Corner Outfielders As Marathon Sprinters
Dave Cameron’s piece on outfield alignment was an interesting read — Especially when a reader comment questioned the utility of swapping the left and right fielder based on handedness given the majority of outfield fly balls are hit to the opposite field.
For a college player, a 56 game season feels long come May. For a minor leaguer, August is when many hit the proverbial wall. Speak to a Major League scout and they’ll say more player evaluation mistakes are made in January-March when players are fresh, and September-October when gassed, than any other time of year.
Having played baseball through college, and with my current prospect work, the question resonated with me as an example of baseball making sense on paper, but not in practice. Being a game where actual wear and tear on a player’s body occurs gradually over a grueling schedule of games, does it make sense for corner outfielders exert even more energy running back-and-forth?
To begin breaking down the numbers, one must first figure out how many feet a player would have to run from left to right field. From corner-to-corner, it’s about 450 feet. Based on this, each outfielder would cover a 150 foot “zone”. For a corner outfielder playing in the middle of his zone, he’d have to run half a zone (75 feet), plus the full center field zone (150 feet), plus half of the other corner outfield zone (75 feet) totaling 300 feet.
Keep in mind plays in the corners will add more distance to the run, while plays in the gap will cut down the distance.
Now, let’s figure out the number of times per game corner outfielders are expected to make this run.. In a season, 30 teams will participate in 162 games. This equals 4,860 opportunities for a team to accumulate a full game’s worth of plate appearances.
In 2012, a total of 184,179 batters stepped to the plate. This means each team averaged 37.9 plate appearances per game. 38 should work for this exercise.
Of those plate appearances, 80, 476 were by left-handed hitters, or 43.7%. I’ll use 44% when calculating.
44% of 38 plate appearances per game is 16.72 plate appearances by left-handed hitters in which a switch would occur. We’ll use 17. This is with the assumption a lead off hitter will be right-handed.
We would use 16 if the lead off hitter was left-handed and if the best defensive corner outfielder began the game in left.
17 trips multiplied by the 300 foot run is 5,100 extra feet traveled in a game. If both the left and right fielder play 150 games, then an add an extra 765,000 feet run over a full season (approximately 145 miles). This is more than 5.5 full marathons.
And this isn’t a slow jog either….
If we can agree it’s about 30-seconds between the end of a play and the first pitch of the next batter, then both corner outfielders are expected to run at a rate of 600 feet per minute. At 36,000 feet per hour, this is the equivalent of a sub-seven minute mile.
Now ask yourself, even if this was Jabba The Hut being dragged by Princes Leia in left field and a spry, pre-frozen Han Solo in right, would it be worth it?
For me, not a chance.
In baseball, managers rotate outfield spots, designated hitters, pitching staffs and utility infielders with the hope of keeping individual players strong for as long as possible. They know the grind will take its toll.
Adding those miles to the mix will only force a manager to provide more opportunities for rest which would reduce the overall value of the strategy itself.
Plus, as soon as a manager begins to switch outfielders, any outfield defensive data supporting the move becomes less valuable since it was collected using players who did not shift in the first place.
Worst case scenario, consider the outcry if/when Josh Hamilton tweaks his back between batters and the Angels 100+ million dollar investment hits the disabled list in the pursuit of an extra win or two by any means necessary.
In an isolated example, The Mariners might choose to begin the inning with Michael Saunders in left field for two batters and hide Michael Morse in right to start the ninth inning in an attempt to keep their best hitter in the game.
For the third hitter, both outfielders would shift back to their normal positions resulting in only one trip across the field. Or, if a batter reaches base, the team then makes a defensive switch to remove Morse from the game after making an attempt to keep him in the lineup.
While important to analyze the utility of every scenario, it’s important to gauge the human element as well. Ideas which make perfect sense on paper are poor in practice and vice versa. In exploring whether or not corner outfielders should moonlight as marathon sprinters, I’d be willing to bet against any manager ever trying given the added mileage on a player’s body — Literally.
Hat tip to Jeff Zimmerman for helping me work through the math in this piece.
25 Jan 2014 / Mike Newman /
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