Wednesday, March 9, 2011

WAR Graphs: All time two baggers

MLB Network has a series I enjoy called Prime 9 where they (drum roll please) countdown the nine best teams, position players or in this case, the greatest infields of all time. #1 on the list was the 1914 Philadelphia Athletics "$100,000 infield" led by Eddie Collins at second, Jack Barry at short, Frank Baker at third and Stuffy McInnis at first.

Hearing baseball historians singing the praises of Eddie Collins, I was curious to take a look at his Baseball-Reference page and was awed by consistently high averages, gaudy steals totals (81 in 1910) and a plate discipline that will forever be unmatched in professional baseball. At the tail end of his career in 1925 for the White Sox, 38-year-old Eddie Collins walked 87 times in 533 plate appearances, striking out on 8 separate occasions throughout the year. I don't know if the official scorekeeper was dozing off during Eddie's at bats, but if that total is accurate then Eddie Collins officially had the greatest plate discipline in baseball history.

As far as top second baseman in baseball history, the default answer has always been Joe Morgan. It's said as if it were a fact and not an opinion. This is where the graph comes in. Randomly taking a top 10 two baggers of all time list from Bleacher Report, here are the top three second baseman they ranked: 3. Ryne Sandberg, 2. Rogers Hornsby, 1. Joe Morgan and number 5. Eddie Collins:

Hornsby's value was tied to his incredible offensive output: three seasons over .400, two count-em TWO triple crown awards (amazingly did not win MVP after winning the triple crown in 1922) and also won the second of his two MVP awards in his first season as a Chicago Cub in 1929. That year Hornsby went .380/.459/.679/1.139 as a 33-year-old.

The other Cub on the list, Sandberg, really should not be considered in the top 3 second basemen of all time. Sandberg was a dominant player and one of the game's greatest offensive second basemen, but its clear he does not belong in this discussion.

What also seems clear is that Joe Morgan is not the #1 all time 2B. In fact, he's not even in the photo finish. Morgan is often given the title due to his blend of high octane offense and highlight reel defense. Morgan's .271 lifetime average is less than impressive, but his .398 on-base percentage more than makes up for it. While he was lightning on the bases, Morgan never had a single season total as high as Collins, and his total of 689 steals trails Collins at 741. Simply looking at OPS+, Collins finished his career at 142, Morgan at 132 (Hornsby at 175). While one would think Morgan's defense settles the question, all indications are that Collins was an excellent fielder.

Light hitting on-base machine Eddie Collins and the offensive juggernaut that was Rogers Hornsby were vastly different players but were equally lethal opponents. Baseball has seen 80 years worth of second basemen since these two legends, and not one of them has amassed a career on the same level.

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