How Yunel Escobar will Adjust to Second Base

Much has been made in the last week about Yunel Escobar's transition from shortstop to second base. The Nationals have maintained that the transition will be easy for the long time shortstop, but how easy will it be?

To find out we look to that always plentiful data source, baseball history. By finding players who have played significant innings at both second base and shortstop we can get a general idea of how much the change in position affects their defensive statistics. It won't give us an exact answer as to how Escobar will deal with the adjustment, but it should be a good approximation.

To start we'll find every player who has played at least 1000 innings at both shortstop and second base. 1000 innings is still a small sample size when it comes to defensive statistics, but it should be substantial enough to give a general trend and we won't get players like Danny Espinosa who played one of the positions sparingly.

Since 1954, 46 players have played at least 1000 innings at both positions. Since a number of these players played before 2003, we can't use the most advanced defensive statistics. However, the play-by-play based Total Zone is available and is a close approximation to the more advanced numbers. By Total Zone, these 46 players had an average of -3.7 and a median of -4.0 runs above average at shortstop and an average of 7.9 and a median of 3.0 runs above average. Clearly these players saw a significant improvement in their defensive numbers compared to average when playing second base compared to shortstop. Overall, 62.2 percent of these players saw an improvement in their career Total Zone runs above average when playing at second base compared to shortstop. A good sign for the new Nationals second baseman.

If the balls-in-play based Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved are more your style, we can find the average and median for those numbers as well on a subset of the group. Of the above group, 20 played all or part of their career when UZR and DRS are available. These 20 players had an average UZR/150 of -0.8 and a median of -2.2 runs above average and an average DRS of 1.4 and median DRS of -3.0 runs above average at shortstop. While at second base the same players had an average UZR/150 of -2.1 and a median of 2.7 runs above average and an average DRS of 5.7 and a median of 2 runs above average. Even by these more advanced numbers, we can see a clear defensive benefit from moving from shortstop to second base.

However, despite the barrier of entry for the previous group, there's still a few players who were utility players mixing between shortstop and second base. What about players like Escobar who started a lot of games at shortstop, while starting a few and second base? To find out, we can find the number of players who started at least 600 games at shortstop, about the number of starts a player would have if they were a regular for four seasons, and started at least 100 games at second base. This list is much shorter than the previous one, being made up of just eight players.

NamesSS InningsSS Total Zone2B Innings2B Total Zone
Jay Bell1291843435.1-14
Julio Franco6171.2-385695.2-11
Scott Fletcher6541435724.256
Toby Harrah6690.1-271956.1-14
Hal Lanier537231340921
Dick McAuliffe5361.1-147959.2-3
Denis Menke6772-241842.2-11
Kurt Stillwell5498.2-441473.2-14
Average -8.625 1.25
Median -19 -11

This time the benefit isn't quite as obvious at first glance. The average Total Zone at second base is better than it is at shortstop, but the comparably negative medians suggest that the average is a bit deceiving. However, of these eight players, six saw an improvement in their Total Zone runs above average when going from shortstop to second base. So even among more experienced starters there's a benefit defensively in moving from shortstop to second base

Of course, every player is their own person and the successes of others doesn't guarantee success for Escobar. In fact, the player who compares best to Escobar, Jay Bell, who started at shortstop for nine seasons before moving to second base at 33, saw a decrease of 18 runs in his Total Zone runs above average. Altogether though history paints a favorable picture for Escobar's transition to second base, which is good news for the Nats.

Comparable players were found using the Lahman database. Defensive statistics are from FanGraphs. Acknowledgement to Chadwick Baseball Bureau for use of their persons register.

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