January 29, 2009
Position Retrospective: Second Base, Part I
by: Alex Nelson on Jan 29, 2009 8:32 AM | Filed under: Articles

Continuing my series looking back at how the Mets have done filling positions around the diamond over the years, today we’ll examine the Mets’ second base situation. You can find our earlier discussions here:

Catcher: Part 1, Part 2
First Base: Part 1, Part 2

While the Mets are infamous for their inability to find a third baseman, second base has been almost as a tough position for the Mets over the years, and certainly their most difficult to fill in recent times. Since Howard Johnson arrived, the Mets have had no shortage of capable men to play the hot corner; however, the Mets are still looking for a second baseman to replace Edgardo Alfonzo, who actually only spent a couple seasons there. Instead, they’ve fumbled with options like Roberto Alomar, Miguel Cairo, Danny Garcia, Kazuo Matsui, Jose Valentin, Damion Easley, and most recently Luis Castillo. And we shouldn’t forget the ill-advised move of Jose Reyes from shortstop.

Early on, there was some stability, at least. Kenny Boswell held the position for a few years, and while he wasn’t any great shakes, he could get on base a little. Ditto for his replacement, Felix Millan. There’s no excuse for letting Doug Flynn man the spot for four seasons after Millan departed for Japan, but the team did employ some productive platoons with Wally Backman and Tim Teufel in the latter half of the 1980s.

Anyway, here’s the same chart I’ve produced for the other positions, comparing how the Mets have performed compared to the rest of the NL over the past 47 seasons:

Team Yrs #Strs SLE LGS 10%/yr sOPS+ Rate
Rockies 16 11 1.45 92.4 2.69 100.2 96.2
Padres 40 26 1.54 112.5 2.00 88.9 99.7
Diamondbacks 11 6 1.83 114.9 2.18 108.6 101.8
Brewers 11 5 2.20 109.1 2.09 104.7 96.6
Mets 47 20 2.35 106.4 2.31 96.7 97.4
Dodgers 47 19 2.47 121.5 1.98 101.5 100.2
Nats/Expos 40 16 2.50 112.8 2.25 95.7 99.1
Cubs 47 17 2.76 122.8 1.91 105.2 98.2
Giants 47 17 2.76 117.1 2.11 100.8 100.4
Braves 47 16 2.94 119.2 1.98 97.8 104.2
Reds 47 16 2.94 124.1 1.83 109.2 100.8
Astros 47 16 2.94 126.3 1.91 111.1 97.3
Cardinals 47 16 2.94 114.7 2.02 97.1 101.4
Marlins 16 5 3.20 124.2 1.81 101.3 99.6
Phillies 47 14 3.36 127.2 1.81 101.6 99.2
Pirates 47 14 3.36 124.5 1.85 95.7 103.8

For those who don’t remember, here’s a quick key for what those headings mean:

Years – years of NL play
#Strs – number of different starters
SLE – starter’s life expectancy
LGS – leader’s number of starts per season
10%/yr – number of players to receive 10% of the team’s starts per season
sOPS+ – average sOPS+ per season
Rate – average Rate per season

Please refer here for a more exhaustive explanation of my methodology and what these terms mean.

The Mets really don’t do well here. The only teams whose switch starters more often are the Padres and teams with a lot less history (Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies). In addition to that, they finish second-to-worst in LGS and 10%/yr, implying they switched second basemen often within seasons. And finally they’re fourth from the bottom in the two production categories, sOPS+ and Rate.

The top five teams:

1. Cincinnati Reds
2. Houston Astros
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Atlanta Braves

After the Diamondbacks there are a bunch of teams that are all really just slightly above average: the Braves, the Dodgers, the Giants, the Marlins, and the Phillies. I went with the Braves, who’ve been the best team defensively.

The bottom five:

12. St. Louis Cardinals
13. Colorado Rockies
14. Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals
15. New York Mets
16. San Diego Padres

San Diego Padres are quite a bit worse at finding second basemen than the Reds are good. Their second basemen have been almost entirely atrocious—the only real bright spots are Mark Loretta and Roberto Alomar, both of whom only was a starter there for three seasons. Only one guy, Tim Flannery, made it to four seasons. Quilvio Veras, the third-best second baseman they’ve ever had, was roughly 7% below average offensively by the already low standards of the position. Before Alomar came along, their best full second base season came from Alan Wiggins, who put up a sOPS+ of 98 and stole 66 bases. The only negatives were defense (he was really an outfielder), a stormy personality, and drug problems.

Among the guys who led the team in starts at second for the Pads: Jose Arcia, Soup Campbell, Don Mason, Derrel Thomas, Rich Morales, Mike Champion, Fernando Gonzalez, Juan Bonilla, Jeff Gardner, Kurt Stillwell, Damian Jackson, Ramon Vazquez, Josh Barfield, and, most recently, Tadahito Iguchi. They’ve tried bringing in established guys who had once been pretty good like Dave Cash and Bret Boone, only to let them go quickly after a disappointing season. Simply put, the Padres are to second base what the Mets and Dodgers are to third, except that the Padres often just gave up trying to find anyone better—they knew it wasn’t happening.

Finally, the Padres have the distinction of employing Champion, according to Win Shares the worst defensive second baseman to ever play the position. He was a regular in 1977 when the Pads’ second base defense was 14% below average, their sOPS 45% below. It’s the worst season of any team I’ve looked at.

Other random observations:

The Expos/Nationals would have been much worse than the Mets if not for Jose Vidro. They got a few good seasons from guys like Ron Hunt, Mike Lansing, and Cash, but largely it’s been a disaster featuring the Doug Flynns, Jim Coxes, Pete Mackanins, and Wilton Guerreros of the world.

The top three teams are there mostly through the efforts of three players: Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, and Craig Biggio. Morgan, in particular, was phenomenal. Between 1972 and 1977, the Reds never posted a sOPS+ below 150 from the position. The Reds also got two other 150+ seasons from Pete Rose.

The Braves’ ability have always seemed to prefer gloves to bats at the position. From 1962 to 1965 the team employed Frank Bolling, who was basically Bill Mazeroski with a shorter career. The team also employed Woody Woodward, Felix Millan, Glenn Hubbard, Jeff Treadway, Quilvio Veras, Keith Lockhart, and Mark Lemke, arguably the best defensive second baseman of his era. It’s quite a tradition.

I expected the Phillies to do worse. Ask your average non-Philadelphia fan who the Phils have used at second over the years, and I doubt very many would be able to answer another name than Chase Utley and perhaps Mickey Morandini, who wasn’t very good anyway. But they got some good seasons here and there from Juan Samuel (offensively, at least), Manny Trillo, Dave Cash, Placido Polanco, and Tony Taylor, and they even found room for a past-his-prime Joe Morgan for a year. Overall, they finish middle of the pack.

Return next week when I’ll discuss the Mets’ history in-depth.

One Response to “Position Retrospective: Second Base, Part I”

  1. Comment posted by homey1knobe on January 29, 2009 at 8:41 pm (#924371)

    What about Melvin Mora?

    Had we moved him to 2B in 2001 (played only 7 games there in 1999/2000) and not traded him for SS Bordick (on 7/28/2000)…

    Anyways – Great analysis, Alex