Top 100 Second Basemen: 50-41

As we enter the top 50, we are still a few short of the really special historical players.

50. Dick McAuliffe, Tigers 1960-73, Red Sox 1974-75
Career WARP3 64.2, Career EqA .270, 3 seasons 8+ WARP3, 3-time All-Star

McAuliffe, who played bad shortstop and average second base for the Tigers for the better part of 14 seasons, was a real slugger. In the pitcher-dominated era of the mid-1960s and environs, McAuliffe hit 20 or more home runs 3 times and 10 or more home runs 11 times. In an ironic twist, his best years above replacement value were those years he spent as a shortstop, more due to positional scarcity than any legitimate increase in performance; he was worse defensively at short, as well. One of the many Tigers who appeared on MVP ballots in 1968, he came in 8th on the ballot that Denny McLain won. It wasn't a bad choice at all if you liked the first-place Tigers: only catcher Bill Freehan was clearly a better offensive player that year at his position.

49. Brian Roberts, Orioles 2001-2008
Career WARP3 46.7, Career EqA .281, 1 season 10+ WARP3, 2 seasons 9+ WARP3, 2-time All-Star

Had the Cubs managed to figure out that much-discussed deal for Roberts before the season, they'd probably be 3 or 4 more games ahead in their division right now. This is by no means a knock on Mark DeRosa; Roberts has simply been the real deal since he hit his stride in 2005, having been the Orioles' best player 3 out of the 4 years since. A doubles-hitting leadoff man with excellent base-stealing abilities and solid patience, Roberts is probably the best second baseman in the American League despite not being a defensive standout; he's about average on defense. Roberts will move up this list as long as he's still hitting. At age 30, he's shown enough power to transition into a different kind of player once his legs don't work as well, so it's difficult to see him missing the top 40.

48. Max Bishop, Athletics 1924-33, Red Sox 1934-35
Career WARP3 62.2, Career EqA .271, 2 seasons 8+ WARP3, 9 total seasons 4+ WARP3

Something of a forgotten man on the A's 3-time pennant-winners in 1929-1931, Bishop was probably rightly overshadowed by the Al Simmonses, Mickey Cochranes, and Jimmy Foxxes of the world on one of the legendary semi-dynasties of all time. Bishop was an interesting player for a few reasons, though. There was not a single reason to pitch around Bishop: he was a lifetime .271 hitter in a hitter's era with little power despite the live ball. Yet Bishop, known as "Camera Eye," may have had the best eye for drawing walks of anyone during his era. He rivaled Ruth and Gehrig in base-on-balls despite being a completely unassuming hitter; his career OBP of .423 is testament to this ability. Also a good defender, Bishop is one of those players whose skills were at the underrated aspects of the game and therefore is destined to be underrated himself.

47. Steve Sax, Dodgers 1981-88, Yankees 1989-91, White Sox 1992-93, A's 1994
Career WARP3 60.1, Career EqA .269, 2 seasons 8+ WARP3, 2 seasons 7+ WARP3, Rookie of the Year, 5-time All-Star

An exciting player who was very popular in the 1980s, Sax's value during his good years came largely from some excellent Chavez Ravine-softened batting averages and a good set of wheels. Sax wasn't much of a second baseman; he was well below average defensively for his entire career. As a hitter, he was better than his stats in LA made him look. In an average era in an average park, he'd have hit .299 and slugged .409 instead of .281 and .358; for some reason, Sax was popular despite this. In 1986 he hit .332 and stole 40 bases while also hitting 40 doubles; it was his best year. Still, Sax was probably not all he was cracked up to be; a leadoff man who drew few walks, he was in the top 8 in the league in outs 10 times.

46. Robby Thompson, Giants 1986-96
Career WARP3 57.2, Career EqA .275, 1 season 9+ WARP3, 1 season 8+, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, 2-time All-Star

From the same era and division as Sax, Thompson was a much different kind of player. An all-around player with some power and speed, but little patience, Thompson was also a good defensive player during his best years. Thompson would hit a lot more home runs in a different historical situation, which may tend to mask some of his real value. His Gold Glove season appears to have been deserved in 1993, as it was his best defensive year. Teaming with Jose Uribe and then Royce Clayton, Thompson was emblematic of the Giants' recent era: he played alongside Will Clark, Matt Williams, and Barry Bonds on teams that were often good but not good enough to bring home a title.

45. Mark Loretta, Brewers 1995-2002, Astros 2002, Padres 2003-05, Red Sox 2006, Astros 2007-08
Career WARP3 55.8, Career EqA .270, 1 season 12+ WARP3, 1 season 8+, Silver Slugger, 2-time All-Star

Largely an unnoticed, average performer for the Brewers during his early career, Loretta found his stride during 2003 and 2004 with San Diego, becoming one of the very best players in baseball over that short but meaningful span. Staying healthy, ratcheting up his defense and finding some power in his bat, Loretta in 2004 crushed the league for a .335/.391/.495 year that is heavily softened by the size and bias of Petco Park. Those excellent years in San Diego coupled with salty career rate stats of .297/.361/.399 move Loretta up the list.

44. Davey Johnson, Orioles 1965-72, Braves 1973-75, Phillies 1977-78, Cubs 1978
Career WARP3 60.7, Career EqA .272, 2 seasons 8+ WARP3, 2 seasons 7+, 4-time All-Star, 3-time Gold Glove

Davey Johnson in his prime was a great defender, fully 15-20 runs above the average second baseman in a year. In every year other than 1973, he was a solid hitter for average and power, a doubles guy who hit about .280/.350/.390; in short, he was your run of the mill sort-of All-Star-caliber second baseman. In 1973, for whatever reason, he became a home run machine, knocking 43 dingers (17 on the road, so maybe not so much with the "new park" thing) while playing worse defense than he ever had and otherwise playing roughly the same. Because his D that season was terrible, his crazy fluke home run season--his second career high was 18--ranks only as his fourth most valuable season, a word of warning to those who would play people somewhere they *can* play instead of where they should. It is unknown what entity was inhabiting Davey's body that season, but I'd think twice about letting it in.

43. Claude Ritchey, Cincinatti 1897, Louisville 1898-1899, Pirates 1900-06, Braves 1907-09
Career WARP3 64.0, Career EqA .262, 1 season 8+ WARP3, 9 total seasons 4+

A relatively obscure early modern era player, Claude was a solid combination of power-hitting, getting on base, and defense. The dead ball era, with its odd parks and *ahem* dead balls, looks funny now. Suffice it to say that a lot of Ritchey's triples and doubles would probably be home runs in parks nowadays; he wasn't getting the extra bases by running, as he appears to have been slow--he stole very few bases. A strong double play partner and a slick fielder, he led his league's second basemen in fielding percentage 5 times and played second fiddle to some Wagner guy in the Pirates' infield. It seems he may not have been as much of a second fiddle as we thought, though.

42. Bobby Avila, Indians 1949-58, three teams 1959
Career WARP3 52.7, Career EqA .267, 1 season 11+ WARP3, 1 season 8+, 3-time All-Star

Roberto Francisco Avila was the first star to make the jump straight from the Mexican League to the majors, and he brought a lot of offensive tools with him. A good singles-and-doubles hitter as well as a good basestealer in a stealless era, Avila was inconsistent defensively, turning in two Gold Glove-caliber seasons in 1954 and 1956. He did almost everything well on offense, avoiding strikeouts and drawing some walks to go with his middling power. He was in the tops of the league in sacrifice hits almost every season. In 1954 he hit .341, a breakout season that included a career-high 15 homers and a tremendous defensive year. Had he played like that once more, he'd have moved up about 10 spots on this list.

41. Jimmy Williams, Pirates 1899-1900, Orioles/Highlanders 1901-07, Browns 1908-09
Career WARP3 61.6, Career EqA .270, 1 season 9+ WARP3, 2 seasons 8+

A power hitter who today would hit 20+ home runs a season, Williams was the best triples-masher in the game during his era, cresting 20 in three seasons. Almost all his value is from his considerable (at the time) power; he also hit 49 homers which was a lot for a middle infielder of his era. Also a strong fielder, Williams probably deserves somewhat more historical attention than he has received.

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