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WAR Lords of the Diamond (Second Base)

After looking through the slim pickings at catcher and the short list at first base in previous sessions, I will examine a position where the Rockies have run out a lot of players (13 different men have started the most games at second in a season for Colorado) in their short history: second base.

Second base, according to Tom Tango's positional adjustment scale, is given a +2.5 runs adjustment due to the fact that it requires a better fielder than, say, first base or right field. As a result, second base (along with catcher and shortstop) is often a lineup slot that provides less offense in exchange for greater defense.

Due to its relatively higher defensive requirement, second base is usually filled out by a player that lacks the arm or range of a shortstop (though many do have excellent range) but doesn't carry a big enough bat for a corner infield or outfield position. Great defensive second basemen possess quick hands and feet because the ability to get rid of the ball quickly in order to make the pivot on a double play is crucial.

Many of the second basemen the Rockies have had over the years were considered at best journeymen and the majority of which relied on their defensive prowess. There are a decent amount of players who played at over replacement level for Colorado--and some of the names at the top will surprise you.

Once again I used Sean Smith's historical WAR database to accumulate this data and a glossary of the factors Smith uses to get his data. Here's my article on how WAR is calculated. My methodology is explained in both the catching and first base articles.

After the jump, I'll reveal the top second-sackers in franchise history...

Second Basemen

Note that for the purposes of this study I have, at my discretion, classified players that have played several games at second for the Rockies at other positions (Jeff Baker at 1st, Clint Barmes at SS, Ian Stewart at 3rd). Those that remain are listed below:

1a. Eric Young

Career WAR: 9.5 (1st)
Top Three Seasons: 7.3, 1995-1997 (1st)
Top Season: 3.8, 1996 (3rd)
Average Rank: 1.67

While there may be a tie for first place on the top of this list, there is no tie for most Rockies fans when they think of their favorite second baseman: it's got to be EY. Indeed, Young's higher career and 3-year WAR rankings were enough to put him on top of this list. Here is theoldgrizzlybear's Rockies Retro profile of EY.

Acquired with the 11th pick in the 1992 expansion draft from the Dodgers, Young didn't take long to endear himself to the Rockies faithful, famously homering to leadoff Colorado's first ever home game in 1993. EY a regular fixture at leadoff for the Rockies from 1993-1997, playing both 2nd (413 games) and in the OF (131 games). Young had a career year in 1996, in which he led the league in steals (53), won the Silver Slugger at 2nd base, and went to the All-Star game while putting up a line of .324/.393/.421.

EY provided value for the Rockies even in his departure from Colorado, garnering Pedro Astacio in a midseason trade with the Dodgers. All in all, Young was the best overall second baseman in Rockies history.

1b. Jamey Carroll

Career WAR: 5.1 (T-2nd)
Top Three Seasons: 5.1, 2006-2007 (T-2nd)
Top Season: 4.3, 2006 (1st)
Average Rank: 1.67

Jamey Carroll is not a player that a lot of Rockies fans would associate with the likes of EY. After all, Carroll is exactly the type of glove-man that often populates second base (and the bench) around MLB--good fielder with nice range and a relatively weak arm, slightly below average hitter.

However, his career year in 2006 has at least brought the utilityman into the conversation. In 2006 Carroll enjoyed the perfect storm: hitting that was slightly above league average (.339 wOBA) and fantastic fielding (14.5 FRAA) while getting the most PAs he'd ever been given, racking up 4.3 WAR--the best single season ever by a Rockies second baseman.

Actually, Carroll has been comfortably above replacement level his entire career, and his last three years in MLB have been his best stretch yet. Not bad for a 1996 14th round pick whose contract the Rockies purchased for $300,000 in 2006.

3. Kazuo Matsui

Career WAR: 5.1 (T-2nd)
Top Three Seasons: 5.1, 2006-2007 (T-2nd)
Top Season: 4.1, 2007 (2nd)
Average Rank: 2

Kaz Matsui, like Carroll is a two season wonder for the Rockies at second--the odd thing is that both players were with Colorado for the same two seasons (2006-2007). What may be even odder is that Matsui's career year wasn't nearly the equal of Carroll's and yet he made $3.35 million more than Carroll did in 2008.

It just goes to show you that a) team success, timing, and reputation matters and that b) speed is still prized more highly (and inefficiently) than is OBP. But that's a different article altogether.

Matsui's great (4.1 WAR) 2007, like Carroll's 2006, was driven more by his fielding value (13.5 FRAA) than hitting (.341 wOBA), but his 32 steals were what placed him above Carroll (10) in the minds--that and the excellent timing of his career year as well as the enormous expectations set for him when he arrived in America in 2004 for the NY Mets. Those outsized expectations--and his epic failure to live up to them in New York--were why KazMat was available to the Rockies on the cheap--via trade for Eli Marrero in 2006.

Matsui's resurgence in Colorado, subsequent free agency payday in Houston, and reversion to his old New York ways shows that the Rockies bought low and sold high in a textbook manner on Matsui. It's another feather in the cap for Dan O'Dowd to be sure.

4. Terry Shumpert

Career WAR: 2.4 (4th)
Top Three Seasons: 3.3, 1999-2001 (4th)
Top Season: 2.2, 1999 (4th)
Average Rank: 4

Terry Shumpert the fourth best second baseman in franchise history? Really? Yep, and he was actually fairly decent for Colorado. Admittedly, I don't have much of a solid recollection of Shumpert in a Rockies uniform, as he was a career backup superutilityman (he played eight positions for the Rockies, including a game as a DH--all but C and P) from 1998 to 2002 (ages 31-35). However, he did start 113 games at 2nd (playing 184 games there overall--4th among all Rockies) so that's where he's being classified.

Unlike Carroll and Matsui's career years, Shumpert's primary asset in his career-best 2.2 WAR 1999 was his bat. In 304 PA, Shumpert had a line of .347/.413/.584 (that's a .997 OPS) with a .347 wOBA. To be sure, Shumpert took full advantage of the pre-humidor Coors Field (.407/.475/.693--1.168 OPS--home, .268/.325/.438 road), but those home numbers are flat out ridiculous! If Purple Row had existed in 1999, we'd be comparing the awesomeness of Terry Shumpert to that of Chuck Norris.

In any case, Shumpert was very valuable in a bench role for the Rockies from 1999-2001 (and he came at a very reasonable price, making only $2.5 million over 5 seasons), taking full advantage of the Coors effect. The more I examine Shumpert's career the more I am fascinated by it.

5. Todd Walker

Career WAR: 1.9 (5th)
Top Three Seasons: 1.9, 2000-2002 (5th)
Top Season: 1.0, 2001 (5th)
Average Rank: 5

With a name that combines the two greatest Rockies of all time (Todd Helton and Larry Walker), you'd think that Todd Walker would be some kind of super-mutant with a laser rocket arm, power, rugged good looks, and dual citizenship. Alas, Todd Walker had none of these things.

However, Walker did provide two useful half seasons at second base for the Rockies in 2000-2001 after coming from the Twins in a trade for Todd Sears (Who? Exactly). Midway through 2001, the Rockies flipped him (and Robin Jennings) to the Reds for outfielder Alex Ochoa (a player who was traded seven times), who was part of a deal that landed Todd Zeile.

In both of his years with the Rockies, Walker provided above-average hitting (particularly OBP) and average fielding.

Best of the Rest

Here are players ranked 6-10 among Rockies second basemen:

Player Career WAR Rank 3 Yr WAR Rank 1 Yr WAR Rank Average
Jeff Frye 0.7 6 0.7 6 0.7 7 6.33
Nelson Liriano 0.5 7 0.5 7 0.6 T-8 7.33
Jose Ortiz 0.4 8 0.4 8 0.6 T-8 8
Mark Bellhorn 0.3 9 0.3 9 0.3 10 9.33
Aaron Miles 0.2 10 0.2 10 0.1 T-12 10.67

Other notes:

  • Luis A. Gonzalez was once an above replacement player (0.8 in 2005).
  • Mike Lansing was bad, generating -0.7 career WAR. Despite this, he started the second most games at second base in franchise history (276), from 1998-2000 (over Terry Shumpert).
  • Despite my fond memories of him (I still have his autograph), Jason Bates was horrible (-2.6 WAR from 1995-1998), placing dead last in all metrics.

Next week, I'm taking a week off from the WAR Lords series (which will return with third base in two weeks) and bringing you revised options and service time charts for the Rockies.