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The All-Time MLB Team, Second base: nominations open

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Are we going old-school here?

St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Player Rogers Hornsby

After Lou Gehrig walked away with the first-base spot, I don’t immediately feel there’s as much of a clear-cut winner at second-base. Part of this may be due to sheer distance in time. We’re more than a century removed from 1915-16, the seasons when the top three by bWAR were all in action. Footage of them in action is thus extremely limited, and I feel fairly sure there’s no-one on the SnakePit who can claim to have seen them in action! But there’s a case to be made that this position is one that deserves more than just a mere statistical analysis, when you’re determining the all-time “greatest”.

But let’s start there. Below are, as usual, the top 10 career bWAR, anong non-active players who played a majority of their career at second-base. The names link over to their pages at Baseball-Reference.com for more details, and this link goes to an expanded version, beyond the top 10. There is one active player who would make the list: Robinson Cano: he has posted 69.6 bWAR to date, which ranks him 9th overall. He might well be one or two spots higher, if not for the 242 games potentially lost due to his pair of suspensions for PED use. Crossing him from the list allowed the first Diamondback to make one of these tables. For tenth place now goes to Roberto Alomar, who appeared in 28 games for Arizona in 2004.

Best 2B ever

Player bWAR From To PA R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Player bWAR From To PA R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Rogers Hornsby 127.3 1915 1937 9481 1579 2930 301 1584 1038 679 .359 .434 .577 1.010 175
Eddie Collins 124.4 1906 1930 12087 1821 3315 47 1299 1499 467 .333 .424 .429 .853 142
Nap Lajoie 106.9 1896 1916 10468 1504 3243 82 1599 516 347 .338 .380 .466 .847 150
Joe Morgan 100.4 1963 1984 11329 1650 2517 268 1133 1865 1015 .271 .392 .427 .819 132
Charlie Gehringer 84.7 1924 1942 10245 1775 2839 184 1427 1186 372 .320 .404 .481 .884 125
Lou Whitaker 75.1 1977 1995 9967 1386 2369 244 1084 1197 1099 .276 .363 .426 .789 117
Frankie Frisch 71.8 1919 1937 10101 1532 2880 105 1244 728 272 .316 .369 .432 .801 110
Bobby Grich 71.0 1970 1986 8220 1033 1833 224 864 1087 1278 .266 .371 .424 .794 125
Ryne Sandberg 67.9 1981 1997 9282 1318 2386 282 1061 761 1260 .285 .344 .452 .796 114
Roberto Alomar 67.0 1988 2004 10400 1508 2724 210 1134 1032 1140 .300 .371 .443 .814 116

Pure longevity seems key in reaching the top here. Three of the top four reached the majors while still teenagers, and all of them played there into their forties. That’s something you don’t see much of, on either end. There hasn’t been a position player aged 19 or younger, at any position in the majors, over the previous three seasons (and just one pitcher, the Blue Jays’ Elvis Luciano), with the last such being Juan Soto in 2018. Since Ichiro retired in early 2019, the senior position players have been Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz, a 1B and DH respectively. The oldest to appear at second during that time was 38-year-old Ben Zobrist. Players these days reach the majors later and retire younger.

Inspired by that, I thought it might be instructive to take a look at who performed the best during their “peak years”, which I am, largely arbitrarily, defining as the age 24 to 30 seasons. This should help defuse the bias towards older players and their extended careers which helps them rack up counting stats like bWAR. Below are the same numbers, but just for the 24-30 seasons: I’ve not excluded active players like Cano in this table:

Peak 2B ever

Player bWAR OPS+ From To PA R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Player bWAR OPS+ From To PA R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Rogers Hornsby 64.3 190 1920 1926 4377 807 1463 164 785 473 287 .386 .456 .638 1.094
Eddie Collins 54.8 156 1911 1917 4630 772 1238 12 490 639 214 .332 .435 .430 .865
Chase Utley 42.2 130 2003 2009 3813 602 978 161 585 360 606 .296 .379 .523 .902
Frankie Frisch 41.5 119 1922 1928 4415 721 1298 60 487 321 106 .327 .380 .456 .836
Nap Lajoie 40.7 175 1899 1905 3166 602 1092 48 588 133 84 .371 .408 .546 .954
Robinson Cano 40.4 128 2007 2013 4732 659 1329 175 682 316 567 .307 .358 .508 .866
Joe Morgan 40.0 134 1968 1974 4050 634 905 100 373 653 359 .272 .391 .432 .824
Bobby Grich 39.9 127 1973 1979 4102 518 896 100 409 561 602 .263 .372 .417 .789
Rod Carew 39.0 139 1970 1976 4078 546 1230 38 414 366 365 .340 .399 .444 .843
Dustin Pedroia 38.7 117 2008 2014 4478 632 1189 96 489 419 430 .299 .366 .448 .814

While the top two remain the same, things are quite different in the rest of the table, with Chase Utley coming out of nowhere to claim third spot. Frankie Fritsch also moves up, while Nap Lajoie and Joe Morgan do not rate so highly using this “peak” metric. This is not dissimilar to the WAR7 measure, [worth clicking through to the chart, which has a lot of useful numbers you can sort by]. Though that is the seven most productive years a player had at any age. For example, Nap Lajoie put up 9.8 bWAR in his age 35 season, his second-best figure. In at least one case, it’s better than a 24-30 figure, because the player had little recorded data before age 28.

That, of course, is Jackie Robinson. His “major league” numbers preceding that point are just 34 games for the Kansas City Monarchs. Over the 6 year period from age 28 to 33 he had 3,394 PA and 44 WAR, or 7.4 WAR per year. He won Rookie of the Year his first season and was the NL Most Valuable Player in his third. Had he been playing in MLB from ages 22-27, it seems credible he would have been able to put up the same or similar numbers as he did well into his 30’s. A back of the beer-mat calculation would then conceivably put him around 110 WAR career, above Joe Morgan, the only second baseman in the integrated era to reach the 100 WAR threshold, whose MLB career began at age 19.

Personally, I would take into account the extraordinary circumstances of Robinson’s career, especially the early years, when he was plowing a lone furrow. Literal death threats, folks, and not just his first season - they were still arriving in 1951. Simply showing up every day is impressive enough, never mind continuing to perform at an All-Star level. Otherwise, the best 2B strictly from the Negro Leagues was Newt Allen. His peak years were age 24-36 when he averaged 4.6 WAR per 650 PA and 108 OPS+. He ended up playing into his middle 40’s, dragging down his rate stats a bit. A good player, but second appears a position not given as much emphasis as in MLB, anf seems the weakest in the Negro Leagues.


As usual, we need to narrow the candidates down to five or thereabouts, for the final poll. This will be done largely on the basis of recs in the comments, though the decision of the judging committee i.e. me, will be final in this regard. Just identify the player in the subject line, and make your case in the body of the comment. If you agree with a choice already made, give it a rec. If you don’t see your choice, post a new comment. I will delete subsequent top-level comments about the same player. Poll to follow on Friday!