Second Basemen: The Next Tier

When the book was published, I broke down players into groups within the Hall of Fame. Of course, that was back when we included the players from the Veteran’s Committee. We haven’t had to do that this time, but occasionally we see pretty clear divisions amongst the BBWAA selections. Second base is one of those instances. We’ve already taken a look at the top four guys at the position and we have four more who were very close.

The index usually reveals this, but we have Jackie Robinson as a part of our list this time around. He did not make his debut until he was 28, so he obviously did not put up the kind of career numbers as the other three guys. We will look at the offensive numbers and fielding numbers as well to see how similar these players were.

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Charlie Gehringer 80.7 78.6 76.6 235.9
Rod Carew 81.3 72.3 76.8 230.4
Frankie Frisch 70.4 74.8 73.2 218.4
Jackie Robinson 61.4 57.2 51.4 170.0

Let’s assume that Robinson had four additional seasons. If we take his first four seasons in the big leagues and simply repeat them then we get some idea of how valuable he would have been over the course of a full career. So, if we look at the numbers we can go ahead and add them in.

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Adjusted 25.6 24.7 22.2 72.5
New Total 87.0 81.9 73.6 242.5

Of course, this is our best guess. There are any number of factors that could effect where Robinson would have ended up. Even if we assume he would have had four full seasons more on the front end, that doesn’t mean he would have finished at the same time. You also have the adjustment period at the beginning of every career. Seasons five through eight may have been even better. These push and pull factors make it impossible to guess accurately, but the above score is a pretty good estimate.

So, from here on out, we can see that all four of these players are fairly close in terms of overall career value. How they produced that value was somewhat different. That’s always part of the fun of these sorts of studies. As you might imagine, their peak values are far different and obviously put their careers in different lights.

Peak Value

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Charlie Gehringer 62.2 60.9 55.6 178.8
Jackie Robinson 61.4 57.2 51.4 170.0
Frankie Frisch 55.8 59.1 50.6 165.5
Rod Carew 59.3 52.3 50.0 161.6

You’ll notice that these players flipped positions. That obviously means the combined scores will end up being closer than the career values appeared. Gehringer is clearly the standard bearer of this group when we take Robinson’s career at face value. However, we see that the rest of the list is inverted. Before we consider the total index, we should probably take a look at the award voting to see how these players were perceived during their career.

  MVP Top 5 Top 10 Top 25
Charlie Gehringer 1 2 4 3
Rod Carew 1 2 3 2
Frankie Frisch 1 2 1 5
Jackie Robinson 1 1 2 4

So, these players are still rather similar when we compare their finishes in the awards voting. Robinson finished in the top 16 in the awards voting in eight out of his ten seasons. That includes his last season when he played in only 117 games. Frisch finished in the top 25 nine times, Carew eight times, and Gehringer ten times. That’s a pretty tight grouping, so we don’t learn much in terms of finding separation. We will have to look at the offensive and fielding numbers for that. First, let’s combine the career and peak value.

Hall of Fame Index 

  Career Peak Total
Charlie Gehringer 235.9 178.7 414.6
Rod Carew 230.4 161.6 392.0
Frankie Frisch 218.4 165.5 383.9
Jackie Robinson 170.0 170.0 340.0

So, we have three players that are relatively close and we have Robinson who is obviously in a different category. However, when we look at the offensive and fielding numbers we see he really does belong in this group. Even if we set the index at 350 we would still take all of them in the Hall of Fame, but it is still fun to break them down according to their numbers.

Offensive Production 

  OPS+ RBaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Gehringer 124 9 .665 124 .405
Carew 131 26 .670 132 .369
Frisch 110 29 .603 112 .370
Robinson 132 30 .687 135 .406

So, when we dial away the index and look at it’s components we find that Robinson has a very definite claim as the best performer of the bunch. He was the best hitter and the best base runner of the bunch. It should be no surprise that he had the best wRC+ and offensive winning percentage of the bunch. Even more impressive, he had the best wOBA even though he did not play in as good a hitting era as Gehringer and Frisch.

Carew played in a more depressed offensive time and he was not as dynamic offensively as the others (save for Frisch). Many that saw him play later in his career remember the brilliant singles hitter that couldn’t do much else. Early in his career he was a brilliant base runner as well. Robinson and Frisch were good runners as well. Even Gehringer was good comparatively. It’s a group without any major weaknesses.

Scouts and fans are mesmerized by the five tools and assume that every tool is created equal. So, they compare the base running totals along with the power and on base numbers as if they are equal. That goes for fielding as well. Frisch is a cut below offensively, but always had a stellar defensive reputation. Let’s see if it is warranted.

Fielding Numbers 

  TZ DWS DWS/1000 DWAR
Gehringer 34 86.8 4.49 10.7
Carew 16 39.3 4.19 -1.7
Frisch 140 83.9 5.42 21.6
Robinson 81 37.7 5.94 10.1

Let’s start with win shares. We had to add the per 1000 innings category because most of these players played other positions for a good portion of their careers. The defensive win shares represent their numbers only at second base. So, Carew and Robinson look worse than they really are. When we switch over to the per 1000 innings category we see that Robinson is actually the best defender.

Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t interval in nature. In other words, they really don’t build on each other. We use them to get a general sense of how each player compares with each other. With the exception of win shares per 1000 innings, Frisch appears to be the best fielder of the bunch. That particularly comes into focus when looking at total zone runs (and baseball-reference’s Rfield) and defensive WAR.

If you are looking at defensive WAR for the first time you should know some of the peculiarities in how it is compiled. Players are compared in one universe of value, so middle infielders are more important than corner infielders. This is important because Robinson and Carew spent time at third base and first base in their careers. Carew comes out negative because most first basemen come out negative. Frisch shifted over to shortstop on occasion, so he wins on degree of difficulty.

Frisch obviously has to be considered the standard amongst these four and might look that way when compared to the elite group as well. However, how would he look when compared to the guys with stellar defensive reputations that are in the Hall of Fame. So, we include Bid McPhee, Nap Lajoie, and Bill Mazeroski into the conversation.

  TZ DWAR DWS DWS/1000
Bid McPhee 154 16.2 98.7 5.25
Nap Lajoie 83 10.1 85.7 4.69
Frankie Frisch 140 21.6 83.9 5.42
Bill Mazeroski 147 24.0 112.2 6.13

This is one of the few times where reputation and evidence meets. Mazeroski has the reputation as the best fielding second baseman in history and the numbers seem to reveal the same thing. Of course, the others played other positions which affected the numbers up or down. The total defensive win shares were those only compiled at second base. So, they likely would have finished closer, but the win shares per 1000 innings indicate that Maz is the king with the glove.

As we saw in the book though, Hall of Famers have to be great players overall. Maz’s entire value came with the glove. Frisch was very valuable defensively and at least brought some value with the bat. When you add his fielding and hitting he becomes as valuable as Gehringer, Carew, and Robinson.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for thefantatasyfix.com. You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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