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2004-02-22 11:34
by Will Carroll

Looking at the A-Rod shift from the 1001st different angle ...

I'm no statistician, but I'm smart enough to know where to look and to use what the best statisticians generate. I'm a consumer, not a producer. (Someone get George's voice out of my head!)

I wondered if players at 3B tended to have less opportunity to make plays than SS. In coaching at the levels I have (14-15 and 9-10), you get adept at "hiding" players - shifting those that are poor defensively around to places where their weakness hurts the team least. I had a pitcher that lived on the outside (br, ch, spl) and could sneak someone over at 3B.

Looking at last year's stats, the Yanks 3B had significantly less chances. I couldn't find a breakdown between Ventura and Boone and that might enter into it slightly. The Yanks SS got 651 total chances while the 3B got only 462. Across the board in MLB, 3B got less chances than SS, which makes sense. In fact, the Yanks got the least chances of any team at SS while they had the 13th most at 3B. This is clearly a factor of range, but also delineates that the 3B will have less opportunities to make plays.

Pushing A-Rod over means that a player that generated an equivalent of 34 runs (RAR2) will be moved to a position with less chances in order that a player who generated negative runs (-1 RAR2) can stay put. Assuming less chances again, though the Yankees staff will probably be more groundballish than last year's 1.2 G/F ratio, one would think that A-Rod's ability to generate would be reduced.

To check this, the best comp would of course be Cal Ripken. Ripken was significantly older when he shifted to his right, but the dropoff in generation wasn't as significant as I expected. In his last full season at SS, he had a RAR2 of 20 and in his first full season at 3B, he put up a RAR2 of 20.

Moreover, Ripken was shifted not only by concerns for his age but because Baltimore had signed Mike Bordick, mostly due to his slick-fielding reputation. Bordick lived up to it in 97, putting up a RAR2 of 29. The move, in fact, made the team a few runs better at SS defensively. Add in that Ripken replaced a group of not-so-great 3B in Surhoff, Zeile, and Billy Ripken, that move was positive as well.

The Yanks, in contrast, cost themselves nearly 30 runs at SS and don't figure to improve much at 3B (Ventura and Boone combined for 20 RAR2). Using the 10 runs equals a win, the Yanks could cost themselves three wins and in a division that figures to be as tight as the '04 AL East, that's a lot.

(RAR2 from Baseball Prospectus; other defensive and historical data from Sports-Wired.)

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