A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Jayson Stark wrote about the golden age of third basemen that exists now. The other day in my chat, a reader inquired along similar lines: Has there been a season with so many good second basemen? Good question!
Check out this chart:
Via Baseball-Reference WAR, which we use here at ESPN, that's six second basemen among the top-25 position players. A quick look at those six:
Jose Altuve: He's added power (although he has just one home run in his past 38 games, so maybe he simply had an early season spike) and has already walked as many times as in all of 2015, boosting his OBP from .353 to .421. Throw in 18 steals in 20 attempts and a reduction in outs on the basepaths (he led the majors last season) and he now has no weakness in his game.
Ian Kinsler: He turns 34 in a few days, but shows no signs of slowing down as he's on pace for 34 home runs, 110 RBIs and 140 runs. Only Mookie Betts has scored more runs. He could end up with his sixth season of 5-plus WAR.
Robinson Cano: After an awful start in 2015, Cano had a strong second half and, after offseason hernia surgery, has continued mashing in 2016. Now firmly entrenched as a top-10 all-time second baseman, he's on pace for 44 home runs, 125 RBIs and 123 runs while playing in a pitcher's park. Is he headed for his first MVP award?
Dustin Pedroia: He played just 93 games last year, but has missed just two so far in 2016. He still has that great hand-eye coordination and remains as quick as anybody turning the double play. Like Kinsler, he's entering that area where he's an interesting Hall of Fame candidate if he can age well into his mid- and late-30s.
Ben Zobrist: He leads the National League in OBP with more walks than strikeouts and will be headed to his fifth postseason. The four-year, $56 million contract he signed with the Cubs looked a little risky given his age (he turned 35 in May), but he's going to earn a good chunk of that in 2016 alone.
Daniel Murphy: He's tailed off a bit of late in the batting average department, but is still putting up monster offensive numbers, proving his second-half power surge last year was legit. His defensive metrics are below average; otherwise he'd have an even higher WAR.
That's six All-Star players, although four of them are American Leaguers, so one of them will likely draw the short straw. This list doesn't even include Matt Carpenter, recently moved over to second base for the Cardinals; or Tampa Bay's Logan Forsythe, who would be a possible top-25 guy if he hadn't gotten injured. Others such as Jean Segura, DJ LeMahieu and Jason Kipnis would be All-Star candidates in some seasons.
OK, to the question. What's been the best year ever for second basemen? Since the guys in the chart are all on pace for 5-plus WAR, let's search for most 5-WAR second basemen in one season. The answer ... six, in 2013: Cano (7.8 WAR), Carpenter (6.4), Pedroia (6.3), Kipnis (5.7), Kinsler (5.0), Zobrist (5.0). Those six ranked fourth, 12th, 13th, 19th, 28th and 29th, respectively, among position players in WAR.
We have four seasons with five: 2014 (Cano, Altuve, Kinsler, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier); 2009 (Zobrist, Chase Utley, Kinsler, Aaron Hill, Pedroia); 1989 (Ryne Sandberg, Robby Thompson, Jose Oquendo, Julio Franco, Lou Whitaker); and 1975 (Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Davey Lopes, Dave Cash).
That 1989 group was pretty impressive, as all five listed ranked in the top 18 in WAR among position players. A young Roberto Alomar and Steve Sax also ranked in the top 30, with Harold Reynolds and Willie Randolph in the top 40. The 1975 group includes Morgan, the MVP that year with a monster season -- 10.9 WAR, arguably the best ever by a second baseman. Carew led the AL with 7.8 WAR and ranked second among all position players, although he finished just ninth in the MVP voting. The underrated Grich ranked fifth with 7.3 WAR. One reason those players could accumulate such a high WAR is there were a lot of weak, slap-hitting second basemen back then, allowing good hitters such as Morgan and Carew to tower over their positions.
Second base has evolved since then into a position where offense is expected. They're bigger and more athletic than guys who played the position in the 1970s, and this group has aged incredibly well. In fact, here's an amazing stat: Entering Thursday's games, second basemen were hitting nearly as well as first basemen:
First basemen: .252/.330/.439
Second basemen: .274/.332/.429
So maybe we're also in a golden age of second basemen. Only three have won an MVP award since Morgan won back-to-back 40 years ago -- Pedroia in 2008, Jeff Kent in 2000, Sandberg in 1984 -- but we're guaranteed to have some strong candidates this season. Now, about that All-Star ballot ...