Displaced Persons

December 22, 2018

 

A month or so ago, I observed here that I didn’t see how left-handed-throwing first basemen had any appreciable advantage over their right-handed counterparts. This was partly out of contrariness on my part—people alla time speaking of the advantage that lefties have in fielding first-base, yet never providing any real evidence for it, to which I asked, "OK, where’s the beef?"

 

If you’ve got evidence, I want to look at what you got, and subject it to the usual prodding and poking to see if it holds up. "Evidence" is more than "A lot of folks say it’s true" or "I’ve always heard it’s true" or (my favorite) "It’s obviously true, or else people wouldn’t say it all the time, for years and years and years. What, are you smarter than a couple of hundred years’ worth of received wisdom, or something? Huh, are you, Mister Smartypants? Huh? Are you, huh?"

 

Problem was, I didn’t have a good test to deal with the question, "Do lefties have advantages in fielding first base?" and without a good test, all I got was an irritating argument with someone who felt, well, honestly, the only thing I can safely say he felt was that he was right and I was wrong about lefties’ advantage in fielding at first base. I didn’t think the "Comments" section was worth reading after a while (actually, I felt it broke the record for "Most tedious Comments section in BJOL history," and that’s saying a lot) so I just gave up. (Masochists’ alert: https://www.billjamesonline.com/margaret_are_you_grieving/?pg=2 .)

 

But, purely by chance, I was reading some of the earliest "Hey Bill"s, as is my wont (someone suggested that Bill collect them as a book, a fabulous idea) and I was surprised that the question had arisen almost ten years ago:

 

 

Have you researched the issue of whether or not left handed first basemen have a quantifiable advantage over right handed first basemen? If there is such an advantage, I would think that it would show up in the number of assists, and possibly in the number of putouts made on pickoffs by the pitcher.

Asked by: evan

 

Equally surprising was that Bill didn’t have a ready answer to this query. Or rather that he did, but didn’t have any data to support his answer:


Answered: 9/2/2009

Well, we know they have AN advantage.   It's a question of whether it is a statsitically meaningful advantage.   I haven't studied it, but one of the places it should show up is in 3-6-3 and 3-6-1 double plays.    Anyway got any data?

2009 was a while ago, and Baseball-Reference, as it happens, now does provide data for 3-6-3 and 3-6-1 doubleplays, and they even throw in 3-6 DPs into the bargain. To paraphrase Bill elsewhere, these are all skill plays: any time a first baseman starts a groundball  DP, whether it has him catching a grounder, throwing to second base, and returning to the bag to finish it up (3-6-3), or not (3-6-1), or has him running to the 1B bag to nab the batter and then firing to 2B to catch the runner,  it requires real ability. You won’t find any old heavy-legged weak-armed 1B men, righties OR lefties, starting a lot of DPs, and it’s exactly the play that "people" say a lefty 1B-man excels at, because it is more awkward for a righty to catch a grounder and then shift his body clockwise to get in a good position to fire the ball down to 2B. (A lefty catching a grounder is already pretty much in throwing position, to belabor the obvious.) So now we have some data. Whoopee! What shall we do with it?

I know, kids! Let’s make a table!

In fact, it’s a beautiful day, let’s make two! A table of right-handed fielding first baseman, and another table of left-handed fielding first basemen, and let’s compare the two.  I began by finding all the first basemen in 2018 who were playing the position for at least 4000 opponents’ Plate Appearances. There were 17 such fielders last season, 12 righties and 5 lefties.

Before we get started, and I hope without starting up that incredibly tedious conversation from last month (Please, Lord, I don’t ask for much), I need to observe that I found it mildly surprising yet seriously supportive of my position on the matter that there were so many more righties than lefties. My position on the matter was that orientation doesn’t matter—if it was so all-blasted important to get a lefty at 1B, managers would just find some lefty, even one who didn’t hit so well, or one who could play the outfield, or one who was twiddling his thumbs in AAA ball, and stick him at first base, no matter what, but no. Managers seemed to employ righties pretty often at first base, which told me that no one found it particularly helpful to get a lefty at 1B.  Sure, lefties CAN play 1B, just like they CAN play the OF, but playing the OF demands extra skills—a strong throwing arm, or speed, or ability to track flies while running full-out—that 1B doesn’t demand, so what a 1B-man is is an outfielder without those particular skills, or maybe one with the ability to field hard-hit grounders, just as a DH is someone with none of those particular skills.

Digression on the spectrum of fielders: We’ve already discussed to death the reasons that a 2B man, 3B man, shortstop or catcher CAN’T be left-handed, so my argument boils down to "You can play 1B if all you can do is catch a grounder, while every other defensive position demands the ability to throw, or run, or perform some other skillful defensive maneuvers. Just catching grounders won’t make you a great defensive first baseman, but people have made long careers with that single skill." I’ve never thought about it in just this way before, but four out of the five positions at the right end of the defensive spectrum allow lefties, while the three leftmost defensive positions don’t. In fact, if you just switch around CF and 3B, you get a perfect breakdown of positionality and handedness, so the moral is: if you insist on batting righthanded, you’d better be able to field really well.

The defensive spectrum-- more precisely the fielding spectrum, since pitchers would be at the far left end of the defensive spectrum, despite their not having unusually strong fielding skills—runs as follows, if you’re late to the game:

C-SS-2B-CF-3B-RF-LF-1B.

Catcher is also a bit of an outlier, if you use the fielding spectrum to measure positions that are increasingly more transferable left-to-right and less transferable right-to-left.  Craig Biggio aside, you don’t see many catchers being moved to CF as they get older. But otherwise, the spectrum Bill devised in the late 70s, early 80s, does measure a rough decline in fielding abilities—shortstops can play most any position to the right, while few rightfielders can become centerfielders or second-basemen as they age. A second-baseman who loses some of his range can play 3B, usually, while a third baseman rarely becomes a second baseman late in his career. I can’t think of any established third-baseman, off the top of my head, who did make second base his regular position. Anyone?

While we’re refreshing our thoughts on the fielding spectrum (one particularly astute reader confessed in Reader Posts last month that he couldn’t keep straight whether the spectrum grew more demanding left-to-right or right-to-left), I’ll share a few thoughts about it that may go beyond Bill’s original concept. I ran this idea past Bill recently, and he seemed to give it his general approval: there are particular skills that fielders have to play the infield and the outfield that determine one’s position. For the outfield in general, the basic requirement is that you be able to track and catch a fly ball. If you can do that, and do it at top speed, you can play centerfield. (If you have mediocre tracking and/or catching skills, and you’re speedy, then you’re either a bad centerfielder or a fast leftfielder.)  If you can do that and throw very accurately and very far, you can play right field. If you can only do that, you’re a leftfielder. If you can’t do any of that, you must play in the infield.

For an infielder, the basic requirement is that you be able to field a groundball. If you can do that, and have a strong throwing arm, you can play third. If you can field a groundball and cover a good amount of range, you can play second, and if you can both cover a good amount of range and have a strong throwing arm, voila, you’re a shortstop. If all you can do is field a groundball, then you play first, and if you can’t field a groundball or track or catch a flyball, then what the hell are you doing on the field? You’re a DH.

Now it’s possible, even probable, that a team has two men with the abilities of a shortstop, which is why we have backup shortstops, but if they can both hit well enough to start, then that team has a shortstop and also a second baseman with a good throwing arm. In other words, there’s no rule that you must have a weak throwing arm to play second base—these are minimum requirements. And I’m not taking offensive needs into account, of course—sometimes a team will need to play someone at a position that demands defensive skills that player lacks, which is where all the fielders we love to mock come from.  But sometimes that trade-off is the team’s best option, at least until it convinces itself empirically that all the practice and experience on earth will not make a third baseman out of Bobby Bonilla.

Speaking of which, I remember that when the Mets first acquired Keith Hernandez, their regular first baseman was Dave Kingman, sort of going from the ridiculous to the sublime, and one of their first conundra was what to do with Kingman. "Take him behind the barn and shoot him" wasn’t really an option because Kingman was one of their very few decent batters at the time, so I thought, "Play him at first base, and play Hernandez at third," until one of my friends who had watched Hernandez closely pointed out to me that Hernandez was left-handed. What difference? I thought, having watched Mets’ teams with third basemen who seemed to field the position without any hands at all, but I conceded the point. Hernandez got to play first base, and Kingman was soon on his way to Wrigley, which was better for his life expectancy than being taken behind the barn and shot.

Back to 2018, and our tables of first basemen, if there were actually a good reason that lefties had a huge advantage over righties in playing first base, wouldn’t we see most 1B men wearing their gloves on their right hand? In fact, we still see most first basemen throwing with their right hand, despite the fact that righties can play any position while lefties are limited to playing only 1B and the three OF spots.  It’s not that lefties have a special skill that suits them for first base, but rather it’s that they need limited skills to play the position adequately: if you’re left-handed and you’re not fast, can’t judge a fly well or run fast or throw the ball particularly well, we still have a position you can play. Last year, it looks like one first baseman in three was lefthanded.

Or that’s what the small sample shows. I’d love it if someone wants to expand this small sample: maybe you want to sort all the first basemen in 2018 according to their orientation (dexterity/sinistrality, not sexual) and learn how all of them, not just these 17, compare to each other. Or maybe you want to do 2017, and 2016, and 2015, going all the way back to Tim Harkness and Frank Chance. (Tim and Chance happeneth to us all, but I’m going to stick to 2018 anyway.)

If you do want to expand this 2018 list a bit, however, I suggest that, like me, you set your cutoffs at arbitrary thousand-PA intervals. My arbitrary point was 4000 opposing Plate Appearances, just to establish that I wasn’t cutting the list off at a point that favored my argument. (In fact, the final name on my list was a lefthanded Gold Glover who just happened to be playing first base during 4003 plate Appearances—I figured no one could have a problem with my cutting the list off right after a lefthanded Gold Glover appeared on it.) If you want to add guys who played first base for 3000-3999 PAs, there are only five more, and if you want to add 2000-2999, there are eleven more. There were exactly 200 guys who played first base in MLB in 2018, so if you want to include them all, including the four who didn’t have a single fielding chance at first, knock yourself out. https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2018-specialpos_1b-fielding.shtml

It dudn’t matter, because I think this sample of 17 shows that there’s no difference between righties and lefties, at least as far starting DPs went in 2018:

 

RH 1B MEN

PA

3-6-3 DPs

3-6-1 DPs

3-6 DPs

Total

Freeman 

5973

 0

3 

  1

   4

Olsen 

5844   

 6 

5

  1

 12

Goldschmidt    

5760

 8

1

  1

 10

Santana

5359

 3

2

  4

   9

Votto

5122

 1

2

  1

   4

Bell

5016

 0

1

  0

   1

Desmond

4952

 4

2

  0

   6

Alonso     

4802

 4

7

  1

 12

Healy

4739

 2

2

  0

   4

Davis

4496

 4

4

  1

   9

Abreu

4371

 4

1

  1

   6

Aguilar

4386

 3

3

  0

   6

TOTALS

60820

 

 

 

83

PA/DP

 

 

 

 

732.8

DPs/PA

 

 

 

 

0.0013646826701743

 

                       

LH 1B MEN

PA

3-6-3 DPs

3-6-1 DPs

3-6 DPs

Total

Hosmer

5917 

 3

 2

 4

  9

Rizzo

5611

 1

 6

 3

10

Smoak

4852

 4

 1

 0  

  5

Guzman

4069

 3

 0

 2

  5

Moreland

4003

 2

 0

 2

  4

TOTALS

24452

 

 

 

33

PA/DP

 

 

 

 

741

DPs/PA

 

 

 

 

0.0013495828562081

 

Basically, these two groups in 2018 had about as close a DP rate as you could get. (Groucho to Margaret Dumont imploring him to dance closer to her: "If I was any closer, I’d be in back of you!")  In terms of batting average, we’d be talking about the difference between a .331135 average and a .331136, which is to say no meaningful difference at all. In fact, I wonder if it ever happened that a batting title had to be settled around the sixth position to the right of the decimal point, wouldn’t we just say, "Hell with it, it’s a tie." I’d sure be plenty pissed-off to be the runner-up in that situation, tell you that.

Put another way, the other way around, one group turned a skill-DP once every 741 plate appearances and the other group turned the trick once every 733 PAs. Would you ever base any sort of personnel decision on a difference that tiny? The tiny difference (between 0.001349 and 0.001365 doubleplays per plate appearance) favors the righties, but a difference that small is really no difference at all.

If you’re a careful reader of charts, you will have noticed that there is a statistical anomaly in the two charts above: the total number of DPs that go 3-6, where the first baseman fields the ball, steps on first to get the batter first and then throws to second base to nab the runner on a tag play, is "11" on both charts, despite the many fewer PA for lefty-fielding first basemen. Is this the key? Is this play the one that lefties can perform much better than righties? Perhaps, though it is the one type of DP that Bill did NOT nominate as a likely place to look at the problem. ("…one of the places it should show up is in 3-6-3 and 3-6-1 double plays.") If you’ll recall, I added it to the chart, simply because the data was right there, and it seemed to require as much skill as either of the others. If someone wants to argue that THIS is the one true skill play, the fiendishly difficult DP that separates the wheat from the cream, the goats from the chaff, the milk from the sheep, among first basemen, I’m all ears, though you’ll need to explain why 1) Bill didn’t think of it, 2) it would be true and, most important, 3) why the other two types of DPs that Bill thought so demanding of skill now are much more frequent, when considered alone, for right-handed first basemen.

Now, it’s possible that there are other plays that lefties can perform better at than righties, but I’ll be damned if I can think of them. Pickoff plays, maybe? Throws to 3B? I can’t really imagine plays that occur very often where handedness would, even theoretically, make a difference, and these were the plays that Bill, nine years ago, came up with as his best test. If you have any suggestions for a different test, or an improvement in mine, or different data to use in fleshing out this little study, I’ll be very interested to see what you come up with.

 
 

COMMENTS (36 Comments, most recent shown first)

steve161
Maris, I agree with you on the extremes, but that's about it. Defensive metrics before the availability of play-by-play data are simply too imprecise to permit drawing any other conclusions from them. And the imprecision, whether of WAR or Win Shares, is greatest for catchers (and still is) and first basemen.

David Kaiser used Humphreys' Wizardry for the defensive part of his recent effort, and a case can be made that those are the best numbers out there, though in fact, for first basemen, Humphreys states that his system is superior to others only through the mid-50s and fails increasingly as we come closer to the present. His all-time top 40 is on page 173 and doesn't seem to feature an overrepresentation of lefties, but I doubt that he himself would support drawing any conclusions. FYI the list is headed by Keith Hernandez and, interestingly enough, doesn't include Lou Gehrig at all. And as of publication in 2011, Albert Pujols was already in third place. FWIW.
6:13 AM Dec 29th
 
MarisFan61
Steve, yes, but I don't think that undoes the thing's capability for telling us something relevant for this.

It means the thing isn't definitive for it -- but then again I'd say (strongly) that the existing fielding metrics that do include those things wouldn't be definitive for it either, and actually I'd say that those things (perhaps not counting updated versions of Win Shares) are less good than original Win Shares for what we're looking at here.
Like, I wouldn't take "dWAR" as a definitive thing for anything at all, except at the extremes -- like, that a player who's consistently near the bottom is a worse fielder than one who's consistently near the top.

Per how I put it down there, I consider those 'letter grades' that are based on the original Win Share system as indicative enough to conclude with a good degree of confidence that any advantage of lefties would be very small and that more likely there's no general inherent advantage.​
4:42 PM Dec 28th
 
steve161
Maris, the problem with using the Historical Abstract or the Win Shares book is that both were written before we had play-by-play data, which means we had no information on one of the plays that distinguish the better first basemen: handling the throw in the dirt. For that, we are largely reliant on anecdotal evidence. I saw Keith Hernandez and Albert Pujols, so I know they were exceptional. I remember Steve Garvey being very good, though his throwing was catastrophic. I have no idea about Lou Gehrig.​
4:19 PM Dec 28th
 
MarisFan61
(sorry, typo -- supposed to be 'emphasizing a THING')
12:15 PM Dec 28th
 
MarisFan61
So, what do we conclude?

I at least have sort of concluded a thing that's a big difference from what I always thought. I don't think anything here proves it, because (as I said) there's surely a lot that's not being taken into account.

But I'm thinking it's likely that the traditional belief of a lefty having an advantage at 1B is mistaken, or at least that if there's any such advantage it's very small, so small as not to be worth even thinking about, because it's outweighed by almost anything else, like, any single one of these:
-- how good a fielder the guy is, just basically
-- if he can play somewhere else and if that's more useful
-- how good a first baseman he is compared to how good he is elsewhere
-- how he feels about playing there as opposed to elsewhere
-- how good a hitter he is.

.....and that's despite my strongly tending to think in general that long-held baseball beliefs are probably right.

As to what makes me conclude it with some confidence:
With apologies for emphasizing a think that was posted by me :-) ....it's mainly what I saw from those "letter grades" by Bill.
Steven's material was what made me wonder; without that, I wouldn't have felt any interest or need to look at anything. But since I think there's much that isn't taken into account (which I know might inspire "like what" but I don't think I'll be interested to go further into it), those things in the article wouldn't have been enough for me to wind up with more than "OK maybe but I still doubt it." The letter grade thing, for me, firms it up; the material here together with that puts it into 'likely.'
In fact, I'd say that the letter grade thing by itself would put it pretty much into 'likely' for me. I think it's a very powerful indicator for this, even more than its basic accuracy for evaluating 1B defense, because of it being an objective measure of so much that's involved in 1B defense.

And, BTW, as I looked through those 'grades' I saw quite a few players whose grades felt surprising and which gave me new wonderment about how accurate the system is (at least that original system) for first basemen, although not particularly doubt about whether it's still better than other systems.
12:13 PM Dec 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks for the suggestion, lazer. I rejected it because I was looking at a large group of players, and measuring how ALL of them performed, which tends to wipe out the individual differences between teams.​
4:31 AM Dec 28th
 
lazer
Interesting article. Instead of total PA’s shouldn’t we be looking at DP opportunities instead (runner on first, less than two outs)? Or actually GB’s to 1B in those situations? I could see the data being skewed by pitcher handedness and/or tendencies. For example, a team with more LHP would likely face more RHB thus reducing GB’s to 1B. Or a strikeout/fly ball pitcher would have less GB’s in general. Just some thoughts to ponder. Thanks.
11:33 PM Dec 27th
 
Steven Goldleaf
OK, now I understand your point--it was addressed to my claim that the only skill needed to play 1B was catching grounders. I should have said that EVERY fielder, especially infielders, needs to be able to catch a ball thrown to them. I took that for granted.

As to Maris's point--yes, I did mix up the handedness, so thanks for catching that, though it hardly affects my point that the advantage is moot without hard numbers. We're just guessing at the effect that being RH or LH has on playing first, if any. I don't see how someone can offer rationales for one or the other without knowing for sure how the numbers even shake out.
12:28 PM Dec 27th
 
FrankD

Steve, you said

"" so my argument boils down to "You can play 1B if all you can do is catch a grounder, while every other defensive position demands the ability to throw, or run, or perform some other skillful defensive maneuvers. Just catching grounders won’t make you a great defensive first baseman, but people have made long careers with that single skill." ""

So I brought up the ability to field throws is the most important defensive skill for 1B men. Just catching grounders is not good enough to be a first baseman.



12:21 PM Dec 27th
 
steve161
And it looks like I got the play in the hole backwards as well. This is what happens to people like me who utterly lack a sense of direction. It's the lefty who needs to play closer to the bag to handle the ball down the line. Now I'm all confused.
12:03 PM Dec 27th
 
steve161
Any handedness effect can be negated by positioning, the righty playing a bit closer to the bag than the lefty. A handedness effect is only going to show up where there is no way to compensate for it. For example, when it is necessary to hold a runner on first, the lefty might have a bit of an edge making the tag on a pickoff throw, but the righty will have an edge coming off the bag to field a ground ball in the hole. No doubt there are numerous other cases.
11:59 AM Dec 27th
 
MarisFan61
(looks like you said it backwards about who stops the balls down the line and who stops the balls in the hole)
10:18 AM Dec 27th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Assuming there is an effect there, Frank, you'd need to show that the total number of doubles and singles prevented isn't negated by the greater number of singles prevented. It's entirely possible that this effect, if it exists, works in favor of righties. For one thing, a lot of balls that lefties can get to down the line that righties can't reach are going to be fouls (so No Harm, No Foul, so to speak) while every single that a righty first baseman grabs that a lefty wouldn't is going to be fair. So: 1) this may work out in favor of right-handed first basemen, and 2) if it doesn't, the total effect may be minor to the point of negligibility. In other words, there is a difference between a righty and a lefty 1B man, for sure, but whose favor that difference is in is wide open.

As to your second point, isn't that just saying that being tall helps a 1B-man's reach? I don't see where handedness enters into the question here.
8:04 AM Dec 27th
 
FrankD
Interesting article .... One comment just in case somebody didn't mention it. Can it be shown/disproven that a left-handed 1B is better at stopping potential doubles and, maybe as a corollary, a right-handed 1B gives up fewer singles? Any effect may be so low as to be undetectable but I'm sure that some announcers have posited this effect...... and I want to add catching grounders is not the 1B's most important defensive contribution - the 1B has to catch good throws, bad throws, high throws and throws in the dirt. Even if Eddie Gaedel could catch grounders (except for 'high hops') I think he'd be terrible at getting most throws to first - the throws would be out of his range either high or to the sides .......
11:29 PM Dec 26th
 
MarkBernstein
> I can’t think of any established third-baseman, off the top of my head, who did make second base his regular position.

Ron Santo, 1974 (CWS). Probably best considered a counter-example.

Eduardo Nunez 2018 (BOS), if you consider Nunez to be established anywhere. He's had 9 seasons now. It seems to me that he's a 2nd-division 3B who, for whatever reason, has spent his career on good teams with decent alternatives at 3B.
1:02 PM Dec 26th
 
steve161
Ah, I see where the confusion arose. The only reason I mentioned the longer throw is that it is the tradeoff that guarantees one out while endangering the second--not only the longer throw, of course, but also the necessity of tagging the runner. But you're right: the length of the throw is essentially identical for all first basemen. Glad we now understand each other.
1:40 PM Dec 25th
 
MarisFan61
Yes -- that takes care of the things I mentioned.

Part of the problem was, in view of what you're talking about and the comparisons you're making, I don't know why you felt you needed to say anything about the throw being longer -- because, it's the same length for any kind of first baseman. It left the question of 'longer than what,' and what's the relevance of it, and at least to me, it really muddied it up.
(You haven't made it clear why you did. I wonder if maybe it's because you're trying to make some additional point that you haven't clarified. Which doesn't mean it's necessarily important to work further on this...)
5:11 PM Dec 24th
 
steve161
OK, let me try this again. The 3-6 (or 3-4) DP is different from the others that are started by the 1B in that he makes the out at first before throwing to second, thus forcing a tag. He does this because he is closer to the bag when he fields the ball than on the other DPs. Thus his throw to second, whether he is right- or left-handed, is longer--the full 90 feet, rather than the 60 or 70 or 80 required when he starts the play by throwing to second directly after fielding the ball. Clear so far?

Now: because he has to throw to second from the bag, after having run to it--and has to avoid hitting the baserunner--the throw is slightly easier for the lefthander, because he doesn't have to turn his body, assuming he has run to the bag from outside the baseline between 1st and 2nd, which I take to cover most cases. (If he fields the ball inside the baseline, the ball is probably more slowly hit, and there is no shot at a DP anyway. I would suspect that the lefty has a slightly better shot at getting the force at second, but that's another discussion.)

This might explain why the (admittedly meagre) numbers seem to show a slight edge for the lefthander on this one particular play. This is not a rationalization, Steven, it is by your own admission what your numbers show.

I'm making no claim for other double plays. Indeed, I'm not really making a claim for this one, because the sample size is small. I'm saying that this is a possible explanation for what the inadequate numbers show for this special case, if we take those numbers more seriously than they probably deserve.
4:56 PM Dec 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
My take, MarisFan61, is that steve161 is doing what I suspect many do: rationalizing why a lefty would be better at 1B whatever the numbers show or don't show. Instead of asking: Is it so?, he's beginning by "proving" why it should be so.
11:01 AM Dec 24th
 
MarisFan61
Steve161: I actually didn't (and don't) understand the whole thing. I thought maybe the problem was just some mistaken word, but that was a guess. Basically I just don't get what you're saying altogether.

....the fielder is probably fairly close to the bag when he catches the ball, so the throw to second is longer, reducing the likelihood that there will be enough time to get the ball back to first. The throw to second is easier for a lefty because he doesn't have to turn his body; the time saved increases the frequency of successful DPs.

Take the first part: Why would a lefty be "fairly close to the bag when he catches the ball"? Wouldn't a righty also be?
Do you mean the lefty would be closer to the bag than a righty?
But why would he? That seems to assume a thing about relative positioning of lefty and righty 1B's (I'm leaving out the details for relative brevity) that I wouldn't assume.
Anyway, already I'm lost.

Then, "so the throw to second is longer": Longer than what? On a 3-6 DP, the throw is 90 feet for anybody.

Maybe have you now flipped into talking about how it would be if the guy went for a 3-6-3, and saying that when there's some choice of whether to do 3-6-3 or 3-6, the lefty is more likely than the righty to do the 3-6?
I know that this 'interpretation' is convoluted -- but it's the only way I can even begin understanding what you're saying.

I don't get it altogether.​
10:01 AM Dec 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Where it fails for me is in not addressing the question I raised: assuming that the 3-6 is an easier play for the lefty thrower, why then are the 363 and 361 DPs so much easier (statistically for these 17 players in 2018) for the righties to make?
8:39 AM Dec 24th
 
steve161
Maris: rereading my first paragraph, it's not exactly a model of clarity, but I think it says what I intended. What do you think I got backwards?

My argument is that the ground ball near the first base bag is a tough DP because of the additional distance (the full 90 feet from first to second), but that the lefty has a slight edge because he can make the throw without turning his body after stepping on the bag.
6:14 AM Dec 24th
 
MarisFan61
......As I said in my long comment down below, I was trying to do a little study of looking at Bill's "letter grades" on fielding, in the Win Shares book, to see if lefties did better than righties, and that it got interrupted by a browser crash, but that it didn't seem to be showing anything anyway: lefties and righties seemed to be doing about the same.

I re-did it and in fact took it further than I was going to. I had planned to go down Bill's alphabetical list of first basemen until I had at least 15 of each 'handed.' What I did was to go down the first 2 "columns," from Adcock to Jorgensen, which gave 50 righties and 39 lefties.

Indeed it showed nothing.
By which I mean, the lefties and righties did just about equally -- righties a little better but basically the same.

In case you're on a quiz show and the question comes up, the average letter grade was about a B-minus for each group: 2.78 for the righties, 2.64 for the lefties.
I call that 'equal.'
BTW I would also have called it equal if the lefties had 'won' by the same margin :-) even though I 'wanted' the lefties to show better, because I went into it figuring they would.

I also looked a little at how the groups compared in terms of extreme grades, i.e. amounts of very high and very low grades.
No difference there either.
In fact, they're astonishingly equal.

I looked at Bill's entire list for that part of it.
The righties show 10 guys with A+ or A, 5 guys with D (any kind of D) or F.
The lefties show 8 and 4.
So, both show twice as many with top grades as bottom grades.
And in fact, since it seems there are about 25% more righties than lefties (if the proportions for the rest of the list are about the same as for the first 89 guys), the proportions of those numbers to the size of their groups are essentially identical.

Conclude what you wish from this very non-definitive thing. All I can say is, it's a thing that might have shown an advantage for lefties, I thought it would, and it doesn't.

If you believe in the thing I said down there about there perhaps being a selection factor that makes the righties as a group be less talented at general fielding skill, you could even say that this suggests an advantage for righties.
(.......having nothing to do with the slight numerical advantage in their "GPA," which I consider insignificant; just that the numbers are about equal)
12:56 AM Dec 24th
 
MarisFan61
Steve161: Did you say something accidentally backwards in the first part of that post?
(I think you might have.)
9:20 PM Dec 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
It is not, however, a particularly small sample of PAs.
7:13 PM Dec 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
It is a small sample--of players, and I invite anyone who likes to continue down the line and build the list of players further, either in 2018 or to go back in time and break the ones from 2017 with over 4000 PAs into lefties and righties, or any other method you choose. it strikes me as odd that I arbitrarily happened to pick these 17, and the lefties and righties had such identical results, but maybe that's a coincidence. We can only see by doing further studies.
7:11 PM Dec 23rd
 
shinsplint
It seems to me that if lefties do have an advantage over righties, it may be more discernible in the number of 3-6 force outs (not double plays). After all, better to get that force out than just step on first, of course. And the sample size for those situations would be higher than the first base-initiated double plays.
5:36 PM Dec 23rd
 
steve161
Here's a guess as to why the 3-6 DP is more frequently turned by lefties: the fielder is probably fairly close to the bag when he catches the ball, so the throw to second is longer, reducing the likelihood that there will be enough time to get the ball back to first. The throw to second is easier for a lefty because he doesn't have to turn his body; the time saved increases the frequency of successful DPs. Why didn't Bill remark on this? Perhaps because it's too small a percentage of all DPs to be interesting.

But, as others have noted, the sample is far too small to draw any conclusions. With so few instances, there is much too much room for other factors to interfere with the probabilities. My suspicion is that, even with a sufficient number of DPs, the percentage difference is not going to be great enough to override other considerations, like the ability of a fielder to play other positions. Some players need to play because of their bats; to me, it's an open question as to which poor fielder does more damage, the butcher in left or the one at first. The latter's position is probably easier, but he has at least three or four times as many opportunities to screw up.​
2:40 PM Dec 23rd
 
shorena11
Can't edit my post. I was incorrect in that Smoak's 2018 rate was not better than his career rate, but my main point still holds.
10:19 AM Dec 23rd
 
shorena11
The sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. I looked at the career numbers for the lefties. Smoak and Moreland don't appear to be any good at starting double plays. In fact, their 2018 rates (970 and 1001 PAs per DP, respectively) were better than their career rates (890 and 1254, respectively). Guzman has only played the one season and from the looks of it, he may not be any good at starting double plays, either. So out of five left-handed first basemen, you've got at least two and likely three guys who aren't any good at this. It does not necessarily follow that left-handed first basement don't have an advantage in this area.
10:17 AM Dec 23rd
 
doncoffin
Interesting that he did not do a test of whether the difference in success rates was (statistically) significant. (I don't think it is; the difference in success rates is insignificantly different from zero--unless I made a calculation error, which is always possible).

The key table (I hope this pastes) (It didn't, so I reformatted it and omitted some of it):
--------------DP Attempted------Turned------%Turned
Righties--------13,670-----------2,814--------20.59%
Lefties----------10,179-----------2006---------19.71%



10:02 PM Dec 22nd
 
W.T.Mons10
I've got a study done 10 years ago by Christopher Chestnut, covering basically 1956-2007. He found left-handed throwing first basemen converted 6.7% of their DP opportunities while righties closed the deal 6.32% of the time. But at the top of the list you find several righties who started out playing other infield positions, such as Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, and Rod Carew. Which makes some sense.

See http://retrosheet.org/Research/ChestnutC/The 3-6-3 Double Play Summaries.pdf
9:35 PM Dec 22nd
 
doncoffin
Another possible "advantage" by handedness is fielding pick-off throws (and, perhaps, achieving successful POs. And if you thing about positioning to take a throw and make a tag, it's righties who have an advantage there. Lefties have to reach across their bodies to make the catch/tag, whereas righties do not...
7:25 PM Dec 22nd
 
MarisFan61
One error in the article:
It wasn't Margaret Dumont but this blonde chick:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loLRiGNULx0

ALTHOUGH.....it's possible he also said it to her. Groucho & co. did lots of "live" stuff, on the road, all over, and maybe they did some of those routines in other contexts besides the films, and the same stuff with different people.
6:28 PM Dec 22nd
 
MarisFan61
To try to get "evidence," I did a little study.
Very little. :-)
(As I usually do.)

And, to my surprise, it seemed to be showing no advantage for lefties; or, it's more accurate to say, it failed yet to be showing any advantage.
I'd present the data, if not that the browser crashed in the middle and so the data are gone; and I'd re-do it from the start, if not that it was so much showing nothing.

I figured I'd look at Bill's "letter grades" in the Win Shares book for first basemen, to see if the lefties do better.

I made sure the sample was random by just going down the list alphabetically. I wasn't going to do a complete study -- I don't do complete studies. :-)
I was going to keep going till I had at least 15 players of each handedness. I was at the 29th guy, Cavarretta, when it crashed. There were probably 10-12 lefties so far. Both groups seemed to be doing about the same. If there was any advantage either way, it was small.
The main thing it showed (so far) was that the group of guys at the beginning of the alphabetical first base fielding list is exquisitely mediocre.

Also: I thought that in order for this thing to be any real evidence that lefties have an advantage, they'd have to show more than just slightly better, because I'd guess that lefty first basemen as a group are somewhat more basically talented at fielding, since righties are often put there because they're not good enough fielders to play anywhere else, whereas (according to dictum) you can't put lefties in half of the other places. Indeed it's not simple to say that this means the lefties are more talented, because often lefties are put there because they don't have the arm or speed for the outfield (or can't judge fly balls, or other things), but I'd guess this balances out in the direction of the lefties as a group being higher on basic fielding skill than the righties.
5:37 PM Dec 22nd
 
bearbyz
Well, just the sample size. I don't think one season or 18 first basemen is enough. Interesting result though. I still would have thought the lefties would have won.
5:33 PM Dec 22nd
 
 
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