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Let’s swap Nick Franklin for Asdrubal Cabrera

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Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Franklin will probably be the Rays middle infielders in 2015, but at which roles exactly?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Asdrubal Cabrera can play shortstop and second base. Nick Franklin can play second base and shortstop. Both of them in that order, based on reputation and expectation.

But what if the Rays started 2015 by switching them in Spring Training?

Would Franklin make a good shortstop and Cabrera an above-average second baseman? What if switching them could actually improve both performances and enhance the Rays defense?

Cabrera, the second baseman

In eight seasons in the big leagues, Asdrubal Cabrera played 6303.1 innings as a shortstop and 1773.2 in second base (and 1.1 at third base for the stats nerds). Here are the defensive outcomes in his two major positions:

Career Stats

Innings

DRS

ErrR

UZR/150

2nd Base

1773.2

2

5.7

-2.5

Shortstop

6303.1

-22

-1.5

-10.6

Of course, the difference in terms of Defensive Runs Saves can be explained by the fact that he played 3.5 times more innings at SS than 2B. Yet, it gets interesting when we look at his UZR/150.

Quick reminder: this statistic, put simply, represents " the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games." Cabrera appears below average in both cases, but he is graded somewhat better at 2B. The question is why.

In 2014, Asdrubal Cabrera played 432.0 innings at second base for a UZR/150 of -5.3, compared to -10.5 at SS at twice the innings. Thanks to Inside Edge Fielding stats, we can pay closer attention to his defensive abilities during the last season.

Pos Innings Impossible (0%) Remote (1-10%) Unlikely (10-40%) Even (40-60%) Likely (60-90%) Routine (90-100%
2B 432.0 0.0% (5) 0.0% (7) 20.0% (5) 50.0% (4) 90.0% (10) 98.3% (121)
SS 823.2 0.0% (8) 4.8% (21) 0.0% (6) 40.0% (5) 76.5% (17) 96.3% (271)

Overall, I tend to think that Asdrubal Cabrera, according to the table above, was a better second baseman than a shortstop. He managed to accomplish more routine, likely, ‘even' and unlikely plays. Only in plays with 10% or less chance to be accomplished did he do better at SS.

What about the missed plays at second base? He did miss a few, but were they fieldable? Using Fangraphs Spray Charts, we can see that Cabrera missed 5 plays that should have been successful, but overall the other ones were extremely hard or even impossible to do.

Asdrubal Cabrera 2B

Now that we can agree that Asdrubal Cabrera would make a decent second baseman, quite possibly doing a better job that he was doing at shortstop until now, let's consider Nick Franklin as a shortstop.

Nick Franklin, the shortstop

Career Stats

Innings

DRS

ErrR

UZR/150

2nd Base

924.1

0

-4

-8.6

Shortstop

93.2

5

0.4

36.3

Here the sample size is more than problematic. It is almost meaningless to use statistics based on 93.2 innings, especially when compared to 924.1 innings at an other position. However, one thing is certain, Franklin is a worse second baseman than Cabrera is by UZR standards (-8.6 v. -2.5). I don't want to talk extensively about Franklin SS statistics, but we should at least acknowledge his 5 Defensive Runs Saved tallied.

But let's keep focusing on Franklin at 2B. Using the same spray charts from Fangraphs, one thing stands out. He missed a significant number of plays that should have been done.

Nick Franklin 2B

Scouting reports on Franklin's arm have generally relegated him to second base at the major league level, as compared to his prospect position of shortstop, but over a healthy number of opportunities at second base over the last two seasons there are several missed plays that simply should not be there.

For those curious, here are Franklin's limited charts at short:

Nick Franklin SS

Again, the sample size makes this result quite hard to consider very seriously, but it adds to the impression that he Franklin at least knows how to play shortstop and manages to do routine and likely plays quite well. If I were slightly less meticulous, I could also point out the fact that Franklin's UZR/150 as a shortstop is way better than Cabrera's, thanks to his strong performance on routine plays over a small set of data, but that would not be very reliable.

Considering this, I believe that there is a case for the Rays to try playing Cabrera and Franklin at 2B and SS respectively in Spring Training and see where it goes from there.