same thing with batting lineups. managers just didn’t up and decide that shortstops bat 8th. Since it is such a demanding position, many SS are waker hitters and bat 8th. That wasn;t an accidental decision, but a strategic one (just like the other decisions discussed in this thread).

3B is great for the guy that can hit but lacks range for SS. 2B is great for the guy that lacks the arm strength for SS. Be certain that almost ALL major leaguers started out as shortstops … as they got older, there were better combinations of teams assembled and players moved to positions that better suited their skills.

Some managers do not sacrifice 3B defense for offense, and vice versa, with varying degrees of success.

As the field gets bigger and the pitchers throw harder (fewer pulled balls), CF becomes more and more important.

Not David
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Not David
5 years 4 months ago

“Same thing with batting lineups. managers just didn’t up and decide that shortstops bat 8th.”

Ron Gardenhire will bat a middle infielder 2nd in the lineup, regardless of quality, because that’s who belongs there.

GiantHusker
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GiantHusker
5 years 4 months ago

Almost all managers automatically bat the 2nd baseman in the 2nd position, regardless of his offensive abilities.

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
5 years 4 months ago

I was thinking the same thing. The first para makes it sound like a team might also be successful if it just switched its first baseman and its shortstop.

jrogers
Member
jrogers
5 years 4 months ago

I’ve often wondered, given the near-symmetry of most parks, why do RFs need to have a stronger arm than LFs? Is it just because you’re more likely to have to throw to 3rd than to 1st on a ball hit to the OF? Seems like getting it in to 2nd or home should be the same from either field.

Small Sample Goodness
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Small Sample Goodness
5 years 4 months ago

“Just” because?

Seriously?

Chris
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Chris
5 years 4 months ago

This question was definitely so ridiculous as to warrant a smart-ass response. Thanks, Small Sample Goodness, for patrolling the internet in search of questions you deem stupid!

Small Sample Goodness
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Small Sample Goodness
5 years 4 months ago

You’re welcome?

Jon
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Jon
5 years 4 months ago

Yes, it’s largely due to the longer distance when throwing to third. An additional factor is that the relay man on plays to third or home for a right fielder, when needed, is typically the second baseman, while the left fielder’s throws can be relayed by the stronger-armed shortstop.

GiantHusker
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GiantHusker
5 years 4 months ago

In both cases, the value of the “arm” is way overrated, not only because it rarely makes the difference, but that the outfielders’ other abilities (speed, range, etc.) reduce the time to 3B or the cutoff at least as much as the arm.

Ray
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Ray
5 years 4 months ago

The relay man from RF to the plate is 1B

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

but that the outfielders’ other abilities (speed, range, etc.) reduce the time to 3B or the cutoff at least as much as the arm.

That is an unsupported assertion.

What you are saying is that the difference in time getting to the ball is equal or less than the difference in time for a strong v. weak arm.

Simply asked, “How do you know that?”

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
5 years 4 months ago

circle Gianthuskers assertion makes perfect sense to me. How quickly you get to a ball should impact the throw. If I throw a ball towards third a full step closer or a second sooner than the other guy that will matter. Speedy guys will simply get to a ball quicker. A ball hit in the gap or bouncing up the line would be retrieved and thrown toward third much faster by a quick guy than a slow guy and those are very common situations for balls thrown to third.

Mcneildon
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Mcneildon
5 years 4 months ago

@Ray

I think you’re confusing the relay man with the cutoff man. On singles to RF with a throw coming directly to the plate, the 1B will cut it off if it is offline or there is no chance at the runner coming home. He will relay it home occasionally if the throw is very weak or offline and there is still a chance at home. However, that scenario is not considered a relay situation because it is expected that the RF should be able to get it home on his own.

The relay situation is on balls hit over the RF or down the line. In these situations it is not expected that the RF throw it home on his own and there is a relay set up. In these instances, the 2B is the relay man with the 1B backing him up in case the RF misses the 2B.

shthar
Guest
shthar
5 years 4 months ago

One of the best ways to judge how good an infield prospect’s defense will be is, ‘where did he play in the minors?’.

Regardless of where he is in the big leagues, if he played all the time at SS, he’s gonna have a better glove than a guy who didn’t.

Also, check and see if that new ‘outfielder’ played anything other than 1B in the minors. If not, he’s a future DH/IB. Or should be.

MintyRoadkill
Member
MintyRoadkill
5 years 4 months ago

Roster crunches happen, however. If the OF/1B in question is a decent fielder, great hitter on a MiLB team with 3 glove-only outfielders, guess what position he’s playing?

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Tony LaRussa will bat a mid-IF 2ns as well … B/c that where battling with 2-strikes can be maximized. I feel your pain.

To get an idea of where the best defenders can and do play, look at leaguewide spray charts and then draw a circle around the expected range of the fielder will be.

With 3B’s their defense gets under-rated because range for that position can be less important than how they handle hard hit balls right at them or 1-2 steps either way. If it gets by without being touched it’s likely scored as a hit.

Has anyone mentioned Terry “Houdini of the Hot Corner”Pendleton yet. His range down the LF line was very good as was his 1st reaction.

A 3B’s reaction and fearlessness is tremendous and under-appreciated. Simply put, they make it look too easy … Their fluidity often masks the difficulty of the play especially when you throw ball spin into the equation and playing the grass/dirt lip.

I miss Ken Caminiti. I don’t think folks realize just how impressive some of his throws were. From deep 3rd on one knee?

williams .482
Member
Member
williams .482
5 years 4 months ago

Adrian Beltre, nowadays.
He probably could have been a SS, but stuck to 3B. (The Red Sox actually wanted to sign him after 2004 and play him at SS for a year until Mueller left, then move him back).

I don’t know, does it count as “wasted range” if you use it to take out probably 4 wins worth of left fielders?

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

As for RF … What JR says is common practice but given the number of RHBs that pull the ball, I’ve often wondered if having your best arm in LF would prevent more guys from going 1st to 3rd and especially 2nd to home, particularly considering the number of hits that go between SS and 3B.

Due to the length of the throw it’s rare that a cutoff man would relay to home in time to actually get the runner, so having a strong, accurate arm in LF may be a neglected facet of the game.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 4 months ago

I didn’t do a thorough statistical study, but, for the reasons you mentioned I did a quick comparison of chances for LF and RF and was surprised to find that they are about the same.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

The perfect catcher is a SS that lacks range.

Quick feet.
High agility.
Soft hands.
Rocket arm.

But catching also seems to require a body type that can withstand the fatigue. Santiago and Pena aside, having big hips and leg leverages (thick, short legs) are also key.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 4 months ago

Every study of endurance ever made shows that small people have better endurance than large. Why does everybody think the opposite is true?
In football, all coaches, media, fans state that a small player “can’t take the pounding,” which is absurd.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

I wasn’t thinking “endurance”, I was thinking “abuse”. I said fatigue, which was the wrong word. I’m not sure what the right word would be to endure the position, not from a “I’m tired” standpoint but from a “my body can’t take this s—” standpoint.

I think everyone knows what body types are built for endurance. Just look at Triathlon, running, etc.

There is some physical advantages for various body types to endure the “squatting”.

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
5 years 4 months ago

I have read that the bigger the catcher the quicker his knees give out.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 4 months ago

Piazza didn’t really have knee trouble, and was a lot better defensive catcher than he was given credit for.

George Resor
Member
5 years 4 months ago

Posada was drafted as a shortstop, and played second base in the minors before being moved to catcher

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Yep. I’m sure Posey played his share of SS at the prep level or even in college. A lot of kids going into college as SS that won;t play probably just move over to 2B or go to the OF (quickness and strong arm are valuable there too).

Catching does take A LOT of work (practicing skills), and catchers get yelled at A LOT. So, one also has to have a mindset that can tolerate a ton of crap. It’s a thankless position. Block 9 balls in the dirt …. get yelled at for the 1 that gets by (even though MLB level catcher don;t often block 90%).

It’s dirty, sweaty, hot, and you probably never feel “at your best”.

It’s a major problem on youth and travelling teams (the amount catchers get yelled at or blamed for stuff). IMO, it is too demanding of a position for a young player, and no one at those levels knows how to coach catchers. It involves a lot more than just throwing one hoppers at them and yelling at them to “get in front”.

Double D
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Double D
5 years 4 months ago

Guess what Carlos Ruiz was when he signed with the Phils?

Avon
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Avon
5 years 4 months ago

I want my corners.

OzzieGuillen
Member
OzzieGuillen
5 years 4 months ago

Yo man, we don’t have to go in for that gangsta b.s. no more!

Bpdelia
Guest
Bpdelia
5 years 4 months ago

The handedness bias at catcher is somewhat pointless. There really isn’t a compelling reason why a. Lefty cant catch. Bill james has made this point eloquently. Excellent point av about the position bias in award voting.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 4 months ago

I can’t see any reason why a shortstop can’t be left-handed, either. These stereotypes are just a result of custom, like the 2B batting 2nd.

Ray
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Ray
5 years 4 months ago

the catcher handedness bias is probably overblown, but SS…seriously think about a lefthanded SS for 2 minutes…

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Here’s why …. groundballs in the whole, turning double plays, backhand catches on stolen bases attempts. all 3 are slower and more difficult.

In youth sports, yeah the lefty can play SS if he’s your most reliable fielder.

These are not “stereotypes”, they’re how roles developed over a century of trying different things.

It’s not a stereotype that a closer be a hard thrower, one-pitch type specialist. That just happens to be the most effective pitcher type for that specific role.

In the 70s/80s, MLB Organizations didn’t just up and decide that “Shortstops should be Latin”.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

“groundballs in the whole”. I’m an idiot.

Simply put, a left-handed shortstop is going to have a helluva time ‘throwing on the move”, which at this stage of the game is a requirement for SS.

Mongo
Guest
Mongo
5 years 4 months ago

SS, 2B, and 3B throwing right-handed is not a “custom” that has “developed over a century of trying different things.”

Most people are right-handed. That’s why they made first base… FIRST base.

Scott
Guest
Scott
5 years 4 months ago

The reason that SS aren’t left handed is that they then can’t make plays in the hole. Also makes turning double plays much harder. 2B is the same way. 3B you can’t do it cause of the bunt. You’d think a left handed 3B would have an advantage with glove being on the line.

As far as a lefty catcher, it puts them at a slight disadvantage in a few aspects. The throwing to second against RHB which most hitters in the majors are. Throwing to third if you can make a snap throw is easier but most players don’t have the strength to make a strong accurate snap throw. Consider how few catchers in the majors can do it to first (Molina). Then to throw to 3rd they’d have to totally pivot their body to a crazy position. And lastly on throws to the plate the catcher would have to make tags across their body, which my guess would make them very vulnerable to getting blown up as well as the added fraction of a second can make a runner safe.

I think the biggest culprit as to why most lefthanded players don’t catch is cause most coaches would rather have them pitch.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 4 months ago

If you can’t see the advantage a RH player has playing SS, you can’t really understand the physics of the position.

Catcher handedness is heavily overblown and 3B handedness is overblown except for fielding the bunt. If a LH throwing player could show that they effectively defend the bunt, they could play 3B.

George Resor
Member
5 years 4 months ago

you could field a team of all short stops in the tenth inning of this game http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200506150.shtml#play_by_play::none
6 of the 9 yankees on the field had played short stop in either the minors or the majors, and of the two of the three who hadn’t Rivera and Posada were were shortstops when they were drafted or signed. Freddy Sanchez batted for the pirates that inning meaning that 9 of the 10 player on the field at that time had been shortstops that has to be a record

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

In terms of the “quick to the ball v. Strong throw” situation, I’m trying to imagine the rial difference on a stopwatch.

Essentially it’s the same thing with catching, is the difference in feet quickness equal the difference in arm strength?

For infielders it could be quickness of hands (transfer) v. Arm strength.

There are times where quickness (cutting balls off in the gap) is far superior to arm strength.

What I am envisioning are the situations where a ball goes through the whole and most runners will try and score. Which outfielder type is preferable?

Both assertions (quick and strong) make sense, which may mean that the situations balance out. If true then I would ask why Pierre’s arm in LF
causes such a stir.

Corey Seidman
Guest
5 years 4 months ago

This was such an interesting, simple, straight-to-the-point article

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Dave,

Do you realize that you left out something important in regards to outfield?
You phrase it so that outfielders are just guys that could not cut it in the infield, as if they were in the same situation of SP’s vs. non-closer relievers.

In youth leagues, that may the case. In HS levels and higher that is not the case.
You’re completely missing the skill of being able to track a ball and run it down. If you havea kid that run down balls in the outfield, it *could* be a mistake to put him in the infield. The bigger the field, the bigger the players, the more important outfield play becomes.

There are also mental sides to it. Some guys find it very difficult to “stay into” the game when they’re in the outfield. They need the interactions with the coaches, players, runners, etc.

For fun, next time you go to the game, watch a major league outfielder and how much time they spend just looking around, trying to keep themselves occupied.

MintyRoadkill
Member
MintyRoadkill
5 years 4 months ago

I’m a guy that’s left-handed but pretty decent at infield work and grounders, but I’m handcuffed to outfield work because we have slower guys that are infielders. I get bad reads all the time in the outfield, i’m not suited to it, so i agree with you.

pft
Guest
pft
5 years 4 months ago

“For whatever reason, it was decided that defense was important at catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field, while offense was the priority at third base, first base, left field, and right field”

The players in the middle of the diamond field more balls than those in the corners. That’s the reason.

“Because the right-handed throwing premium athletes can play both shortstop and center field, but the left-handed throwing premium athletes are essentially confined to center field, the pool of talent available at SS is inherently smaller than CF.This is why it’s harder to find a good hitting shortstop than any other position on the diamond.”

You can say the same thing about 3B, 2B and C, yet there are plenty of good hitting 3Bmen and more good hitting 2Bman than good hitting SS . In fact, even at CF, offense is lower than at the corner OF position, and 3B.

As for C and 1B, these are guys who can not play other positions well due to lack of speed. The tall, LH’ers who can hit play 1B. The shorter stockier RH’ers who do not hit well catch. If they hit well, they can be moved to 1B once their defensive skills decline at catcher due to age. Same can be said for OF’ers and 3Bmen.

doug K
Member
doug K
5 years 4 months ago

The bias I would love to see analysis on is the bias away from big athletic and powerful SS like Ripken and back towards the speedy slap hitter types. If he were coming up today, Ripken would not have been allowed to stay on SS I am pretty sure. Is there data to suggest that the extra defensive range of a more nimble man at SS is more valuable than having a better hitter?

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Wouldn’t you look at WAR for something like that?

If Ripken’s combo of bat and glove would be more valuable at 3B the team would play him there (if player was willing).

Ripken was a good defensive shortstop for most of his career.

ARod would have stayed at SS had he nit gone to the NYY. There is some writing that the NYY would get more overall value with ARod at SS and Jeter in CF/OF.

ARod was the most valuable player in the league for some years because of his huge surplus bat at SS and a pretty decent glove. Same with Tejada in OAK. Great glove, major power.

I think big guys are allowed to stay at SS provided they can play the position, and we may see that with Manny Machado.

Guys tend to gain weight, fill out, as they age and that by itself can affect range. But as long as they provide value with glove and bat, at SS is where they provide the best value to the team. Same thing with Mauer at catcher.

I’m not exactly sure why some guys move positions, like Sanberg from 3B to 2B, but having great hitters be able to provide defensive value at the most demanding positions provides the team with the most value.

Same type of thing with SP and RP.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 4 months ago

When the Yankees traded for A-Rod, its pretty obvious that the position shift should have been Jeter’s to make. Jeter’s strengths, good reactions and a strong arm, would play really well at 3B. In that case, they allowed Rodriguez’ large size and Jeter’s large ego to trump the best defensive arrangement.

GarryHarris
Guest
GarryHarris
5 years 4 months ago

The players credited as being the only true full-time LH-C and LH-3B are C- Jack Clements, primarily of the Philadelphia Phillies and 3B-Hick Carpenter primarily of the Cincinnati Reds. Clements holds the single-season highest batting average for a C of .394 in 1895. His career ended in 1900. Carpenter batted RH but threw LH. In 1882, he hit .342. He played his last game in 1892.

Actually, LH 1B have an advantage over RH 1B in making throws across the IF.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 4 months ago

LH 1B not only have an advantage in making throws, but also have an advantage on the play to their right. The positioning of the glove closer to the play and then farther behind the ball gives them a major advantage.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

As for LH catchers picking off runners at 3B, there’s a pro and a very big con.

The pro …

You could use the RHB as a shield, like Yadi does LHBs.

But that’s completely negated by how guys return to the 3rd base bag. They return on the baseline or inside the baseline. So the catcher would have to go around the batter and make sure the throw did not hit the runner and putting the throw on the money.

As opposed to 1B, where they simply notice that a runner lollygags bag to the bag.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
5 years 4 months ago

I agree with most of the article, but disagree with the suggestion that rightfielders are on average better athletes than catchers. Catchers share a fair bit in common with third basemen on average- a good throwing arm and quick reaction times and instincts are the hallmarks of a good defensive catcher.

MTUCache
Guest
MTUCache
5 years 4 months ago

Best example I can think of for why it’s not a good idea to try and buck this trend?
Brandon Inge…

Shortstop and closer in college, willing to fit in wherever the organization wanted to put him. He’d never caught before, but immediately transitioned into that role. 340 out of 343 minor league games as well-respected defensive Catcher. Brought up to the majors, caught one season before the Tigers signed Pudge. Since then he’s developed a reputation as a “defensive” 3B (as well as a few inconsequential games in the OF).

His bat is not what you’d expect out of a CI guy. His glove isn’t Gold Glove standard. So, he’s now viewed as a liability because he plays a corner position and doesn’t bring the bat the way fans expect him to. Sure, he’s a local fan-favorite because of the way these transitions were handled in the media, but I’d argue that the Tigers would be FAR better off if Inge had stayed behind the plate or played 2B rather than 3rd. His bat (as a Catcher) would be a big positive, instead of being a hindrance.

I guess in the end I’m not sure if this is an example of how things “naturally” play out towards the corners, or if it happened to him specifically because of this type of thinking. Either way, it’s not working out as well as it should/could have, IMO.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

This is just my feeling, but I think one of the big problems with Brandon Inge is that he won;t sit out when he’s hurt/ailing.

75% Brandon Inge just isn’t good enough. But, he’s a “carried off on your shield” type of guy, which I respect. That’s why it’s up to someone else to make the decision.

I think Inge’s body type and profile (abilities + skills) scream “2B”.

I think he would do the team and himself a favor know and then to take one day off, before he needs 9. The whole “stitch in time” thing, for all the great grandmothers reading the forum.

Brian Singer
Guest
Brian Singer
5 years 4 months ago

“You could argue for catchers being given their own section, but it’s becoming more and more common for catchers to share time at first base as they get older, suggesting that there is a natural shared talent pool here.”

I don’t think it’s “natural shared talent” so much as “no place else to go”. As a catcher ages he gets slower and slower. Too slow to play the OF, leaving 1B as the only option. It’s necessity, and nothing more, in the vast majority of cases. .

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