Cards Blog: Schumaker Won't be at Shortstop

Apr 30, 2008 at 10:38 am

Lately, one of the hot topics around the various Internet message boards, talk radio and, I'm sure, the good old-fashioned water cooler, is Skip Schumaker.

More specifically, the fact that Schumaker played shortstop in school. Given the Cardinals' weakness in the middle infield, why not just move Skip on in there? Stick him at short or second base, and watch the offense just take off. Seems like a good idea, right?

Well, I'm here to rain on everybody's parade. There's very, very little chance (and by that I mean pretty much zero) that's ever going to happen.

SS won't be at SS.

Admittedly, at first blush it seems like a fantastic solution. Just move Skip and his solid production into the middle of the infield, and voila! Cesar Izturis and his .180 batting average are a thing of the past. The problems come whenever you start considering all of the other duties a middle-infield job entails.

We see infielders move to the outfield occasionally, of course. That's not a particularly tough conversion to make; athleticism has much more to do with how well a player can cover the outfield than most other factors. A player with a little bit of speed can adjust to tracking down flies; he may never be great at it, but he can usually become perfectly passable. Add in the fact that the average number of chances an outfielder sees in a given game is usually very low, and it's easy to see why the move can be made. The exception is Chris Duncan, who is making it look downright hard to catch a fly ball.

The problem with moving the other way emerges when you start considering how a player has to react on the infield. Suddenly, first-step quickness is of paramount importance. An infielder has no chance to use his speed to make up for getting a poor jump -- the ball doesn't take that long to get there. It takes years for a fielder to develop those reflexes, to read the ball off the bat immediately. An outfielder, who usually tracks down a fly ball over the course of several seconds, has no real chance of fielding a ball cleanly in fractions of a second.

Even more than that, though, is the matter of footwork. In the outfield a player sees the ball off the bat and starts running toward it. He catches it (or not), and then must get into position to throw the ball back toward the infield. At the most he has to do a quick crow hop to stop his momentum and get it moving back in the proper direction. Again, athleticism and a strong throwing arm are the most important aspects of an outfielder's game.

Everything about playing the infield starts with the feet. No infielder can possibly make the throws, at the proper angles, with strength and accuracy, if his feet aren't right. It takes years to learn the kind of footwork needed to play infield at the major-league level, even merely adequately. Playing the infield is fare more about technique than about sheer raw athleticism. Every day in spring training, you'll see infielders taking hundreds of ground balls. They're working on reading the ball and catching it, yes, but even more than that, they're working on their positioning. The way their bodies, and their feet, are positioned when they catch the ball is at least as important as the actual catching. Everything on the infield begins with the feet, and outfielders are not at all accustomed to that approach. To move from the outfield to the infield, a fielder would have to completely change the way he goes about his job.

As it relates to Skip, though, well, he played shortstop in college, right? That's true, but there are still a couple of problems. One, we really don't have any idea how good he was at the position to begin with. In fact, considering how scarce shortstops are compared to outfielders, we could do worse than to assume he wasn't Ozzie Smith, at the least.

More than that, though, how many years has it been since he played on the infield? He was drafted in 2001, and I believe he played center field his last couple of years in school. So we're essentially talking about a player who hasn't seriously taken ground balls for a living in nearly ten years. There's really no way Skip could possibly be expected to adjust to the speed of the major-league game after a decade of tracking down fly balls and mostly ignoring the ones on the ground. A player who hasn't had to position his feet to turn a double play in ten years isn't going to turn it, and he's just asking for a runner to plow into him and blow his knee completely out.

The bottom line is, as attractive as replacing one of our current middle-infield bats with Skip's might be, it's not feasible. If the Cardinals had wanted him to play infield, they'd have been playing him there in the minors. Now he has no options to go down and try to learn. It's just not going to happen.

-Aaron Schafer