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Where On the Diamond Should Marlins Move Ramirez?

Depending on who you ask, the Marlins seem to be the frontrunner for the Jose Reyes Sweepstakes. Not only are they expected to eventually sign Reyes, but the team's composition makes Reyes an excellent fit, both financially and baseball-wise. The Marlins can restock their lineup and add a very good player and do so without completely breaking the bank, giving the team some wiggle room to make additional moves.

Speaking of moves, one of the moves the Marlins would almost certainly have to make in 2012 should Reyes eventually sign is a position change for incumbent star shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez has been quiet about a move away from the position, claiming that "right now," he is the shortstop. However, he has been open to the move in the past and seems more than welcoming to Reyes, so it should be expected that Ramirez will make the switch if asked by the front office and management.

But where should Ramirez move? Traditionally, shortstops move to three different positions, all of which are largely equal in value according to most WIns Above Replacement (WAR) metrics and their position adjustments. The choice is typically between second base, third base, and center field. It just so happens that in the case of the 2012 Miami Marlins, there are two vacancies among those three spots. The Marlins ran essentially black holes at both third base and center field last season, so the team would welcome a move of their (likely still) best hitter to one of those positions. But which one better fits the team's needs and Ramirez's skillset?

The Skills To Play

It has always been well publicized that Ramirez was a poor shortstop. Ever since his 2007 season, he has been lambasted for poor play regardless of whether or not such commentary was warranted. If you ask the defensive statistics, they would say that Ramirez at least posted two league average defensive seasons at shortstop before reverting to his poor ways in 2010 and continuing into 2011.

But making the analysis of how well Ramirez will translate to third base or center field does not include his defensive data at shortstop. For this comparison, we would need a little more qualitative approach, which is why I turned to the Fans Scouting Report. The FSR is run by sabermetrician Tom Tango as a way to "crowdsource" scouting information about players. Here is how he explains it:

Baseball's fans are very perceptive. Take a large group of them, and they can pick out the final standings with the best of them. They can forecast the performance of players as well as those guys with rather sophisticated forecasting engines. Bill James, in one of his later Abstracts, had the fans vote in for the ranking of the best to worst players by position. And they did a darn good job.

What I would like to do now is tap that pool of talent. I want you to tell me what your eyes see. I want you to tell me how good or bad a fielder is. Go down, and start selecting the team(s) that you watch all the time. For any player that you've seen play in at least 10 games in 2011, I want you to judge his performance in 7 specific fielding categories.

The fielding categories are Reaction/instincts, Acceleration/First Step, Velocity/Sprint Speed, Hands/Catching, Throwing Release/Footwork, Throwing Strength, and Throwing Accuracy. Fans vote, and the voting results for each category are normalized on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 being the average for the entire league, not just that position.

In order to find out how Ramirez fit into two different new positions, I first took a look at what fans might think Ramirez would perform next season. I incorporated his FSR data from 2009 to 2011 and did a simple projection, weighing last season's data the heaviest and 2009 the lightest. I then figured out the weighted averages (weighted by games played for each player, so the more games a player played, the more heavily he weighed in on the average) for each category from third base and center field in 2011. This gives us a better idea of how Ramirez would stack up with others in that position.

Here is how those numbers came out:

Player React/Inst Accel/FrstStp Vel/Spd Hands/Catch Rel/Foot Thr Str Thr Acc
Ramirez 56 63 73 45 48 69 36
Avg 3B 64 57 54 60 62 69 61
Avg CF 59 71 77 60 53 46 50

Just looking at those numbers, one would initially buy the legitimacy of the average values. For third basemen, the average player showed a strong and accurate arm with quick reactions as important traits. For center fielders, the traits that were favored were acceleration and foot speed.

How does Ramirez stack up? Just looking at the data, one would say that Ramirez may be better suited for center field rather than third base; his speed and reactions better fit an outfielder, and the requirement of less throwing may be more beneficial. At third base, Ramirez's supposed lack of throwing accuracy (Ramirez does make more throwing errors as a proportion of his total errors than the average shortstop did in 2011) might hinder his ability, even as his throwing strength compliments it.

In addition to the "eye test" with those scouting evaluations, I will use a numerical approach inspired by Tom Tango's positional weights for each category. Tango released a set of weights which were designed to properly weigh the importance of each category to that position; for example, arm strength is weighed more heavily for third basemen and catchers than it is for first basemen or second basemen. We can sum the difference between Ramirez and the average scores for each position and weigh the categories appropriately to see where he might better fit.

After doing this approach, we come up a "weighted sum" of score differences for both positions. Ramirez has a score of -5.3 at third base and a score of -5.4 at center field. In other words, when using this methodology, moving Ramirez to either position would yield similar results. There is no advantage scouting-wise to either side.

The Marlins' Personnel

Of course, the Marlins do not play in a vacuum, and they do have different personnel to man the positions depending on where Ramirez is moved. Emilio Bonifacio figures to spend significant time at the position which Ramirez does not play, and it would seem that he is a slightly better center fielder than he is a third baseman. In addition, the Marlins currently have Bryan Petersen in the outfield as well, who would not see nearly as much playing time if Ramirez were in center field. In addition, there are a few free agent options in center field for 2012 and beyond, including possibly Grady Sizemore and Cuban export Yoenis Cespedes.

On the flip side, the Marlins do still have potential Gold-Glove prospect Matt Dominguez in the minors. Dominguez has an outside shot of claiming the third base job if the team does not acquire a stopgap, and he has been considered as the third baseman of the future for the team, but most feel his bat is not ready for 2012. But what about future seasons? He is still only 22 years old, and the Marlins do still have hope for the former first round pick. If Ramirez is moved to third base, the team would essentially permanently block Dominguez's path to the major leagues.

If the Marlins do sign Reyes, they still have a significant choice to make with regards to Ramirez. It would seem that in either case, Ramirez would be a equally below average defender at his new position, though likely not as significantly below average as he is at shortstop. The Marlins have future considerations to also make, not just for 2012 but for future seasons. A position move would have to be a semi-permanent one for Ramirez. My gut says the Marlins would prefer him at third base in order to keep the transition as smooth as possible, but center field remains an option.

What does the Fish Stripes community say? Given what we have and what we could acquire, where should Ramirez move in the event of a Jose Reyes signing?