If you’re a Cardinals fan, you know that there are a ton of Cardinals fans who want to turn Matt Holliday into a first baseman. Their goals are noble and fully understood. Holliday didn’t come to the Cardinals as the best of left fielders and he hasn’t gotten any better. Despite putting up consistently great offensive numbers for half of a decade, some people seem to remember him best for a defensive miscue back in 2009. Matt Adams has started 2015 with an uninspiring performance, and the Cardinals have a glut of intriguing outfielders. Moving Holliday to first, giving both at-bats and defensive opportunities to Grichuk, Bourjos, Piscotty, etc. sure sounds nice. There’s only one problem.
Matt Holliday has never played first base as a professional. In fact, he has over 200+ games at third base in the minor leagues but not a single professional inning at first. But is that a problem? First base requires the least mobility of any position on the field. It’s poorly-sourced common knowledge that anyone can play first base. It doesn’t require range. It doesn’t require much of an arm. A first baseman needs to be able to catch the ball and react quickly. But those are skills generally required of all positions. So, surely, Matt Holliday can play first base?
If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that there is only one way to answer any question about players out of position. It needs to be simulated in MLB: The Show.
There’s only one problem with this: The Show is weird about players out of position. If you recall a few weeks ago, when I subjected Lance Lynn to the terrifying gauntlet of a team entirely out of position, there is a penalty to such alignments. However, maintaining those alignments requires a guiding hand. The AI manager will immediately re-align the defense to something far more conventional as soon as you give up control of the game. If I had given control of the Cardinals for even an inning, the AI manager would have tried to repair the line-up as best it could.
This means that sticking Matt Holliday at 1b on the lineup card, position be damned, won’t give us any meaningful information. I can put him in at 1b in the lineup, but the AI manager will always re-align as soon as needed to put him in the outfield and a real 1b in the infield. And I’m not going to play a full 162 games. This means that running Matt Holliday out as a 1b even though he is a left fielder is effectively impossible, unless I want to simulate the effect of having one less bench player in every game.
The good news is that MLB: The Show is the most open. modifiable console sports game on the market. This is one of the reasons I sing its praises so often. The Show lets you edit every player, create custom players, and fuck around with the roster as much as you want. Both NBA 2K and Madden have, in recent years, restricted player/roster modification. The Show, however, has gone in the opposite direction. You can even edit players in the middle of a franchise season, boosting or crushing their ratings as you see fit. The Show doesn’t seem to care what sort of shit you want to do to it–people have made full historical rosters, emulating certain years, that can be used in franchise mode.
So I can make Holliday a 1b permanently, with a few alterations to his player card. And this is what people want, isn’t it? They don’t want him to be a left fielder any more, so we’re taking away his outfield glove and handing him a 1b mitt. This solves our problem. If he’s listed as a 1b, it doesn’t matter how bad he is. The AI will keep playing him at this position (which I essentially proved with Tom Brady).
This creates another problem, though. Because The Show doesn’t really give a shit about how you modify players, it will take away the defensive hit for playing Holliday out of position. The game doesn’t know he lacks a single professional inning at first base. All it has are ratings, and it will base his ability to field every position off the same set of ratings, which are not modified for experience.
(Prior The Show games actually did have individual ratings settings for each position but not ’15. Presumably this is a casualty of changes made to the Diamond Dynasty mode, where you have a create-a-player on your team who can play every position and his ability has to be based off of the same ratings pool.)
These ratings seem high even for his ability in LF, and I’m a Matt Holliday apologist. Letting him play 1b with these ratings wouldn’t just be a little inaccurate, they’d probably peg him for one of the best defensive 1bs in the league (remember that we’re going off the same ratings pool for every position so 71 reaction, 59 fielding is high for a 1b). And we know that can’t be true, because he’s never even played the position.
Now, I could just dock Holliday’s fielding ratings arbitrarily. But where is the fun in that? What does that prove? Well, none of this proves anything. Nevertheless, I have standards when it comes to dumb video game experiments. So to determine how I would dock Holliday’s fielding, I turned to a different game: Out of the Park Baseball. OOTP is a pure GM/managing sim and it takes a bit more care when handling fielding ratings and positions changes. Like The Show, you can move any player to any position. But OOTP doesn’t turn the new position into the player’s natural position. It has separate ratings for outfield and infield defense, and keeps track of players’ experience at a position to modify those ratings. Here’s what Matt Holliday looks like as a LF in OOTP:
Really, OOTP? Even you are gonna throw shade on Holliday’s character? Ah well… At least these ratings seem a bit more in-line with his production. Although they are on a scale from 1-20 and I’m not sure I’d give his range an above-average number.
Once I had his player page up, I changed Holliday’s position to 1b and ran another scouting report on him. This gave me the numbers I was looking for.
That’s more like it. Note: it doesn’t even give him a rating for 1b, so even these poor numbers are going to be modified downwards for lack of position-experience.
Now I had my general ratings. I half-assedly translated them to MLB: The Show, also knocking down Holliday’s durability to account for the fact that we were asking a man with a bad back to move to a position that requires much more bending and stretching.
To set up my experiment, there were still a few more things to do. Matt Adams was no longer necessary, so he could be moved for a player who could add to the stakes of moving Holliday to first. Specifically, Dallas Keuchel, who led MLB in groundball % last season.
Keuchel gave the Cardinals too many starting pitchers, so I leveraged Carlos Martinez into another player, who I hoped would give Matt Holliday every chance to either succeed or fail on his own merits.
That’s right, Holliday would get plenty of good throws he would need to handle with Andrelton Simmons manning shortstop. He wouldn’t be able to shift the blame to an errant arm. Now I had too many shortstops and an opening in left field, so I did what I will always find a way to do: I brought back Colby Rasmus because I think Colby Rasmus is funny.
With all the changes made, the lineup looked something like this.
So, what were the results? How did Matt Holliday fare at first base? Well, the best defensive analysis incorporates both stats and the eye test. Let’s start with the eye test.
Okay, how about the stats?
Only 21 errors? Then what did we just watch? Well, first off, I have to believe that live-played games are handled differently than simmed games. I played about 10 games to get my eye test footage and at least 1/5 of the 21 errors occurred in those games. Second, a lot of those plays above were actually hits. The scorers in MLB The Show are incredibly generous fellows.
Oh. Oh there we go. Take a look at that last number. Range factor. Now, range factor is a bad statistic. It generally doesn’t tell us anything. It divides assists and putouts by the number of games played (well, really nine inning segments), which means it can’t compare across position and completely ignores any number of external factors. However, in this case, it is actually quite instructive. Because 6.73 is a godawful range for a first baseman. Your typical 1b has a range factor somewhere ~9-10. The lowest in MLB in 2015 is Carlos Santana with 8.43. Now, I would never use this number to compare real 1bs. Park factors and pitching staffs can raise or depress range factor within the normalrange. But Matt Holliday significantly out of the normal range, meaning he simply wasn’t recording putouts or assists at anywhere near the typical Major League pace.
On a team that added Dallas Keuchel and Andrelton Simmons, well, let’s say this is concerning. Combined with our eye test, I don’t think that this experiment has ended particularly well for Matt Holliday.