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Left-handers playing third base (and catcher, second, and shortstop)

Posted by Andy on April 25, 2011

On another recent post we were discussing lefthanders playing third base. The Play Index can easily tell us which players since 1919 threw lefty and also played at 3B:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO WPA RE24 aLI BOP Pos. Summary
1 Mario Valdez 1997-07-02 CHW PIT L 1-3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 -0.024 -0.248 .920 7 PH 3B
2 Don Mattingly 1986-08-31 NYY SEA L 2-6 4 4 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.040 0.319 1.078 3 3B
3 Don Mattingly 1986-08-30 (1) NYY SEA L 0-1 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.109 -0.625 1.073 3 3B 1B
4 Don Mattingly 1986-08-29 NYY SEA W 13-12 5 4 2 1 0 0 1 3 1 0 0.127 1.882 .858 3 3B 1B
5 Terry Francona 1985-10-06 MON NYM W 2-1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.036 -0.300 1.330 4 3B
6 Mike Squires 1984-07-15 CHW BAL L 4-6 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 -0.036 -0.159 .970 7 3B
7 Mike Squires 1984-07-01 CHW BAL L 3-8 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.051 -0.559 .840 2 PH 3B
8 Mike Squires 1984-06-29 CHW BAL W 2-1 3 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.013 0.127 1.170 6 3B 1B
9 Mike Squires 1984-06-16 CHW OAK L 4-6 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.014 -0.294 .265 7 PH 3B
10 Mike Squires 1984-06-12 CHW CAL L 2-3 2 2 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0.281 0.635 3.275 9 3B
11 Mike Squires 1984-06-02 CHW OAK L 3-6 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 -0.045 -0.244 1.740 9 PH 3B
12 Mike Squires 1984-05-27 CHW TEX L 3-11 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0.003 0.496 .330 8 PH 3B
13 Mike Squires 1984-05-20 CHW TOR W 3-0 4 4 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0.068 0.272 .880 1 3B 1B
14 Mike Squires 1984-05-12 CHW TEX L 4-6 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.026 0.129 .650 7 PH 3B
15 Mike Squires 1984-05-02 CHW NYY W 3-0 3 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.006 0.127 .847 7 3B 1B
16 Mike Squires 1984-04-27 CHW BOS L 3-5 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.129 -1.248 1.145 7 PH 3B
17 Mike Squires 1984-04-22 CHW DET L 1-9 3 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.010 -0.078 .553 6 3B 1B P
18 Mike Squires 1984-04-08 CHW DET L 3-7 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.011 -0.244 .430 7 PH 3B
19 Mike Squires 1983-08-23 CHW KCR L 2-10 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 -0.161 .000 7 3B
20 Rube Bressler 1926-04-30 CIN PIT L 4-13 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 7 PH 3B
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2011.

Mario Valdez came in as a pinch-hitter and then played the 9th inning as the 3rd baseman, getting no chances.

Don Mattingly, mustache and all, is the last player to start a game at third.

As long as we're at it...left-handed catchers:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO WPA RE24 aLI BOP Pos. Summary
1 Benny Distefano 1989-08-18 PIT ATL L 6-13 2 2 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0.063 1.919 .670 7 PH C
2 Benny Distefano 1989-06-13 PIT PHI L 2-10 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 -0.001 -0.201 .020 9 C
3 Benny Distefano 1989-05-14 PIT ATL L 2-5 4 3 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0.116 0.676 1.600 6 C 1B
4 Mike Squires 1980-05-07 CHW KCR L 5-12 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.002 0.385 .040 9 C
5 Mike Squires 1980-05-04 CHW MIL L 1-11 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 -0.009 -0.412 .650 1 C 1B
6 Tom Chism 1979-09-19 BAL DET L 0-5 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.074 -0.820 1.400 2 C
7 Chris Short 1961-06-29 (1) PHI SFG L 7-8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 7 C
8 Dale Long 1958-09-21 CHC LAD L 1-2 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 -0.060 -0.560 1.935 6 C 1B
9 Dale Long 1958-08-20 (1) CHC PIT L 2-4 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0.049 0.209 1.145 7 C 1B
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2011.

Left-handed 2B:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO WPA RE24 aLI BOP Pos. Summary
1 Don Mattingly 1983-07-24 NYY KCR L 4-5 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.104 -0.456 2.075 7 PH 2B 1B
2 Gonzalo Marquez 1973-05-05 OAK CLE L 5-6 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 -0.015 -0.157 .620 2 2B
3 Gonzalo Marquez 1973-05-04 OAK CLE W 11-4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.055 0.608 1.450 2 2B
4 Sam McDowell 1970-07-06 CLE WSA W 6-4 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 -0.046 -0.538 .617 9 2B P
5 George Crowe 1958-06-14 CIN CHC L 3-4 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 -0.276 -2.839 1.725 4 2B 1B
6 Lefty Stewart 1933-07-11 WSH CHW L 3-9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 3 2B
7 Jim Bottomley 1924-08-29 STL CHC W 12-5 5 5 2 2 1 1 0 3 0 1 0.000 0.000 4 2B 1B
8 Edd Roush 1920-10-03 CIN STL L 3-6 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0.000 0.000 4 2B CF
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2011.

Left-handed shortstops:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO WPA RE24 aLI BOP Pos. Summary
1 Mark Ryal 1987-09-04 CAL NYY L 4-8 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.023 -0.254 .870 1 SS
2 Tom Chism 1979-09-13 BAL TOR W 10-4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.033 -0.369 1.420 2 SS
3 Royle Stillman 1975-09-27 (1) BAL NYY L 2-3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.022 -0.225 .870 1 SS
4 Royle Stillman 1975-09-17 BAL BOS W 5-2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 -0.023 -0.247 .870 1 SS
5 Royle Stillman 1975-09-16 BAL BOS L 0-2 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.024 0.267 .620 2 SS
6 Royle Stillman 1975-09-14 BAL DET W 9-3 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.055 0.609 1.440 2 SS
7 Royle Stillman 1975-09-12 BAL DET W 6-4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.022 -0.235 .870 1 SS
8 Royle Stillman 1975-09-11 BAL CLE W 10-2 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.024 0.252 .620 2 SS
9 Nino Escalera 1954-05-22 CIN STL W 4-2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 2 SS
10 Lou Gehrig 1934-07-14 NYY DET L 11-12 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 1 SS
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2011.

I think we can all agree that the final two words of this post should be:

LOU GEHRIG?!?!?!?!?!?!??!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

This entry was posted on Monday, April 25th, 2011 at 6:22 am and is filed under Game Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

47 Responses to “Left-handers playing third base (and catcher, second, and shortstop)”

  1. Gehrig was put in to keep his streak alive on a day when he was in no shape to play. He was taken out immediately after putting in enough time to count for the streak.

  2. Interesting. In L.L. I played 2nd, SS, and 3B as a lefty. Seemed that 2B was easiest. Naturally L.L. and MLB are WAYYYY different, but that's my .02

  3. Stillman's b-r page show no games at SS in the fielding stats. Was this Weaver getting him a plate appearance in the top of the first and then taking him out of the game before the O's took the field? Without even looking, I'd bet Chism was the same story.

  4. Mattingly's 2B appearance was the Pine Tar continuation, right?

  5. @4: Correct.

    @1: Correct. Gehrig was put in as the leadoff hitter and SS in the game at Detroit. He was beaned the day before. Upon reaching first after his single leading off the game, he was immediately PR for by the regular SS, Frankie Crosetti.

  6. @1,@5
    It was Rolfe at SS that game (him and Crosetti swapped positions for some reason that day). Here's a link to the box score.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/DET/DET193407140.shtml

  7. All the shortstops were played only in the top of the first and replaced in the bottom of the first except for Escalera who played in the field for one out in the 8th (a strikeout)

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN195405220.shtml

    McMillan was pulled in the middle of the inning and the batter was Stan Musial. I don't know if McMillan was hurt or if they were trying to psych Musial into hitting the ball the other way or what.

    Is there any video of lefty infeilder chances on youtube? That'd be fun to watch.

  8. Kingturtle Says:

    it would be more interesting if, instead of showing each player's batting stats for the games, each row showed the player's fielding stats for the game.

  9. Sam McDowell was put at second base for two batters while a RHP came in to get out of a late-inning jam. He returned to the mound to finish the game. I always thought he should get the win and a save.

  10. McDowell also recorded a putout to end the aforementioned late-inning jam.

  11. Chris Short didn't actually play at catcher. He, like many Phillies pitchers that day, were penciled in the lineup because of uncertainty over who the Giants would be pitching. Once the game started, actual non-pitchers were inserted into the lineup.

  12. And #3, yes, Weaver was keeping the bat out of Belanger's hands by putting in Stillman at the top of the order on the road and then inserting Belanger in the bottom of the inning.

  13. As a former lefty 2B in little league, too, I'll point out it's very easy to make the 4-6 scoop on an infield grounder with a guy on first.

  14. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Dale Long?????

  15. Voomo Zanzibar Says:

    I was a lefty 2B for nine years in Little League.
    When I was 15, in Babe Ruth league, we played on the red clay tennis courts underneath the Queensboro Bridge.
    It was about 220 to LF, with a 50 foot fence
    ...And it was about 500 to Right Center.

    So any hard grounders that scooted by me at 2B usually resulted in a homerun. Only happened once.

  16. Not a lot of success in the W-L column on these lists. Overall in these games these teams are 14-33 (.297). And if you take away Baltimore's contributions they fall to 9-30 (.230).

  17. I remember watching that series vs SEA on TV late at night on WPIX with Phil doing the game. "Holy cow, Mattingly really is playing third...I thought I read that wrong..."

  18. Richard Chester Says:

    @1, @5

    According to Wikipedia and other sources Gehrig was suffering from a lumbago attack.

  19. Jack Clements was one of the greatest catchers of the 1800s--he played in over 1,000 games--and was a southpaw receiver.

    I'm pretty sure Mattingly's assignment at second was that one-inning game the Yankees played against the Royals thanks to the crazy George Brett Pine Tar incident. If my memory serves me right, I believe Billy Martin had Ron Guidry play center field that game too as well as other out-of-position assignments for other Yankees

  20. bureaucratist Says:

    Sam McDowell is absolutely the most shocking player on that list. Seems like an awfully strange place to put a pitcher when you're making that kind of move. Wouldn't you be better off, if you really wanted to remove the 2B above all other position players, putting Sudden Sam in left and the left-fielder at 2B or something?

  21. John Autin Says:

    In 18 defensive innings at 3B, Mattingly handled 13 chances -- 11 assists, 1 putout and 1 error -- and started 2 DPs. His range factor per 9 innings was more than twice the league average, 6.00 to 2.75.

    Mattingly's DPs as a 3B (both of the 5-4-3 variety) came on these occasions:
    (1) on the first ball ever hit to him at 3B; and
    (2) immediately after making his only error.

    Who doesn't love Donnie Baseball?!?

    P.S. In his first AB as a 3B, Mattingly popped out ... to 3B.
    He went 0 for his first 7 as a 3B before breaking through with a pair of hits.

  22. Tom Chism was another of Earl's lineup shenanigans who never actually played the field as a LH catcher. He was batting 2nd, grounded into a double play, then was replaced by Dave Skaggs before the O's took the field.

  23. Skeeb Wilcox Says:

    Any lead lines that get my attention turned to the fact that I will get to read something regarding the GREAT Benny Distefano are always appreciated! Very well done to all of you!!!

  24. Morten Jonsson Says:

    Mike Squires also showed better-than-average range at third. Very small sample size, of course. I don't know if a lefthander could be successful there or not. It doesn't seem like the throws would be any harder to make (though I have trouble picturing that). And with the glove on his right hand, he would probably be able to play farther from the base and still get to the balls down the line. Maybe one reason we don't see that more often is that players who end up at third are often shortstops and second basemen coming up, or are at least expected to play those positions once in a while, and that rules out lefties.

  25. One of the Ken Griffey Jr. video games for the Nintendo 64 had lefty-throwing Lee Stevens as a third baseman, even though he never actually played third base.

  26. John Autin Says:

    I have no doubt that Keith Hernandez could have been an excellent third baseman. Terrific throwing arm, excellent footwork, aggressive ball-hawking mentality, and I've never seen a better 1B at charging the bunt.

    The de facto ban on lefty throwers as regular 3B is like the notion that you must have a "closer" and use him only for 9th-inning saves: There's virtually no evidence to support it, but it's so firmly established that it would take a real firebrand, devil-may-care manager to make the move and stick with it through the first rough patch.

    (And Billy Martin is dead....)

  27. I never could figure out why L'ers could never play 3b, 2b, ss.. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE??? if you explain it to me I will have an equally sound counterargument... the 1b is L or R, that does not matter...likewise RF, P, etc.. it just does not matter, or, it shouldnt matter..

  28. Richard Chester Says:

    @24, @27

    A left-hander on third will have difficulty charging bunts and slow rollers and throwing runners out at first. There are many times when a right-handed third baseman charges a ball and makes a sweeping off-balance throw to nip the runner.
    A lefty could never do that.

  29. Morten Jonsson Says:

    @28

    Why not? A righthanded first baseman will often field a bunt and throw to third--it's the mirror image of a lefthanded third basemen throwing to first.

    What's hard to imagine is a lefthanded second baseman playing the pivot on the double play. Or a lefthander making making a sweeping tag on a runner stealing second.

  30. yes, he will throw to his left a number of times, well all the time, but the 1B does the same, throwing across his body.. in fact all throwers without exception throw across their body... it is difficult but not insurmountable (the charging bunt and throwing to 1B) L pitchers throwing to 1B for instance... against natural momentum.. and most batters are L, so a L catcher has >50% of a clearer path, than the R catcher..

  31. Even though Mario Valdez is registered as a lefthanded batter and thrower, I am pretty sure his fields righthanded.

  32. John Autin Says:

    On the subject of a lefty-throwing catcher:

    Can anyone point to SB/CS data splits according to the type of batter who is up at the time?

    In other words ... Is it demonstrably harder for a righty-throwing catcher to throw out a runner at 2B when there's a lefty batter up?

  33. [...] B-R’s Andy K. found complete post-1919 lists of left-handers playing 3B, C, 2B, and SS. Link [...]

  34. Keith Law has made the argument in recent years that a left-hander with the arm to play third, short, or catch would be converted to a pitcher where he would have more value.

  35. As a lefty, I found second the toughest of the these three positions - the pivot is a nightmare. (Third was definitely the easiest.) Catching was okay, but - if you can catch - you can pitch (talking way sub-pro level here).

    Jack Clements was a good player, but a terrible fielder.

    I remember Mario Valdez as a lefty thrower.

  36. To those wondering why it doesn't happen. The mechanics of playing 2b/SS/3b as a left hander are ridiculous. Stick a glove on your right hand and try making some routine plays a step or 2 either way. It's very difficult, when compared to a right hander. Some right hander will do it better than you easily, and will thus have your position.

  37. John Autin Says:

    @11, re: Chris Short "playing" catcher:
    FWIW, I recently came across that game in a different context, and wrote a few lines about it; see comment #14 here:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/10813

  38. Seem to remember reading as a kid a theory that a left-hander cannot throw a straight ball, therefore making it harder to throw out a base-stealer. Don't know if it's ever been proven or tested- could be interesting...

  39. Morten Jonsson Says:

    @36

    If I tried your experiment and stuck a glove on my right hand, I would have a difficult time making routine plays. You're right about that. But of course I'm righthanded. Lefthanders are pretty used to wearing a glove that way, and I don't think it bothers them much.

  40. @3 @12 @22
    I don't understand Weaver's strategy with the moves described here. It sounds like he was outsmarting himself by putting players in the line-up for an AB with no intention of ever having them take the field.

    No matter how bad Belanger or anyone else was with the stick you would leave yourself a bench player short for later in the game. Who knows if you might need a pinch runner or defensive replacement later in a close game.

    Also, then Belanger would be clogging up the top of your batting order for the rest of tha game as an unproductive offensive player.

    Statistically, I doubt it could ever be proven today that such dubious managerial moves conferred an advantage.

    Does the phrase Earl being Earl come to mind?

  41. @39

    I guess I don't mean get on the field and make actual plays, just stand up and go through the imaginary motions of a play. On routine balls and balls that can be charged the difference wouldn't matter much, but on any tougher ball, the mechanics involved in getting the ball to first base are just plain tougher. How can a left-handed ss or 2b make a play going to his right? He has to completely reset his feet to make the throw.

  42. Yeah, Gehrig never took the field as the SS. He led off the game in Detroit, singled, and was replaced by the pinch-runner.

  43. If only we could ask Bill McClellan, he was expert at being a lefty non-1B infielder. I could make a pretty good left-handed-throwing infield ...
    ... at least offensively

    C-Fred Tenney
    2B-Roger Connor
    3B-Willie Keeler or Roger Connor
    SS-Jimmy Ryan or George Van Haltren

  44. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I never could figure out why L'ers could never play 3b, 2b, ss.. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE???

    Have you ever watched a baseball game?

    A righthanded first baseman will often field a bunt and throw to third

    Often? No.

    Some right hander will do it better than you easily, and will thus have your position.

    Exactly. Lefties can play any position in Little League because just being able to catch and throw is a plus. Obviously everyone can catch and throw in MLB. Some righty will always be more able than the best lefties.

    Seem to remember reading as a kid a theory that a left-hander cannot throw a straight ball

    I've heard that as well. It's obviously absurd. Now, it is possible that lefty throws tend to tail toward the SS-side of second, whereas righties would tail to the right side. Certainly any good thrower can adjust for that, but as noted above, a lefty with a great arm will be pushed to pitch.

    Is it demonstrably harder for a righty-throwing catcher to throw out a runner at 2B when there's a lefty batter up?

    Good question. I doubt it. Seems like it should have been studied but I've never seen it. My feeling is that a LH thrower *could* survive at catcher in MLB....I doubt the few extra RHB make a difference in throwing to second, and any slight disadvantage in throwing to third is balanced out by the advantage in throwing to first on bunts, etc. But who knows.

    No matter how bad Belanger or anyone else was with the stick you would leave yourself a bench player short for later in the game. Who knows if you might need a pinch runner or defensive replacement later in a close game.

    He had something like a 9-man pitching staff, and therefore multiple bench players to use. I think it's a more interesting game to plug in multiple PH, PR, defensive replacements, but obviously managers have decided a greater advantage can be gained by using more relievers instead.

  45. John Autin Says:

    I remain convinced that a lefty could play anywhere on the infield ... as long he had an arm at least as good as Alcides Escobar's.

    (If you watched ESPN highlights last night, you know what I mean ... strongest throw I've ever seen from a SS going hard to his right.)

  46. @45

    You have the right to be wrong ;-)

  47. As a lefthanded pitching fielder, I can tell you about my experiences:

    - At 9, started out as a SS since I had best glove / good arm
    - At 14, moved to 1B (conventional manager) to save throwing error from other infielder
    - At 16, moved to OF/C to help my teams put bad fielders/good hitters to 1B
    - After my baseball "career", played softball, mostly in the infield because of my glove

    It's not your typical fielding curve...

    Here is my experience...

    As a 3B

    1- Charging the ball and throwing across the body IS impossible, you have to stop, set you feet (your back facing homeplate) and throw or you do a 360 spin the other way (catch, turn toward 3rd base line, SS, 2B) and throw while turning.

    Note: It may look like it's the same as the righty 1B throwing to 3rd BUT, it's not. That 1B will not do a 360 spin and will only set his feet with his back to homeplate if he has the time. If not, he will simply get the easy out at 1st.

    2- For the double play, you have to be the righthanded second baseman. He usually has two plays: either he turns his back to homeplate fast to set his feet and make a quick throw or he's flipping the ball to second base. At third, you can't flip it, it's too far. You need to set your feet like the second baseman do, losing time over an righty 3B who has his feet set when he catches the ball

    Positive: You can play farther from the bag...

    As a SS

    1- Same troubles charging the ball
    2- You can flip the ball on the double play since you're closer to the bag
    3- You can't do a "Jeter" (going to your right, catching, jumping up and throwing), thus losing time to set your feet.

    Positive: The pivot on the DP is easy if your 2B is throwing to outside of the diamond (close to the pitching left hand), but impossible if the throw is inside the diamond

    As a 2B

    1- Charging is impossible again, but you do have more time since your closer to 1B.
    2- The pivot on double plays. You have to catch the ball from 3B/SS, touch the bag and spin 360. Really tough to be fast.

    Positive, trowing to 2B on a DP or to 3B is easier.

    As a Catcher

    1- RH Batters while throwing to 3B on SB attempts are tougher.

    Positive: It's easier for any bunts and throws to 1B.

    Bottom line, since lots of plays are a question of milliseconds, each millisecond you save is important to make more plays. That's why I don't think lefties should play 2B-3B-SS.

    Of course, there is almost no double play in softball (since it's only 60 feet between bases) so I can still play in the infield thank you :-)