Displaced Persons follow-up

January 2, 2019

A couple of follow-up thoughts on left-handed and right-handed first basemen. (Too many thoughts to add to the "Comments" section of https://www.billjamesonline.com/displaced_persons/ , and it’s too late, besides. After about a week, or a new article or two by Bill or anybody else, I assume no one is reading the "Comments" any more, at least no one who expects a reply to his comment. I do, however, occasionally read a very old article, two or three years old, and perversely make a comment if I think of a belated related point, knowing full well that I’m writing on the wall of a cave that no one ventures into anymore.) In response to the last few comments posted there, I’d like to point out how no one has yet taken me up on my "offer" to extend the small sampling I did of 2018 first basemen, sorted by handedness, to check if my findings hold up, but I’m hopeful that someone will study this further. For me, it’s a little too much like picking the flyshit out of pepperboxes, going through Bb-ref’s columns of 1bmen’s defensive stats and then sorting them by memory and by research and by hand into lefties and righties, and then adding up the stats in each category. I think the definition of "sufficient sample size" in matters like these is "more than anyone is ever going to do." (In fact, it does sort of creep me out to consider that there could be any flyshit in pepperboxes in the first place. I guess that’s a metaphor for "thankless tedious tasks." I hope so, anyway. But to be safe, I’ve stopped using pepper on my food.) If anyone does continue this study, bless you and please let me know your results.

Mark Bernstein responded to my challenge to come up with "any established third-baseman, off the top of my head, who did make second base his regular position" with "Ron Santo, 1974 (CWS). Probably best considered a counter-example," which, yes, is the classic counter-example. Bill once cited the move as ruining Santo’s career, probably after it was already ruined anyway.  Oddly enough, Santo had made the NL All-Star team in 1973, not particularly deservingly but these things are often not entirely merit-based: it was Santo’s tenth All-Star selection, and his last one. He had failed to make the All-Star team in 1970, though, when he knocked in 114 runs, so it evens out. Following that final All-Star year, the Cubs dealt him off to the crosstown Sox, who really didn’t need a third baseman or a second baseman. From his SABR-bio: "Santo spent most of the 1974 season as a utility infielder, spelling Bill Melton at third base or Jorge Orta at second. His primary position was that of designated hitter." He played all of 39 games at second base for the White Sox, then retired, having driven in 41 runs in 418 plate appearances for the Sox, which doesn’t cut it for a DH or a utility infielder. He was all done, in other words, and while the switch to second base didn’t help, it didn’t snuff out his career by itself either.

The Cubs replaced Santo in 1974 with Bill Madlock, whom they had just acquired in a deal with the Rangers; Madlock came in third in the ROTY voting in 1974 at 3B, and interestingly enough is a better choice to answer my challenge than Santo is. Madlock was the Cubs’ regular 3B-man for three years, 1974-6, then, traded to the Giants, played 126 games at 3B in 1977. In 1978, however, the Giants played him at second base for 114 games, and again for 63 games in 1979, when he was traded to the Pirates who put him back at 3B for good. Depending on where you want to draw the line at defining "regular" and "established," this may fulfill my challenge, or it may not. As Bill pointed out in my OF-to-3B conversion article back in the 1986 Abstract, switching to a harder position for a brief period signifies a failed experiment more than it does a successful one. Bill argued that putting Mel Ott or Yaz or Frank Robinson at 3B and then switching him back to the outfield was the team’s way of asking "What the hell were we thinking?"  But I’ll be interested if anyone wants to propose a further, more extensive and more successful experiment in 3B-to-2B conversion than Santo or Madlock. 

Mr. Bernstein ("Yes, Mr. Kane?") also supplied "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." Again, I’d consider Nunez more of a utility infielder than anything else: he’s never played half of his team’s games at any one position. Not really what I was talking about, but thanks for trying, Mark.

Among the other subjects touched on in the Comments section I found noteworthy was the question of whether being left-handed prevents more singles from going into the hole between 1B and 2B than being right-handed prevents doubles down the line. Well, obviously it does (if only because some doubles are going to be prevented by going foul), but the real question is whether it prevents ENOUGH singles to compensate for the more-costly doubles. I suppose the more fundamental question is what kinds of numbers are we talking about here: after all, it’s not as being left-handed prevents you from making that play back-handed. I’ve seen enough great stabs on would-be doubles down the line by lefties Keith Hernandez and John Olerud and Don Mattingly to make me wonder if handedness makes any play show up enough for lefties or righties to be statistically significant.

Returning to the nots-and-bults of my little study, I found that there were columns of defensive stats by first basemen on baseball-reference.com that I hadn’t used, but should have.  Bb-ref actually did some of my tedious totaling for me.  (Always a mistake, doing my own addition—when I do any kind of computation in my head, I often get weird results, numbers that are off by a factor of thousands, telling me that I forgot to carry the "7" somewhere along the line.)  These columns would have been useful: the ones labelled "GB" and "GBs," a few columns to the right of the columns headed "3-6-3" and "3-6-1" and "3-6," designate, respectively, the total number of "any groundball double play where the fielder took part," which includes "low-skill" DPs, where the 1bman is merely making the final putout, and the total number of "any groundball where the fielder had the first assist." The latter column would have been particularly useful to me, but there is a discrepancy between it and the totals I came up with by hand, meaning that there are a few DPs that first basemen start that AREN’T 3-6-3 or 3-6-1 or 3-6.

Not many, but some. About one per first baseman per year. I tried to figure out what these DPs might be, and if they’re mostly "high-skill" or "low-skill" plays. If they’re "high-skill," then I can (and you can) just use the "GBs" column instead of adding up the other three.

In scoring shorthand, these DPs must go 3 to some other number (to qualify as an assist). Could you have a DP that goes 3-4? I suppose with a big shift on a right-handed pull hitter, the second baseman might be right on top of the bag, so a hard-hit grounder down the first-base line with a runner on first might have the first baseman stepping on the bag and throwing to second base which would be covered by the second baseman, instead of the shortstop. That’s possible, though I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that play.

How about 3-5-6 or 3-5-4? That would be "runners on first and second, less than two out" with a hard-hit grounder to the first-baseman, who throws to third to get the lead runner, and then the throw goes to second base to get the trailing runner.  That seems more likely. Least likely of all is 3-5-3 (or 3-5-1) where there would have to be two very long throws (almost 120 feet apiece)—can’t say I’ve ever seen that one. A 3-5 DP is possible, I suppose, with a very slow lead runner: first baseman grabs the grounder, steps on first and then fires to 3B to put a tag on the runner.

The final possibility involves the catcher, 3-2 or 3-2-3 (or 3-2-1 or 3-2-4).  I’m straining my imagination here, but it’s a long season and you do get some oddball plays along the way. Has anyone ever seen a play that goes 3-2-5? I can imagine it—with a slow enough forced runner (or a runner who trips or gets a horrible jump) on second base, anything is possible. A 3-2-5 DP would involve a bases-loaded situation with fewer than two outs where the first baseman grabs a grounder, probably well in front of the bag and fires home to get the force and then the catcher sees his most likely shot at another runner is at 3B. Again, possible, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this play pulled off. Perhaps the trend towards infield shifting is enabling some of these weirder DPs, with infielders being positioned far from their historical spots on the diamond.

Anyway, it seems to me that ANY scenario in which the first baseman gets the first assist on a DP involves considerable fielding skill on his part, either of judgment (in diagnosing the situation quickly and correctly) or of throwing ability (all of these throws, except possibly the 3-2 throw is by definition a fairly long one), or both. So unless someone wants to show me where any of these DPs is NOT a play requiring considerable skill by the 1B-man, I should make my life easier and just go with the "DPs" column on BB-Ref and save myself a lot of donkeywork (and some errors in addition, most likely).

The leader, as far as I can tell, in these oddball DPs in 2018 was Carlos Santana having 4 of them (most first baseman had 0 oddball DPs, which brought the average down to something like 1 apiece per year), although the leader in percentage of oddball DPs appeared to be someone I watched closely for many years at 1B, Lucas Duda. Baseball-reference says 2 out of his 5 "skill" DPs (i.e. the ones designated as "GBs") were "oddball" DPs, groundball DPs started by him that went other than 3-6-3, 3-6-1, or 3-6.

OK, I tediously looked through every game Lucas "Camptown Ladies" Duda played at 1B in 2018 and, like Bogart and the waters of Casablanca, I’ve been misinformed: I did find five Duda-started "GBs" DPs, but only one was of the oddball variety, against the Twins on August 3rd. Baseball reference has it "Double Play: Fielder's Choice 1B; Cave out at Hm/1B-C-3B; Mauer to 2B; Rosario out at 2B/3B-2B." Translated into English that means that in the bottom of the second inning, with runners on 1st and 3rd,  Duda had a grounder hit to him at 1B and (with one out) the unforced runner on 3B, Jake Cave, broke for home, and Duda’s throw nailed him. When the batter, Eddie Rosario, tried to take second on the throw home, he also got nailed. DP! Not sure if it went 3-2-4 or 3-2-6? I hadn’t even noted 3-2-6 as an option above, but as I said, it’s a long season and anything can happen.

This 3-2-6 or 3-2-4 does qualify as a skill play, and it reminded of a similar skill play, the most notorious of Duda’s entire career, where his skills fell short of excellence. In the 2015 World Series, you’ll recall, Duda failed to make a throw home that cost the Mets the game and (IMO) their shot at winning the World Series.

We discussed that play extensively in Reader Posts and in "Hey Bill" (the same month we were discussing Harry Truman as a failed POTUS and how long it takes to drive from Boston to Pawtucket and how boring a spectator sport we find cricket and how great Memorial Stadium in Baltimore was  https://www.billjamesonline.com/hey_bill/?Year=2015&Month=11 , among other subjects, including one that I think ended "the_slasher14"’s stay on BJOL) but I didn’t recall precisely what the circumstances were, so I went back to take a look. Man, did we dwell on that half-inning! The Duda play wasn’t even the most controversial part: that honor goes to Matt Harvey, pitching a 4-hit shutout through eight innings, convincing manager Terry Collins let him start the ninth inning with a 2-0 lead, amid Citifield fans clamoring for Harvey to stay in the game against Collins’ better judgment. Collins caved to Harvey and the fans, and then when Harvey walked the leadoff batter, left him in the game. Eric Hosmer immediately doubled off Harvey, driving in the run that made it 2-1, Mets, and put the tying run on second. But very close behind that controversy was the play involving Duda’s arm.

Reliever Jeurys Familia came in and got three consecutive groundballs, which let the Royals tie up the game. The first groundball was hit to Duda, who made the put-out unassisted but allowed Hosmer to advance to third base with only one out. The second grounder to 3B-man David Wright was the controversial one:

Wright threw to 1B (some of us said a little lackadaisically, encouraging Hosmer to do what he did) and Hosmer broke for home. Bill pointed out how Hosmer’s timing was key here: he couldn’t break for home too soon, or Wright would have thrown him out easily, but every millisecond that Hosmer delayed running home added exponentially to Duda’s chance to nail him at the plate. Hosmer’s timing had to be right on the money, and it was.

If you check the "Hey Bill" section for that week, you’ll see Bill stood almost alone in claiming that Hosmer scored easily. Bill pointed out the importance of Hosmer’s timing, but he maintained that given that excellent timing, Duda still had to make a perfect throw to nail Hosmer at the plate, and even then it was questionable. At first Bill claimed that Hosmer took a much a larger lead off 3B than he actually did, making Duda’s task almost impossible, but then someone sent him a screenshot showing Hosmer standing pretty near the 3B bag as Wright was releasing the ball. Bill still refused to back off.

Hosmer himself thought he’d made a terrible mistake, breaking for home plate, at first. (In a response to Marc Schneider, Bill wrote "somebody asked Hosmer what he was thinking when he went home. He said he was thinking, ‘Uh oh; I've made a terrible mistake. . . ’"—not 100% sure if Bill was serious, but it rings true to me.)  Some folks, like Mr. Schneider, agreed with Bill that it was a pretty heads-up play, strategically, in that 1) the Royals were leading the Series 3 games to 1 at the time, so if Hosmer got thrown out, they would still have two more chances (in KC) to win one game, and 2) if he didn’t run, the Royals would have only one more out in which to get a hit off Familia, who was pitching pretty effectively. But I think it was far from settled that the play was a no-brainer. It was a bold decision, in my book, to run on Wright and Duda. My support for thinking so is "How often do you see an unforced runner try to score on any 5-3 play with fewer than two outs?" Not often. Usually that ends up like Jake Cave did in 2018—dead out.

Because it was the 9th inning, the play was extra-dramatic. If the Mets could win this game, the Series would go to 3 games to 2, in favor of the Royals, meaning that the Series would need at least six games and quite possibly seven to resolve the outcome. (The Mets were coming back with deGrom and Syndergaard on full rest in games 6 and 7, with Colon available for long relief.) They had been leading for the entire game (Granderson led off with a homer), and Harvey had been totally lights-out, so I think everyone, even Royals fans, had felt it very likely that Harvey could get three final outs before giving up two runs, and if he couldn’t, the Mets’ bullpen would cool the Royals’ jets. I certainly took it for granted going into the 9th that the game was all but wrapped up, and the Series would go back to Kansas City.

But Hosmer off took for home, on what I make to be an even-odds play at best, and Duda made an off-line throw. If Duda makes that throw ten times, he gets the ball to D’Arnaud six or seven times on the third-base side of the bag, and Hosmer is a dead duck.

Those other 3 or 4 times, of course, are why they play the games.

The entire 2015 World Series, in my view, hinged on this one play.  We’ve discussed World Series that ended 4 games to 1 but nonetheless seemed close, and 2015 was one of them. If Harvey could have gotten three outs before he gave up two runs (which would have gotten you, what, 20-1 odds going into the 9th?), the Series would have been 3 games to 2, in favor of the Royals, but only one of their victories was a blowout (7-1 in the second game) as was one of the Mets’ wins (9-3 in the third game). The first game had been a nail-biter (2 to 1 in 14 innings, favor Royals) and the fourth game had been very close (the Mets led 3-2 going into the 8th when the Royals scored 3 runs).  These were very evenly matched teams, right up to the final inning, the 12th, of this fifth game, when the Royals scored five runs and took the Series then and there.

If I were a Mets fan, I would have been disappointed by this half-inning beyond belief, but even as a baseball fan, I was blown away by this single play.

Duda’s 2018 throw home against the Twins came when he was wearing a Royals’ uni, btw.  I’d lost track of Duda after the Mets had dealt him off, and it was a bit odd to learn that he’d been signed by the Royals. I would have thought that this one World Series play would have dissuaded the Royals from ever considering hiring Duda to play first base for them.  I mean, can you imagine the Mets in 1987 deciding to sign Bill Buckner to play 1B for them?  Or the Orioles deciding after the 1966 World Series "We’ve got to get that Willie Davis in our outfield, somehow"?  (In both those cases, the Mets and Orioles would have been replacing a stellar fielder, Keith Hernandez and Paul Blair, with the guy who had just handed them a Worlds Championship.) Duda was, of course, replacing Hosmer at first base for the Royals. I’d vaguely remembered that Hosmer had left the Royals for free agency before the 2018 season, but I didn’t grasp the irony of his replacement until I did this little study here.

 
 

COMMENTS (27 Comments, most recent shown first)

Steven Goldleaf
If you can accept the idea of 1-10 scale only for infielders, what a 5-5-5 or 4-4-4 might mean for an 18-year old infielder in A ball is "He's adequate in all areas of fielding at all three positions, and when we get a clearer idea of his true abilities, including his offensive potential, we can see if he can play SS in the majors in four or five years. Maybe that will shake out as 6-4-4 and a strong bat, so if we need a 3Bman in four years, we can go there. Or maybe he'll stay at 5-5-5 and never develop much offensive potential, so can play backup shortstop or utility infielder."

Where a 3-6-7 (arm/range/hands) would go is obviously 2B, and the offensive stuff just determines if he starts or sits on the bench or stays in the minors.
1:28 PM Jan 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
My 1-10 scale is for infielders. Sorry that wasn't clearer.
1:20 PM Jan 5th
 
steve161
To clarify: I mean the 2 range and 9 arm is a candidate for the outfield.
6:08 AM Jan 5th
 
steve161
Actually, the 2-9 and 5-5-5 guys sound like candidates for the outfield, but I take your point.
6:07 AM Jan 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
To elaborate: if a guy has a 2 Arm but a 9 range and general Fielding ability someplace in between, and hits well enough to start, you'd obviously put him at 2B and leave him there. If a 9 arm and 2 range with so-so fielding ability (meaning mostly good but not great hands and general athleticism), the obvious move is 3B. But if he's anything like 5-5-5, it's a much tougher call. You'd probably see if he can play SS but use him at both 2B and 3B until you're surer of your team or org's immediate needs, and keep moving him around until your team needs settle in. On a weak team, he'd be your SS, on a very strong team he'd be your utility infielder, on a .500 team he'd play 2B or 3B depending on which was the bigger hole.
10:53 AM Jan 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I think it's a matter of gauging their strengths and weaknesses for the first few years of their careers, as well as gauging the team's needs. For guys (who on a scale of 1-10 for Arm, Range, and General Fielding) rank 8-2-8, it's a somewhat easy call, but for guys who are more like 5-5-5, meaning that their positionality is flexible, they could be moved around before a hard and fast call is made.​
8:50 AM Jan 4th
 
steve161
The 3b-to-2b moves are rare enough to be the exceptions that prove the rule; in so complicated an arena as baseball, one would expect a few.

But I would expect 2b-to-3b to be almost as rare, despite its being allegedly easier in the artificial world of the defensive spectrum, because of the different skill sets--notably throwing. The instances mentioned (Pete Rose, Jackie Robinson, Paul Molitor) are all special cases one way or another: Rose and Molitor were not particularly good defenders at either position, while Robinson could probably have played anywhere on the field, including shortstop if Reese hadn't already been there. I don't doubt that there are second basemen who could have made the switch, given that they had the arm strength and accuracy, but if they had, why wouldn't they already have been shortstops?
6:55 AM Jan 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Gutteridge is also pretty good. On the page of his "most comparables," I found a better one: John Castino, who came up and had three years as the Twins' starting 3Bman then switched to 2B where he played for two season, so he qualifies (if barely) as an established regular at both positions. Then he quit MLB.
11:14 PM Jan 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Through the age of 30, Herzog actually played a few more game at SS than 3B, so the move to 2B may be considered a leftward or a rightward move, depending. But these are great choices--their marginality (as to actually moving rightward on the defensive spectrum, or the era in which they took place) is evidence of the rarity of such a move.
11:08 PM Jan 3rd
 
bhalbleib
Buck Herzog is someone who can probably be described as mostly playing third base in the first part of his career and then mostly playing second base in the last part of his career.
4:32 PM Jan 3rd
 
bhalbleib
Think we are going to dig way back to find good examples. I think I have found one. Don Gutteridge, came up in the late 30s with the NL St. Louis team as a good-field no hit 3Bman and then moved to the AL St. Louis team during WW II as a good field no hit 2Bman.
4:23 PM Jan 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Alfonzo is a good one, DemonDon, though I have to question why he didn't stay at 2B longer. He was a good second baseman, no question, but most really good 2Bmen remain at the position. He was shifted, as I recall, when the Mets acquired Robin Ventura, and moved back as soon as Ventura left. But you're right, he did play 2B regularly after a few seasons as the regular at 3B.
8:32 AM Jan 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Another good way to look at the spectrum, and the switching of positions is to compare the number of 3b-to-2B conversions to the number that went the other way. Regulars (defined however you want) at 2B who put in sufficient (again, defined however you want) seasons at 3B are common, virtually fly off all of our tongues: Pete Rose, Jackie Robinson, Molitor, but 3b-to-2B conversions? Can't think of a one.
8:23 AM Jan 3rd
 
DemonDon
Edgardo Alfonzo was an established 3B in 1999 (143 games at 3B in 1997, 144 games at 3B in 1998) when the Mets shifted him to 2B. His OPS at 3B in '97 and '98 were .823 (OPS+ 119) and .782 (OPS+ 106), respectively.

As a 2B in 1999, his OPS was .886 (OPS+ 125). He followed that up in 2000 with an OPS of .967 (OPS+ 147) as a 2B. So, he did successfully make the shift from 3B to 2B without a decline in offensive output.

To complete the picture, his OPS did slip in 2001 to .725 and the Mets switched him back to 3B in 2002.

So, for at lest a couple of years, Edgardo Alfonzo successfully made the shift from 3B to 2B.

8:17 AM Jan 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
And I hope I'm not coming off as hostile or being difficult to your suggestions. I just don't think it's ever happened that an established third baseman has ever successfully shifted his position to second base. There have been several cases of a team not knowing where to play someone initially, and so testing out his skills at a variety of spots, before assigning him to play one position regularly, or maybe there is a case from long ago, from before 2B and 3B switched their spots on the defensive spectrum, but the only examples I can find of any modern player shifting to 2B are from shortstop, rightward on the spectrum. It's certainly rare, but may be more than rare, for someone to move leftward to play second base. The only example I can come up with is Jackie Robinson, and his rookie year was odd in several ways, including playing a position, first base, he had never played before.

Ripken btw seems to have been shifted around a lot in his early years. When he first came up in 1981 briefly, he played much more ss than 3B, and in the minors he doesn't seem to have had a regular position at most of the levels he played at. The O's organization seems to have tried him at 3B, at ss, at 2B without deciding which one suited his talents best. I know Bill's article from long ago made it seem that Earl Weaver in his own ornery idiosyncratic way had the brainstorm of turning a lanky 3Bman into a shortstop, but Ripken had played plenty of ss coming through the minors before Earl turned him (at age 21) into his regular shortstop. It wasn't like a bolt out of the blue--it was a bold move, mostly because of Ripken's un-SSlike body type, but young Cal was as much a SS as he was a 3B at that early point.


12:44 AM Jan 3rd
 
RandomSports
I remember the disaster of the Mariners moving Chone Figgins to second base after a having quite a good season at 3rd base for the Angels. Paying him a boat load of money, switching his position and having him pout non stop. The move was to get Jose Lopez off 2nd I think. The result was both hit like back up catchers and careers basically shot.
7:55 PM Jan 2nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Gantner never played as many as 70 games in a season at 3B before switching to 2B, so I'd hardly call that"established"; same goes for Ripken. Lots of guys are shifted all around the diamond temporarily while they're getting started--I'm asking about someone who played 3B regularly and then shifted to 2B regularly. I don't think that's happened. If the WHite Sox had actually made Santo into their starting 2Bman for a few seasons, that would qualify, but Santo didn't pan out. Even Jackie Robinson, who played 1B regularly for his first season before switching to 2B doesn't count as a real rightward shift, although he' might be closest to what I'm talking about here--if the Dodgers had a spot open at 3B instead of 1B his rookie year, I'm sure he would have played third instead of first and qualified. But they didn't and he doesn't.
7:17 PM Jan 2nd
 
MarisFan61
(BTW, Ripken was mainly a third baseman in the minors and also played about half a season there in the majors too before Weaver shifted him.
Bill wrote a nice bit about the switch in one of the early Abstracts.)
7:15 PM Jan 2nd
 
guyarrigoni
Jim Gantner came up playing third and shifted to second though Yount, Molitor and Jim were probably all SS. and Cal Ripken played 3rd in he minors before Weaver shifted him...
7:00 PM Jan 2nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks, guys. I have no doubt that shortstops can play first base with only the slightest training and practice. All you need do to see this clearly is compare the number of shortstops in their 20s who play 1B in their 30s with the number of (RH-throwing) 1Bmen who move in the opposite direction.
2:59 PM Jan 2nd
 
MarisFan61
....and I likewise want to say, I think too that you were on to something.
I wouldn't bet the farm on it, but I'd bet a few acres of it that the traditional belief about lefties having a basic advantage at first base is wrong, or at least that any such basic advantage would be so tiny that it's not worth thinking about.
12:31 PM Jan 2nd
 
George.Rising
Steven G, I'm a little late to the party, and I haven't read all of the comments in both articles of your recent articles. Nevertheless ...

I wanted to remark that I think that you're on to something regarding: 1) good-fielding shortstops would likely being good-fielding first baseman, and 2) there's little statistics-based evidence that left-handed 1B have a large advantage over RH 1B.

Also, I think that baseball's traditionalism--especially when it comes to fielding--is the main thing that keeps lefthanders from playing 3B or SS. (For 2B, pivoting on the double play would be difficult for lefthanders.) I think athletic lefthanders--like a young Lofton, Henderson, or Bonds--could have easily played 3B or even SS if they had grown up playing the position.

And why no LH catchers?
11:09 AM Jan 2nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Oh, I'm not doubting that, bearbyz. I'm sure that a team leading 3 games to 2 and heading home has to be favored. But with deGrom and Syndergaard, and the teams as even as they were in that Series, I just think you have to give the Mets a serious chance of pulling off an upset.
10:30 AM Jan 2nd
 
bearbyz
I think your assumption is wrong about the strength of the inning. The Royals were going to be home for the next two games. Even if the Mets had a 70 percent chance of winning each game, they would have had only a 49 percent chance of winning both games. I would think the Royals would still be favorite of winning the series if they lost game 5.
10:20 AM Jan 2nd
 
bhalbleib
My first thought on the 3rd to 2nd conversion was "Rogers Hornsby". I looked at B-Ref, and he probably isn't a very good example. While he did log more games at 3B than any other position in 1916 and 1919, he was a short stop in 1917 and 1918, so I wouldn't exactly call him an established 3Bman when he finally moved over to 2B permanently in 1920.
10:16 AM Jan 2nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
I'd assume, without doing any fancy computation, that the breakeven point was essentially the batting average of the next guy up. If he gets a hit, that scores Hosmer but if he makes an out, that ends the game. (If he walks, then it's the next guy's batting average.) It's got to be a low-percentage move, running home on a 5-3 grounder, just because (as I said) of how rare a move it is, rarer than bunting for a hit to keep the defense honest. You've got guys on third with fewer than two outs all the time, but how often do they break for home on an infield grounder? Not often.
9:51 AM Jan 2nd
 
MarisFan61
A thing you didn't mention about Hosmer's play is, what was the percentage "break-even" point.
You even sort of imply (not saying you mean it) that it's the way that traditional baseball seems to see it, when you say "But Hosmer off took for home, on what I make to be an even-odds play at best...."

I'm pretty sure this was a big part of the Reader Posts discussion, because I imagine I was in it (and at the game, with a great view of the play, but that doesn't really matter) and to me this is a big thing about it:

The break-even point is way less than 50-50 -- i.e. he didn't necessarily have to be anywhere near likely to make it in order for it to have been a good decision.
According to work by Tom Tango, which was posted (maybe by him, don't remember) when we were discussing the final-inning play of the previous World Series where Alex Gordon wasn't sent to try to score the tying run, the break-even point is less even than 30%. (The actual number that was given was something like 26 or 27%; I'm skeptical that it's really quite that low, so I'm settling for putting it in that slightly more modest way.)
BTW, judging the Gordon play is complicated, because the question isn't just whether he would have scored if he'd been sent; it's also that from the start, he clearly wasn't running in a way that recognized how low the break-even point is on such a play. The ball had gotten by the CF with nobody behind him before Gordon reached 1st base, and it was clear there was a real chance for him to score.

I couldn't help wondering if Hosmer's play was influenced by the memory of that play of the previous year and possible discussions that the team and its brain trust had after it -- i.e. that on such a play there doesn't need to be as high a likelihood of success as we usually think in order for it to be good to try.
9:07 AM Jan 2nd
 
 
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