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What Position for Sanchez?

Here's a good article in the Post-Gazette on Freddy Sanchez's injury during the game yesterday. The P-G wonders whether it's wise for Sanchez to move from third to second when it's so easy for second basemen to get injured and the Bucs already have a second baseman in Jose Castillo.

I'm in favor of moving Sanchez to second, so I'll only respond the Post-Gazette's list of arguments in favor of keeping Sanchez at third (which are presented alongside arguments to support my side):

[Sanchez's] .981 fielding percentage was the league's best at the position last season.

...And Castillo was dead last among qualifying major league second basemen in Zone Rating, and it wasn't even close. For whatever it's worth, Baseball Prospectus' FRAA stat ranks Castillo twenty-three runs below average last year. The average NL second baseman saw about two and a half plays more per nine innings than the average third baseman did last year. So if Sanchez can play defense at second, it would behoove the Pirates to put him there, because Castillo can't. Play defense at second, that is. Speaking of which:

Castillo can be extraordinary at second and, together with shortstop Jack Wilson, can form the league's best double-play combination.

As my response to the last argument suggests, Castillo was so incredibly bad last year that it's hard to imagine he'll ever be "extraordinary" or even good. Yes, he lost weight in the offseason, which will probably help. But it won't turn a spectacularly bad second baseman into a good one.

If Castillo beats out Bautista and generally improves defensively, it makes little sense to have him learn a position that is all new to him.

I disagree. For one thing, I don't think Castillo can beat out Bautista in a fair fight. For another, again - Castillo as a third baseman will see about two and a half fewer plays per game than Castillo as a second baseman (and vice versa for Sanchez). I doubt Castillo at third can do as much damage as he did last year, even if he is learning on the job, if only because far fewer balls will be hit to him.

Above all, though, is the injury issue.

To this day, the Pirates are wary of Sanchez playing a middle infield position because of the right ankle injury that cost him most of two seasons in 2003-04. The range required is greater, as is the risk of collisions such as the one yesterday. And, if that concern is legitimate, it surely would be a higher priority to keep a batting champion healthy than to address defensive needs.

This is a legitimate concern. The problem is - and I hope I don't get any death threats for this - Sanchez isn't that good. Don't get me wrong, he's a terrific player to have, but he's not a franchise player, and he's not nearly good enough to be worth coddling, especially when coddling means starting someone as bad as Jose Castillo at second base.

Sanchez's .851 OPS last year placed him eighth among qualifying major league third basemen. That's great, especially considering Sanchez's defense. However, a lot of that value was tied up in Sanchez's .344 batting average. He's not going to hit .344 again, as we all know. Bucs Dugout's community projections for Sanchez say he'll hit .314/.360/.436 next year, which is more optimistic than the guesses of projection systems like ZiPS and PECOTA. A .796 OPS - which, remember, is probably optimistic - would likely put Sanchez near the middle of the pack among qualifying third basemen. That's fine, of course, but if you can upgrade your offense and defense by moving Sanchez to second, why play it conservatively? If the Bucs are going to have any success in the next couple of years, they need to take some risks.

Finally, there's another issue: Jose Castillo just isn't any freaking good. I defended him here far longer than I should've. For a dose of reality, here are his numbers the past three years:

2004 (Age 23): .256/.298/.368
2005 (Age 24): .268/.307/.416
2006 (Age 25): .253/.299/.382

I hope I'm wrong, but those are not the numbers of a player who's ever going to be a good hitter, regardless of how much potential he appears to have.