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Who's Left?: Second and Third Basemen

Today we'll be checking out who's left on the free agent market at the positions of second and third base. This is the second installment in a series of posts that will be examining the free agent market by position. We'll be examining players by projected ISO vs. OBP for the 2009 season. You can find the first post in this series, here. Check it out if you missed it because it details some of the methodology we'll be using to examine players.

Isolated Power vs. On-base Percentage: 2009 Free Agent Second Basemen

Willie Bloomquist 0.323 0.072
Chris Burke 0.315 0.123
Craig Counsell 0.334 0.093
Damon Easely 0.331 0.154
Ray Durham 0.337 0.172
David Eckstein 0.342 0.083
Mark Grudzielanek 0.337 0.115
Jerry Hairston Jr 0.331 0.135
Orlando Hudson 0.339 0.139
Tadahito Iguchi 0.326 0.122
Jeff Kent 0.342 0.182
Ramon Martinez 0.307 0.096
Aaron Miles 0.317 0.089
Pablo Ozuna 0.313 0.103

Thoughts on our second basemen group:

  • There seems to be some borderline starting material among our group of second basemen for the 2009 season. Unlike the catching group that was mainly composed of scraps and the first base group which had two jewels, this group has a few players who might find themselves starting at second base next season.
  • Jeff Kent will be 41-years-old next season and he still projects as our best all-around hitter at second base. But, he does come with some risks. Kent has had an extraordinary career but after posting OPS+'s of 133, 119, and 121 from 2005-2007 he experienced a decline in 2008 when he posted an OPS+ of 95. It was the first time ever in Kent's career that he failed to eclipse the 100 OPS+ mark. You just don't find second basemen playing when they are 41-years-old. In fact, from 1901-2008 the list of second basemen who played at 41-years-old or older is remarkably short. According to BB-Ref's Play Index Tool, only three second basemen ever have played past the age of 41 while accruing 300 PA's or more in a season. Two of the players are pre-WWII and the other was Craig Biggio, who probably played two years too long to get 3,000 hits. Kent has bucked the aging trend so far but I wouldn't put money on him to turn it around next season. He could still be useful as a bench player or spot starter and he might even find a team willing to let him start. I think he'll do best in a role where his defense won't kill his value.
  • Probably the most appealing second base free agent is Orlando Hudson. He's been a league average hitter in the past and at times he's played out-of-your-mind defense at second base. But, he comes with a couple of concerns. His defense is down from his Toronto days -- according to bUZR data he's been below average the last three years -- and he had injury problems in 2008. Second basemen tend to age poorly -- as by the Kent example above -- and Hudson hits the free agent market at 30-years-old. Because of his age and recent injuries, more than a few teams will be a little apprehensive about acquiring him. The team that signs Hudson should be convinced that they can keep him healthy and on the field, because if he can't play second base I'm not sure where you would stick him. He actually reminds me a little bit of Ray Durham. Durham was a better hitter but both were athletic, rangey second basemen. Durham aged very well but battled hamstring injuries as he got older.
  • Speaking of Durham, he's been a steady performer at second over his career. He's a slightly below average defender at second but he's still productive with the bat. After crashing in 2007, Durham rebounded nicely in 2008 -- his age 36 season -- to put up an OPS+ of 112. He'll be 37-years-old next season but I think he could be the best overall value on the market for a team needing second base help. He should sign for a 1-year deal and might be just as productive as someone like Hudson.
  • Grudz, Hairston Jr., and Eckstein are in what I would call the 2nd tier of available second basemen. Grudz always seems to turn up as a starter for a team with second base needs. He's steady, if not a little below average. bUZR likes his glove more than I thought it would. Hairston Jr. made the most of 297 PA's with the Reds last season when he hit: .326/.384/.487. According to bUZR data, he has played above average defense at second base in 4,000+ career innings at the position. He could be an interesting 1-year buy if he'll sign for a smaller deal. Eckstein will always be able to get on base and hit for average, but don't count on him for anything resembling power.
  • The grouping of: Aaron Miles, Willie Bloomquist, Ramon Martinez, and Pablo Ozuna represent the lower rung of available players at second base. I'm always surprised when I look at Aaron Miles stats to see that he's gotten 522, 324, 426, 414, and 379 AB's over the past five seasons. He's pretty much the definition of a replacement level ballplayer. He had a career season in 2008 with the bat -- an OPS+ of 99 -- but I doubt any team will pick him up for anything other than a bench player. Defensively he's limited to second base.

Isolated Power vs. On-base Percentage: 2009 Free Agent Third Basemen

Rich Aurilia 0.326 0.150
Willie Bloomquist 0.323 0.072
Craig Counsell 0.334 0.093
Joe Crede 0.300 0.174
Nomar Garciaparra 0.328 0.162
Ramon Martinez 0.307 0.096
Pablo Ozuna 0.313 0.103
Juan Uribe 0.283 0.152
Ty Wigginton 0.329 0.192

Thoughts on our third basemen group:

  • Third base looks pretty thin from our list of free agents. You'll notice some crossover from the second base group with the utility players. No team will look at Bloomquist, Ozuna, or Counsell as starting material. Outside of Ty Wigginton -- who is a poor defender -- and Joe Crede, there's just not much to buy at third base.
  • Let's talk about Ty Wigginton. Wigginton should be pumped that the Astros decided to non-tender him for a couple of reasons. The market for third base is pretty weak and he's instantly one of the top -- if not the top -- talents available. He's coming off his best offensive season of his career and his stock has never been higher. In 2008 with the Astros, Wigginton hit: .285/.350/.526 with 23 HR's in 429 PA's. That's good for an OPS+ of 128. Here's what Wigginton does well. He has always hit LHP -- a career OPS of .878 -- and he's got above-average power with a career ISO of .192. He's not the best defender -- career bUZR/150 of -14.8 runs at third -- but his power surge in 2008 could sway some teams to look past his troubles with the glove. His projected ISO is best among our third base class and his projected OBP is 2nd to Craig Counsell. Because the market is so thin at third, I could foresee Wigginton getting a 2/3 year deal. 
  • If we're going to talk about the best overall value at third base for the free agent market, I would probably go with the chronically injured Joe Crede. Crede, as he so often has, struggled to stay in the lineup last season and only appeared in 97 games. But, when he did play, he flashed the same skills he's always had. He hits for some power -- a career ISO of .190 -- and he's a plus-defender at third base. Crede can be frustrating to watch at the plate, he doesn't really walk, but he's essentially a league average hitter with very good defense. Crede's bUZR stats speak for themselves. Crede could be a nice deal because his value is so low.  I can't see him getting more than a 1 or 2-year deal. If a team can keep Crede healthy and on the field for 500 PA's, they might find a bargain. That's a big 'if' of course.
  • Likewise, injuries have really hurt Nomar Garciaparra's career. He only appeared in 55 games in 2008. He'll be 35-years-old next season, meaning that his injury risks just aren't going to go away, they could get worse. He's fielded less than 1,000 career innings at third base and he might find a salary-reduced job as a bench or utility player. Oliver has him projected pretty close to a league average hitter but he's below average for third base.
  • If I was forced to take one player left in our grouping, I would probably pick Craig Counsell. Don't laugh. He doesn't hit for power but he's projected to have close to a league average OBP and unlike the rest of the players, he's an adequate defender in the infield. He's probably not as good as his bUZR stats make him out to be -- a career bUZR/150 at third of +20 runs -- but he's going to be above average. 

Next, we'll be headed into the outfield to see who's available on the free agent market at the positions of left field and right field.