Second Base:Writing about ineptitude is always one of the more fun parts of my job, and this one was no exception. Anyway, earlier in the week I wrote a piece arising from a question in last week's chat, is an attempt to answer the question — an important one popularized via Bill James' Keltner Test — of who the best player at each position is outside the Hall of Fame, using JAWS. Five of the 10 position leaders (and two runners-up) are on the current Hall of Fame ballot, and part of the JAWS ticket which went 0-for-7 on Hall of Fame election day. The rest aren't so obvious. Who would have thought I had a good excuse to write about George "Piano Legs" Gore or dust off an old comparison of Bobby Bonds to Reggie Jackson?
Emmanuel Burriss (.211 EqA, -1.1 WARP), Freddy Sanchez (.221 EqA, 0.3 WARP), Giants
The Giants finished last in the majors in EqA, and at no position did they get worse production than at second base, where five players made at least 16 starts and hit a combined .236/.281/.329; remove Juan Uribe (.274/.331/.538 in 35 games at second, less than he saw at third or short) and those numbers become .227/.269/.280. Burriss more or less held the job from Opening Day to mid-June before being sent to the minors and subsequently hurting his foot. The team then spent the next six weeks briefly trying on Matt Downs (.187 EqA, -0.1 WARP), Kevin Frandsen (.086 EqA, -0.5 WARP) and Uribe for size before trading for Sanchez, who strained his shoulder two weeks after arriving and then tore his meniscus upon returning from that injury. All told, the team finished four games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, a gap that could have easily been narrowed with a competent solution at the keystone.
Remedy (?): The Giants didn't even wait until the World Series was done to re-sign the 32-year-old Sanchez to a two-year, $12 million deal, this despite the fact that the signing has limited them to some fairly cut-rate solutions elsewhere which cast Mark DeRosa as a corner outfielder, Aubrey Huff as a first baseman, and Night Train as the house's top red wine option. Yeah, good luck with all of that.
Randy Winn (.248 EqA, 2.2 WARP), Nate Schierholtz (.249 EqA, 0.4 WARP), Giants
In the final year of a three-year, $23.5 million deal, Winn hit a godawful .262/.318/.353, a performance driven — through a guardrail overlooking a cliff — by a .158/.184/.200 showing in 125 PA against southpaws, the single worst righty-on-lefty performance of the Retrosheet Era (1954 onward). With Bruce Bochy dissatisfied with left fielder Fred Lewis' production (his .348 OBP, second on the team, clashed with the sub-.300 zeitgeist the manager was trying to instill), Winn also saw significant time in left so as to allow Nate Schierholtz (.267/.302/.400) to wave a wet noodle at NL pitchers. If not for Winn's above-average defensive contributions (+15 FRAA) things would have been even worse, but as it was, this debacle and the one at second base were enough to dash the Giants' Wild Card hopes.
Remedy (?): With Winn gone and the team saving its pennies in fear of a big arbitration award for Tim Lincecum, the Giants appear to be vying for an entry on There I Fixed It by letting Schierholtz and John Bowker battle for the right to eat up more outs than necessary.
Center FieldThe leader at first base, Mark McGwire, had an eventful week, admitting during a Monday media blitz that he used steroids during his career. This was not exactly news; ever since an AP reporter named Steve Wilstein found a bottle of then-legal androstenedione in his locker, we've had plenty of clues that Big Mac was on the juice. He was named in Jose Canseco's book, involved in an FBI investigation into steroids trafficking called "Operation Equine," and last seen in public tearfully tiptoeing around his right not to self-incriminate during the 2005 dog-and-pony show in front of Congress.
JAWS Standard: 68.3/44.0/56.1
Best eligible player: George Gore (62.5/44.6/53.6)
Who? "Piano Legs" Gore was a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing character with massive calves. He played center field for Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings from 1879 through 1886, a span during which he was a key part of five pennant winners; he went on to play for two more pennant-winning Giants clubs. He led the league in walks three times during an era where one needed six to nine balls for a free pass, and was consistently among the league's OBP leaders, hence his strong WARP totals, though they still leave him shy of the JAWS standard in center field. I don't know if the Veterans Committee ever seriously took up his case, but Lord knows there are far less accomplished VC-anointed outfielders in the Hall of Fame; his JAWS numbers crush those of Hugh Duffy, Max Carey, Earl Averill, Hack Wilson, Edd Roush, Earle Combs, and Lloyd Waner, all VC selections.
Runner up: Jimmy Wynn (57.1/47.6/52.4)
The Toy Cannon spent the first 11 years of his career playing in the Astrodome, a godforsaken hitting environment if there ever was one. Properly adjusted for context, he was a helluva hitter, topping a .300 EqA six times during that span, with a high of .348 in 1969. He had two more outstanding years with the Dodgers in 1974 and 1975 before injuries washed him out of the majors at age 35. In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James ranks Wynn 10th all-time among center fielders, and likens him to former teammate Joe Morgan, another small, strong, speedy guy with outstanding control of the strike zone and good defense.
JAWS Standard: 75.7/46.6/61.2
Best eligible player: Dwight Evans (59.5/37.7/48.6)
Evans spent parts of 19 seasons in the Red Sox outfield (1972-1990), during the prime of which he was overshadowed by Jim Rice and Fred Lynn. He wasn't entirely overlooked, however, cracking the AL top five in the MVP voting twice (1984 and 1987) and winning eight Gold Gloves in a 10-year span (1976-1985). Like many other players here, he was undervalued in his day because a large part of his offensive contribution came via walks; he topped 100 three times and ranked in the league's top three six times in a nine-year span. He lasted just three years on the BBWAA ballot, though, and his numbers, which were once above the JAWS standard, now come up short. They're still ahead of Rice's (34.2/28.5/31.4) by more than one win per year at their peaks.
Runner up: Bobby Bonds (55.2/41.8/48.5)
Barry's father was a pretty fair player in his day, best known for reaching the 30/30 club (homers and stolen bases) five times, an all-time record shared by father and son. A natural center fielder who got stuck in right field by the Giants because he had the misfortune of arriving when Willie Mays was still a going concern, Bonds seemed to spend much of his career under a cloud of bad luck. He and Reggie Jackson were almost exactly the same age and debuted one year apart. Both had power, considerable speed and a ton of strikeouts, and the two players finished with similar career rate stats (.268/.353/.471/.296 EqA for Bonds to .262/.356/.490/.300 for Jackson), Yet one was a superduperstar who won an MVP award and five World Series rings, and stuck around into his 40s. The other never finished higher than third in an MVP vote, played just three postseason games, left the majors at 35, and died young.
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