Shortstops and Defensive Tolerance
The acquistion of Eduardo Nunez got people speculating about when he would get a chance in the Twins lineup over the struggling Pedro Florimon. Florimon's defense is an asset but it is not making up for his inability to hit.
Nunez has been getting panned for his poor defensive play, despite this, he is still looked at as a shortstop option for the Twins. This makes me wonder, what exactly is it that allows poor defensive players to continue getting chances at short when defense is continually hailed as of utmost importance?
We often hear about minor leaguers who "need" to move to 3B or 2B because they just won't cut it at the MLB level. Many of these guys get moved not because they play poorly, but because the perception is that they lack range, arm strengthy, speed or proper footwork. But that begs the question, how did Nunez get through, and more importantly, why is he still considered a shortstop? Or Jed Lowrie? or Asdrubal Cabrera? Or Jhonny Peralta?
Brian Dozier was deemed unworthy to play SS last year before he was demoted to Rochester. Since his return, he has only been considered for 2B duties, and almost surely that will never change. Is he really an inferior fielder to Nunez? Or Lowrie or Cabrera? I doubt it.
It seems to me, that once a player sneaks through to the majors and sticks at SS for any considerable amount of time, he will be considered as such, despite his shortcomings defensively. Lowrie, Nunez and Peralta are all working on their questionable SS play for thier second and third organizations and Cabrera will hit the free agent market viewed as a SS next year.
I think this shows an overly critical evaluation of minor leaguers. Defense matters, but managers routinely put subpar SS in their lineups because they aren't losing games despite what evaluators may project. Jorge Polanco is being given another chance at SS, and I'm happy to see that. But even if he hits, if his range or arm start to play at a subpar level, he'll risk being moved.
I always wondered what would have happened if JJ Hardy had been developed by another orgainzation. He's big, he's slow and by the eye test he does not appear to have much range. I would bet that there are a good number of clubs that would have moved Hardy to 3B long before he ever got the the majors, which of course would be a shame considering he is one of the top defensive players at his position today.
My overall sentiment is that defensive measurables for a shortstop seem to be more valuable in theory than the do on the field. How many perfectly acceptable shortstops are judged unworthy early in their careers?