A Look At How Recent Great Second Basemen Have Aged – Part 2 (Defense and Position Changes)
On Monday, I opined that the Yankees should not resign D.J. LeMahieu this off-season. I believe I made that case clearly.
Yesterday, I did a comparison of how the top 10 second basemen since 1970 (by bWAR) performed offensively after their age 32 season. The conclusion after that study was that the vast majority suffered a big drop in production following their age-32 or age-33 seasons. Some remained good, very few remained great. No second baseman on the list remained an all-star type player throughout his age 32-36 seasons (which will be the ages D.J. LeMahieu will be over the course of his next contract).
Loyal reader Rudy Lopes asked if the data showed a similar regression when looking at these same players’ defensive performance. He also asked how second basemen who switched positions later in their careers performed after they switched positions.
What follows is the data I collected in the follow-up studies. First I will look at the defensive numbers, then I’ll look at second basemen who switched positions in their 30s.
Let’s begin with the same top 10 second basemen since 1970 and their dWAR totals from their age 29-32 seasons and then their age 33-36 seasons:
JOE MORGAN – Widely considered the Gold Standard for second basemen in this era, Joe Morgan never had a negative dWAR from the age of 27 through his age 32 season. His average dWAR in that period was 1.21. After his age 32 season, Morgan never had a positive dWAR season. His average dWAR from ages 33-35 was -0.63.
dWAR ages 29-32 = 1.21
dWAR ages 33-36 = -0.63
LOU WHITAKER – Lou Whitaker is the only player on this list to improve over time, if only slightly.
dWAR ages 29-32 = 0.77
dWAR ages 33-36 = 0.85
BOBBY GRITCH –
dWAR ages 29-32 = 0.85
dWAR ages 33-36 = 0.30
ROBINSON CANO – Like Joe Morgan, he never had a negative dWAR through his ages 26-31 seasons. Between the ages of 32-37, he had four seasons with a negative dWAR.
dWAR ages 29-32 = 0.98
dWAR ages 33-36 = 0.12
RYNE SANDBERG – For all intents and purposes, Ryne Sandberg was the same player defensively from his age 29 season through his age 36 season.
dWAR ages 29-32 = 0.875
dWAR ages 33-36 = 0.825
ROBERTO ALOMAR –
dWAR ages 29-32 = 0.95
dWAR ages 33-36 = 0.47
WILLIE RANDOLPH – Willie Randolph was also statistically the same defensive player.
dWAR ages 29-32 = 1.05
dWAR ages 33-36 = 1.05
CRAIG BIGGIO –
dWAR ages 29-32 = 0.65
dWAR ages 33-36 = -0.32
CHASE UTLEY –
dWAR ages 29-32 = 2.07
dWAR ages 33-36 = 0.30
JEFF KENT –
dWAR ages 29-32 = 0.47
dWAR ages 33-36 = 0.27
CONCLUSION 1- Past performance is no guarantee of future success, and no two players are alike, but when looks at the very best second basemen of the last fifty years, it does seem clear that most suffered a drop, some a big drop, in defensive as measured by dWAR following their age-32 season. No player on this list had a great dWAR after turning 32-years-old. Only one second baseman, Lou Whitaker, was a better defender after 32 than before.
Will this also happen to D.J. LeMahieu? Who knows? Only time will tell, but he is trending in the direction of these players. The following is LeMahieu’s dWAR over the last three years:
2018 = 1.8
2019 = 0.8
2020 = 0.1
SECOND BASEMEN WHO CHANGED POSITIONS LATER IN THEIR CAREERS
The following players were second basemen who changed positions during their careers. For a quick look, we’ll examine their overall bWAR during their years as a second baseman and their years in the other positions.
Readers are encouraged to submit the names of other second basemen who changed positions. The following are the players I thought of and the ones submitted in the comments (by Rudy Lopes) of yesterday’s article.
JACKIE ROBINSON –
Robinson was primarily a second baseman from 1948 to 1952. From 1953 through the end of his career after the 1956 season, he played a variety of positions including third base, first base, left field, and some second base.
Avg. WAR per Season at Second Base = 8.0 (ages 29-33)
Avg. WAR per Season in Other Positions = 4.4 (ages 33-37)
PETE ROSE –
Pete Rose was primarily a second baseman only for his first four big league seasons when he was aged 22-25. For that reason, he does not serve as a good comparison to D.J. LeMahieu in this context. If LeMahieu changes positions, he would be changing much later in his career.
But, since were as looking at Pete Rose, let’s examine the four years to his age-32 season and the four years immediately after:
Avg. WAR per Season = 6.0 (ages 29-32)
Avg. WAR per Season = 5.0 (ages 33-36)
ROD CAREW –
Rod Carew was a second baseman, primarily, through his age 29-season. After that, he became a first baseman. He played second base from 1967 to 1975 and first base from 1976 to 1985.
Avg. WAR per Season at Second Base = 4.7 (ages 21-29)
Avg. WAR per Season in Other Positions = 3.9 (ages 30-39)
Here are Carew’s numbers from ages 29-32 and then from 33 to 36:
Avg. WAR per Season = 7.3 (ages 29-32)
Avg. WAR per Season = 3.5 (ages 33-36)
PAUL MOLITOR –
Paul Molitor played second base only during his first three seasons (aged 21-23). Like Pete Rose, he does not serve as a good statistical comparison in that regard. But, let’s look at his numbers over these same age breakdowns:
Avg. WAR per Season = 4.8 (ages 29-32)
Avg. WAR per Season = 4.7 (ages 33-36)
CHUCK KNOBLAUCH –
Knoblauch played second base through his age-31 season. After that year, he was basically done. He played two seasons in left field. He does not serve as a good comparison for this study since by the time he offed off second base, his career was close to ending. Still, here are the numbers:
Avg. WAR per Season = 1.9 (ages 30 and 31)
Avg. WAR per Season = 0.05 (ages 32 and 33)
CONCLUSION 2- Past performance is no guarantee of future success, and no two players are alike, but there is not a long history of excellent second basemen who switched positions late in their career as some suspect will happen with D.J. LeMahieu.
What this second study showed, like the others, was that even these players saw their statistics take a nose dive after their age-32 seasons.
D.J. LeMahieu will turn 33 in July 2021.
FINAL CONCLUSION –
Just so I am clear, I like D.J. as a player. It has been said that he is an excellent clubhouse guy and is a leader on the current Yankees team. His last two seasons have been amazing. I would love to have him on the Yankees in 2021 (and maybe even 2022).
But, I do not think LeMahieu will sign for fewer than four years and it might take five to get him. This off-season is his last best chance for a big pay day as he is coming off his greatest two seasons. As such, I believe that LeMahieu will command at least $20m per season for the next four years. I believe it is likely that he will command (and get) even more than that. This is why I would not re-sign him.
Based upon LeMahieu’s own career, I do not believe he will maintain his current production numbers through his age-36 or age-37 seasons. Further, based upon the statistical comps for the very best second basemen (both offensively and defensively) over the last 50 years, the trend is that most fall off significantly at exactly LeMahieu’s current age, not years in the future.
There is speculation that the Yankees would move LeMahieu to first base after a season or two more at second base. The historical comps for players who changed from second base late in their career are rare, but of the ones that did take place, they are not particularly inspiring.
Further, I believe that for the next many years, Gleyber Torres will better serve the Yankees in LeMahieu’s spot at second base. And I believe the money the Yankees would spend on D.J. LeMahieu would be better spent on a younger shortstop to fill the gap left by Torres’ move to second base. (The article to explain all of that is coming.)
In sum, I do not believe the Yankees would be making a wise investment in spending the $80m+ that I believe it will cost to keep D.J. LeMahieu in pinstripes. If I were the General Manager, I would let LeMahieu sign with another club. I say that with a heavy heart.
(Final note – All of the following is based on what I would do if I were the G.M. I actually believe the Yankees themselves will sign LeMahieu for the four or five years he asks. I’ll predict that LeMahieu gets a four year deal valued at $96 million. I also believe the Yankees will keep Gleyber Torres at shortstop for the next several years.)