Top 100 Second Basemen: 80-71

Before we continue the countdown, I wanted to mention at least the following about my methodology.

A) A player is associated with a position based on where he played the most career games. Rod Carew is therefore a first baseman, though he played a lot of second base as well.

B) Players who played more than half of their career before the Major League era (i.e. pre-1901) are left off the list. I don't see sufficient evidence to believe that the pre-modern era is really all that comparable to the early major leagues, what with the unbalanced schedules and the nonstandardization of playing conditions. That means, unfortunately, that the following players who were in many cases really good have been left off the list of second basemen:

Cupid Childs
Bobby Lowe
Hardy Richardson
Kid Gleason
Bid McPhee
Fred Dunlap
Tom Daly
Fred Pfeffer
Yank Robinson

There is little doubt that McPhee would crack the top 20, and that Childs would be in the top 40, if I felt their numbers could really be trusted.

C) Negro league-only players are out. This is lamentable, but there is such a dearth of data. That said, Jackie Robinson is receiving some credit for his Negro League play--he was so great in the majors that it is obvious he was a good player without them.

On to 80-71!

80. Buck Herzog, Giants 1908-09, Braves 1910-11, Giants 1911-13, Reds 1914-16, Giants 1916-17, Braves 1918-19, Cubs 1919-20
Career WARP3 46.9, Career EqA .253, 1 season 8+ WARP3, 1 season 6+ WARP3

Like earlier listmate Bucky Harris, with whom he also shares a nickname, Charles Lincoln Herzog became a "boy manager" of the Reds at 29, managing the team for his three years in Cincinnati. For whatever reason -- probably because he was 29 and 30 and peaking -- Herzog had his very best years in his full seasons in Cincy, fielding 15 and 11 runs above average while hitting .281 and .264 and stealing a fair number of bases. Basestealing statistics from this era are difficult; the NL *did* record caught stealing in 1915 and 1916, but not in the years around it, so we have to just assume that a guy like Herzog got caught a little less than when he was 31 during those years. He was one of the best in the league in terms of total steals, coming in between 5th and 2nd six times between 1911 and 1919, and he hit with a little bit of power. Overall Herzog appears to have been a well-rounded player with good speed and average everything else. Why he could never stay with a team, and why they always kept bringing him back, is not clear to me. Bill James would know.

79. Jim Lefebvre, Dodgers 1965-72
Career WARP3 35.8, Career EqA .270, 1 season 9+ WARP3, 1 season 8+ WARP3, Rookie of the Year, 1-time All Star

Lefebvre would be remembered by more recent fans as the guy who got kicked off the Dodgers coaching staff for trying to punch Tommy Lasorda. Who among us hasn't wanted to punch Tommy Lasorda? Okay, maybe it's just me. Lest we forget, though, Lefebvre's career in 1965 and 1966 started with a big, Chase Utley-like bang. In his rookie 1965 season, Lefebvre played above-average defense and hit .250/.337/.369 at Chavez Ravine. That doesn't look outstanding, but translating those numbers to the all-time average shows .273/.367/.430. His 24-homer season in 1966 was even better: .274/.333/.460 which is really more like .296/.367/.542 -- totally badass for a second baseman. The Dodgers moved him to third base, where he was below average, then back to second, where he persisted in being above average; a clear argument for playing guys in the right position. Lefebvre now coaches international baseball teams, including recently the Chinese national team at the 2006 World Baseball Classic. I wonder how the Chinese pronounce his name.

78. Adam Kennedy, Cardinals 1999, Angels 2000-06, Cardinals 2007-08
Career WARP3 45.3, Career EqA .257, 1 season 8+ WARP3, 7 total seasons 4+ WARP3

Adam Kennedy is a very consistent player, in terms of total value. Only in his post-prime last two years in St. Louis has he not been worth 4 wins a season, and he was usually worth more. Kennedy is closely associated with basemate David Eckstein; they are nearly the same age, played together a lot, and have accumulated roughly the same amount of value in their careers. If anything, Kennedy is better than Eckstein even though the tiny Eck gets more press. Kennedy's best year was in 2002, a fortuitous year that saw the Angels win the Series and Kennedy hit .312. Kennedy has been a great postseason performer in 78 at-bats, hitting .308/.317/.526, showing power that he rarely shows during the regular season and a dearth of walks that has unfortunately always held down his value as a player. However, fairly good hitting and speed and generally great defense make Kennedy a player worth remembering, at least before he turned 31.

77. Randy Velarde, Yankees 1987-95, Angels 1996-99, A's 1999-2000, Rangers 2001, Yankees 2001, A's 2002
Career WARP3 50.3, Career EqA .273, 1 season 10+ WARP3, 2 seasons 6+ WARP3

Most players' defensive value decreases significantly as they age. SuperUtility man Randy Velarde, whose 630 games at 2nd only make up half of his career, was pretty much an average defender for his whole career, though the years he got to play second almost exclusively were his best defensive seasons and may bolster an argument for sticking a guy in a position and leaving him there. Still, the Bill Hall of his era was horribly underutilized and underappreciated; he has a lifetime OPS+ of 101, which is very good for a middle infielder, and yet was only able to get ~4707 plate appearances and 1273 games in parts of 16 Major League seasons. Velarde has been wasted, at short, second, and third, for Mike Gallego, Pat Kelly, Andy Stankiewicz, and Charlie Hayes, among others. The main reason is probably because this late bloomer got pigeonholed as a backup and utilityman instead of the well-rounded average/homers/walks hitter that he was. His career looks a little like Mark DeRosa's, actually. Velarde's 10-wins-above-replacement season was actually the '99 campaign split between the Angels and the A's, where he hit in total .317/.390/.455 while hitting 16 homers and stealing 24 bases in a Jeter-like season...with above-average defense. Velarde would be much higher on this list if he had just been allowed to go out there and play more. As it was, his signature highlight might be his unassisted triple play in 2000, of the rare catch-tag-touch 2nd variety. All of this said, he was one of the "named names" in the Mitchell report...but I stand by the statement that he would have been productive *throughout* his career if given a chance.

76. Rennie Stennett, Pirates 1971-79, Giants 1980-81
Career WARP3 41.4, Career EqA .240, 2 seasons 8+ WARP3

Renaldo Antonio Stennett of Colon, Panama was an excellent defensive second baseman at his best, worth 20 runs above average for three straight seasons 1974-76. He peaked early, crashing out of the league before his 31st birthday, but had some memorable moments along the way: the We Are Fam-A-Lee 1979 Series winners (for whom he didn't play much in the postseason), an injury-shortened 1977 season that he finished hitting .336, and one insanely rare hitting performance. On September 16, 1975, the Pirates thrashed the Cubs 22-0 in the largest shutout victory in the modern era. In that nine-inning game, Rennie Stennett went 7-for-7, making him the only modern player to do so in nine innings. Still, it's definitely the glove more than the bat that moves Rennie up our list; he rarely walked or hit home runs, and only slugged .400 once, in 1977.

75. Marcus Giles, Braves 2001-06, Padres 2007
Career WARP3 41.5, Career EqA .275, 1 season 11+ WARP3, 1 season 9+ WARP3, 1-time All Star

It is unclear if Giles will right the ship after an abysmal hitting year in 2007, but here's the catch: he is a vastly underrated, well-above-average defender at second base. If someone realizes this, Giles may just find his way back to a modestly productive career. Giles' best season was of course his 2003 MVP-caliber year, overshadowed by teammates Javy Lopez and Gary Sheffield but worth 11 wins above replacement level, an epic all-time year for second basemen. Giles was no slouch in 2005 either. Though not a walk machine like brother Brian, Marcus was during his good years a solid on-base player, a good power hitter, a good defender, and a good baserunner. The only knocks on him from a total-career standpoint are (a) that he strikes out too much and (b) he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. I would invite him to training camp tomorrow if I had a choice.

74. Mark Grudzielanek, Expos 1995-98, Dodgers 1998-02, Cubs 2003-04, Cardinals 2005, Royals 2006-08
Career WARP3 61.3, Career EqA .255, 7 total seasons 4+ WARP3, 1-time All Star

While I've declared a preference for guys who have had excellent or great seasons in their career, there has to be a place on the list for consistent guys who played well for a large number of years. Grudzielanek is exactly that sort of player: a shortstop-turned-2B who never really has had a bad year. His averages, OBP, and slugging all hover around his lifetime .290/.332/.395, he is a career 6 runs above average as a fielder, and he is basically a consistent league-average second baseman in every way. Grudzielanek has been alternately maligned (early in his career with the Expos) and then lauded for his defensive play (later with the Royals) when in fact he's been pretty much average pretty much always. His best season may actually be 2008, as he's hitting .305 with better OBP than usual and playing some of the best defense of his career. He'll be soon winding down an unremarkable, but remarkably steady, career as a middle infielder. It bears mentioning that Grudzielanek was traded to the Cubs by the Dodgers in a horrible deal that the Cubs won utterly, by shipping the cooked Todd Hundley and the awful Chad Hermansen for Grudzielanek and Eric Karros, both of whom had productive years in helping the 2003 Cubs to the postseason.

73. Marty McManus, Browns 1920-26, Tigers 1927-31, Red Sox 1931-33, Braves 1934
Career WARP3 60.7, Career EqA .259, 3 seasons 6+ WARP3, 4-time MVP vote recipient

Much like Grudzielanek, McManus was average or just above at both hitting and defense for most of a long career. During his breakout 1922 season, he hit .312/.358/.459, which today would be worth less in the average department but about the same in terms of slugging; that was his best year. McManus was a bit different from most of the 2B's of his era; perhaps that's unsurprising because he also played 700 games at third. He was a slugger type: he hit double digit home runs four times, and exactly 9 homers three times. Playing in a modern park, a lot of his doubles and triples would turn into homers; he'd have 250 in his career. McManus was basically an average fielder, and loses a little bit of value because his hitting at third base wasn't worth as much as his hitting at second. A more modern-type player, his career comparables include Carney Lansford, Ray Durham, and Edgar Renteria. He could appear higher than this, if only he'd had one memorable season. McManus managed the South Bend Blue Sox of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1944-1948.

72. George Grantham, Cubs 1922-24, Pirates 1925-31, Reds 1932-33, Giants 1934
Career WARP3 55.7, Career EqA .284, 3 seasons 6+ WARP3, 4 seasons 5+ WARP3

Grantham, who played 500 games at first as well as over 700 at second, was a really good hitter. His numbers (.302/.392/.461, translating to .264/.370/.456) look a little worse when viewed in the context of his era, but the guy could mash homers, triples, and doubles in addition to hitting for average. Hence, he's got the highest EqA of anyone on the list so far. What hurts Grantham is that he spent so many games at first, thus providing less value at an easier fielding position. He wasn't a particularly bad fielder at second, 33 runs below average in 848 games, but he had a short enough career that he couldn't accumulate the kinds of numbers that tend to move you up the list. A mainstay of the Traynor/Waner/Waner Pirates (so fun to say like that) of the 1920s, Grantham appeared in two World Series and won one. He would have been an excellent fantasy baseball player: lots of steals and homers at a scarce position that wasn't as scarce then as it is today. Somewhere around the number 70 on the list, we transition from guys who were pretty good to guys who were damn good, and Grantham may be more in the damn good category. Again, he's hurt by his first base playing and his lack of any special seasons.

71. Glenn Hubbard, Braves 1978-87, A's 1988-89
Career WARP3 49.2, Career EqA .249, 1 season 7+ WARP3, 1 season 6+ WARP3, 1-time All Star

Almost entirely associated with the mostly-bad Braves teams of the 1970s and 1980s, Hubbard was not much with a bat. However, his consistently excellent defense alongside the likes of Rafael Ramirez, Andres Thomas, and Luis Gomez was more than enough to make up for his rather poor batting. Presumably because he batted eighth, Hubbard managed to appear among the NL leaders in intentional walks in 1986 and 1987. This padded Hubbard's walk totals, making him look like a better on-base player in those days; why managers saw fit to ever walk someone hitting .230 and slugging .304 in 1986 remains a mystery. Atlanta's many pitchers that season averaged about .185, which is worse but not that much worse.

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