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…

Now look a little closer at Hot Rod. It is very subtle, but his first move is actually towards second base. And by the time he corrects himself, it is too late to get in front of the ball and make a proper play. So his only option is the backhand which he boots.

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.





  1. Rob says:

    I respectfully disagree with some of your points and agree with others. I don't actually see him moving toward second. I see him crouching and then moving toward third. I agree he doesn't get a read on it until after it is past the pitcher and this may be too late to properly handle the ground ball.

    I would agree that putting players out of position diminishes their effectiveness. Case in point, SRod has played 35 games at SS and has 4 errors, 34 games at 3B and has 7 errors, and 19 games at 2B and has 0 errors. As a matter of fact in 215 career games at 2B he has a total of 10 errors. He has more than that at SS and 3B this year alone in 69 games.

    On the other hand, he is a professional baseball player and should be able to make a throw to home plate regardless of which side of the bag he is on. A lot of his errors have been on throws, which is probably why he plays 2B to begin with. I don't think he has the accuracy to make throws across the diamond.

    I said in an earlier post that Maddon called him the best second baseman in the league. Why he doesn't play more at that position is beyond me. I have never seen anyone pivot at the bag from the 2B side better than SRod and he has great athletic ability to stop balls from going into right field. Maddon is not putting him in a position to succeed by playing him on the left side of the diamond.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      Maybe it was a poor choice of words on my part. It is not necessarily that he "moves" towards second base as much as it appears that his first "move" is to shift his weight as if he is going to move to second base. If you look closely, his left knee bends and his right foot kicks out ever-so-slightly like he would if he was going to push off. And then is when he corrects his weight by crouching down further on both legs.

      Now maybe I am misreading it. It is very slight, and not a very good image. But either way, he clearly wasn't prepared to get to the spot he needed to be at.


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