Can Viciedo play third base?

With the uncertainty about the future of the White Sox's third base position and the lack of useful information regarding the status of talks with free agents and/or other teams regarding trade possibilties, now is a perfect time to discuss the possible internal options. One option that has been brought up is the idea of moving Dayan Viciedo from left field to third base, which was his original position. Let’s take a closer look and find out just how reasonable or ridiculous this idea really is.

In the major leagues, Viciedo has played a grand total of 26 games at third base. All of these 26 games were played during the 2010 season after he was called up from Charlotte in mid-June. He actually hit pretty well during his 38 game/108 plate appearance cup of coffee with the big league club posting a .308/.321/.519 line with a 122 wRC+.

Ok, I know that there is a problem here. This is a very small sample size. Such a small number of games, of which only 68% were played at third base, do not comprise a large enough sample to come to definite conclusions about the future of any position on your favorite sports team. Therefore, the investigation below should be read with some skepticism.

Even given his above-average offensive production over this short stint his defense at third was undeniably brutal. Over 162.0 innings playing defense at third during the 2010, Viciedo was good for a UZR/150 of -18.6, which is not good. Just for perspective, Miguel Cabrera was considered by many to be a terrible defender at third base last season and he still had a significantly better UZR/150 than Viciedo’s 2010 at -11.2. Again, this is a very small sample size and even in larger samples defensive statistics can sometimes be misleading.

There could be a lot of factors not represented in the numbers that led to his poor defensive performance. However, when you back his 2010 performance up with his 2012 season a clearer picture comes into focus. Over 1093.0 in left field during the 2012 season, Viciedo has a UZR/150 of -3.2. While this is a significant improvement from his 2010 numbers at third base, he is still below average among left fielders. This boost in defensive performance can also be explained by the shift to an easier position on the defensive spectrum. Given the larger sample size of this data, we can probably assume that he would be worse than -3.2 UZR/150 in a switch back to third base. So we are talking about defensive, third basemen comps of Orlando Hudson on the high end of the scale down to Josh Vitters of the Cubs or Jordan Pacheco of the Rockies on the lower end.

I’ve omitted 2011 from this conversation because he neither played third base nor left field in that season. He did play right field though and was slightly worse than in left field with a -5.1 UZR/150. His other games in 2011 were either spent as a pinch hitter, designated hitter, or first base.

So defensively, it would be an understatement to say that he would be a liability at third base. The other side to the questions is this: understanding that the defense would be well below average at the hot corner, can he produce enough with the bat to outweigh his deficiencies in the field?

In 2012, Viciedo had a slash line of .255/.300/.444 and hit 25 homers. His offensive performance was considered to be 3% below league average according to wRC+. Even with some improvement, which is to be expected from a 23 year-old, his offense will like not be enough to cover up his defensive shortcomings. Bill James’s predictions for him next year suggest he will produce a slash line of .271/.316/.455. While this is a welcome improvement, it doesn’t really look all that inspiring when compared to the average slash line for third basemen in 2012 (.262/.323/.415). He would need to produce significantly above what an average third basemen would offensively to contribute positively to the team in 2013 given his defensive ability and it does not appear that such an improvement is likely.

The final nail in the coffin for this solution to the White Sox’s third base problem is how the outfield positions are distributed if Viciedo is no longer the left field. I can’t say that I would be thrilled with the prospect of any of our current back-up outfielders taking over on a daily basis. We have DeWayne Wise (.258/.295/.405), Jordan Danks (.224/.280/.564) or Blake Tekotte (.133/.133/.267) as our current back ups. In free agency we can dream of getting Hamilton on a three or four year deal but we all know deep down that it’s not going to happen. If we were willing to do that we might as well just spend it on Youkilis for another short-term deal. We may be able to find another stop-gap veteran to fill in the outfield but that may not be a smart decision given our limited budget. We could trade Floyd in return for an outfield replacement. However, that begs the question of why not just trade Floyd for a third basemen in the first place. In the end, that might be the best solution because it is clear that moving Viciedo to third base is ridiculous.


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