The Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman of the future


With the offseason winding down, as currently constructed the Toronto Blue Jays have a hole at second base.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for the Jays. In 2013 they were last (by a mile) in 2B fWAR with a -2.2 mark and had not only the worst production at the position offensively but also the worst defensively (thanks Emilio Bonifacio) that year.

Last season was better after a crafty decision to have Brett Lawrie man the keystone against right-handed pitchers led to the team producing close to league average numbers (1.7 WAR, 15th in MLB) at the position.

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But now that Lawrie has been shipped off to Oakland as part of the package of players the Jays traded in exchange for one of the best third basemen on the planet, Josh Donaldson, there’s yet another hole at position number four.

Anthopoulos said at the time of the trade his original goal was to not only get Donaldson but also keep Lawrie, which would have made for a potentially terrific infield, but obviously things didn’t work out that way.

While I love the Donaldson move and the impact he’ll undoubtedly bring, I still can’t help but think about the looming abyss at second base.


Jose Reyes plays for the Toronto Blue Jays. You’ve probably heard this before. He’s also a shortstop but not a very good defensive shortstop. Last season was especially bad for the now 31-year-old as he battled a bum shoulder and made a career-high 19 errors.

Reyes will likely be better in the field next season but there’s no way getting around he’s not very good defensively. There are many ways to measure a player’s defense with the eye test being as good as any for fans who tune in on an everyday basis.

Personally I like using UZR because 1) I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how it works and 2) it’s an easy way to measure defensive performance using FanGraphs leaderboards. It’s far from perfect but does a nice job quantifying what is still an understudied area in baseball, defensive value.

Based on UZR, Jose Reyes has been a below average defender for the past five consecutive seasons. Like I said before, UZR isn’t perfect but when a player posts five consecutive years of negative numbers, it usually means he’s not a very good defender.

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The eye test supports this assertion – it’s not exactly ground-breaking news that Reyes is a rather poor defensive shortstop.

However just because he isn’t a very good defensive shortstop doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t a very good defensive player. Shortstop is one of, if not the most, demanding positions on the diamond defensively with a huge zone to cover and big throws to make. Most players can’t play shortstop even marginally so the fact Reyes can makes him an asset.

WAR uses what is called a positional adjustment to balance the fact all positions are not equally difficult. Shortstop has the second highest positional adjustment (after catcher) and credits a player with 7.5 runs if he plays 162 games at the position (10 runs equals approximately 1 win worth of WAR). Playing second base on the other hand earns a player 2.5 runs.

Since being traded north of the border two years ago, Reyes defensive production has slipped to the point where he’s giving up all of his positionally adjustment to a negative UZR. And Steamer projects the trend to continue with a -0.7 defensive value in 2015.

I started this post with the hope of finding just how much better (or worse) Jose Reyes would be if he was moved to second base. Do players, in general, improve their UZR by five runs by playing second base hence the accepted positional adjustment?

Firstly, I wanted to find out how well the positional adjustment held up. I started by using the Play Index Tool at to find players who had played both positions at some point in their career since 2005.

My methodology wasn’t ideal as I wasn’t able to see exactly how many games or innings played at each individual position but I was able to find 17 players with at least 1,000 innings at each.

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I used 1,000 innings as a somewhat arbitrary cut-off but I wanted to make UZR/150 at least somewhat worthwhile. Typically you need closer to 3,000 innings to reduce the errors bars to a point you can talk about the numbers with confidence but that would have reduced my sample to two players. I figured the slightly larger sample was worth the increase in potential error.

One player I removed from the list who qualified with at least 1,000 innings at both SS and 2B was Alexei Ramirez. He played 1,000 innings during his rookie season at second base and was terrible with an -8.7 UZR. He’s since moved to shortstop where he’s been an above average defender (5.6 UZR) but he was even worse at shortstop than second base his rookie year. Every other played had played both positions in multiple seasons so I removed Ramirez’s data as I felt it was too obviously tainted.

That leaves us with 16 players. As you can see from the chart most players, but not all, were better by UZR/150 at second base compared to shortstop. The mean UZR/150 change of the group was 2.675 (with a median of 3.75) towards the 2B side.

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What does this mean? One of the reasons UZR is great is because it’s also weighted in the currency of baseball as runs above average. So in our sample overall players performed better at second base than shortstop but not by as much as the positional adjustment would expect.

There could be several reasons for this – often players are moved off short to second after they’ve already lost a step or aren’t quite as comfortable playing on the other side of the infield. Sometimes their skills just don’t translate as well at the keystone. All of these factors, along with our expanded error bars, help make sense as to why the positional adjustment is slightly lower than expected.

It’s also important to note that the standard deviation of this sample was 6.41, which basically means a 6.4 UZR/150 swing shouldn’t be seen as that significant but a difference of twice that would be. It makes sense – we wouldn’t be surprised to see Reyes UZR/150 change by 6.4 runs or more but would if it changed by 13.


So what does any of this have to do with Jose Reyes? For the coming season, likely not much. As nice as it would be if he could slide over for a more capable defensive replacement, that’s a problem for a few reasons. For starters, he probably doesn’t want to.

Jose Reyes makes a lot of money and will for the next several years. He’s guaranteed $70 million, $22 million each of the next three seasons with a $22 million team option for 2018 that includes a $4 million buyout.

The Jays have a vested interest in keeping Reyes happy for at least the next few seasons. That means, unless things get really ugly, it will likely be his decision whether he wants to shift to his left defensively or not.

The second problem, and probably bigger problem, is the lack of any real replacement. Currently the only player on the Blue Jays 40-man roster who can play shortstop adequately is Ryan Goins and he’s borderline hopeless at the plate. Goins, in theory, could actually work as somewhat of a stopgap at short if he could just hit a lick but his career 40 wRC+ (and Steamer projected 60) just doesn’t play.

So therein lies the issue. The Blue Jays have a player who would be a huge upgrade to their hole at second base. His Steamer projected 108 wRC+ wouldn’t be quite as splashy as if he were putting it up as a shortstop but it would still land him in the top ten among league second baseman, ahead of players such as Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick. And there’s a chance he could provide positive value instead of negative value defensively.

Does it make sense to move Jose Reyes off shortstop? Not yet. The Blue Jays will need to find a replacement first and will at the very least give him this season to prove he’s at least playable.

But maybe, once this front office mess gets sorted out, the Blue Jays will consider their options going forward and look for a more capable defender at the six spot. With all due respect to Devon Travis, I think the Toronto Blue Jays already have their second baseman of the future. His name is Jose Reyes.

Next: Jays Journal Top Prospects #18 - John Stilson