The Hall of Fame recognizes a player by where they played the most games, so the Hall officially views Rod Carew as a first baseman, but it only makes sense to also include him at the position where the majority of his peak years were played.
Hall of Fame standards vary by position, but a C-WAR score of 100 is usually the minimum of being Hall worthy. Ideally a player’s peak is 40+ (averaging 5 or more wins a year during their peak) and his career average is 60+. The average C-WAR line for a Hall of Fame second baseman is: 70.1 career average/47.1 peak/117.1 C-WAR.
How to read the chart below:
The player’s name is followed by their career WAR from Baseball-Reference (BR), FanGraphs (FG), and Baseball Prospectus (BP). Those three numbers (or two, BP doesn’t publish historical WAR data prior to 1950) are averaged out (AVG). The AVG is the first half of C-WAR. Next you will find the player’s five best years in a row (BR-5), followed by the player’s three best additional seasons (BR-3), both according to Baseball- Reference’s WAR. Next to that is the total peak value (PK) of the five best years, and three best additional years added together. PK is the second half of C-WAR. Adding AVG+PK=C-WAR. The seasons next to PK are the five best years in a row (5 YEARS), followed by the three best additional years (3 YEARS +). The last number is C-WAR. Players highlighted in gold are members of the Hall of Fame. Players in blue are still active. You can zoom in and out of the chart with the magnifying glass symbols on the right, and download the entire PDF.
Please note that Baseball Prospectus’ WARP system is very unstable and produces frequent changes to a player’s value. The numbers below are up to date as of 11/24/12
Below is the chart for second basemen:
Some notes on the chart:
1 Rogers Hornsby 129.8 AVG/79.3 PK/209.1 C-WAR
C-WAR is a lot of work to prove that Rogers Hornsby was good at baseball, this we already knew. His ridiculous peak of 79.3 (averaging 9.9 wins a year) is topped in baseball history only by Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays. From 1920-1925 Hornsby led the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+ every year. He did this again in 1928. Using Baseball-Reference’s WAR, in 1924 Hornsby had the best single season a second baseman has ever had, at 12 wins, he has seven of the top 10 individual seasons. He is one of only ten position players with a C-WAR over 200, and is the consensus choice as the best player ever to play second base. However, Hornsby played in a segregated league against largely inferior competition. I don’t believe every all-time great player just happened to be born in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Hornsby was dominant, no doubt, and you have to ignore a lot stats to make a claim for a more modern player like Joe Morgan as the best second baseman of all time, however I personally think those claims are valid.
2 Eddie Collins 126.4 AVG/68.7 PK/195.1 C-WAR
Collins was great averaging 8.6 wins a year during his eight year peak. Like Hornsby ahead of him and Lajoie below him his numbers are distorted by playing in a segregated league full of almost exclusively American born white players.
3 Nap Lajoie 105.2 AVG/64.4 PK/169.6 C-WAR
Lajoie also averaged over eight wins a year during his peak (8.1) making him one of three second basemen in history to do so. He led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases in 1901 and 1904. Like the players ahead of him, he is an obvious Hall of famer, however like them, his numbers are distorted and can’t be taken at face value.
4 Joe Morgan 101.0 AVG/63.3 PK/164.3 C-WAR
Joe Morgan is the highest ranking modern player at second, he averaged 7.9 wins a year during his eight year peak. Using Baseball-Reference’s WAR from1969-1978 Morgan was the best player in baseball worth 66.3 wins, nearly ten more than the second best player during that stretch, his teammate Johnny Bench (57.5). Morgan led the national league in on-base percentage every year from 1974-1976. In 1975 Morgan posted a WAR (Baseball-Reference) of 10.5, the 2nd highest number a second baseman has ever posted. He gets my vote as the best second baseman ever to play.
5 Charlie Gehringer 82.4 AVG/54 PK/136.4 C-WAR
Gehringer averaged 6.8 wins a year during his peak. His OPS+ of 124 ranks sixth among Hall of Fame second basemen.
6 Rod Carew 76.4 AVG/52.2 PK/128.6 C-WAR
Carew, while technically recognized as a first baseman by the Hall of Fame, played five of his eight peak years at second. He averaged 6.5 wins a year during his peak, and was a seven time batting champion.
7 Frankie Frisch 73.4 AVG/47.7 PK/121.1 C-WAR
Frisch averaged 6 wins a years during his peak. Using the defensive metrics at FanGraphs, Frisch ranks as the 5th best defensive second basemen ever to play.
8 Bobby Grich 66.0 AVG/48.4 PK/114.4 C-WAR
Bobby Grich is helped by new numbers perhaps as much as any retired player. He ranks in the top 10 of career WAR at second base using both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs calculations. During his peak he averaged 6.1 wins a year, that’s more than Roberto Alomar, future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, and tied with Ryne Sandberg. Grich’s OPS+ of 125 ranks 9th all-time among second basemen with at least 3,000 plate appearances, and his wRC+ of 129 ties him for 7th. Grich is a deserving Hall of Famer, he was a better player than at least eight members enshrined in the Hall at second base. The state of second base in the Hall of Fame is a mess, it’s flooded with segregation era players and the standards for admission are the extremely inconsistent. Inducting Grich would help balance out some of the discrepancies in era and performance.
9 Jackie Robinson 60.7 AVG/53.3 PK/114 C-WAR
Jackie Robinson’s peak of 6.7 wins a year is topped only by Morgan in the post-segregation era, however Robinson was robbed of several peak years as he didn’t play in the majors until he was 28 years old. All of his numbers both traditional and advanced would be significantly better if he had simply been allowed to play before 1947. From 1947-1956 the entire span of Robinson’s major league career, he ranks third in WAR (Baseball-Reference) behind only Stan Musial, and Ted Williams. Robinson is the most important athlete in the history of sports, his participation in major league baseball was an early step forward in the civil rights movement.
10 Ryne Sandberg 62.3 AVG/49.1 PK/111.4 C-WAR
Sandberg averaged 6.1 wins a year during his peak, tied for 5th among post-segregation era second basemen. From 1983-1992 his 54.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference) trailed only Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, and Wade Boggs.
11 Craig Biggio 64.6 AVG/44.7 PK/109.3 C-WAR
Biggio averaged 5.6 wins a year during his eight year peak, and is one of just 28 players to reach the 3,000 hit plateau. 2013 marks the first year Biggio will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. He will eventually get in, deservedly so, but he will likely have to wait at least a few years.
Skipping around a bit:
Lou Whitaker averaged 5.1 wins a year during his peak. Using Baseball-Reference’s WAR (rWAR) From 1980-1989 he was worth 41.6 wins, most in the majors for a second baseman, and 14th overall. Whitaker somehow fell off the ballot his first year on it receiving less than 3% of the vote. Whitaker’s abrupt departure from the ballot is the kind of inconsistent voting that drives people crazy. I understand that Whitaker’s traditional numbers reflect that of a borderline candidate, but people with far less distinguished careers have languished on the ballot for years. Whitaker is a deserving Hall of Famer, especially when you consider how many second basemen in the Hall he’s better than. I wrote this about Grich earlier and I believe the same about Whitaker, including him in the Hall would help balance out some of the discrepancies at second base both in terms of eras represented, and the inconsistent performance standards. It’s important that the Hall of Fame represents each era evenly, or as close to even as possible. Some positions do that better than others, but second base needs a lot help.
Chase Utley 49.7 AVG/50.9 PK/100.6 C-WAR (and counting)
Several interesting notes about Chase Utley. Both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs calculate Utley as a 53 win player over his career, Baseball Prospectus has him at 42. That’s a 20% difference in value. It’s that kind of thing that made me start charting WAR in the first place. Second, the only post-segregation era second basemen with a higher WAR than Utley over their five best years in a row are Joe Morgan and Jackie Robinson. Utley’s eight year peak ranks 8th among second basemen, trailing only Morgan, Robinson, and Carew from the post-segregation era. While Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard were winning MVP awards during Utley’s stretch of dominance, it was Utley who was the Phillies best player. From 2005-2010 Utley ranked second in baseball with a WAR of 44.2 (Baseball-Reference), the only player he trailed was Albert Pujols at 50.4. His OPS+ of 126 ranks 7th among second basemen with at least 3,000 plate appearances. His wRC+ of 129 ties him for 7th with Grich, and his wOBA of .378 ranks 12th. Chase Utley is already a deserving Hall of Famer. His counting stats fall far short and likely will as his bad knees will continue to limit production and playing time over the remainder of his career. Enshrinement to the Hall of Fame is about finding the delicate balance of peak and career value. Utley’s peak is without question worthy, hopefully he can stay healthy long enough over the next few years to accumulate those extra hits and RBI the BBWAA will need to vote him in when he retires. The inclusion of Utley into the Hall of Fame, along with Biggio, Grich, and Whitaker would due wonders to balance out the uneven admission standards at the position, and better represent players from all eras of the game.
Jeff Kent averaged 4.7 wins a year during his peak, a number slightly below the 5 win line you want to see from most Hall of Famers. However Kent is 1st among second basemen with 377 career home runs, and his .855 OPS ranks 5th. Kent was a late bloomer, his five year peak from 1998-2002 happened between his age 30-34 seasons. As noted throughout this piece, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, second base is a mess. Kent falls slightly below the Hall of Standards and is a borderline candidate. Kent falls into the area of subjectivity, if you think Kent is a deserving Hall of Famer, you’re not really wrong, if you think he isn’t you’re not really right either. Even though modern second basemen are woefully underrepresented in the Hall, I would not vote Kent in. If Kent were to represent the best second baseman not in the Hall of Fame, second base would be in much better shape than it is right now.
Willie Randolph had a very good career, averaging 4.9 wins a year during his peak. Offensively he falls well short, however FanGraphs ranks him as one of the top 10 defensive second basemen ever to play. Randolph might be better than some of the bottom tier second basemen already in the Hall, however I personally don’t think Randolph is deserving of enshrinement. Second base needs a lot of help, but it should come from Biggio, Grich, Whitaker, and Utley.
Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia are both off to Hall of Fame starts to their careers, if they maintain their current paces they will certainly see enshrinement when the retire, however each has a long way to go.
Since Baseball Prospectus does not publish WAR data for players before 1950, this does create a bit of unfair advantage for those players. This is because of the three sites, Baseball Prospectus tends to have the lowest WAR values for a player (especially with pitchers), so it puts modern players (1950-present) at an unfair disadvantage. So to adjust for this, below is the second basemen chart excluding Baseball Prospectus’ WAR altogether.
This list produced only modest changes.
Since I calculated peak using only rWAR, below is the chart using just Baseball Reference’s WAR. Another words this is a player’s career WAR plus his eight year peak using on Baseball-Reference. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus are not factored in to the chart below at all.
Again, only modest changes from list-to-list here, but all three are valuable to look at.
One other note, because C-WAR focuses only on WAR, it makes it impossible for me to include Negro League players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Nothing distorted stats like the exclusion of black players for over fifty years. While I can’t include him in C-WAR, I do want to mention Frank Grant, who was elected to the Hall of Fame as a second baseman. Who knows how great he could have been, or how different the record book would look if he was simply allowed to have played in the majors.
Many thanks to the incredibly smart people who work at Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. Without their tireless efforts to improve and maintain their sites and information none of this research would be possible.
Any questions or comments about the Hall, or a player listed or not listed above, send them to email@example.com or find me on Twitter @Rosscarey
Originally posted 7/13/12