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The BBWAA Project: Second base

Here is a little introduction to The BBWAA Project, if you are interested.

And here is the First Base roundup.

The roundup: Ten second basemen have been voted in by the BBWAA, three of them (Rod Carew, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan) on the first ballot. There was an election in 1942, during World War II, that in retrospect seems to have been held for the sole purpose of inducting Rogers Hornsby, who had somehow failed to get in before the war (he had scattered in 127 plate appearances while managing the St. Louis Browns from 1934 to 1937 — perhaps being “active” was what held him back).

A couple of Brilliant Readers asked if I would add the 25th percentile percentages of the career and peak of the BBWAA choices, so I have done that. Because, you know, I will do anything for Brilliant Readers.

Second Base
Median career value: 76.6 WAR (High: Rogers Hornsby, 124.6; Low: Jackie Robinson, 58.7)
25th percentile career value: 65.7 WAR.
Median peak value: 49.4 WAR (High: Hornsby 72.6; Low: Robbie Alomar, 40.9)
25th percentile peak value: 46.1
The BBWA Hall of Famers (as ranked by the fans on EloRater):
No. 6: Rogers Hornsby
No. 11: Eddie Collins
No. 15: Nap Lajoie
No. 27: Charlie Gehringer
No. 40: Rod Carew
No. 44: Joe Morgan
No. 46: Jackie Robinson
No. 53: Frankie Frisch
No. 73: Roberto Alomar
No. 81: Ryne Sandberg

You will notice something about second base (as opposed to, say, first base) … the BBWAA has VERY high standards for second basemen, and there is not a single outlier in the group. While there were two first basemen voted in by the BBWAA who did not rank in the Top 100 on EloRater (and, as you will see, there are some SERIOUS outliers at other positions), every single second baseman in the Hall of Fame ranks as a Top 100 player.

The standards are SO high for second basemen that it has created a bit of a logjam of outstanding second basemen who are not in the Hall of Fame. As you almost certainly know, Lou Whitaker — who has a career 71.4 WAR — did not even get the necessary 5% to stay on the BBWAA ballot. There are numerous terrific second basemen — Whitaker, Bobby Grich and Willie Randolph among them — who not only are not in the Hall of Fame, they never really were seriously considered for the Hall of Fame.
Through the years, the various Veterans Committees — with picks such as Bill Mazeroski (No. 272), Red Schoendienst (No. 243), Johnny Evers (No. 260), Nellie Fox (No. 168) and Tony Lazzeri (No. 176), Bobby Doerr (No. 158), Billy Herman (No. 144) and Joe Gordon (No. 145) — have had a much, much lower standard when it comes to second basemen.

This year’s candidate:

Craig Biggio

Career: 62.1 WAR (minus 14.5 against median)
Peak: 40.6 WAR (minus 8.8 against median)
Ranking: No. 60

I’m a big Craig Biggio fan. I see him as a definite Hall of Famer and voted for him and will continue to vote for him. But it’s simply true: If you rank him only by the historical BBWAA standards — even with his 3,000 hits — Biggio falls quite a bit short of the median and even falls short of the 25% mark.

There is a point to be made here: A big reason the standards are SO high for second basemen is because, more than 75 years ago, there was an astonishing series of great second basemen — Hornsby, Collins, Lajoie, Gehringer, Frisch. If you judge Biggio against those guys, yeah, he’s not going to look very much like a Hall of Famer.

But if you judge him against the last two second basemen to be elected by the BBWAA, he looks a lot better.

Ryne Sandberg: 64.9 career; 45.6 peak.
Robbie Alomar: 62.9 career; 40.9 peak

That’s Biggio’s neighborhood — his career and peak value by WAR are almost exactly the same as Alomar. But even granting that, there’s simply no way around it — Biggio, if elected, would have the second lowest career value among BBWAA second basemen (ahead only of Jackie Robinson, who of course didn’t make it to the Majors until he was 28 and was busy saving the game) and he would have the lowest peak.

It’s pretty inescapable. Yes, he has those 3,000 hits. Yes, he was a great player. Yes, I would say he’s a better than every single second baseman the veterans committee has voted in — much better than most of them.

But if you judge him solely against the ferocious BBWAA standards, he’s a borderline guy at best.

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27 Responses to The BBWAA Project: Second base

  1. Ian says:

    I sometimes forget how good Rod Carew really was.

    • Carew belongs. But, to Biggio’s credit, some of his offense was probably depressed because he was catching at the time (for 2 1/2 years), whereas Carew probably hit a little better (than if he’d been at second) all those years when he played first base.

  2. Aaron Helman says:

    Still loving this whole thing, Joe.

    It sets up a much more intelligent debate.

    Purely statistically, someone could refuse to vote for Biggio, and that would be okay.

    On the other hand, you could use the stats to say he is a hall-of-famer, especially with some of the intangibles that people like – stayed with one team, “leadership”, willing to change positions, nice milestone, etc…

    But if Biggio only puts up 2950 hits while playing for four different teams at the end of his career, we’re likely not even close to having this debate, are we?

  3. Ryan Hoffman says:

    Oh Chase, if only you stayed healthy… I think if he can pull off a miracle and play for another 4 years and get his Career WAR to like 63, and with his peak of 48, he would have a legit case. However, with those knees and hips I’ll doubt it.

    If you merely look at Chase per 150 game season to the likes of Sandberg, he blows him out of the water.

    • C2da says:

      agreed, i will forever blame ed wade and the phillies penny pinching ways of the early 2000s for this. He played 3rd base in the minors for an entire season just to be a pawn in wade’s macho head games with scott rolen.
      utley wasnt made a regular until the tail end of his age 25 season because he was blocked by david bell/polanco/marlon anderson. one of the great tragedies of sports that doesn’t involve death or grievous bodily injury

  4. Josh says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Josh says:

    Joe Gordon would look better on these rankings if not for WWII.

  6. Mark Daniel says:

    Regarding EloRater, I believe that system is highly influenced by WAR, since the easiest thing to make sense of on the voting page is the seasonal WAR (best -> worst) chart. At least I see it that way. Thus EloRater and WAR are not two distinct measurements, in my opinion.

    This would be a problem if you think WAR is not accurate, or if you believe WAR overrates 2nd baseman, which would in turn make 2nd baseman look underrated in the HoF.

  7. I’m enjoying this series (thanks, Joe!), but it seems to me that while the median makes sense when looking at ALL Hall of Fame players, it’s not a good bar for just the BBWAA-elected players, because the worst player it/they voted in is what they’ve established as their bar.

    Perhaps you discount the true outliers, like Tony Perez, but at second base, where there are no such players, the bottom player is the mark to clear.

    • Perhaps, even in the case of second base the lowest WAR player (Robinson) is a special case whose career WAR doesn’t really reflect his importance and is largely due to him entering the majors at 28. So he still may not represent an accurate benchmark.

    • mezzie says:

      I agree with you e2876f60-88c8-11e1-8791-000bcdcb2996 (what were your parents thinking?). We had a brief discussion on this in the 1st-basemen article.

    • Aaron Helman says:

      Right on, Mr. Long Name.

      I think that some voters see Alomar as a special player. Of the five BEST defensive plays at 2B, I think he’s got five of them.

      So his stats are borderline or subpar (like Perez), but there’s something there that makes him “special.”

      This is what it will be with Curt Schilling. Statistically, he’s borderline, but there’s some postseason dominance and a bloody sock that make him “special.”

  8. Martin F. says:

    The main problem with the voters is that they seem to be too lazy to vote based on position. I hear and read all the time about “so-and-so didn’t put up enough offensive numbers” and they are talking about a shortstop/second baseman/catcher and on occasion, a third baseman. Yes, Craig Biggio lacks the offensive numbers of Frank Robinson or an Eddie Murray, but neither of those guys could play second base. As Thomas Boswell says, you have to give extra consideration to guys playing positions that the other guys can’t handle defensively.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yes, it seems as though the key defensive positions should have different standards. It seems that Catcher and SS do have different standards, but not second base for some reason.

  9. Theo says:

    It’s worth noting that Biggio’s worst season was worth -2.3 WAR too. Not that it makes a huge difference.

    I’ve always thought it’s weird how the BBWAA itself has two groups: the third basemen, center fielders, catchers, and second basemen, you more or less NEED to be one of the all-time greats, to the point of near-ridiculousness. Meanwhile, first base, right and left field, and shortstop have players like Jim Rice slip in every now and then with no real explanation.

  10. Biggio’s greatest statstical accomplishment is not that he’s got 3000 hits. It’s that he leads righthanders in Doubles. Also, I don’t have a study, but can we agree the writers give preferential treatment to longterm one-team guys who aren’t named Whitaker?

  11. Gary says:

    If you consider that Biggio’s only HOF-worthy accomplishment is 3,000 hits, then you are overlooking far more significant accomplishments. He ranks fifth all-time in doubles (first among RH hitters), 14th in runs scored and, of course, second all-time in HBP. He ranks 31st all-time in extra base hits, one behind Mike Schmidt, and 64th in stolen bases.

    Plus, he had 20 strong seasons, including his last one at age 41 when he had 130 hits (seventh highest total for a player aged 41). He also was an All-Star catcher who moved to play All-Star Gold Glove level second base.

  12. the follow-up article to this should be “why it doesnt make sense to judge players by the BBWAA’s standards”

  13. Another way to look at it would be to use the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor. James tried to reverse engineer what attributes the various voters considered for the HOF with a score of 100 being “probable Hall of Famer”. This standard is for all HOF players, not just the BBWAA.

    As implemented by, here are the scores of the second basemen elected by the writers:

    Rogers Hornsby 350
    Charlie Gehringer 277
    Nap Lajoie 262
    Eddie Collins 250
    Rod Carew 242
    Roberto Alomar 194
    Joe Morgan 172
    Frankie Frisch 184
    Ryne Sandberg 158
    Jackie Robinson 98

    Again, Robinson is the outlier, for obvious reasons.

    Recent 2nd basemen not yet elected:

    Craig Biggio 169
    Lou Whitaker 92
    Bobby Grich 42
    Willie Randolph 92

    Biggio did the things the writers like and should be elected in the next couple of years.

    No matter how deserving the other three might be, their accomplishments didn’t match what the writers traditionally look for, and it’s not that surprising that the writers ignored them.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Good comment. I watched a lot of Bobby Grich and didn’t see anything special. He was an above avg player with a little pop at a position where that was rare. Whitaker, on the other hand, I thought deserved a lot more of a discussion.

  14. Joe, as your buddy Bill James would probably point out, a big reason that the list is dominated by pre-WWII players is because 2b was regarded as an offense first, defense second position (more like 3b is today).

    Which also will be reflected in your 3b examination tomorrow, I am sure.

    Keep up the great work!

  15. Tony says:

    What fascinates me is the conventional wisdom — even among many BBWAA voters — regarding Biggio and his teammate, Bagwell. What did we read and hear from many commentators following the 2013 HOF shut out: it’s a shame that Biggio didn’t get in; he’s a slam dunk, he shouldn’t be tainted by the PED protest non-vote, yada, yada. And what have I read over and over from those skeptical of Bagwell’s candidacy for non-steroid reasons: his stats are those of a very good player, but not a HOF-er. And yet, as Joe’s Project makes clear, this is completely wrong: Bagwell, by almost any metric beyond the musty 500/.300 benchmarks, was an historically great player who should not only be in Cooperstown, but is much closer to the Pantheon than the vestibule; Biggio, meanwhile, is a borderline candidate whose numbers arguably put him on the wrong side of the fence (I happen to think he should be in.)

    Joe nailed it when he wrote (paraphrasing) that there is a depressingly large segment of people voting for the HOF, who don’t seem to realize just how great Bagwell was. That raises the obvious question: since it’s kinda, sorta their only job as a Hall voter to carefully study and evaluate baseball players, and their worthiness for enshrinement, how is it that so many of them egregiously undervalue Bagwell? (Again, I understand that the steroid whisper campaign — “He knew Ken Caminiti, don’tcha know” — is largely what is keeping Bagwell out, but I’ve read too many “know-nothing” articles by people who should know better, to the effect that Bagwell doesn’t have the statistical chops to qualify, which is not only patently absurd, it is so ignorant that it should disqualify that individual from voting.)

  16. Rich Stowe says:

    The thing with Biggio’s HOF case is that comparing him solely to 2nd baseman doesn’t do him justice or paint the whole picture. He’s one of a few players that were very successful at multiple positions throughout their careers. He comes up short against second baseman for the HOF standards, but when you look at the big picture, he goes from borderline HOFer to a sure HOFer.

  17. Rich Stowe’s worthy comment would have been even worthier if it’d mentioned that Biggio is the only player in baseball history to have made an All-Star team as both a catcher and as a second baseman

  18. Dinky says:

    I think there’s a belief that if the second basemen were really good, they’d be shortstops. Which is silly. Both positions are primarily defensive, but one needs a stronger arm.

  19. David in NYC says:

    Biggio also played several hundred games as an outfielder, in addition to those at 2B and C.

    If you look at the BB-Ref Similarity Scores (which is a version of what Joe is doing, only not restricted by position), 5 of the 6 most comparable players to Biggio are in the HoF and belong there without question (Yount, Morgan, Molitor, Alomar, Ripken) — and the 6th has a decent chance at being the first player elected with 100% of the vote (Jeter).

    As far as I am concerned, Biggio should be a mortal lock, and should have been elected already.

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