Thursday, March 1, 2012

On outfielders, speed and throwing arms

Josh Willingham:
Right field or
 left field?
Ron Gardenhire has hinted this spring that he's keeping an open mind on his outfield alignment. The plan is to have Ben Revere in left, Denard Span in center and Josh Willingham in right.

For a variety of reasons, mostly relating to lineup flexibility, I favor that alignment. But that is far from a universal consensus; some think Revere's superior range should be deployed in center. Willingham has mainly played left field since moving out from behind the plate; he's willing but cautious about shifting to the other side.

Gardenhire sounds deferential to the veteran newcomer on this. The key to this decision, however, ought not be what Willingham wants, but what he can or can't do -- specifically, can he move well enough to cut off balls hit into the corner and prevent doubles (or singles) from becoming triples?

Rule of thumb:

  • If you can run and throw, you play center field.
  • If you can throw but can't run, you play right field.
  • If you can run but can't throw, you play left field.
  • If you can't do either, you play first base.

But that right-field corner thing complicates that simple description. There are no right fielders as fast as the fastest left fielder; if they're that fast and can throw, they play center. But there are also no right fielders as slow as the slowest left fielders, because there are more extra bases to be given away on the right field line.

Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel weren't fast, but they threw well enough that they weren't invitations to triples. I don't know how good Willingham's arm is; since he used to be a catcher, it ought to be decent. And it seems unlikely that he can be slower than Kubel.


  1. It certainly makes the most sense to me to play Span in center and Revere in left. The problem of course is all the "ifs" associated with the Twins. If Willingham can play right, If Revere can hit enough to be a regular, If Plouffe can hir or field enough to play the outfield, If Morneau is a full time 1B or a full time DH or something in between.

    Maybe if Plouffe and Doumit hit well enough, they share time in RF and Willingham is either the DH or sees time at first. There are probably other ways that could go as well.

  2. "The key to this decision, however, ought not be what Willingham wants, but what he can or can't do "

    I don't think those two things are unrelated. Gardenhire recognizes a guy playing where he is comfortable is more likely to be productive both as a fielder and as a hitter. I think all he is saying is that if Willingham really struggles in right field, he has some options.