Remember Daniel Murphy? Used to be a third baseman? And an outfielder? And a first baseman? And missed most of 2010 with a bad knee injury? Well, he's back and he's learning yet another position ... second base.
Wait, aren't you supposed to try easier positions when you're older and dragging around a bum knee?
Usually, yeah. In The Wall Street Journal, Michael Salfino points out just just how rare this switch is ...
The father of the baseball sabermetric movement, Bill James, advised in his 1988 Baseball Abstract: "Rightward shifts along the defensive spectrum almost never work." Clearly baseball managers feel the same way, at least in the case of Mr. Murphy's switch. Moving a first baseman to the middle infield hasn't been attempted since Jackie Robinson did so in 1948, according to Stats Inc. Granted, that one worked out masterfully. But Robinson only played first base in his 1947 rookie season because Brooklyn's Eddie Stanky was entrenched at second. Plus, Robinson was a Negro League All-Star shortstop. Only one other player since 1900 has tried the move.
Jackie Robinson's case is irrelevant. The other player's might not be, except for its singularity. We might as well assume that no player has ever tried to the first-to-second switch ... and if no player has done it, we can only guess what's going to happen this time, right?
Of course, we can guess that it won't work out real well. When a player has looked good at just one position and it was first base, you certainly wouldn't guess that he will thrive in the middle of the infield.
Actually, we do have a decent and recent parallel: Skip Schumaker. In 2009, Schumaker shifted from the outfield to second base, and according to the numbers he wasn't terrible ... until 2010, when (again, according to the numbers) he was terrible. I doubt if Tony La Russa puts up with another season of that.
The people running the Mets aren't fools. They know all this stuff. So why are they bothering? Because Murphy can hit some, and the corner-infield slots are well occupied. And because last season the Mets' second basemen were easily the worst in the National League. About half of that worst-ness was Luis Castillo, and he returns this spring as the incumbent.
Castillo's probably not that terrible. But just in case he is, you want someone around who can hit a little and at least sort of play the position. Thus, the Great Daniel Murphy Experiment. Good luck with that.