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April 9, 2008 at 8:43 am ET
Manny Ramirez breaks a record with…his hustle?

Placido Polanco wonders where this pose was yesterday.If you’d asked Placido Polanco to describe the play that would end his record-setting errorless streak, it’s safe to say the Tigers’ second baseman wouldn’t have outlined a situation where a hustling Manny Ramirez forced him to rush a relay throw to third base, hoping to prevent a triple.

Until yesterday, Polanco hadn’t been charged with a miscue since July 1, 2006,  a 186-game stretch that included 911 successful chances, among them dozens of situations that can typically create errors for second basemen, including 1) groundballs, 2) relays to first on double-play balls to the left side of the infield, and 3) relays to home plate or third base on extra-base hits to right field. For more than a season and a seventh (roughly), Polanco made all those plays, not to mention myriad plays involving pop-ups, rundowns, stolen bases and Carlos Guillen. And then to be undone by the surprising hustle of Mr. Stand-at-the-Plate-and-Posture, Manny Ramirez. I tell ya, sometimes I like baseball.

Placido Polanco won a Gold Glove last season, his first, but he’s not exactly Bill Mazeroski with the mitt. In fact, according to The Fielding Bible Awards voted on by Bill James, John Dewan, Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski and six other baseball-minded people, Polanco was the seventh-best fielding second baseman in baseball last year. James listed him as the eighth best, Neyer as the ninth best, and Dewan (who created a fielding stat called Plus-Minus) as the fifth best. None of the 10 writers who vote for The Fielding Bible Awards thought Polanco was the No. 1 fielding second baseman in baseball in 2007. (Hal Richman, the creator of Strat-O-Matic baseball, had him ranked highest, at four.)

The following is the description of the Plus/Minus System for fielding in The Bill James Handbook 2008. If you own Visine, apply it liberally, ’cause this stuff’s a little dry.

* The Plus/Minus system is a method for evaluating defensive play on batted balls. It is made possible by a game scoring system in which each batted is rated for type (line drive, grounder, etc.), velocity within its type (hard, medium or soft), and location on the field. A player gets a credit (a “plus” number) if he makes a play that at least one other player at his position missed during the season and he loses a credit (a “minus” number) if he misses a play that at least one player made. The size of the credits are proportional to the percentage of times all players make the play. All plays for each player at his position are summed to get his total plus/minus for the season. A total of zero would be average and any other number would approximate how many plays more or less the player made than the average player at the position for the number of chances the player had to field batted balls.”

Personally, I would have split that last sentence with a dash.

Anyway, is the Plus/Minus system the last word on fielding? No. Dewan, who devised the model, said in The Bill James Handbook, “While The Fielding Bible puts a lot of emphasis on the numbers, especially my Plus-Minus system, I feel that visual observation and subjective judgment are still very important parts of determining the best defensive fielders.”

The gentleman who compiled the worst Plus/Minus number in baseball over the last three years (-109) will no doubt be glad to hear that his hustle will not be overlooked. That gentleman’s name? Manny Ramirez.

Polanco had a +10 in Dewan’s system last year, which was good for eighth among MLB second basemen. (Aaron Hill of Toronto and Chase Utley of the Phillies were both +22). And among third basemen, who had a -23 last year, “good” for third worst in baseball? New Tigers’ third-sacker Miguel Cabrera.

I watched the Red Sox/Tigers game yesterday and it’s questionable whether that error should have been attributed to Polanco or Cabrera, who tried to field the offline throw and make a snap tag on Ramirez, but missed it and allowed the ball to skirt into the Tigers’ dugout, which gave Ramirez the extra base. If the game had been played in Detroit, it’s possible the official scorer might have felt differently about the play and called the error on Cabrera. In light of that, it’ll be interesting to see how/when Kevin Youkilis’s record-setting errorless streak eventually ends. Will it end at home or on the road? On a groundball or relay throw? How about an errant toss on the front end of a 3-6-1? However it happens, I feel confident that Manny Ramirez’s hustle (or lack thereof) won’t be a contributing factor in Youkilis’s next error. Then again, strange, unexpected things continually happen during baseball games, right, Mr. Polanco?

P.S. Youkilis, who a Gold Glove last season too, finished third among Major League first basemen in voting for the 2007 Fielding Bible Award, behind Albert Pujols and Casey Kotchman.

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2 Responses to “Manny Ramirez breaks a record with…his hustle?”
  1. BigReg1544 says:

    Nice Guillen jab, lucky for us we went and got another slow SS, only this now has to throw the ball to Guillen,

  2. Rachael W says:

    Manny Ramirez is the goofiest guy in baseball. Sometimes I hate him and sometimes I love him.

    And this has nothing to do with anything, but does anyone else think Placido Polanco’s head is shaped like a giant tooth?

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