Another entry in the What My Favourite Team Did Wrong series…
Last year, John Farrell was the only manager in the major leagues of baseball who used his best reliever more often in low-leverage situations than anyone else on the roster. Showing that unique usage was part of my attempt to squash the talking point that Farrell simply made the same mistakes all managers do, and that he wasn’t so bad after all. He was of course very poor. This is part two.
Since then, of course, the Jays have traded Farrell to Boston, which is an unbelievably brilliant move: it’s not only addition by subtraction for them, but also subtraction by addition for the closest rival the Jays currently have. Getting an actual major-leaguer in the process is remarkable, and reminds one of nothing quite like the Shea Hillenbrand trade, when another guy who simply had to be shipped out of town netted someone who was more than a Scott Wiggins-type warm body. (Jeremy Accardo was probably more useful than Mike Aviles will be, but then again Farrell was less useful than Hillenbrand.)
This trade of Farrell makes it somewhat less interesting to go over all of his mistakes, since I won’t have to live through them anymore, but there is one that I wanted to look into some more.
When Edwin Encarnacion played the outfield earlier this year, I could not believe what they were doing. I’ve talked about the aftermath already, but what I’m interested in now is simple: how often has someone played a guy like Edwin out of position as much as Farrell did (three games, two starts)?
“A guy like Edwin” needs to be defined. In his career, Encarnacion is a minus-13 (per year) fielder at third according to Total Zone and -11 according to BIS (in 5665 innings). He’s also not very good at first. So we will only consider those players who are not above-average at either position. Since he never played any other position before this year, we’ll remove anyone who ever appeared at a non-1B/3B position.
We’ll also cut off anyone with an OBP under .300 or SLG under .400, under the assumption that truly terrible hitters who stick around would probably be good enough defensively, or would have been taught another position at some point (even if they never played it). The minimum PA requirement is 2000, to reflect players who have been regulars at first or third for at least a couple of years. And we’ll only look at players from 1961 to the present, and at players at most one year older than Edwin Encarnacion–this time we’re assuming that a young-ish guy still has value and shouldn’t be thrown out there in the outfield.
In the end we only get four players who, at some point in their career, had spent all their time at first and third (and who satisfy the other conditions above), and went on to play another position, if only once.
We’ll go in chronological order.
(Remember that Edwin played three games in left, starting two of them, and totalled 17 innings there this year.)
Max Alvis (through 1968)
1969: 1 INN at SS
Played the ninth in one game as part of a quintuple-switch. Not a big deal. Never appeared anywhere else other than third base, and was out of the majors after 1970.
Doug Rader (through 1974)
1975: 10 INN at SS (1 start)
1977: 9 INN in RF (1 start)
Rader was -2 at 3B at -1 at 1B in his career, but whatever you want to say about Gold Gloves, he had five in ’70 through ’74 and those are five more than Encarnacion will ever have. Rader’s appearances at short and right came with a terrible Houston team (two games in August, seems like a short-term injury thing) and the first-year Blue Jays (a September game, even). The managers who put him out there were Preston Gomez and Roy Hartsfield.
Richie Hebner (through 1976)
1977: 1 INN at 2B
1978: 3 INN at 2B
Became a part-time outfielder in 1982
Played the last inning of a 7-0 game at second in ’77, and the last three of a 4-0 (becoming 4-2) game in ’78. Manager was Danny Ozark both times, and both those Phillies teams won the NL East and lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS–a rare example of a good team doing this sort of thing, if only for four innings over two years.
Tony Clark (through 2002)
2003: 2 INN in LF
Art Howe did this, and it could have been avoided if he pinch-hit Raul Gonzalez for the LF and Clark for the pitcher, not the other way around. But seriously, look at that lineup. A Hall of Famer surrounded by Timo Perez and Jason Phillips. Facing Greg Maddux. No wonder he only needed 65 pitches for 6 innings.
And an honourable mention (not on the official list because he played well at first base in 2005):
Eric Hinske (through 2005)
2006: 299 INN in RF/LF (38 starts)
Appeared semi-regularly in the OF after that
Hinske was and is more athletic than Encarnacion, and (most crucially) had an entire offseason to prepare for playing the outfield once the Glaus acquisition made it clear that he wasn’t playing third. In fact, most of us were generally okay with the idea of Hinske in RF at the time. (I wasn’t. But I predicted 820 runs scored and 735 runs allowed for the Jays that year. Actual total: 809 and 754. So I’ll take victories where I can get them.)
So over more than 1,300 team-seasons, only four times have managers done what Farrell did with Encarnacion. All together, those four players played 25 innings out of position, and only Doug Rader started any games elsewhere in the first year after being a corner infielder exclusively.
Simply put, nobody has ever done this before. And yes, this stuff matters.