It is no secret that the Rays have been horrible defensively this season. And while many think the gloves are slumping, a simpler answer is that some players are struggling because they are constantly being moved around the infield.
Let’s take a look at Sean Rodriguez, who made errors on consecutive pitches contributing to the Royals’ 4-run third inning last night. The first was just a bad throw home on a relay. And the second looked like a classic “Olé” in which the Rodriguez didn’t get in front of the grounder and booted his back-hand attempt.
But if we look closer, we can see that there was more to this error. And while it was a bad play, at least some of the blame needs to be placed at the feet of Joe Maddon.
First the play…
But isn’t it Rodriguez’ fault for misreading the ball? Yes. But there may be a good reason.
The hardest play for a defender is the ball hit in the air, right at you, by an opposite-handed hitter. If a right-handed hitter hits a line drive right at one of the fielders on the left side (SS, LF, 3B), the ball will play “true.” That is, the ball is likely going to travel in a relatively straight line. However, when a left-handed hitter hits a ball to the same spot, the ball will likely “slice” and curve to the left.
The problem here is that Rodriguez is not an everyday shortstop and has started more than twice as many games in his career at second base (177) than he has at short (83).
The result is that Rodriguez played this ball exactly as he should have if he was playing second base, as a ball off the bat of a left-handed hitter is not going to slice when it is hit at a second baseman. And on a ball hit that hard, instincts momentarily took over.
Unfortunately his instincts were wrong in this case. And there probably isn’t a solution except to hope that Rodriguez will next time react like a shortstop and not a second baseman.
There are obviously benefits to having infielders that can play multiple positions and the flexibility it brings. And yes, the absence of Evan Longoria has led to more shuffling than we would normally see.
But there are some nasty side-effects. And one is plays like the one above. And because of that, the defense is going to suffer, as it has this season.