Over six seasons with the (now) Miami Marlins, Hanley Ramirez proved to be a mediocre defensive shortstop. If history is any guide, he will likely be a worse defender at third base.
With the Marlins signing Jose Reyes to a six-year contract worth $106 million, Ramirez will no longer be the Marlins shortstop. Every indication is that he will be moved to third base, although Ramirez is expressing his extreme displeasure with the move.
Reyes is by far the better defender at short. In more than 8,800 innings at short, Reyes has a cumulative UZR/150 of 2.1, with 8 Defensive Runs Saved. Ramirez, by contrast, has logged more than 7,150 innings at short, amassing a cumulative UZR/150 of -9.1, with -49 Defensive Runs Saved.
Reyes is six months older than Ramirez — Reyes turned 28 in June and Ramirez will turn 28 at the end of this month. But Reyes has maintained more of a shortstop’s physique. He’s 6-1/200 pounds. Ramirez is 6-3/229 pounds.
For these reasons, playing Reyes at short makes the most sense for the Marlins. The question is what kind of defense they’ll get out of Ramirez at third.
If history is any guide, Ramirez will be an even weaker defender at third than he was at short.
The two most notable examples of everyday shortstops moving over to play third are Cal Ripken, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. Meausred by the metrics available at time, Ripken played a much better shortstop than third base. Over 15 seasons and more than 20,200 innings, Ripken had a .979 fielding percentage and a Total Zone rating of 176. Ripken moved to third at the beginning of the 1997 season, and over the next five seasons, had a .958 fielding percentage and a Total Zone rating of 0. Of course, Ripken’s defensive downgrade may have had as much to do with age than a change of position, but the numbers still show a decline.
A-Rod moved to third at a younger age than Ripken did, but still showed a defensive decline after the move. With the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, Rodriguez logged nearly 11,000 innings at short and flashed a .977 fielding percentage and a Total Zone rating of 18. Using the same metrics, Rodriguez has had a .965 fielding percentage over nearly 9,300 innings at third base and a -40 Total Zone rating.
UZR information is available for 2002-2003, A-Rod’s final two years as a shortstop with the Rangers. In 2002, he had a UZR/150 of 12.7, the best among American League shortstops that year. In 2003, he was second-best in the American League behind Jose Valentin of the Chicago White Sox with a UZR/150 of 11.2. He also had 8 Defensive Runs Saved in 2003, the first year that informationis available.
In eight seasons at third for the New York Yankees, A-Rod has a cumulative UZR/150 of -1.0, although that number would be much lower if not for a UZR/150 of 20.2 this season for the 762 innings he played at third. Injuries kept him out for a big chunk of the season. He also amassed -11 Defensive Runs Saved in his time with the Yankees.
There are additional examples of players shifiting from shortstop to third and seeing their defense suffer. Rich Aurilia was the every day shortstop for the San Francisco Giants from 1998-2003. Over 9000+ innings, he had a .974 fielding percentage. In 2002 and 2003, the first two years of UZR data, Aurilia posted UZR/150 numbers of 8.9 and 4.2, respectively. Not a defensive whiz, but better numbers than Hanley Ramirez has posted in any one season playing shortstop. After he left the Giants after the 2003 season, Aurilia converted to a utility infielder, playing mostly first, short and third. In nearly 1,400 innings at third, Aurilia posted a -2.3 UZR/150 and had -9 DRS. Again, age almost certainly was a fact or, but switching positions did not work well for Aurilia defensively.
The silver lining for Hanley? Believe it or not — Miguel Tejada. From 1998 to 2009, Tejada was the everyday shortstop for the Athletics, Orioles and Astros and amassed a Total Zone rating of -58 in those seasons. His best UZR/150 rating was 10.1 with the Astros in 2008 but he posted negative UZR/150 numbers in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Not good numbers. In 2010, the Astros moved Tejada to third and he’s played just under 1,200 innings at third over the last two seasons. His UZR/150 over that time is -.6 but he has 1 DRS. Essentially, he played poorly at third in 2010 but played well there in 2011, albeit only in 372 innings. Not much of a silver lining perhaps, but some slim hope that Hanley can turn it around defensively at third base.
But skills, age and history are not on his side.