The Defensive Spectrum - III
C SS 2B CF 3B RF LF 1B DH
In sandlot baseball, because most batters are right-handed, the worst fielder usually occupies rightfield; but in the majors, where left-handedness is prized and a disproportionate number of hitters are lefties, leftfield is where the poorest fielders go. It also helps that throws from leftfield tend to be shorter than throws from centerfield or rightfield.
That’s not to say that ALL the players in the sinister pasture are defensive stiffs. Barry Bonds won 8 Gold Glove awards although later in his career, no matter what effects his chemical additives may have had on his performance, they couldn’t help his weak throwing arm. Bonds’ last Gold Glove was won in 1998 at the age of 33 generally regarded as just before he began his juicing. From 1961 to 2010 (50 years!) there was no requirement that the Gold Glove for outfielders be position specific; hence leftfielders were often shut out and frequently the awards would go to three centerfielders. That’s changed now; Gerardo Parra of the Arizona Diamondbacks won the NL award and Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals won the AL award in 2011.
Leftfielders are principally sluggers; some of the greatest all-time offensive players are natives here, such as Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson and Al Simmons. Gaudy statistics are part and parcel.
First base actually requires, in my mind, more defensive skill than leftfield. The gatekeepers have to handle throws that are high, wide, and in the dirt; they have to make throws to second and home that are not easy; they have to charge bunts and dribblers; and they have to chase pop fouls. Albert Pujols now of the Los Angeles Angels is an outstanding fielder but in my mind the best fielders at the position were lefty throwers like Keith Hernandez and Wes Parker. Those two really excelled. Still, defensive prowess is a secondary characteristic at first base; witness how long it took for Casey Kotchman, now of the Cleveland Indians; Kotchman is generally regarded as a “glove man” (although his defensive stats the past few seasons don’t back that up), but because he is not a power hitter (though not bad as an offensive player), it took him a long time to sign, for a short term and a relatively modest salary. I still regard him as a nice value signing by the Tribe.
Finally we arrive at the Designated Hitter the Ultima Thule of The Defensive Spectrum, a player with, in fact, no defensive value at all. Not much to say about this, is there?
Next week we’ll discuss the opening of the Spring Training camps. Hooray!
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