Welcome back to SB Nation’s series of the teams that are bad at filling positions around the ol’ baseball diamond. If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, you can call this a series of the teams that are great at filling these positions. But as the planet burns and we sink deeper into the cosmic tar, I prefer to laugh at incompetence.
Here’s the problem with today’s position, though: Teams are generally pretty OK at finding second basemen.
Our last installment about first basemen pointed us to the devastatingly sad recent history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who found more All-Star-caliber catchers over the last two decades than barely competent first basemen. There isn’t a team nearly that bad with second basemen. Of the 30 teams in baseball, two-thirds of them had a deserving starter at second just last year.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of exceptions.
The goal is to look for which teams found the best second basemen over the last two decades, from 1997 through 2016. The system is simple, and it uses the Baseball-Reference quick-’n’-dirty guide to what WAR totals mean:
Note that I’m rounding up — a 1.5-WAR player counts as a starting-caliber second baseman — because decimal points in WAR are kind of silly.
So which teams have been better than others at getting their hands on second basemen? Which teams have failed more often than their fans would like? To the numbers!
The quietly consistent
At the bottom of this post there’s a table, and some of the teams won’t surprise you at all. With the catchers, for example, the Rangers fared well and, yeah, that’s because they had Ivan Rodriguez for a chunk of the last two decades. The Cardinals had the most MVP-caliber first basemen because Albert Pujols was absurd.
When you think of the Tigers and second base, though, who do you think of? Ian Kinsler recently, sure. Hall-of-Famer Charlie Gehringer and Should-Be-Hall-of-Famer-I-Will-Fight-You Lou Whitaker from the past, of course. But it’s not like they had someone you instantly identify with the franchise.
They usually had someone, though. Of all the teams in baseball, the Tigers have been the most consistent team at finding second basemen, doing it in 17 seasons out of the last 20. It’s even more impressive when you consider how awful they were in the early ‘00s. It’s a varied list, too:
- Damion Easley (five times)
- Placido Polanco (five times)
- Ian Kinsler (three times)
- Omar Infante (twice)
- Ramon Santiago
- Warren Morris
That’s the best part of this series, in my opinion. One minute, you’re sipping a cup of coffee, not thinking about Warren Morris, and then, BAM, Warren Morris:
And now you’re thinking about Alex Cora, who showed up on this search for the Dodgers. What a world.
The East Coast second base hegemony
The Tigers have been consistent, sure, but if you want stars? It’s the Phillies’ and Yankees’ world, and all we can do is be super jealous about how awesome their second basemen have been over the last few years.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, really, when you remember Chase Utley and Robinson Cano. Of the 12 seasons in which a second baseman cracked that magical 8-WAR barrier, half of them came from those two (with three each). In addition to those MVP-caliber seasons, the Phillies also had nine starting-caliber seasons and three All-Star seasons.
The Yankees got the three MVP-caliber seasons from Cano, and they also got four starting-caliber seasons and five All-Star seasons. If there’s a tiebreaker between these two teams, it’s that the Yankees haven’t had a second baseman worth two wins since Brian Roberts in 2014. Starlin Castro appears ready to break that drought, though.
As for the other guy on the East Coast? Dustin Pedroia got close, and the Red Sox have enjoyed five starting-caliber seasons, six All-Star seasons, and one MVP-level season, which is outstanding compared to the rest of baseball. But they couldn’t quite get where the Phillies and Yankees were.
I’m using this specific article as my only source for making Hall of Fame picks in 10 years. And it looks like the numbers say ... hey, wait, come back.
Again, there aren’t any completely destitute teams in this regard. But there are a few teams that stand out.
The Braves got an MVP-caliber season from Marcus Giles, who finished with 7.8 WAR in 2003, when he was 25 ... and then finished with 7.8 WAR over the final four years of his strange career. Other than three seasons from Giles, though, the Braves have had seven kinda-sorta-OK seasons from Dan Uggla, Kelly Johnson, and Quilvio Veras, but nothing more.
The Dodgers, Pirates, and Brewers all had a decent-to-good second baseman every other year, roughly, but none of them has had a breakout season in the last 20 years, with no All-Star seasons to be found. You might expect that from the small-market teams, but the Dodgers are something of a surprise. Logan Forsythe might help them get over the hump soon, but if that doesn’t happen, expect them to pay cash for Jose Altuve or D.J. LeMahieu soon.
The worst of the worst, though?
I’m guessing that White Sox fans were waiting for their team to come up since the opening paragraph. The only reason they weren’t the biggest story here is that they employed Ray Durham, a two-time All-Star who was one of the more underappreciated second basemen of his generation. The White Sox got five solid seasons from him (and more earlier) in the last two decades. When he left, they got an OK-OBP, sweet-defense season from Willie Harris, two pretty-OK seasons from Tadahito Iguchi, and a stellar rookie campaign from Alexei Ramirez in 2008.
Since then: nothing. Absolutely nothing. In order, the second basemen they’ve tried:
- Brett Lawrie
- Yolmer Sanchez
- Micah Johnson
- Gordon Beckham
- Angel Sanchez
- Tyler Greene
- Chris Getz
- Oh, my goodness, there’s a lot of Gordon Beckham in here
- Danny Richar
- D’Angelo Jimenez
- Roberto Alomar, but bad
It’s not exactly the Curse of Ray Durham, but you can call it something like the Curse of Please Just Find One Lousy Second Baseman if it makes you feel better.
As for 2017, we’ll just peek in at what’s going on, and ...
Yolmer Sanchez, .291/.333/.425, 1.2 WAR and counting
Well, all right.
Career BABIP: .291
2017 BABIP: .359
Not now, facts. He’s probably just hitting more line drives.
Career line-drive percentage: 25%
2017 line-drive percentage: 25%
NOT NOW, FACTS. His defense is solid. He’s probably fine.
(Root for him if you get a second, though. Thoughts and roots go out to the entire White Sox organization in these troubled times.)
The full table: