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.
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:
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.