Ranking the 9 Greatest Second Basemen in MLB History
Over the course of a 19-year career spent elusively with the Detroit Tigers, Lou Whitaker won the American League Rookie of the Year, four Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Glove Awards and was a five-time American League All-Star.
Though Whitaker's WAR7 - the accumulation of the seven highest single-season WAR totals in your career - falls short of the average Hall of Fame second baseman, he's on par in terms of bWAR and JAWS. Whether you believe Whitaker deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not, it's pretty unfathomable that he didn't receive the 5% necessary to stay on the ballot after 2001, his first year of eligibility.
Whitaker, like six-time All-Star Bobby Grich, was worthy of a longer look for the Hall of Fame, but fell short of cracking this list. They shouldn't feel too badly, though - Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Craig Biggio, Frankie Frisch, Roberto Alomar and Joe Gordon all just missed out too.
With an extremely crowded field to pick from, here are Audacy Sports' nine greatest second basemen ever:
9. Chase Utley - Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers (2003-2018)
Best Season: 2008 - .292/.380/.535 with 33 home runs, 104 RBIs, 64 walks, a .915 OPS, 6.0 offensive WAR, 3.5 defensive WAR and an 8.2 fWAR
Career Summary: .275/.358/.465 with 259 home runs, 1,025 RBIs, 1,885 hits, 724 walks, .823 OPS, 117 OPS+, 51.3 offensive WAR, 17.1 defensive WAR and 62.9 fWAR
Being blocked by Placido Polanco early in his career and knee injuries at the back-half of his prime kept Utley from accumulating the type of counting statistics to make him a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. However, his peak numbers are better than a few players ahead of him on the list. Since 2000, FanGraphs says that Utley has the seventh-highest fWAR among all position players in baseball. At his peak, Utley was an elite fielder as well, as he graded as the fifth-most valuable defender at any position between 2005 and 2012. Some will debate whether Utley not having reached 2,000 career hits is enough to keep him out of Cooperstown, but there's no debate about whether he was a Hall of Fame-caliber player at his peak.
8. Robinson Cano - New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners & New York Mets (2005-Present)
Best Season: 2012 - .313/.379/.550 with 33 home runs, 94 RBIs, 61 walks, .929 OPS, 7.0 offensive WAR, 1.9 defensive WAR and 7.3 fWAR
Career Summary: .303/.352/.492 with 334 home runs, 1,302 RBIs, 2,624 hits, 610 walks, .844 OPS, 126 OPS+, 68.8 offensive WAR, 7.4 defensive WAR and 58.7 fWAR (Stats current as of December 2021)
The author of one of the sweetest swings in MLB history, Cano, currently playing for the New York Mets, has a Hall of Fame-caliber resume. Multiple performance-enhancing drug suspensions may keep Cano from entering Cooperstown after his career concludes, but from a statistical sense, his accomplishments have been tremendous. Since Cano entered the league in 2005, the only five position players with a higher fWAR in all of baseball are Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, the aforementioned Utley and Joey Votto. His 10-year contract runs through the 2023 season, so Cano still has at least a couple seasons to add onto his counting numbers before his career concludes.
7. Jackie Robinson - Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-1956)
Best Season: 1949 - .342/.432/.528 with 16 home runs, 124 RBIs, 86 walks, .960 OPS, 8.3 offensive WAR, 1.8 defensive WAR and 9.6 fWAR
Career Summary: .313/.410/.477 with 141 home runs, 761 RBIs, 1,563 hits, 756 walks, .887 OPS, 133 OPS+, 56.6 offensive WAR, 10.3 defensive WAR and 57.2 fWAR
Robinson is an American icon because he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, but he has a Hall of Fame resume on the field as well. A five-tool player, Robinson hit .313 and stole 200 bases while displaying tremendous defensive flexibility in the infield. His peak numbers are incredible, and his counting numbers are pretty amazing when you consider he was 28 during his first Major League season.
6. Rod Carew - Minnesota Twins, California Angels (1967-1985)
Best Season: 1977 - .388/.449/.570 with 14 home runs, 100 RBIs, 69 walks, 1.019 OPS, 8.9 offensive WAR, 0.1 defensive WAR and 8.6 fWAR
Career Summary: .328/.393/.429 with 92 home runs, 1,015 RBIs, 3,053 hits, 1,018 walks, .822 OPS, 131 OPS+, 81.0 offensive WAR, -1.7 defensive WAR and 72.3 fWAR
In 19 major league seasons, Carew made 18 American League All-Star teams, won seven batting titles and was both an American League Rookie of the Year and MVP. The 81.0 offensive WAR that Carew posted during his illustrious career is the fifth highest among all second basemen in MLB history, ironically, tied with No. 5 on this list. Realistically, he could have been categorized as either a second baseman or a first baseman.
5. Charlie Gehringer - Detroit Tigers (1924-1942)
Best Season: 1934 - .356/.450/.517 with 11 home runs, 127 RBIs, 99 walks, .967 OPS, 8.0 offensive WAR, 1.5 defensive WAR and 8.5 fWAR
Career Summary: .320/.404/.480 with 184 home runs, 1,427 RBIs, 2,839 hits, 1,186 walks, .884 OPS, 125 OPS+, 81.0 offensive WAR, 10.7 defensive WAR and 78.6 fWAR
For as great as Whitaker's career was, Gehringer is the greatest second basemen in Tigers' history, and one of the best that the sport has ever seen. He hit .320 for his career, racking up over 2,800 hits in 19 seasons. Gehringer edged out Carew because while Carew finished his career with a negative defensive WAR, Gehringer posted a very respectable 10.7 defensive WAR in his career, the fourth highest mark among anyone on this list.
4. Nap Lajoie - Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics & Cleveland Bronchos/Naps (1896-1916)
Best Season: 1910 - .384/.445/.514 with four home runs, 76 RBIs, 60 walks, .958 OPS, 97.8 offensive WAR, 10.1 defensive WAR and 102.2 fWAR
Career Summary: .338/.380/.466 with 82 home runs, 1,599 RBIs, 3,243 hits, 516 walks, .846 OPS, 150 OPS+, 98.1 offensive WAR, 10.1 defensive WAR and 102.2 fWAR
Lajoie was such an icon in the early 1900s that the Cleveland franchise - nicknamed the "Bronchos" when Lajoie was acquired in the summer of 1902 - literally changed their name to the "Naps" in 1903, a name they kept through 1914, his final season with the team. It's difficult to project exactly how players who played in the deadball era -- and against zero non-white opponents -- would perform in a later era, but Lajoie actually led baseball with 14 home runs in 1901. He also racked up a league-leading 48 doubles, and led the league in runs, hits, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+ and total bases that season. For his era, Lajoie was a five-tool player.
3. Eddie Collins - Philadelphia Athletics & Chicago White Sox (1906-1930)
Best Season: 1910 - .324/.382/.418 with three home runs, 81 RBIs, 49 walks, .800 OPS, 7.6 offensive WAR, 2.8 defensive WAR and 9.7 fWAR
Career Summary: .333/.424/.429 with 47 home runs, 1,299 RBIs, 3,315 hits, 1,499 walks, .853 OPS, 142 OPS+, 119.8 offensive WAR, 8.1 defensive WAR and 120.5 fWAR
Though Utley is the most popular second basemen in Philadelphia baseball history, there's a case to be made that Collins' resume - which includes 13 seasons in Philadelphia - was as good or better for its time than Utley's. A product of his era, Collins was never a home run hitter, but put up staggering sabermetic numbers nearly 100 years before said statistics were even invented. Given the amount of extra base hits Collins racked up in his career - including 187 triples, the highest of any player on this list - his back-of-the-baseball-card statistics likely would stand out even more if he played in an era where power hitting was more prioritized.
2. Joe Morgan - Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies & Oakland Athletics (1963-1984)
Best Season: 1975 - .327/.466/.508 with 17 home runs, 94 RBIs, 132 walks, .974 OPS, 9.4 offensive WAR, 2.0 defensive WAR and 11.0 fWAR
Career Summary: .271/.392/.427 with 268 home runs, 1,133 RBIs, 2,517 hits, 1,865 walks, .819 OPS, 132 OPS+, 104.3 offensive WAR, 3.8 defensive WAR and 98.8 fWAR
Morgan is the greatest second basemen of the last 80 years, meaning he's the best at the position that pretty much anyone still alive can say they've seen. A two-time National League MVP, Morgan made 10 National League All-Star teams and won five Gold Glove Awards during his 22-year career. He most notably played for the Reds between 1972 and 1979, helping "The Big Red Machine" to win World Series titles in 1975 and 1976.
1. Rogers Hornsby - St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs & St. Louis Browns (1915-1937)
Best Season: 1924 - .424/.507/.696 with 25 home runs, 94 RBIs, 89 walks, 1.203 OPS, 11.6 offensive WAR, 1.1 defensive WAR and 12.2 bWAR
Career Summary: .358/.434/.577 with 301 home runs, 1,584 RBIs, 2,930 hits, 1,038 walks, 1.010 OPS, 175 OPS+, 121.9 offensive WAR, 13.9 defensive WAR and 127.1 bWAR
Forget just second base, Hornsby is one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history. A .358 career hitter, Hornsby trails only Ty Cobb in terms of career batting average among all players in MLB history. He has the highest offensive WAR among all second basemen in MLB history, and has the second highest defensive WAR of any player on the list. There's ample reason to think that Hornsby, a two-time MVP, would have been a superstar in any era.