Thursday, July 9, 2009

Brendan Harris, (not a) shortstop

About a month ago, when Nick Punto was on the shelf and the Twins were on the road in Oakland, there was a late night game in which Brendan Harris played a one-hopper off his chest. The official scorer called it a single, which might have been a sensible ruling had Harris been playing bare handed.

A few innings later, Harris made a lunging backhanded stop of a grounder and threw to the third baseman for a force out.

In the game story the next day, Ron Gardenhire said of Harris, "He played the hell out of the position." I am 99.9 percent sure that Gardy was thinking of the backhanded play and forgetting the ball that bounced off his chest.

Harris has been a fixture at shortstop since. The line is that he's more comfortable at short than at second (OK) and Punto can handle either position. And, even considering that Harris is now 2-for-27 this month — a sweet .074 batting average over seven games — there's no question that he's a better hitter than Matt Tolbert, the other middle infield option currently on the 25-man roster.

But he's no shortstop, at least not a major league-caliber shortstop.

Defensive stats are odd things. They often seem designed to hide the truth. Part of it is that there are going to be 27 outs made, no matter how many hits go through a rangeless or ill-positioned defender. Part of it is the subjective nature of scoring calls. For example, in the second inning Wednesday night, Harris made a play behind second base, did one of those pivots to get into the proper throwing angle — and overshot Justin Morneau, pulling him off the bag.

Single. Yeah, right. It was a play a major league shortstop in 2009 is expected to make.

The Yankees scored three runs that inning. If Harris makes that play, gets that out, they score zero. And, of course, the Twins lost 4-3.

I counted three plays that night Harris (in my judgment) should have made and did not. One of them was ruled an error. Just one.

The next time you hear John Gordon extolling the wonders of the Twins defense on the basis that they con't commit errors, remember that "hit."

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Harris is not a shortstop or a second basemen or . . . well, you get the point. However, given the Twins' take on Alexi, Harris remains the best option available to the Twins. Starting two utility players who can't hit - Punto and Tolbert - doesn't work. That said, I don't understand why Gardy doesn't employ late inning defensive substitutions in the infield as he does in the outfield.