Friday, October 2, 2009

Best Second Basemen By Season, 1954-2008

Second base. The cornerstone. Possibly the most aesthetically glorified position in baseball. We love those guys who can turn the double play. You know my methodology, let's see what it gives us.

Wow. So much inconsistency, particularly in the AL. Only two AL second basemen bested the league four straight seasons, and both played for the Twins: Rod Carew and Chuck Knoblauch.

Based on reputation, Nellie Fox was the best second baseman of the '50s. He shows up three times in the four years between 1957 and 1960. Between 1954 and 1958 he only shows up once. Is he overrated? As a big Nellie Fox fan I'd like to think not, but I must admit he's nothing close to the inner circle of great second basemen.

One player it is safe to call overrated is Bobby Richardson. From what I've read, he was considered the best AL second baseman of the '60s. Only once does he show up atop the AL, and that's 1963. Jerry Lumpe and Dick McAuliffe show up there more often than he does. I think it's more accurate to say that Richardson played in a weak era for second basemen and only got national recognition because his team won a bunch of pennants. Interestingly, Lumpe originally came up in the Yankee system. If the Bronx Bombers had held onto him he probably would've gotten his due.

Red Schoendienst, Don Blasingame and Bill Mazeroski each show up twice in the NL during that era. Jim Gilliam shows up three times. Mazeroski may have been a great fielder, but it's hard to say his defense pushed him to any type of elite level. I've never felt he belonged in the Hall, even though Bill James does. Frank Bolling shows up once in each league.

Joe Morgan bests the NL for the first time in 1965 and for the last time in 1982. That's some longevity right there. During that span he led a total of 11 times. Now that's inner circle of great second basemen. Sorry, Nellie.

I would never have expected Ron Hunt to show up here three times. I guess getting hit by pitches is a silent value-raiser. Davey Johnson also had a brief moment in the sun that coincided with the Orioles' dominance.

Things start to get interesting in the late '70s. We see an era where two third basemen, one playing out of position (Bill Madlock) and another who'd move there later (Ken Oberkfell), both show up. Bump Wills came out on top of the AL in his rookie year of 1977, but he finished a mere third in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Three players emerge in the AL who all have interesting cases: Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph and Lou Whitaker. Grich has his Hall of Fame supporters, but only thrice was he the league's best second baseman. Playing in the shadow of Rod Carew can do that to you sometimes. Randolph also shows up three times, but there's a difference of nine years between the first and last times, proving the longevity factor. He rarely gets discussed as a possible Hall of Famer, and while I don't quite think he belongs, he's closer than many people may realize. It's rare to see an underrated Yankee. As for Whitaker, between 1982 and 1991 he bests the league seven times. He's got more Hall supporters than Randolph or Grich, and after doing this exercise I think I'd have to count myself among them.

Ryne Sandberg had the reputation over in the NL, and he definitely showed up in his 1984 MVP season. He didn't come out on top again until 1988 though, and after being narrowly beat out by Robby Thompson in 1989 he led until 1992. Bill Doran, on the other hand, shows up three times between 1983 and 1987. Might he be a better candidate for NL second baseman of the '80s than Sandberg?

Roberto Alomar, like Bump Wills before him, topped his league in his rookie year. Also like Wills, he failed to win the ROY, placing fifth in the voting. Of course, Alomar didn't do so bad with the rest of his career. He went on to top his league four more times, the last being in 2001. While he wasn't the dominant force he was often made out to be, he was clearly one of the better second-sackers in the game when he wasn't the best.

After Sandberg's run at the top of the NL ended Craig Biggio was there to take over for him. He led five straight years from 1994 to 1998. Following Edgardo Alfonzo's strong 1999, Jeff Kent began a three-year run of his own. Yes, that's right. Only three years. Don't be blinded by the power numbers. In 2003 and 2004 he was bested by Marcus Giles and Mark Loretta, respectively. For real.

The last seven years have had seven different AL leaders. Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Bret Boone probably come as no surprise, but what about Brian Roberts, Placido Polanco and Orlando Hudson? You never know who'll emerge in a given year. The NL has been much more steady, with Chase Utley owning not just the NL, but all of baseball since 2005.

Overall, the NL team with the most leaders during this era is the Giants, with six. The Dodgers are right behind them with five, and the Reds and Cardinals each have four. In the AL it's a tie between the Yankees and Tigers with five. The Orioles and Rangers follow with three each.

Next time it's the hot cornermen. You won't be surprised at all who holds the record for most years as a league topper. Some others might widen your eyes a little though. Stay tuned!

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