Friday, August 12, 2016

The Best 2B Seasons in Baseball History

I'm just going to leave this as a placeholder for a post I feel like we'll be writing here in about 7 1/2 weeks. It's worth having some context for what we're watching with Jose Altuve right now.

Let's take a look at the ten best seasons by a second baseman in baseball history, and let's keep it from 1962 on so as to avoid talking about Rogers Hornsby. For this exercise, we're going to go by FanGraphs' WAR (fWAR). We're also going to isolate each player's first 114 games - that number being the number of games Altuve has played thus far this season. This runs through yesterday's double-header in which Altuve exploded for five hits (that's 994 for his career, by the by). 

So, first things first: 2016 Altuve is hitting .365/.431/.572. He has 30 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 50K:49BB, 26 stolen bases in 31 attempts. In 114 games (514 plate appearances) he has a 169 wRC+ and 6.2 fWAR. The thing about Altuve's fWAR is they severely depreciate his defensive value (shifting bias? I've been trying to figure this out for a couple of years) and his Baserunning value (-0.4) is undercut by his baserunning errors. That said, his 2016 season is already 3rd in franchise history by an Astros 2B, and Biggio's 1998 season posted a 6.5 fWAR. At his current pace, Altuve should hit that by Monday.

Altuve has 164 hits in 514 PAs. 52 of his hits have gone for extra-bases (31.7%) and he has a 174 OPS+. 

Here are the top ten seasons by a 2B since 1962:

1. Joe Morgan, Cincinnati: 1975. .327/.466/.508 in 146 games (639 plate appearances). 67 stolen bases, 107 runs scored, 94 RBI. 176 wRC+, 11.0 fWAR. 

In 1975 Joe Morgan had the single greatest season by a 2B since 1962. Through 114 games (111 starts), Morgan was hitting .322/.458/.504. He had 128 hits in 507 PAs with 43K:101BB, 49 stolen bases, 21 doubles, three triples, and 15 home runs. He would end the season with 17 home runs, 52K:132BB. 44 of his 163 hits were for extra-bases (27.0%). His .466 OBP led the league, as did his .974 OPS. He got a 65.6 Offensive rating, with a 17.3 Defensive rating, and a 9.7 Baserunning rating. It resulted in Morgan's first MVP award, which he would also win the following year....

2. Joe Morgan, Cincinnati: 1976: .320/.444/.576 in 141 games (599 plate appearances). 60 stolen bases, 113 runs scored, 111 RBI. 184 wRC+, 9.5 fWAR.

...and which ranks 2nd on the list. Through 114 games (108 starts), Morgan had managed to improve on his ridiculous 1975 season. He was hitting .335/.460/.637. He had 130 hits in 496 PAs with 32K:97BB, 49 stolen bases (in 55 attempts), 29 doubles, five triples, 26 home runs. He would end the season with 27 home runs, 41K:114BB. 62 of his 151 hits were for extra-bases (41.1%). His .444 OBP, .576 SLG, and 1.020 OPS all lead the league. Morgan's .256 ISO in ridiculous. The only reason his fWAR wasn't higher than 1975 has something to do with his Defensive rating, which plummeted to 2.1. But still, that 184 wRC+ is the highest for a 2B since 1962.

3. Joe Morgan, Cincinnati: 1973. .290/.406/.493 in 157 games (698 plate appearances). 67 stolen bases, 116 runs scored, 82 RBI. 156 wRC+, 9.5 fWAR.

Nice trade, Spec Richardson. The three greatest seasons by a 2B in the last 54 years came from a guy the Astros traded (with four players) for Tommy Helms, Lee May, and Jimmy Stewart. Not that Jimmy Stewart. Well, I don't think it's the same one. Anyway, through 114 games (108 starts), Morgan was hitting .295/.413/.499. He had 119 hits in 493 PAs with 38K:82BB, 43 stolen bases (in 54 attempts), 27 doubles, two triples, and 17 home runs. He would end the season with 26 home runs, 61K:111BB. 56 of his 150 hits went for extra-bases (37.3%). Morgan didn't lead the league in any offensive category, but he was solid across the board and earned the first of his Top 5 MVP finishes. 

4. Craig Biggio, Houston: 1997. .309/.415/.501 in 162 games (744 plate appearances). 47 stolen bases, 146 runs scored, 81 RBI. 148 wRC+, 9.3 fWAR. 

Now we're talking. Through 114 games (110 starts), Biggio was hitting .315/.404/.509. At the Astrodome. He had 141 hits in 527 PAs with 75K:57BB, 22 stolen bases (in 28 attempts), 29 doubles, five triples, 16 home runs. Biggio would end the season with 22 home runs, 107K:84BB. 67 of his 191 hits were for extra-bases (35.1%). AT THE ASTRODOME. Biggio led the league with 146 runs scored and 34 HBPs, which helped his OBP climb. Biggio's Offensive rating was 50.3 while his Defensive rating clocked in at 20.8 (which ranks 24th among 2Bs since 1962). And Biggio did not ground into a double play for the entire year - in 78 possible plate appearances in which he could have GIDPd. He only finished 4th in the MVP voting behind Larry Walker (1.172 OPS), Mike Piazza (1.070 OPS), and Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell (1.017 OPS). 

5. Joe Morgan, Cincinnati: 1972. .292/.417/.435 in 149 games (680 plate appearances). 58 stolen bases, 122 runs scored, 73 RBI. 150 wRC+, 8.7 fWAR.

The first season after the trade from Houston, Morgan broke out. Typical Astors. Through 114 games (114 starts), Morgan was hitting .284/.415/.437. He had 120 hits in 525 PAs, with 26K:91BB, 41 stolen bases (in 55 attempts), 16 doubles, two triples, and 15 home runs. He would end the season with 16 home runs, 44 strikeouts and a league-leading 115 walks. 43 of his 161 hits were for extra-base hits (26.7%). His 122 runs, 115 walks, and .417 OBP led the league. 

6. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay: 2009. .297/.405/.543 in 152 games (641 plate appearances). 17 stolen bases, 91 runs scored, 91 RBI. 152 wRC+, 8.6 fWAR.

The first season in which Zobrist played in more than 62 games. Through 114 games (97 starts), Zobrist was hitting .291/.405/.552. He had 106 hits in 440 PAs, with 79K:70BB, 15 stolen bases (in 18 attempts), 17 doubles, six triples, 22 home runs. Zobrist would end the season with 27 home runs, 107K:92BB. 62 of his 149 hits were for extra bases (41.6%). Zobrist Offensive rating is slightly higher than Joe Morgan's 1972 season, but his defense (22.3 Def rating) was what pushed him over the top to an 8.6 fWAR.

7. Joe Morgan, Cincinnati: 1974. .293/.427/.494 in 149 games (641 plate appearances). 58 stolen bases, 107 runs scored, 67 RBI. 162 wRC+, 8.6 fWAR.

Two things: (1) Try not to think about how the seven greatest seasons by a second baseman since 1962 have come from an Astro, and from two guys the Astros traded away. (2) Joe Morgan's 1972-1976 rank in five of the top seven seasons by a 2B since 1962. I wish Joe Morgan hadn't been a terrible broadcaster. Through 114 games (112 starts), Morgan was hitting .298/.425/.487. He had 123 hits in 512 PAs, with 52K:92BB, 47 stolen bases (in 57 attempts), 27 doubles, three triples, and 15 home runs. He would end the season with 22 home runs, 69K:120BB. 54 of his 150 hits (36.0%) went for extra-bases. His .427 OBP led the league. So just to recap Morgan's five seasons from 1972-1976: .303/.431/.499, 267K:592BB, 146 doubles and 108 home runs. That's a 163 OPS+. 

8. Chase Utley, Philadelphia: 2009. .282/.397/.508 in 156 games (687 plate appearances). 23 stolen bases, 112 runs scored, 93 RBI. 141 wRC+, 8.2 fWAR. 

Through 114 games (112 starts), Utley was hitting .295/.418/.527. He had 122 hits in 507 PAs, with 83K:72BB, 13 stolen bases (in 13 attempts), 22 doubles, a triple, and 24 home runs. He would end the season with 31 home runs, 110K:88BB. His 24 HBPs led the league. Utley's value came in his offense, obviously, but he was a well-above-average baserunner and solid defensively. 

9. Chase Utley, Philadelphia: 2008. .292/.380/.535 in 159 games (707 plate appearances). 14 stolen bases, 113 runs scored, 104 RBI. 134 wRC+, 8.2 WAR.

Through 114 games, Utley was hitting .286/.369/.559. He had 126 hits in 507 PAs, with 73K:45BB, 10 stolen bases (in 11 attempts), 30 doubles, three triples, and 28 home runs. Utley's 2008 season would end with 33 home runs, 104K:64BB, and again led the league with 27 home runs. 

10. Chuck Knoblauch, Minnesota: 1996. .341/.448/.517 in 153 games (701 plate appearances). 45 stolen bases, 140 runs scored, 72 RBI. 145 wRC+, 8.1 fWAR. 

I know, right? But it's easy to overlook how good Knoblauch was for three years in the mid-1990s, as well as being the 1991 AL Rookie of the Year. Through 114 games Knoblauch was hitting .354/.448/.540. He had 158 hits in 531 PAs, with 54K:67BB, 32 stolen bases (in 41 attempts), 31 doubles, eleven triples, and ten home runs. He would end the season with 13 home runs, a league-leading 14 triples, 74K:98BB and 197 hits.


Offensively, Altuve tops all of these, by just about every metric. He doesn't have Morgan's stolen base total or Utley's home runs, Biggio's or Zobrist's defensive ratings. There are 47 games remaining in the season, which is a little under a third of the season. But through 114 games, Altuve has more hits than any other 2B on this list since 1962, and it's looking like the only thing that might prevent Altuve from getting on this list is how FanGraphs values his defense and his baserunning. Don't worry, we'll have another post when Altuve gets his 1000th hit (likely this weekend). I don't know that anyone is doing this, but please don't overlook how unreal Altuve's 2016 has been.


DaddyO said...

Interesting...the top 7 seasons since 1962 for a 2B were delivered by an Astro or former Astro.

Michael Hurta said...

I think there might be shift bias, indeed. I believe fWAR uses UZR for its fielding runs saved, and the primer on UZR ( says this:

"the data includes whether a shift (a generic one, in the opinion of the “stringer” – the person recording the data) was on, and whether the shift likely affected the play at all. If it did – again, according to the “stringer”- then the play is ignored."

Anonymous said...

Brett Boone 2001

118 runs
206 hits
37 hrs
141 rbis
.331 ba
.578 slg
.950 ops.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Kent 2000

114 runs
196 hits
33 hrs
125 rbis
.334 ba
.596 slg
1.021 ops.

The Batguy said...

Outstanding seasons by Boone and Kent, to be sure, but 2000 and 2001 were extremely high offense environments. I like to use wRC+ to compare offense because it accounts for the era in which the seasons occurred and shifts the average production to 100. For example, a wRC+ of 105 means that, in the run-scoring environment in which the production occurred, that player was 5% above average. A wRC+ of 93 is 7% below average. It's a good way to compare, say, a dead ball hitter to a Colorado Rockie in the late 90s.

My point is, if you go back to 1871, here is the list of people who have put up a wRC+ higher than Altuve's current 167, in a single season. Minimum of 500 plate appearances:

Rogers Hornsby - 8 times
Nap Lajoie - 3 times
Eddie Collins - 3 times
Joe Morgan - 2 times

That's it. All four in the inner circle of HOFers.

Jeff Kent's 2000 was good for a 159 wRC+.
Bret Boone's 2001 was 149.