|By Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr|
It’s not that I don’t understand the impulse.
The Braves have a whole at third base right now – though Rio Ruiz is doing his best to change that – and when Freddie Freeman returns, it would seem that Matt Adams is out of a starting job. Sure, you could shift him to left field, though he’s blocked there by Matt Kemp.
Of course, with the way Adams has acclimated himself since the trade, it’s easy to get excited about the prospect of finding an everyday spot for him. In his first three games, he’s gone 5-for-13 with three extra-base knocks, including a pair of homers. Last night, Adams cranked out three of those hits – one that went sailing into the right field bleachers and another opposite-field single that scored the walk-off run.
That last hit even came against a lefty, which Adams typically struggles against. To be fair, Tony Watson has not been a good pitcher this year and lefties are hitting a robust .367 against him. Despite that, it was the first hit Adams had off a lefty all season long. Granted, he only had four plate appearances against them when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.
So, Braves fans, I do get it. But let’s get one thing straight – Matt Adams is not going to third base.
Many of you might be saying to yourself, “well, duh, he’s a first baseman!” But still, others have suggested that to keep Adams’ bat in the lineup, the Braves should consider moving him to third base in the future. There is a whole host of issues at play here, but let’s focus on the most pressing one.
“It’s Incredibly Hard.”
In the film, Moneyball, Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, visits the home of Scott Hatteberg, portrayed by Chris Pratt. Hatteberg, a former catcher who ruptured a nerve in his elbow, had just been released. The film takes some artistic liberties by suggesting Beane’s call was the only one Hatteberg had received all winter. In truth, he had just been non-tendered.
As Beane, with infield coach Ron Washington, sits down with Hatteberg. As Beane informs Hatteberg of his plan to move the former catcher to first base, we are given this incredibly fun moment:
Now, that’s just first base – long considered the position just about anyone can play. That’s unfair because there is a great deal of footwork involved at playing first base. Regardless, first base is where players who lack range go to die (or play 20 years). Third base is often a position for former shortstops who outgrow the position, not first basemen who need a place to play.
Chipper Jones, who suggested Adams at third base during yesterday’s rain delay, should know all about that. Jones came up through the minors a shortstop, but the 6’4″ lanky kid bulked up and wasn’t a fit at shortstop anymore. While he played an occasional shortstop in the majors – plus the outfield – Chipper found a home at third where he could use some of the skills that made him a shortstop (range, arm) to better use.
Most of the top third basemen aren’t like Chipper, though. They started at the position early on. Robin Ventura, Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen, David Wright, Evan Longoria – these guys were third baseman from the second they became professionals. Some like Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripkin Jr. later shifted to the position (Ripkin actually began at third base), but the hot corner isn’t something you plop a guy at and hope for the best.
Even though that should be pretty easy to understand, the Tigers did just that with Miguel Cabrera in 2012-13. In their defense, Cabrera started his career as a third baseman. He knew how to play the position, though he hadn’t played it regularly in a few years. But it didn’t work out as well as the Tigers would have liked. Despite having the greatest hitter in the world at the most elite point of his career, the Tigers couldn’t win a World Series. Part of that came down to the fact that defense matters. The Tigers said, “screw it, let’s hit homers.” Their pitching staff was put in an impossible position. Their offense was their only way to win, but to score that many runs, they had to play a bad defense that totaled -66 DRS. Again, defense matters.
Back in 2012, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian looked at how difficult it is to play third base. Ripkin is quoted in the article saying, “You have to make yourself ready for your own safety. On a ball hit to third, you can’t afford to take a step back. You have to be like a hockey goalie. There’s some fear. And there is no comfort zone. You’re on edge. It’s a highly stressful, anxious position.”
Sound like something you want Matt Adams to deal with?
Throughout Adams nine-year professional career, he has played just one other position than first base. Left field – another position baseball teams think anyone can play. Like Ryan Klesko. Reading Cardinals blogs about the Big City in Left Field experiment, it was like watching an elephant try to flag down a flyball. Other than 34.1 innings in left field, Adams has been a first baseman and a first baseman only. Before you ask, prior to his professional career, Adams was a catcher before shifting to first base in college.
Further, Adams isn’t that much of an athlete. He worked hard in the offseason to get in better shape, but he’s still a big, lumbering player. He’s never flashed much of an arm at first base, either. Since 2013, Adams’ first full season, he’s started eleven double plays. That’s 39th. It’s fewer than Lyle Overbay, who hasn’t played since 2014. If you are curious, Freddie Freeman has started 62 double plays in that time period – good for second place. Maybe he should be considered for third base?
Again, I think we all get it. Since Chipper’s retirement in 2013, third base has been a position without an owner. Sure, Chris Johnson and Adonis Garcia brought some stability by just playing regularly at the position, but Atlanta is among the ten worst teams according to fWAR at third base since #10 stopped suiting up. It’d be easy to say “give Adams a chance.” But this isn’t a video game. You can’t just throw players all over the field and not suffer from the side effects.