5 Best Second Basemen All-Time

Third in my series of all-time rankings is the list of second basemen. Unexpectedly, we have a heavy historic tilt to this, with three players playing before the live-ball era:

1. Rogers Hornsby

STL 1915-1926  NYG 27  BSN 28  CHC 30-33  SLB  33-37

162-game average during prime:

.402/.474/.690  34HR  140RBI  83BB  47K

Rogers Hornsby has frightening numbers. When looking at his stat page, your eyes are bombarded with bolded, italicized, or red numbers (however “league-leading” is denoted). For six consecutive seasons, he paced the Senior Circuit in AVG, OBP, SLG. Only Babe Ruth has had more consecutive seasons leading the league in one of those categories (he led in slugging for 7 straight years), so it is unimaginable to dominate in all 3 of them for that long. He also has the highest single-season WAR of the live ball era of anyone not named Babe Ruth. He is in a class of maybe 5 other position players, and certainly none of them played second base. On top of everything, he contributed one of the better stories in history: he punched an umpire in the face because his words “weren’t getting him anywhere.”

2. Nap Lajoie

PHI 1896-1902  CLE 02-14  PHA 15-16

162-game average during prime:

.374/.409/.558  12HR  133RBI  29BB  33SB

Nap Lajoie played in a time with little offense and played a position usually lacking in offense. Yet, some of his numbers stack up favorably to anybody, no caveats required. His .338 AVG is top 20 all-time, he is 13th all-time on the hits leaderboard, and most impressively he is 7th on the doubles list. When compared to just his positional peers, he stands out even more. His average is second (to Hornsby), his doubles are second (to Hornsby), even his slugging percentage, which is severely era-sensitive is 8th. His OPS+ (OPS above league average) is second at the position (to Hornsby). His numbers are skewed because of his timeframe and his position, but as this paragraph suggests, he is the second-best player at his position (to Hornsby).

3. Joe Morgan

HOU 1963-1971  CIN 72-79  HOU 80  SFG 81-82  PHI 83  OAK 84

162-game average during prime:

.303/.431/.508  25HR  94RBI  129BB  61K  66/13  SB/CS

Joe Morgan has great statistics, but it is almost unfair for any player to follow Hornsby and Lajoie. Morgan has a pedestrian career average, but his .392 career OBP is fine, 8th highest all-time at the position. His 689 stolen bases is second at the position, and his 1865 walks is almost 400 walks higher than the next best. He led the league in OBP 4 times , walking 110+ times in 6 consecutive seasons. This coupled with his 84% stolen base rate made for a great leadoff hitter. Certainly, Joe Morgan would not be among the top 5 hitters at many positions, but remember, this is second base. Sluggers don’t come every day.

4. Eddie Collins

PHA 1906-1914  CHW 15-26  PHA 27-30

162-game average during prime:

.347/.451/.451  3HR  82RBI  102BB  21K  57/18 SB/CS

Eddie Collins had a remarkably consistent career, with 5 years in his mid-twenties nearly identical to a 5 year period in his mid-thirties. He was a fine hitter with a great eye and a good stolen base percentage. These made him a player in the same mold as Joe Morgan. His career OPS+ is 3rd at the position, behind Hornsby and Lajoie above. His average is 3rd, and his OBP is 2nd. His 5 World Series rings should be viewed as an accomplishment, too, because he did this despite, as player-manager, forbidding Jews and Catholics from donning his team’s uniform as well as the league-wide ban of African-Americans. It’s quite impressive to win while tying one arm behind his back. It should also be noted that he was on the 1919 “Black Sox” team, but was not considered part of the conspiracy, hitting a robust .226 with one lone extra-base hit.

5. Jeff Kent

TOR 1992  NYM 92-96  CLE 96  SFG 97-02  HOU 03-04  LAD 05-08

162-game average during prime:

.307/.378/.548  32HR  124RBI  69BB  115K

Jeff Kent was one of the few true sluggers at the position. He mashed more homers than any other second basemen, and he wasn’t one-dimensional in the batter’s box, either. He hit .334 once, doubled 49 times once, and crossed the 100 RBI threshold 8 times in a 9 year span. Many will try to point out that Kent was merely a product of his time because balls were flying out of parks left and right. However, his 123 OPS+ is 11th at the position, and a mere 10 points from 4th. Yes, he dominated the league, even though the league’s offense was inflated as a whole.

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