FanPost

Yuni Who? Is shortstop really that important?

What the shortstop position lacks in name (short), it makes up six-fold in importance or so we are led to believe. On average, the man in the hole is involved in a very disproportionate amount of plays per game. It’s no wonder the best athletes often begin their careers there. Logically, teams hoping to win games make shortstop a top priority. They draft, trade, or sign as close to a fleet-footed wizard with a Tulowitzki gun as possible or so you’d think.

Comparisons between shortstops often times fail to consider the unique makeup of a team’s pitching staff. In some cases, a shortstop with great hands and incredible range is absolutely necessary. Take the early 80’s sinker ball-tilted Tigers. Now there’s a team that needed an elite shortstop!  The presence of Alan Trammel and letting the infield grass grow made Sparky Anderson look like a genius as they breezed their way to a World Series triumph. It could not have been scripted any better. Scoring 829 runs helped too.

Yet, teams with a predominance of fly ball pitchers don’t need to stress as much over who fills the gap between second and third. And really it’s rare, but questionable how much better off a team is with a pitcher inducing ground balls at a rate the likes of Derek Lowe over the last 9 seasons (GB--63% FB--20% LD--17% ). One such pitcher makes a strong case for having that extra utility defender much like certain catchers serve as an ace’s battery mate.

 

Regardless, in the last four World Series winners, shortstop quality has not been at an all time high which leads me to believe that little thought goes into matching pitchers and shortstops when GB% is normal. No pitching-staff really stuck out as predominately ground ball or fly ball flavour. Only JulianTavarez  (2007 Red Sox) tallied a GB % higher than 50% and Jimmy Rollins was the lone SS with an exceptional UZR.

 

2010 Giants

Cain

Lincecum

Bumgarner

Sanchez

Zito

GB-FB-LD%

36-47-17

49-32-19

45-38-17

41-44-15

36-45-18

 

 

 

 

 

 

   2009 YANKEES

Sabathia

Burnett

Pettitte

Chamberlain

 

GB-FB-LD%

43-37-20

43-39-18

43-38-19

43-36-21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  2008 PHILLIES

Hamels

Moyer

Myers

Kendrick

Eaton

GB-FB-LD%

39-39-22

44-35-21

47-33-20

45-28-27

43-34-23

 

 

 

 

 

 

  2007 RED SOX

Matsuzaka

Beckett

Wakefield

Schilling

Tavarez

GB-FB-LD%

38-44-18

47-37-16

39-42-19

37-44-19

55-30-15

 

E's and UZR
Renteria (2010) 4  and 2.5
Uribe (2010) 6 and 2.1
Jeter (09) 8  and -0.3
Rollins (08) 7 and 12.9
Lugo (07) 19 and -1.4

 

This bodes well for a Brewers team heading into 2011 with such high expectations and such a question mark at shortstop. Of the four teams, probably the 2007 Red Sox resemble the Brewers most. Julio Lugo committed one more error (19) as Betancourt did in 2010 (18) and though his UZR didn’t dip as horrendously low as Yuni’s…the Red Sox managed to do quite well with a less than average shortstop. Other than Tavarez, Red Sox starters almost mirrored the 2010 Brewer starters in GB%. The edge Gallardo (2010) had over Schilling (2007), if you want to call it one, was washed by Tavarez.

 

BREWERS

Gallardo

Wolf

Greinke

Marcum

Narveson

2007 GB-FB-LD%

38-37-25

41-40-19

34-44-22

41-42-17

 

2008

40-48-12

39-37-24

43-38-19

43-40-17

 

2009

45-36-19

40-42-18

40-41-19

 

 

2010

43-23-24

39-42-19

46-36-18

39-43-18

40-43-17

I’m not saying the Brewers can afford to let Betancourt recline on a lawn chair sipping a Cuban cocktail, but the harm he can cause may be much less than first anticipated. Greinke’s groundball percentage did take a strange hike last year, but other than that, Brewers starters give up more fly balls and rely heavily on the strikeout.

 

The Yankees won in 2009 with perhaps baseball’s most popular player-Derek Jeter. The hustling and often times spectacular shortstop has certainly slowed down and the numbers reflect this, yet the Yankees still triumphed with his –3 UZR. The fact that Jeter made a miniscule 10 errors hints at the direction I am going here. If a player makes the routine plays on a team not prone to excessive ground ball activity, damage in terms of runs allowed can be avoided.

 

Ideally, the Brewers would send someone like Jimmy Rollins out to man the area where games can be won or loss. According to the numbers, he scooped up everything in sight in 2008. (7 errors and a 12.9 UZR.) Betancourt, on the other hand,  does not even physically appear to be a shortstop. His barrel chest and lack of lateral mobility seems better suited for third base, but he will be there come March 30th. 

If he is able to make the routine plays, the concern he has already caused may be quickly forgotten.

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