Today's episode of Cupcake Hoarders won't be seen in order to show you something even stranger: Mark Reynolds, Second Baseman. First though, a quick list of things you should know:

1. Mark Reynolds hits homers.
2. Mark Reynolds walks.
3. Mark Reynolds does very little else.
4. Okay, maybe he smiles sometimes. Like this.
5. Mark Reynolds does not, repeat: NOT, play defense well.

The stats revolution has been around for a few decades now and in that time we've learned many things about what is valuable in baseball. One of the things we're still working on though is defense. When a ball is pitched, we know it was pitched, we know where it was pitched, and how well it was pitched, and what happened afterwards. When a ball is fielded however, well, things get more complex quickly. Was that a great diving catch or just a result of a poor read? Was that normal-looking play the result of a great read that a lesser fielder would have had to dive for? Or was the whole thing positioning? Now try to answer those questions definitively for every play in every baseball game of the season and you can start to see the scope of the problem.

Even so, there are still things we know about defense. Namely, number five from the above list. Mark Reynolds isn't good at defense. We know this definitively because we can measure it with multiple metrics, but we know it mostly because we can see it. To truly know something definitively about defense both those qualifications must be met.

Over his career, Reynolds has mostly played third base, though that has dissipated as he's gotten older and, presumably, teams have gotten wiser. Here's a chart that shows how many games Reynolds has played at each position over the last four seasons (source: Baseball Reference). I show you this because it's information, but also because nothing keeps people riveted to an article about baseball more than a chart!

Year

Team

1st Base

2nd Base

3rd Base

Outfield

DH

2010

Arizona

5

0

142

0

0

2011

Arizona

44

0

114

0

0

2012

Baltimore

108

0

15

0

12

2013

Cleveland

41

0

40

0

20

2013

NY Yankees

8

2

2

0

0

 

As time moves on, which it tends to do, Reynolds plays more difficult defensive positions less and less, and easier defensive positions more and more. This tells us that, independent of things like the needs of the team he's playing for, he's playing defense quite badly. We can also look up numbers to support out conclusions. For example, Reynolds grades poorly in Baseball Prospectus, Fan Graphs, and Baseball Reference's defensive measurements. That's enough for me. When multiple stats from reputable sites tell me the same thing, then I tend to believe it.

The usual progression for someone like Reynolds is what you see on the chart above, moving to easier and easier positions as he gets older and worse and it becomes clear he's never going to improve. And that has happened to Reynolds, until Wednesday night. Robinson Cano was still sore from being hit by a pitch the previous evening. Backup Eduardo Nunez was then written into the lineup, but he was taken out at the last second (he, too, had sustained an injury on Tuesday night, stumbling over his own feet; Jayson Nix, the Yankees' third option in such a scenario, is out for the rest of the year). In any case, the Yankees suddenly found themselves without a second baseman for a whole game. So, naturally they turned to Reynolds.

I'd love to be able to say that Reynolds had never played second base before in his life, but he had -- two innings in two separate games in 2007. He'd also played the ninth inning the night before in the Yankees 7-1 win. So clearly he was ready to take the next step in his evolution as a very bad major league second baseman.

So, how did Reynolds do? I went through the play-by-play data to find how many balls were hit in the vicinity of Mark Reynolds: Second Baseman. Turns out there were six balls that he either handled or were hit near enough to him where we have to consider if he had a play or not.

Play One: Bottom of the first inning. Moises Sierra singles on a ground ball to center field.

Kuroda had just struck out Chris Stewart, the prelude to a very Houston Astros Christmas wherein the Yankees let the ball get to the backstop, threw it past the first baseman and down the line, and then back in too late to the catcher who couldn't get the tag down in time.

Reynolds had Sierra playing up the middle, but the shortstop was shaded towards the hole at third so when Sierra's grounder went up the middle to the left of second base, Reynolds was not going to catch it. And he didn't disappoint as he lamely ran by it as it went past him.

Does Cano make the play? Quite possibly so.
Ultimate Cost: Nothing. The next batter, Anthony Gose, flew out to end the inning.

***

Play Two: Goins singles on a ground ball to the right fielder

When we talk about putting a guy like Reynolds in for Cano, this is the quintessential play where Cano is missed. Goins has some speed and grounded the ball to second, but Reynolds got a bad jump on the ball. It seemed like he might get there, but then his legs just kept moving without him moving forward, like Wile E. Coyote before he shoots off a cliff.

Does Cano make the play? Probably, yes.
Ultimate Cost: At least one run, as Edwin Encarcion homered immediately following Goins' hit.

***

Play Three: Jose Reyes grounded out to second base

This was a routine groundball to the second baseman and, to Reynolds credit he made the play. It wasn't quite the easy out that the word "routine" engenders though. The Yankees announcers said Reynolds looked "smooth" on the play. I'm not sure I'd describe it that way. The ball was hit between Reynolds and second base and Reynolds surrounded the ball, fielded it, and then, while still running, made an off-balance throw. The off-balance throw would have been more impressive if Reynolds hadn't been off-balance all play.

Does Cano make the play(s)? Yes.
Ultimate cost: Nothing.

***

Plays Four and Five: force-outs at second base

Twice the ball was hit to shortstop with a runner on first and two outs. Jeter tossed the ball to the second baseman, Reynolds, for the out. Highly routine. Wait, I'm not sure there are degrees of routine. In any case, they were easy plays and high school second basemen would have made them.

Does Cano make the play(s)? Yes.
Ultimate cost: Nothing.

***

Play Six: Brett Lawrie ground ball to second base

This one was routine in every since of the word. Reynolds kept his body moving again, but he's clearly not a second baseman in anything but location, so just getting the ball to first base is going to be better than the alternative (i.e. not getting the ball to first base).

Does Cano make the play? Yes.
Ultimate cost: Nothing.

***

The results were six balls handled without error and two that maybe should have been and would have been had a regular second baseman been manning the position. That doesn't sound like much, but think about it for a second and you'll realize it's a huge amount. What if the Yankees gave up two more base runners each game? That's like an extra half run a game, or 80 more runs per year. That would severely impact their record. In just this game, a missed play by Reynolds cost the Yankees a baserunner that was cashed in by Edwin Encarnacion's home run. So what can we learn from all that? We can tell just by watching that Reynolds looks out of his element. He can't set his feet, and lord help us all if he decides to turn a double play.

Beyond that, it's tough to draw conclusions. We can tell that Reynolds is big, slow, and doesn't possess particularly quick hands. We can see he doesn't grade out well by the metrics. But second base is a tough position where many who are more athletic than Mark Reynolds do poorly. Reynolds was at least game enough to try a position he hadn't played for more than an inning at a time. It's great that Reynolds agreed to play the position for a game while the starter and backup were out. But mostly playing Mark Reynolds at second base is a bad idea that should and did require many levels of crazy to reach. But hey, that's why it's fun.