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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chone Figgins and the Defensive Spectrum

In my most recent article on THT I wrote about the shift in the defensive spectrum that occurred in the 1940s that resulted in third base moving left on the spectrum while second base moved right.

In my brief analysis I noted that the prevalence of bunting and chop hitting in the first part of the century was likely responsible for third base being considered the more demanding defensive position. Dave Studeman, who knows alot of cool stuff, pointed out to me that Bill James had written on this subject in his book Win Shares in an article titled "Why Did the Defensive Spectrum Jump?". I have the book and have read it but my fast aging mind seems to have forgotten that article. Tonight I took my copy off the shelf and re-read the article.

He notes the same trend I show in the graph as to the offensive production of second base versus third base in the decades from 1900 through 1969 using Runs Created and shows the shift occurring sometime in the 1930s. My graph shows the same trend and its clear by the mid 1930s that third baseman had overtaken second sackers.

However, James does not attribute the shift in the spectrum to bunting and chop hitting but rather to the dual factors of increasing double plays and decreasing errors. Since 1947 there have been more double plays in the majors each year (except 1963 and 1975) than errors. His reasoning is that as double plays became more common managers were more willing to sacrifice offense in order to get double plays. At the same time as errors became less frequent managers were willing to put lesser defensive players at third base since the cost wasn't as high.

That makes perfect sense to me and so I certainly don't disagree. But I still think that bunting and chop hitting probably had an impact, although lesser, as well.

Interestingly, he notes how this trend is detectable in the common language we use to describe the positions. In the early part of the century second baseman were referred to as "keystone men" whereas today they are referred to as "pivot men" emphasizing their ability to turn two.

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