Over the winter, I did a series of posts on position adjustments and put forward the idea that second base is an overrated defensive position. It is lumped into the “up the middle” spots with catcher, shortstop, and center field, but is not actually that much more difficult to play than third base. I also mentioned that there’s been something of a height bias, where tall infielders are shifted to third and short infielders are shifted to second, even if the tall guy is a better defender than the short guy.
You can imagine, then, that I’m thrilled to see three teams experimenting with non-traditional second baseman this year.
The Cardinals have replaced Adam Kennedy with converted outfielder Skip Schumaker, who had spent his entire career in the outfield with the exception of six games at third base in Double-A in 2004. After some early problems in spring training, Schumaker has proven good enough to be handed the Cardinals second base job, despite no previous experience at the position.
Likewise, the Royals have decided to use Mark Teahen at second base in 2009. Developed as a third baseman, Teahen has spent most of the last two years in the outfield, and has never played a professional inning of second base prior to this year. To boot, Teahen is also 6’3 and listed at 210 lbs, so he’s significantly larger than the prototypical second baseman.
In Colorado, the Rockies are continuing with their second base experiment, handing the opening day job to Ian Stewart. Like Teahen, Stewart is 6’3 and listed at 200+ lbs, so it’s not surprising that he was developed as a third baseman. However, with Garrett Atkins around, the Rockies have decided to use Stewart at second base in order to get his bat in the line-up.
Three franchises, all with off-season decisions to make about how to fill a hole at second base, decided to fill the position with players from the corners. Schumaker, Teahen, and Stewart are not traditional keystone defenders in any way, shape, or form, but all three organizations have decided to go make some defensive sacrifices at the position in order to improve their offense.
It’s interesting to me that we’ve seen three franchises go away from the traditional second base model in the same winter that outfield defense seemed to increase significantly in value in the marketplace. As the newer defensive metrics gain credibility, we saw an increase in the premium for defense at positions where defense hasn’t historically been valued and a corresponding decrease at a position that has been genuinely considered a premium glove spot.
I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’d bet that going forward, second base is going to look a lot more like third base.