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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Third Base Crossroads

My fellow writer Steve Treder at THT has written a very interestinge piece on third base as a crossroads position of sorts. Although I've written about the changing importance of defensive skills at the position over the years, Steve argues that third base sitting in the middle of the defensive spectrum as it does has consequences:

"...third base is simultaneously easier to play than half of the positions and harder to play than the other half. This makes third base a position that one half of the roster can aspire to as the highest challenge of their skills, as well as a position that the other half of the roster can relax toward as their skills erode due to age or injury. To be played well, third base demands the strong arm and quick reflexes of more difficult positions, but third base can also be played passably by the slow-footed players generally found in the easier positions."

The consequence of this is that third base is viewed as transitional by most teams, which has an impact on the architecture of their rosters.

"...a very high proportion of players are likely to spend at least some time playing third base. This high degree of potential traffic passing through third base—its Crossroads status—has the consequence of causing many teams to plan for third as a transitional position, to leverage its capacity to maximize roster flexibility. It often makes sense for teams to not concern themselves with finding and settling on a long-term answer at third base, thus reducing the opportunity for players to pursue full careers as third base specialists..."

The result of the way third base viewed is worked out in the fact that there are fewer "no doubt" Hall of Famers at third base, just eight, than there are at any other position. It also is a reason that a seeming majority of teams like the Cubs (where there is even a name for the phenomenon - "the curse of Ron Santo"), White Sox, and Yankees have struggled finding a third baseman that could man the position for more than a year or two. Great stuff Steve.

1 comment:

Matt L said...

Dan,

I've sort of worked out a spectrum of positions based on the research I have done that goes something like this:

There are three defensive tools:
- Arm (throwing for distance and accuracy)
- Quickness (first step, footwork)
- Speed (running speed)

Note: this isn't much different from what the scouts look for. Mostly, I'm just trying to bring a little bit of logical rigor to the process.

The positions are ranked in order of hardest to easiest based on how many plus tools they require.

Shortstop: Arm, Quickness, Speed
Second Base: Quickness, Speed
Catcher: Arm, Quickness
Center Field: Speed
Third Base: Quickness
Right Field: Arm
Left Field: None
First Base: None

I think this adds an extra dimension to the defensive spectrum that makes it more transparent. You can see that catchers wouldn't usually move to CF even though it's supposedly an easier position. Likewise, secondbasemen make more sense at CF than RF.

Matt