From Ted Williams and Lou Boudreau to Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Moss, there's more to the shift than meets the eye.
Last week, Anthony Rizzo was the National League Player of the Week, batting .429 and driving in 13 runs. He hit two homers and had a fistful of clutch singles, many of them shot hard through the left side, even as teams persisted—and they will persist a while longer, until Rizzo really proves this is his permanent approach—in shifting or shading him toward the right side on the infield. It’s not why he won, but it’s dazzling to consider that he had that hot streak while handling the defensive responsibility of playing his 10th game at second base.
Obviously, that’s misleading. If you’ve paid much attention to the Cubs this year (or if you did so late last year, or if you just happen to play fantasy baseball), you know that the reason Rizzo has racked up brief appearances at second base is that he and the real second baseman switch spots in certain obvious sacrifice bunt situations. It involves Rizzo trading in his first baseman’s mitt (because the rules require as much), but it’s not a true position change. It’s just a defensive shift, with a little bit of extra pizzazz (or positional anarchy, if you will).
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Great small-sample seasons might not be the most valuable, but they're often among the most entertaining.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Chad Finn writes the Touching All The Bases blog for Boston.com and is the sports media columnist for The Boston Globe. He believes that Butch Hobson was actually a fine defensive third baseman, misses watching Pedro Martinez pitch, and would appreciate it if you gave him all of your good book ideas. He lives in Wells, Maine, with his wife, two children, and cat named after Otis Nixon.
Can Josh Hamilton or David Wright do it? And what does 'it' really mean?
April and May are Crazy Stat Months (copyright 2012… ah, never mind). Josh Hamilton is slugging .877, and on pace for 94 home runs. Emilio Bonifacio could steal 80 bases if he continues like this, and at this rate Adam Dunn will strike out over a million times*. Hamilton’s 94-homer thing is clearly nuts, as it would best Bonds’ single season mark by 21. His slugging percentage would be a record as well, though not by such a substantial margin. Bonds slugged .863 in 2001, the year he hit 73 homers, and Babe Ruth slugged .847 and .846 in 1920 and 1921, respectively. Plus, who but us pudding-eating basement dwellers pays attention to slugging percentage? Dunn’s 1 million strikeouts won’t happen because I made them up. And who cares, relatively speaking, about stealing 80 bases nowadays? Boooooring.
* It’s really 234 strikeouts for Dunn. I added an extra 999,766 for emphasis.
Remembering the late Don Mincher with a look back at the first part of his BP interview from last year.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
First baseman Don Mincher died on Sunday at age 73. In his memory, we'll be re-running David Laurila's two-part interview with him, which originally ran as a two-part "Prospectus Q&A" column on January and 11th and 12th, 2011.
The former big-leaguer and current president of the Southern League discusses baseball during his playing days, his career, and players from his era.
Don Mincher is a proud man, and a true baseball lifer. Currently the president of the Double-A Southern League, the 72-year-old Mincher signed his first professional contract in 1956 and went on to spend 13 seasons as a big-league first baseman before turning his attention to front-office duties.
A skipper's impact on offense generates some interesting results about who does and does not help his hitters hack.
This may shock some people, but according to some of our advanced metrics here at Baseball Prospectus, Ted Williams was actually one of the greatest hitters ever to live. Really. Williams, of course, was the last human being to hit .400 in a season and was said to have 20/15 vision. After he retired from playing, Williams eventually accepted the position of manager with the then-Washington Senators, but famously was frustrated by the position. As the manager, one of his jobs was to help his players to get better, and who better to teach them to hit than one of the greatest hitters ever to live? It’s just that Williams, while he was gifted in the art of hitting himself, lacked the ability to understand that not everyone is Ted Williams when it comes to hitting.
Can topping your league in average, OBP, and slugging leave nonetheless you without hardware on the mantelpiece?
Let's start by stating the obvious, or at least what should be obvious to anyone reading this at Baseball Prospectus: Joe Mauer is by far the most qualified player for the 2009 AL Most Valuable Player Award. You know it, I know it, even many enlightened sportswriters know it. Despite a few recent rumblings in the mainstream media putting forward a slew of other possibilities, most of them clad in the throwback uniforms of "run producer" and "winner," Mauer's numbers are so compelling that even Joe Sheehan has expressed little doubt that voters will get this one right in the end.
In today's music man two-fer, we run around the bases with the co-owner of Rounder Records.
When the subjects are baseball and music, Bill Nowlin is about as knowledgeable as they come. The Vice President of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Nowlin is also a co-owner of both Rounder Books and Rounder Records, the latter of which produced the 2009 Grammy Award-winning collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The author of over 20 books on baseball, Nowlin also serves as the publications editor for the Ted Williams Museum.
Evaluating who was the best player in the game, starting with Ross Barnes in 1871.
Who is the best player in baseball right now? You can make credible arguments for two players-Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. Who then will win the MVP awards in their respective leagues? A-Rod will probably win the American League's, but Pujols is unlikely to reciprocate in the NL. More probably, it will be someone like Prince Fielder, who is certainly very good, and who might have had the best season in his league, but is certainly not the best player in baseball.
Returning to a subject from this past winter, Dan digs in to discuss the all-time greats.
"It is the best game because the players look like us. They are not seven feet tall, they don’t weigh 350 pounds, and they don’t bench-press 650. We can relate to them. We can see them—they’re not obscured by some hideous face mask, and they don’t play behind a wall of Plexiglas—we can touch them and we can feel them. I see Greg Maddux with his shirt off, with his concave chest and no discernible muscles, and I marvel: This is one of the six greatest pitchers in the history of the game? I see Tony Gwynn with his shirt off and I see a short, fat guy with the smallest hands I've ever seen on an athlete, and I wonder: 'This is the best hitter since Ted Williams?'...They are regular guys, at least most of them, who just happen to be really, really good at something that everyone else is not."
--Tim Kurkjian, from chapter one of Is This a Great Game, or What?: From A-Rod's Heart to Zim's Head--My 25 Years in Baseball
Thank the Winter Meetings for encouraging all of Major League Baseball to forget the age-old maxim, "loose lips sink ships."
"We have sent a formal offer to Matsuzaka and his agent Scott Boras. I believe it is fair and comprehensive, and offers a great deal of security and a substantial level of compensation."
--Red Sox executive Larry Lucchino