View From The Bleachers

Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003

Thursday

10

July 2014

50

COMMENTS

There is no such thing as a shortstop "logjam"

Written by , Posted in General

Did you ever play baseball as a kid? Were you ever on any kind of baseball (or softball) team; high school, college, little league, Pony league, Cub Scout ball, church league softball or even beer league softball? If yes, answer this:

Who played shortstop? I am guessing that would be the best freaking player on the team! It may have possibly been the second best if the top player was pitching, playing centerfield or catching.  I have watched, played and coached baseball since 1975…and here are 2 statements I have never heard;

  1. “He looks pretty good in left field and first base, let’s try him at shortstop”.
  2. “I like his bat, let’s try to hide him at shortstop”.

Think about it…have you ever heard of a player moved to shortstop? No, of course not…and it stems from the simple reasoning above…probably 95 percent of the time shortstops are the best athletes on their respective teams.  If they aren’t…it’s a pitcher, catcher or centerfielder.  Therefore when the Cubs acquired Addison Russell last week, I had to remind even my most astute baseball friends about this fact.  Let’s look at some evidence;

Here are Hall of Famers who were drafted (or signed) as shortstops…yet they played other positions during their particular careers; George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, Wade Boggs, and Roberto AlomarYikes! Three of the top 3B of all time, and Ryno and Robbie…were all shortstops. Molitor couldn’t even play in the field (he was a DH) for the latter part of his career, yet he was a SS at one time. When the Brewers drafted Molitor in 1977, they already had future Hall-of Famer Robin Yount manning the position.

I guess they weren’t worried about a “shortstop logjam”.

Here are some more names of players from the last 25 years who were originally shortstops (some potential HOFers): Chipper Jones, Jim Thome(look it up if you don’t believe it Jim Thome was drafted as a SS!), Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano(ugh, he could barely play left in the bigs!), Brian Roberts, Michael Young, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and Justin Upton. ***side note, I compiled these examples with 20 minutes of research…I am in full Grad-Party Prep Mode and this little column is allowing me a 2 hour break.

What do you notice about the recent names? It includes great second basemen, third baseman, and outfielders…and the reason is very simple…other than catcher, shortstops can play anywhere!  I would wager with much deeper research…including pitchers…you would find many more former shortstops.

Instead of questioning this strategy, Cubs’ fans should be welcoming it.  It’s what good front offices have been doing for years…and the Cubs? Ty Griffin, Brooks Kieschnick, Ryan Harvey, Earl Cunningham…not shortstops. (I apologize for bringing up these names) Luis Montanez and Kevin Orie were drafted as shortstops…so…umm…well…not all shortstops pan out, especially those drafted by the Cubs in the 1990s.

For what it’s worth, here is what I see happening; Starlin Castro slides over to 2B where his contract and bat play very well. Javier Baez, plays 3B or RF depending on how Kris Bryant shakes out.  Arismendy Alcantara plays CF, and Russell, who scouts say has the best glove…plays SS.  I could be way off with these projections…Castro could remain at SS, Baez could play 2B, and Russell could play CF…or some other combination, because…shortstops can play all of these other positions…and usually well.

So when next you hear someone state that the Cubs’ have a shortstop or middle infield logjam, correct them and say;

“The Cubs now have a surplus of some of the best young athletes in the game”

…and if that doesn’t work bring up the Schmidt, Brett, and Boggs thing.

  • PLCB3

    I had no idea Thome was a SS. I knew he came up as a 3B

  • AC0000000

    I had no idea Thome was a SS. I knew he came up as a 3B

  • PLCB3

    Ernie Banks came up as a SS. Biggio came up as a catcher and was moved to 2B so catching wouldn’t destroy his speed.

    • Noah_I

      Bank was a shortstop through the first half of his career, switch to 1B at the very end of his peak in 1962. As a note, Banks hit 298 of his 512 (58% of them) home runs in the 8 full seasons he played through 1961, plus the two he hit in ten games in 1953, and compiled 50.6 of his career 63.3 fWAR over that same span. In other words, awesome shortstop from 1954 to 1961, average first baseman thereafter.

      The only reason I say that is because I hate the argument that used to be made for Ron Santo not making the HOF when he was alive: that he was the third best player on a team that never made the postseason. Santo was on a team with one other great player (Billy Williams was the other one) and a past his prime formerly great player.

  • AC0000000

    Ernie Banks came up as a SS. Biggio came up as a catcher and was moved to 2B so catching wouldn’t destroy his speed.

    • Noah_I

      Bank was a shortstop through the first half of his career, switch to 1B at the very end of his peak in 1962. As a note, Banks hit 298 of his 512 (58% of them) home runs in the 8 full seasons he played through 1961, plus the two he hit in ten games in 1953, and compiled 50.6 of his career 63.3 fWAR over that same span. In other words, awesome shortstop from 1954 to 1961, average first baseman thereafter.

      The only reason I say that is because I hate the argument that used to be made for Ron Santo not making the HOF when he was alive: that he was the third best player on a team that never made the postseason. Santo was on a team with one other great player (Billy Williams was the other one) and a past his prime formerly great player.

  • PLCB3

    How the hell was Soriano a shortstop when he was a terrible 2B?

    • Noah_I

      That’s just what he was when he first started playing in the Minors. Honestly, Soriano had the tools to be a shortstop. Fast, good athlete, strong arm. He just was never able to put it all together in the infield.

  • AC0000000

    How the hell was Soriano a shortstop when he was a terrible 2B?

    • Noah_I

      That’s just what he was when he first started playing in the Minors. Honestly, Soriano had the tools to be a shortstop. Fast, good athlete, strong arm. He just was never able to put it all together in the infield.

  • jayburd2020

    I agree. This is a welcome “problem.” It is possible the Cubs move all those players to different positions. But keep in mind two things: 1.) This front office is all about maximizing value. To move any major-league-capable shortstop to a different positions is to lessen his value — both in terms of trade value and, if not traded, value to your team. I would expect at least one of the SSs to be traded at some point simply to maximize value: i.e., if another team values have Player X as their everyday SS higher than you value the same player as a 2B or 3B, you try to leverage that to fill other needs. 2.) Castro and Baez are both considered average defenders at best at SS. Moving Castro to 2B and Baez to 3B would keep their young bats in your lineup, but the infield defense would become quite poor. Do you live with that simply to have a singles hitter at 2B and a high-K, high-HR hitter at 3B? Maybe the latter, but not the former.

    • PLCB3

      When I was a kid, it was defense up the middle and hitting at the corners. That thinking has changed

    • Noah_I

      Average defenders at shortstop typically equate to plus defenders at 2B and plus-plus to elite defenders at 3B. Shortstop is a significantly more challenging position. For example, most believe Darwin Barney would be only an average shortstop because his arm strength is his biggest defensive issue, which is emphasized more at shortstop. Shortstops also just generally see a lot more ground balls hit at them (the vast majority of ground balls are pulled, the majority of hitters are right handed, and right handed hitters don’t see severe shifts) than second basemen do.

      Also, the idea that moving an MLB caliber off shortstop lessens his value only applies if it is because the player cannot handle shortstop. So if the Cubs put Baez and Castro, in some combination, at 2B or 3B because Russell is a BETTER shortstop than the two, but the consensus is that both Baez and Castro are fringe average shortstops, teams looking at trading for either of those two players would still consider them to have shortstop value.

      Let me put it this way: if I was a contending team with a need at shortstop, and the Orioles were shopping Manny Machada, would I not consider Machado at shortstop solely because he’s currently playing 3B for the Orioles? Of coruse not.

    • Dusty_Baylor

      Baez defense is much better this season…so is Castro’s.
      Castro is not a singles hitter…not with 26 doubles and 11 HR at the AS Break, and leading the team in RBI’s.

  • jayburd2020

    I agree. This is a welcome “problem.” It is possible the Cubs move all those players to different positions. But keep in mind two things: 1.) This front office is all about maximizing value. To move any major-league-capable shortstop to a different positions is to lessen his value — both in terms of trade value and, if not traded, value to your team. I would expect at least one of the SSs to be traded at some point simply to maximize value: i.e., if another team values have Player X as their everyday SS higher than you value the same player as a 2B or 3B, you try to leverage that to fill other needs. 2.) Castro and Baez are both considered average defenders at best at SS. Moving Castro to 2B and Baez to 3B would keep their young bats in your lineup, but the infield defense would become quite poor. Do you live with that simply to have a singles hitter at 2B and a high-K, high-HR hitter at 3B? Maybe the latter, but not the former.

    • AC0000000

      When I was a kid, it was defense up the middle and hitting at the corners. That thinking has changed

    • Noah_I

      Average defenders at shortstop typically equate to plus defenders at 2B and plus-plus to elite defenders at 3B. Shortstop is a significantly more challenging position. For example, most believe Darwin Barney would be only an average shortstop because his arm strength is his biggest defensive issue, which is emphasized more at shortstop. Shortstops also just generally see a lot more ground balls hit at them (the vast majority of ground balls are pulled, the majority of hitters are right handed, and right handed hitters don’t see severe shifts) than second basemen do.

      Also, the idea that moving an MLB caliber off shortstop lessens his value only applies if it is because the player cannot handle shortstop. So if the Cubs put Baez and Castro, in some combination, at 2B or 3B because Russell is a BETTER shortstop than the two, but the consensus is that both Baez and Castro are fringe average shortstops, teams looking at trading for either of those two players would still consider them to have shortstop value.

      Let me put it this way: if I was a contending team with a need at shortstop, and the Orioles were shopping Manny Machada, would I not consider Machado at shortstop solely because he’s currently playing 3B for the Orioles? Of coruse not.

    • Dusty_Baylor

      Baez defense is much better this season…so is Castro’s.
      Castro is not a singles hitter…not with 26 doubles and 11 HR at the AS Break, and leading the team in RBI’s.

  • Dork

    Alcantra has to stay in Chicago after today, right?

    • Noah_I

      I don’t know if he has to, per se… but I’d like him to. The Cubs could easily send down Olt to get every day PAs and play Alcantara at 2B until Barney or Valbuena are traded, if either of them are.

      • PLCB3

        Who mans 3B in that case?

      • Noah_I

        Well, once Valbuena got traded, Olt would be back up. Appears moot now, though. Cubs are keeping Alcantara on the active roster, optioned Hendricks back to Iowa. Looks like we may be working with a 7 man bullpen now (finally). I’m curious who is going to be taking the rotation spots. I kind of doubt Villanueva will get another shot after the bad performances this week, and he could be DFA’d. Parker, Grimm or Schlitter could also be optioned to Iowa.

      • PLCB3

        I meant in the interim in your plan where Olt is sent down and Alcantara plays 2B. I wouldn’t speculate anything about plans for the MLB team right now because the all-star break is coming up in 4 days, and it’s possible the Cubs are just doing this to get through to the break. Since Alcantara came up for this series, does this mean he’s burned up an option?

      • Noah_I

        Valbuena would play third. Alcantara’s option for the year was already used on opening day. He was placed on the 40 man last December to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so once he was sent down to Iowa to start the season an option was used. Only one option is used per year. The Cubs can move Alcantara back and forth between the Majors and Iowa as much as they wish without using up any more options.

        I kind of doubt the Cubs would just do this to get through the break. Barney is back tomorrow, and the Cubs wouldn’t play Alcantara just to sit him. I’d bet he’s starting through Sunday, and unless he just looks terrible, I’d be surprised if he was sent back down at this point.

      • Dork

        Optioning Hendricks really does get you through the Break with Arrieta, Wood and Jackson. Then you can start back up on the other side with the same. So maybe Alcantera at least stays through the weekend. If he keeps hitting they proably keep him around. It would be nice to continue to see him hit. I would like to see Wada and Hendricks fill out the rotation for now. I think they had the best showings IMO.

      • Dork

        Hopefully we see some successes with these guys for the remainder.

      • Dork

        See a win today and my glass is half full again.

      • Unless you have a cup column going, now would be the time to add a folder of that name to your desktop.

      • Dork

        I think Olt might also be a candidate to try a corner OF spot.

      • Doc Raker

        If he could hit 250 with his power he would be a great corner OF

  • Dork

    Alcantra has to stay in Chicago after today, right?

    • Noah_I

      I don’t know if he has to, per se… but I’d like him to. The Cubs could easily send down Olt to get every day PAs and play Alcantara at 2B until Barney or Valbuena are traded, if either of them are.

      • AC0000000

        Who mans 3B in that case?

      • Noah_I

        Well, once Valbuena got traded, Olt would be back up. Appears moot now, though. Cubs are keeping Alcantara on the active roster, optioned Hendricks back to Iowa. Looks like we may be working with a 7 man bullpen now (finally). I’m curious who is going to be taking the rotation spots. I kind of doubt Villanueva will get another shot after the bad performances this week, and he could be DFA’d. Parker, Grimm or Schlitter could also be optioned to Iowa.

      • AC0000000

        I meant in the interim in your plan where Olt is sent down and Alcantara plays 2B. I wouldn’t speculate anything about plans for the MLB team right now because the all-star break is coming up in 4 days, and it’s possible the Cubs are just doing this to get through to the break. Since Alcantara came up for this series, does this mean he’s burned up an option?

      • Noah_I

        Valbuena would play third. Alcantara’s option for the year was already used on opening day. He was placed on the 40 man last December to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so once he was sent down to Iowa to start the season an option was used. Only one option is used per year. The Cubs can move Alcantara back and forth between the Majors and Iowa as much as they wish without using up any more options.

        I kind of doubt the Cubs would just do this to get through the break. Barney is back tomorrow, and the Cubs wouldn’t play Alcantara just to sit him. I’d bet he’s starting through Sunday, and unless he just looks terrible, I’d be surprised if he was sent back down at this point.

      • Dork

        Optioning Hendricks really does get you through the Break with Arrieta, Wood and Jackson. Then you can start back up on the other side with the same. So maybe Alcantera at least stays through the weekend. If he keeps hitting they proably keep him around. It would be nice to continue to see him hit. I would like to see Wada and Hendricks fill out the rotation for now. I think they had the best showings IMO.

      • Dork

        Hopefully we see some successes with these guys for the remainder.

      • Dork

        See a win today and my glass is half full again.

      • Unless you have a cup column going, now would be the time to add a folder of that name to your desktop.

      • Dork

        I think Olt might also be a candidate to try a corner OF spot.

      • Doc Raker

        If he could hit 250 with his power he would be a great corner OF

  • Ryan

    I like the first prediction of positions, but I see it a little differently. It will be one or two years from today before Russell is up full time, so until then, you keep Starlin at SS. I really like Alcantara at 2B. I completely agree with the Baez/Bryant 3B/OF prediction. As of now, I would prefer to see Baez be at 3B over Bryant. As long as everyone pans out like they are supposed to, our starting infield by the end of next year could be, and hopefully is, Rizzo, Alcantara, Castro, and Baez. In 2 or 3 years, Russell should be up, as well as Almora and Soler (if healthy), we could have Alcantara at 2B/CF/LF, Russell & Castro at SS or 3B, Baez and Bryant mainly as corner OF with a little bit of 3B (or even 1B?), sprinkled in, Almora in CF/LF and Soler as a corner OF. Add in Rizzo at 1B and Castillo at C (not my favorite, but I like his defense). Now if there is a DH in the future for the NL as expected (which I would hate), that would be a scary every day lineup with anyone you want at DH.

  • Ryan

    I like the first prediction of positions, but I see it a little differently. It will be one or two years from today before Russell is up full time, so until then, you keep Starlin at SS. I really like Alcantara at 2B. I completely agree with the Baez/Bryant 3B/OF prediction. As of now, I would prefer to see Baez be at 3B over Bryant. As long as everyone pans out like they are supposed to, our starting infield by the end of next year could be, and hopefully is, Rizzo, Alcantara, Castro, and Baez. In 2 or 3 years, Russell should be up, as well as Almora and Soler (if healthy), we could have Alcantara at 2B/CF/LF, Russell & Castro at SS or 3B, Baez and Bryant mainly as corner OF with a little bit of 3B (or even 1B?), sprinkled in, Almora in CF/LF and Soler as a corner OF. Add in Rizzo at 1B and Castillo at C (not my favorite, but I like his defense). Now if there is a DH in the future for the NL as expected (which I would hate), that would be a scary every day lineup with anyone you want at DH.

  • Doc Raker

    Some douche name Arod played SS for a while.

    • Dusty_Baylor

      That’s true….Aurelio Rodriguez played a little SS. Wait…who?

  • Doc Raker

    Some douche name Arod played SS for a while.

    • Dusty_Baylor

      That’s true….Aurelio Rodriguez played a little SS. Wait…who?

  • AU

    love this article, Chris. such good points.

  • AU

    love this article, Chris. such good points.