One of the most interesting things about extreme infield shifts is how unextreme they are. They are like some lame grownup’s idea of extreme, a little bit of flash and inconvenience but ultimately very safe. The shift was invented by sane people. Real extreme comes from insanity, and it makes us deeply uncomfortable.
Everybody’s talking about the football coach who never punts—4th and 15 at his own five-yard line, he’s going for it. That’s fearless. It’s hard to think of a baseball equivalent, one that would work or even one that might work. Russell Carleton this week explored the listener-suggested idea of having the left and right fielders swap, depending on batter handedness, to make sure the better defender gets more attempts to field the ball. The gory math supports the use of the relatively conservative proposal, but Carleton concludes what we can't help but conclude:
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Are teams passing up an advantage by not telling their corner outfielders to trade places based on the batter?
On Friday’s episode of Effectively Wild, listener Matt Trueblood emailed the show to ask Ben and Sam a fascinating question. Why is it that teams do not have their left and right fielders switch places more often, particularly if one of them is a better fielder than the other? We know that some players like to pull the ball, while others like to hit to the opposite field. Why not put the better fielder in the place where it’s more likely that the ball will be hit? It’s a fascinating question because there is no rule that prohibits it from happening. In the era of the infield shift, why hasn’t anyone tried this?
What has to happen for a right fielder to throw out a runner at first?
According to his SABR bio, “Wild Bill” Johnson, the Tigers’ ace at the dawn of the last century, was described by sportswriters at the time as both a “slant ball pitcher” and “a giant (who) pitches, hits and fields equally well.” In his six postseason starts in 1907, 1908, and 1909, he had a 2.88 ERA but never did live up to that second portion.
Carlos Gomez is a prolific home run thief, but he might not be the only fielder having a special defensive season.
Carlos Gomez hates homers. Allowing them, that is. Gomez took a homer away from Jay Bruce on Sunday, which gave him five home run robberies on the season, according to Baseball Info Solutions. That's the most they've recorded for any fielder in a single season in the 10 years that they've been keeping track. I've collected all five here:
A close watching of five of the Braves shortstop's most impressive plays.
I basically believe in defensive metrics. I know there are a lot of people who don't, and that's fine; I don't necessarily have a good reason for believing in them, and maybe I'm just outsourcing the job of inadequately assessing defense to another person's brain, but I basically believe in them. So I know that Andrelton Simmons is spectacular defensively, somewhere between an all-time great shortstop (we have him at +19, and UZR has him at +21; he's got a reasonable chance of topping Ozzie Smith's best season by FRAA) and The All-Time Great Shortstop (Defensive runs saved has him there already, at +37). I believe in defensive metrics but I regress them heavily in my mind, so I doubt he's The All-Time Greatest, but I understand he's having a fantastic season. I understand it even though I can't really recall a single play he's made, and even though I've never really sat down and watched him exclusively for any length of time.
So today I'm going to watch him (and his highlights) exclusively, for a few hours, and make sure I can recall some plays he has made. These are not necessarily his best plays. Jeff Sullivan wrote about Simmons' defense the other day and showed "some of 2013 Simmons’ most impactful defensive plays, with regard to Defensive Runs Saved." In other words, the plays he made that the fewest number of other shortstops make. I'm not interested in such precision. For precision, I have the metrics. I'm interested in just watching.
A new argument in favor of reviving a long-extinct species.
On July 9, 2013, Sir James Paul McCartney performed at Boston's Fenway Park on one leg of his Out There Tour, which has seen him rocking in an amphitheatre from 30 A.D. and coming under attack by thousands of grasshoppers. While he was at the oldest big league park, footage of him holding a baseball bat was taken, as you can see at the 0:44 mark of this video. Two things immediately appear to the attentive baseball fan: 1) the former Beatle features a Ty Cobb-like split hand grip and 2) he swings from the right side despite being a southpaw.
McCartney is not alone in the latter trait, Rickey Henderson and the elder George Bush being notable precedents. However, throwing from the portside while swinging from starboard is not advantageous, as you forfeit the frequent platoon advantage at the plate, plus the possibility of playing three infield positions.
Does a good fielder make the fielders around him better or worse?
Ozzie Smith is widely regarded as the best defensive shortstop (and somewhat by extension, the best defensive player) of his era. Anything that was hit into that no-man's land between second and third was gobbled up by the Wizard. In a game that adores offensive numbers, there was something so special about Ozzie's glovework that he ended up in the Hall of Fame despite a career .262/.337/.328 triple slash line.
A Mariners beat writer explains why Ryan is the most interesting Mariner he's covered.
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Ryan Divish is in his seventh season of covering baseball and the Seattle Mariners for the Tacoma News Tribune. He played baseball collegiately at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota, where he was recruited as a second baseman and ate himself into the starting catching position. Even now, he’s still better defensively and much faster than Jesus Montero. He is a drinker of Crown Royal and Maker’s Mark and a reader of Steinbeck. You can read his writing at The News Tribuneand the News Tribune’sMariners Insider blog and follow his snarky blatherings on Twitter @RyanDivish.