Last week we began our discussion of The Defensive Spectrum which covers the degree of difficulty (and value) of the various positions. To review:
C SS 2B CF 3B RF LF 1B DH
The Centerfielder is considered the “Captain” of the outfielders: he may “call off” any other fielder from a fly ball he thinks he can catch. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Centerfielders frequently have to cover great swaths of pasture to make up for less mobile or skilled corner players. The Centerfielder also carries more offensive expectations than the players grouped to his left on the Spectrum. It is not a slugger’s position per se, but great hitters such as Tris Speaker and Joe DiMaggio were exemplars; for people who grew up in the 1950’s the continuing debate was who was the premier practitioner, Willie (Mays), Mickey (Mantle) or The Duke (Snider), all of whom were legendary sluggers. Of course, I grew up in Philadelphia, where Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn was a fine offensive player without being a slugger or any note. Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers is generally regarded as the best Centerfielder in the game today, although I would hold Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates as defensively superior and still emerging offensively.
The four players at the left end of The Defensive Spectrum give meaning to the phrase “A winning club has strength up the middle”. Usually (but not always) the team that wins the World Series has four considerable players at those positions.
Third Base is known as “The Hot Corner”; it is a reaction position where the ball is upon the fielder in abrupt and sudden fashion. Lefty junk-ballers and right-handed sluggers are a prescription for hot smashes the give no quarter. Lateral movement is not quite as important here as at the middle infield spots. Frequently third basemen play like hockey goalies, just hoping to knock the ball down and then make the play. Third basemen must have strong arms to make throws frequently from foul territory behind the bag; they must also have quick reactions to come in on bunts and hoppers, and to go back on pop-ups, although they are often going to be called off by the shortstop. It is an underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame; the late Ron Santo, probably the best all-around player at the position during the 1960’s, was sadly voted in too late to enjoy the honor. It is not a slugger’s position although great sluggers like Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies and Eddie Mathews of the Braves have graced the ground. Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays is the exemplar in the American League and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals in the NL’s nonpareil.
Rightfielders typically are a bit more athletic than leftfielders, and often are former centerfielders who have some mileage. It’s a slugger’s position, and a good arm is a requirement: they frequently lead their leagues in outfield assists. Cutting down runners at third and home is meat and drink to the rightfielder. They usually bat in the middle of the order and are expected to drive in runs.