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Baseball Told the Right WayIn-depth Baseball analysis on various topics regarding the sport we all love!
Last night, the Red Sox started Doug Mientkiewicz at second base, a position he's played for exactly one inning at the major league level. Talk about being decimated by injuries.
It's not as strange as one might think, as Doug has played some second coming up in the minors. I would assume he also played some second at Florida State, Legion Ball, or in High School as well. So it's not like he was coming into this cold.
Still, we at least know he hasn't done this in awhile, so he was bound to be rusty. I doubt he has worked out at second in his seven years in the big leagues. People usually balk at the idea of moving someone the wrong way on the defensive spectrum, especially as far as from first base to second, but how bad is it? To answer that we have to consider the alternatives.
With Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn both on the DL, the Red Sox were already forced to use Bill Mueller out of position at second. With Kevin Youkilis hurt sliding into home the other day, Mueller was forced to move back to third, leaving out-maker extraordinaire Ricky Gutierrez the only option left. Faced with that choice, Terry Francona decided to get a little crazy.
Doug has excellent range for a first baseman, maybe the best outside of Todd Helton. If his arm was good enough, Doug could certainly play third, but second base is different. It's no longer a "step and a dive", you have to play a little deeper and your range is tested a lot more. Then of course, there are the double plays, which would be the most difficult thing to just "pick up" after not practicing it for seven years. Something tells me its not like riding a bike, although Mientkiewicz would probablly tell you that it was.
If you watched Sportscenter last night, you probablly saw that he actually made a pretty decent play, ranging to his right on a chopper and turning a double play by himself. He had that one mishap with Delgado on the basebaths (see photo), but from what I heard on the radio, there was only one play that someone like Pokey might have had that Doug didnt make routinely. And even though Derek Lowe was on the mound, he (fortunately) didn't get the opportunity to try his hand at turning the double play.
So let's assume for now that Doug would make a horrible defensive 2B. What then? To put it in a little bit of context, I'll use UZR for a rough estimate. The worst person at 2B from 2000-2003 was Luis Rivas, who had an UZR value of -25 runs/162 games. First off, let me say thats horrible. Anyway, let's assume Mientkiewicz would be the worst defensive 2B in the league. Thankfully, I haven't had the misfortune of watching Gutierrez every day, but from what I hear, his D was nothing to speak publicly about. But lets assume, just for giggles, that he was merely average, or had an UZR of 0. In this case, he would be about a .15 run/game improvement defensively over Doug. Now factor in the drop from Doug to Millar at 1B (17 --> 4), and last night the Red Sox defense was about .2 runs worse.
Now, if Gutierrez is in the lineup, Mientkiewicz likely would have been at first, with Kevin Millar working through a pack of Big League Chew in the dugout. Millar has been red hot lately (.424/.495/.776 over the last month, and yes that .776 is his SLG% not OPS) but I'll just use his well-established .300/.360/.500 (~.291 EQA) line and say that he is worth around .15 runs per plate appearance. Ricky Gutierrez, on the other hand, is currently hitting .195 on the season, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He is a career .266/.339/.351 hitter, and even though at 34, is on the downside of that "career", that works out to around .1 EQR/PA. So given four plate appearances, Millar is around .2 runs better than Gutierrez, and comes pretty close to making up the drop in defense.
Assuming Mientkiewicz would be at least the worst defensive 2B in the league is fair, but I doubt (from what I've heard) the Gutierrez is an average defensive 2B, and I also doubt he will hit .266 this year. So I have to think that I was being extra generous to the Ricky Gutierrez side of the argument.
All things considered, Francona got this one right. I don't see why he shouldn't keep Mientkiewicz at 2B at least until Youkilis, Bellhorn, or Pokey gets back. He'll only get better with a few more games to remember how to play second.
What this says more than anything else is that Ricky Gutierrez is an awful, awful option, no matter how you look at it. If you have to move a first baseman who isn't exactly tearing the cover off the ball (.268/.302/.341) to second base just to keep Ricky's sorry ass out of the lineup, he can't be feeling real good about his roster spot right now.
Ricky Gutierrez' mother can email Curt to tell him he's wrong.