Anthony Rendon the Second Baseman
There is a scene in the movie Moneyball where manager Art Howe refuses to play Scott Hatteberg at first base because he has a first baseman in Carlos Pena and Hatteberg is not a first baseman. Anthony Rendon is not a second baseman and the Nats have a natural second baseman in Steve Lombardozzi . The chances that the Nats situation goes the way of the A's situation is unlikely as Rizzo and Davey have often been in step when it comes to moves. There have been some recent signs that maybe Davey isn't too keen on the new guys. In a recent interview about the Nats bench struggles Davey Johnson said he was going to keep using the guys he saw do it last year over the new guys like Eury Perez or Jeff Kobernus , and just this past weekend in Atlanta Davey Johnson used Henry Rodriguez over the recently called up Erik Davis in the 10th inning of a tie game, and the very next day, when down by one, called on Zach Duke again over Erik Davis.
Davey Johnson was going to use the guys he had and he was going to favor the guys that helped him win 98 games last season. Mike Rizzo has since removed three of those guys with Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke being designated and Danny Espinosa being placed on the disabled list. In Espinosa's place Anthony Rendon was recalled from the minors. He didn't start last night and at second was natural second baseman Steve Lombardozzi who hit the walk-off sac fly in the bottom of the ninth. With Bryce Harper still hurt it is possible to play both Lombardozzi and Rendon and then decide from there who should play second, but the decision of the front office is already obvious. Anthony Rendon wasn't called up to sit, and after just three games at second in the minors the Nationals are ready for him to be their everyday second baseman.
Now the line-up card is Davey's to do with as he pleases, but if Rendon isn't in there on a daily basis in the near future then Rizzo is going to have a choice of either demoting or trading Steve Lombardozzi, who is a versatile and a valuable utility man who can play a variety of positions, or to lose Davey Johnson who is a man that Mike Rizzo deeply admires and who he wants to be the manager of the club, but Mike Rizzo didn't call up Rendon to sit.
There is some concern over Rendon's defensive stylings at second. He did make two errors in three games, but minor league errors can be deceiving. Error in general can be deceptive but minor league fields are not taken care of in the same way as major league fields and often times do not play true. It is also unknown how far he ranged to get to the balls that he made errors on or anything else about how they happened. What is known is that before he was recalled the Nats called AAA manager, Tony Beasley, and asked him if Rendon had the footwork to handle second base. The answer was yes.
Until Rendon had started playing second base I was skeptical as to if he could play it. It was a position he hadn't played as a professional and didn't play much in college, and hasn't consistently played since little league. There is a moving trend in baseball of viewing second base as less of a defensive position. Back in the long ago days of baseball second base wasn't viewed as a defensive position. Third base was given more defensive importance and offensive powerhouses like Rogers Hornsby, Napoleon Lajoie, and Eddie Collins were common at the position. Even more recently teams like the Braves and Mets took major league outfielders in Kelly Johnson and Daniel Murphy and moved them to second base. Johnson played no games in the minors at second before moving there as a major leaguer in 2007 and Daniel Murphy had played only 19 games in the minors before being deemed ready for the position in the majors.
There are other such cases as Neil Walker was a minor league catcher who became a minor league third baseman and then a major league second baseman, and Matt Carpenter who until July 5, 2012 had played zero professional games at second base did so for the first time at the major league level. There is a shift in major league baseball where second is starting to be viewed in the way it was before the 1930's: A position where teams can stick someone like Daniel Murphy , Matt Carpenter , or an Anthony Rendon and live with the defensive downgrade. The reason the first shift of second base becoming a defensive position happened was because of the rise in the double play.
Last season there were 3,614 double plays turned in the major leagues out of 184,179 total plate appearances or double plays accounted for just fewer than two percent of all plays in baseball, and not every one of those double plays even involved a second baseman. Why not put a more offensive minded player at the position if the play you're worried about only happens less than two percent of the time? This isn't just a shift in the double play, but in fielding in general. The fielders are becoming less and less important with each passing day. So far this season there have been 65,631 plate appearances and 20,625 have ended with a strike out, walk, homerun, or hit by pitch. That means that 31.4% of all plays haven't involved a fielder. On top of that 31.4% of three true outcome plays there have been 9.5% infield fly balls. Meaning that nearly 40% of plays in baseball either don't require a fielder at all or should be able to be made by even the most mundane of fielders. This is why an offensive minded corner infielder can be put at second base, and why the defensive spectrum is starting to shift again with second base once again being viewed as a more offensive position.