On April 10, 2013, Yonder Alonso switched between 1B, 2B, and 3B in a strange version of defensive musical chairs for the Padres. The Padres were short infielders due to injury issues, so manager Bud Black swapped Jedd Gyorko and Alonso between 2B and 3B as the situations required in the ninth inning of that game. Alonso received credit for the defensive inning at 2B, which is the only spot that he encountered any play (he only had a chance to dive after a single, rather than make any official chance at a ball). Oddly enough, a similar game of musical chairs occurred on August 27, 2013, when Black again swapped his fielders around in the 10th inning of that game; in this scenario, Alonso moved from 1B to LF, a position in which he is much more qualified than 2B (or even 3B). This scenario explains why Alonso is one of a few MLB players to work at strange positions in 2013, and it should also outline the general oddity of MLB players working at positions without previous professional experience.
Toward the beginning of the 2012 season, I looked at the defensive qualifications for MLB players that had worked at several different positions (or, at least two defensive positions). In that post, I thought of a few rules about when and how players switch defensive positions, especially given the rare instances in which players worked at positions without any previous professional experience:
(a) If you play at SS, you can reasonably be trusted to move anywhere else (this is even the case with a below average SS such as Yuniesky Betancourt, moved to 3B without prior experience).
(b) If you’re as good as Miguel Cabrera, you can play wherever passable to guarantee that your bat is in the line up.
(c) If you played middle infield in the minors, but not in the majors, you can still be trusted to move to 1B in the big show.
(d) If you’re a 3B in the MLB or the minors, you can reasonably be expected to play the corner outfield.
I keep returning to the issue of “defensive determinism” and fielding positions due to the Brewers’ first base situation:
-Indeed, judging the corner positions in 2013, the Brewers have several prominent position-switching players, including first-time position swappers Sean Halton, Alex Gonzalez, Juan Francisco, and Jonathan Lucroy.
-Furthermore, second-time position-swapper Martin Maldonado also received even more time at 1B than he did in 2012.
-It is worth noting that the Brewers basically used the “SS can move to any position” rule with Gonzalez (and previous position swapper Yuniesky Betancourt), and that both Maldonado and Lucroy fall in the special category of catchers — catchers appear to be shifted to corner positions in a manner analogous to the way SS can be shifted around the diamond.
-Finally, although Halton was a first-time position swapper since he was a rookie, he did not shift to any positions that were outside his basic professional experience in the minors. Similarly, the Brewers moved Francisco between positions with which he had previous professional experience.
As a brief update to my 2012 fielding survey (I hope to have a more comprehensive update soon), it is worth noting that even the Brewers’ extreme emergency situation with 1B in 2013 did not result in the violation of “defensive determinism” rules. The Brewers generally worked their new 1B from more challenging positions (like SS and C), or played fielders with previous professional experience there (including Blake Lalli, Halton, and Francisco). This type of situation is instructive when analyzing fan fantasies — such as moving Rickie Weeks to 1B (or, in previous seasons, moving Aramis Ramirez to 1B). Perhaps the most realistic new 1B for 2014 would be Ryan Braun, who could be moved under the “as-good-as-Miguel Cabrera” rule, but it is worth noting that the Brewers are basically using their current labor / organization leverage to move Braun to RF (so, one might argue it’s only a matter of time before Braun completes the corner circuit from 3B–>LF–>RF–>1B. Adam McCalvy has a solid mailbag addressing these 1B issues).
Fans will always have a tough time thinking about positional and organizational determinism when judging baseball rosters. Yet, MLB teams simply do not appear to move players around thew diamond without principle; players that play fielding positions without previous experience are the exception rather than the rule. Like Albert Pujols moving to his right to serve as an emergency extra-innings 2B against the Brewers a few years back, or Alonso’s crazy emergency defense in 2013, extreme cases of inexperienced defensive position swapping show the general strength of defensive determinism for moving players around the diamond. As much as fans might want to see the Brewers work on new 1B options from their organization in 2014, such a scenario would be an exceptional occurrence, rather than a logical (or probable) one.
These charts are additions to players included in the 2012 post, “Around the Diamond and Back.” They include:
NAME / FIRST YEAR DEFENSIVE SWITCH / 2013 POSITIONS / MINORS POSITIONS
For this post, I am focusing on 1B / 3B and C.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2013.