On Uggla, third base, and Frisaro

michaeljong
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Over the weekend I took a gander at Joe Frisaro’s latest inbox piece, where he answers some mail from the readers. Sometimes these articles provide some insight to the team’s workings, but for the most part they are built to appease the MLB.com audience, which is of course no Beyond the Box Score group of readers. Still, sometimes it’s worth a look.

Well, this weekend I was interested because the highlighted question from the article title was this one.

"Have the Marlins ever tried to put Dan Uggla at third, Chris Coghlan at second and Jorge Cantu at first? That sounds good to me.— Cameron D., Rochester, N.Y."

Now, I think this is a question most Marlins fans have probably asked at one time or another. Just this recent offseason I discussed the possibility of moving Dan Uggla to third base, and I used the Fans Scouting Report to help me give an estimate of performance. So I think this is a question deserving of a fairly serious response about baseball. Well, what Frisaro gives us is a bunch of B.S. instead.

Here’s Frisaro’s response to the question, bit by bit.

"The amount of e-mails and comments I’ve received from fans on this subject shows how much people like to tinker with lineups and positions. It is all fun to do when sitting around and tossing around ideas. The reality is, executing these plans at the big league level doesn’t always work out as it does on paper."

I take this as a sort of veiled insult. No one said it was going to be easy, but the question asked whether or not it was even attempted. I think it’s worth at least a discussion, but Frisaro tosses it out like it’s a half-brained, homer trade proposal to get Albert Pujols for Andrew Miller and Chris Volstad.

"Uggla is a two-time All-Star at second base. He is comfortable at second base and wants to play second base. And he’s been a productive hitter there."

I understand the whole comfort business, but sometimes you just have to do what’s best for the team. Let’s face facts, Uggla is not a good second baseman. It doesn’t really matter that he made two All-Star teams as a second baseman. His defense at second is not very good. If you can improve his value by moving him to third base, then what difference does it make whether he made All-Star teams as a second baseman?

Alfonso Soriano felt the same way about moving from second to left field for the Washington Nationals in 2006. The team didn’t buckle when he said he would not take the field if they moved him. He eventually took the field. It happens.

"Many times, when you move a productive player out of his comfort zone, you see a drop in performance. It happens. It’s not always easy to explain why.Last year, the Marlins tried switching Emilio Bonifacio from his natural second-base position to third base. Reflecting back, the club feels part of Bonifacio’s struggles at the plate and in the field came from the adjustment to a position that didn’t come naturally to him."

Sure, it happens. But how are you supposed to know? Soriano moved to left field and was one of the best players in baseball in 2006. It isn’t as if you’re moving Uggla up the defensive spectrum in a move from second to third. This isn’t putting him at shortstop. That sentence regarding the performance drop seems like a completely arbitrary statement. There’s no support for that.

Frisaro thinks the support comes from the example of Emilio Bonifacio. Of course, it could have been because Bonifacio wasn’t ready for the majors as well, but that isn’t considered here. Given his minor league track record, my guess is that Bonifacio’s problems came more from being unable to handle major league pitching than they did from playing third base instead of second base.

"If the team were to start moving players around on defense, it would be better to do it in Spring Training, so they have time to adapt. Making drastic changes midseason is more risky."

This stands as the only logical thing he mentioned in the piece. Most of these moves are made around Spring Training, when the games don’t count but you still can get plenty of reps. I too would not advise attempting this ploy midseason.

"This isn’t Little League, where the starting pitcher goes to shortstop in the middle of the game and he is still the best player on the field. Not every player can bounce around the field and play at a high level without missing a beat."

I accept that. But why won’t Frisaro gives us a reason for this? He’s the one with access to the team. Ask some scouts, ask an infield coach, give us some insight in their minds about how Uggla’s skills would translate to third base. That would be the way to report such a thing. I did something like that using the Fans Scouting Report. I also did it in about two hours, tops. I understand Frisaro has a deadline to meet, but he couldn’t ask a few questions to his Marlins sources about this inquiry? How hard would it have been to get some quotes on whether Uggla’s arm could hold up at the position, or how his poor range would be hidden playing at third? Instead, you get this reasoning:

1) He’s been a second baseman for a while.

2) He’s comfortable as a second baseman.

3) He may lose his hitting stride because he’s out of his comfort zone.

None of those discusses Uggla’s defensive skill at all. For a question that regards defense, I’d expect a better answer. And Frisaro gives us no analysis. In fact, he not only provides no analysis on why the move by Uggla would be good or bad, but he also provides no commentary on the other moving parts in the scenario. There is no mention of how Chris Coghlan will play at second or how Jorge Cantu and Uggla compare at third. This answer was basically three paragraphs of denial and dismissal with no logical reasoning at all.

Look, I understand that Frisaro has deadlines to meet and also cannot spare, for one answer to an inbox question, the amount of time I spare for one blog post. But for someone with connections and resources to the team, I would expect him to offer a shred of analysis from the horse’s mouth. Spouting cliches and old wives’ tales about an issue gives us no such analysis.

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