A lot has been made about Ron Washington’s decision play the defensively challenged Vladmir Guerrero, rather than the defensively oriented David Murphy, in RF during the World Series games played in San Francisco--and rightly so. Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra pokes a little fun at this situation, but he really hits the mark:
“I was uneasy with Vlad Guerrero playing right field before Game 1. Afterwards? Ye Gods, don’t let this happen again, Ron Washington. Vlad was hell on wheels in the outfield last night. And not round wheels. Square, stone wheels like something you’d see on the Flintstones…Beyond those plays he just looked slow and kind of sad. Misplayed hops. Bobbled balls. Jogging into the corner. I started making my usual Fred Sanford jokes during the live chat and people started defending Fred Sanford from such a vile association.”
Did Vlad really look that bad out there? Oh yes. Yes he did. Let’s put it this way. If I hadn’t known he’d been playing right field for the better part of his 14+ year major league career, I would’ve thought he’d never played the position before. Luckily for the Rangers, his defense wasn’t the difference between winning and losing Game 1, but it certainly contributed.
So should we really be surprised with his performance in the field last night? No. Vlad has started a combined total of 17 games in RF since the start of the 2009 season. Yes, folks--17 games. At what position did he start during the remaining 235 games he played over those two seasons? Designated Hitter. Essentially, his managers looked at him and said, “You know, you’re bat is still pretty good, but you’re a butcher in the field. Why don’t you just focus on the one thing you’re still (reasonably) good at?” For some reason, Ron Washington has decided to change his strategy (to limit Vlad’s ability to hurt his team defensively) now. And what a better time to do it? Am I right? First off, it’s the World Series, so it’s not like anything is really on the line here. Secondly, it’s not like AT&T Park’s right field isn’t one of the largest and most difficult to play in baseball. I’m sure you could throw my 75 year old grandmother out there, and she’d be just fine.
Perhaps, I’m going a little overboard on the sarcasm here, but isn’t it at least a little bit deserved? This was a terrible move. What’s worse is that he’s going to reprise the move tonight! For what? A tiny (and I do mean tiny) advantage offensively? Vlad and his potential replacement, David Murphy, weren’t really all that far apart offensively this past season. Vlad put up a .360 wOBA (+20.2 wRAA) in 152 games, while Murphy put up a .358 wOBA (+14.4 wRAA) in 138 games. Murphy also proved yet again that he could play both corner outfield positions (and center in a pinch) at a league average level, while Vlad Guerrero embarrassed himself in limited outings. Whatever small advantage the Rangers are getting offensively from Guerrero, they’re losing it back in spades defensively. For the sake of Ranger fans, I hope someone in the Ranger clubhouse or front office pulls Washington aside, and convinces him to make the switch prior to the start of Game 2. It could be the difference between going back to Texas tied or down 2-0.
ESPN’s Rob Neyer and Fangraph’s Dave Cameron also put a great spin on the Vlad/Murphy situation. Check it out.