Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 3/5/13
Who do you think is the slowest player in major league baseball? No fair guessing Bartolo Colon. Allow me to re-phrase. Who do you think is the slowest position player in major league baseball? You probably have a few names floating around in your mind. Many of them are probably catchers. I can tell you I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a worse runner than Jesus Montero. Montero wasn’t just slow, but his technique was so bad he had to spend the offseason learning how to run. Montero is a 23-year-old high-level professional athlete. That whole chapter was embarrassing. Maybe it’s still embarrassing; I haven’t seen the new, improved Montero in 2013. Montero, then, is a candidate for MLB’s slowest player. So are other catchers, like Jose Molina. But allow me to direct your attention to Paul Konerko, who isn’t a catcher, but who is old and defensively unremarkable. Konerko has very quietly had an outstanding career, and Konerko has very quietly been perhaps the slowest player in the league. If he wasn’t the slowest player before, he certainly hasn’t gotten quicker with age. Are you familiar with Speed Score? It’s not a wonderful metric, but it’s a metric, and last year Konerko came out at 0.8. Of the 193 players who batted at least 400 times, Konerko finished last, right behind — appropriately — Jesus Montero. We don’t have to go by Speed Score, though, because we also have a Fan Scouting Report. Setting a minimum of 500 defensive innings gives us 291 player-seasons for 2012. Konerko comes out with a speed rating of 14. That finds him in the basement, just behind Molina and Rod Barajas. We can’t say for certain, but Paul Konerko might well be MLB’s slowest position player right now. Konerko has tripled before, but only three times since 2001. Konerko has stolen bases before, but only nine times in his life. Since 2002, Konerko has a UBR score of -56 runs, meaning he’s been a dreadful baserunner. Konerko plods. It took me a while, but I was able to track down a bang-bang play at first base with Konerko as the runner instead of the defender. From the moment of contact, it took Konerko about 4.9 seconds to set foot on the bag. Mike Trout is a full second faster. Most players are at least a half-second faster. So, Konerko’s slow, is the point. This won’t be news to fans of the White Sox, or perhaps to fans of the White Sox’s rivals. Great hitter, great person, but, slow. And that made me wonder: what does it take for Paul Konerko to record an infield hit? We think of infield hits as having a lot to do with speed. Paul Konerko has no speed, yet last season he was credited with five infield hits, according to his FG player page. I elected to carefully review each of them. What sequences of events had to take place in order for Konerko to reach base safely on an infield grounder? What sorts of grounders, or infielders, was he beating out? We begin. Oddly, all five of Konerko’s infield hits came between July 8 and August 29. July 8 vs. Blue Jays Why, this isn’t a true infield hit. This is an error, and an error on Omar Vizquel of all people. At no point was a throw attempted to first base to try to get Konerko out. July 17 vs. Red Sox Here, we get confused. Konerko reached base twice in this game. One of those counted as an infield hit. Neither was fielded by an infielder, or even touched by an infielder. One of them did actually graze the first-base bag. It seems if a batted ball makes contact with a base, and then goes for a hit, it counts as an infield hit? At no point was a throw attempted to first base to try to get Konerko out. July 22 vs. Tigers A hot-shot grounder that just eats Miguel Cabrera up. The ball gets through to the outfield, and at no point is a throw attempted to first base to try to get Konerko out. This is practically a repeat of that one grounder that got Cabrera in the face in spring training, only this time Cabrera wasn’t gotten in the face. August 4 vs. Angels Why, this isn’t a true infield hit. This is a fielder’s choice, with no out recorded. At no point is a throw attempted to first base to try to get Konerko out. The White Sox score! Konerko is so skilled at driving runners in. August 29 vs. Orioles This infield single very easily could’ve been an error on J.J. Hardy. It would’ve been ruled a single because of the difficulty of the play, but on the other hand, it was Paul Konerko running down to first. At no point is a throw attempted to first base to try to get Konerko out. Paul Konerko is, perhaps, the slowest position player in the major leagues. If he isn’t the very slowest, evidence suggests he is at least among them. He is 37 years old, he is a first baseman, and at one point he used to be a catcher. Last season, Konerko was credited with five infield hits. After review, what’s required in order for Paul Konerko to end up with an infield hit is an error, a should-be error, a fielder’s choice, or a perplexing scorer’s judgment. Additionally required is that no attempt be made to try to get Konerko out running to first base. Konerko finished with an alleged five infield hits. Not one of them was an infield hit in the way that we usually imagine infield hits. That seems to be about right, for Paul Konerko.
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