A historical perspective on Jeter and Cano

One of the ways fun is had from this seat is using the stat sites to make lists. Just yesterday, a list was created to find the ten worst wOBA scores for Yankees since 1961 with a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances. The thought was that 1,000 plate appearances gave the player at least two equivalents to full seasons to prove how bad a hitter he was. The data includes the time with the Yankees only and not with other clubs. The list came out to look like this from lowest to highest:

  1. Fred Stanley – 1,157 plate appearances, .269 wOBA (1973 – 1980)
  2. Gene Michael – 2,659, .270  (1968 – 1974)
  3. Alvaro Espinoza – 1,528, .270  (1988 – 1991)
  4. Jake Gibbs – 1,795, .274  (1962 – 1971)
  5. Sandy Alomar- 1,005, .278  (1974 – 1976)
  6. Bucky Dent – 2,429, .282  (1977 –  1982)
  7. Bobby Richardson – 4,217, .286  (1961 – 1966) **started career in 1955
  8. Bob Meacham – 1,591, .288  (1983 – 1988)
  9. Tony Kubek – 2,251, -289  (1961-1965)  **started career in 1957
  10. Horace Clarke – 5,143, .289  (1965 – 1974)

As you can see from that list, only Gibbs was not a middle infielder. Phil Linz was twelfth on the list and Randy Velarde, Pat Kelly and Mike Gallego are in the top thirty (or bottom thirty). Dent was a defensive wizard of the group. Kubek, Clarke and Espinoza also have very good defensive metrics. The rest were just ordinary with the glove and Gene Michael and Bob Meacham were below average. The norm before Jeter and the combination of Knoblauch, Soriano and Cano was weak-hitting, no power guys with nicknames like, “Stick,” and, “Chicken.”

Fred Stanley had a Yankee career OPS of .565 with a slugging percentage of .266. Ugh! Gene Michael had an OPS with the Yankees of .585. Ramiro Pena would be a starter back in those days.

But it is not just the Yankees. Second baseman and shortstops have had few offensive superstars over the years. Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar and Robin Yount come to mind. Traditionally, the positions are populated by less than stellar batters. For example, since 1961, Robinson Cano is tied for the sixth highest wOBA among all second baseman behind guys like Joe Morgan, Sandberg, Chase Utley, Rod Carew and Jeff Kent.

And the trend continues to this day. Around baseball, 2012 MLB second basemen have a collective OPS of .699. 2012 shortstops have a collective OPS of .687. Those two positions have the worst OPS scores of all positions (not including pitchers). OPS+ is calculated relative to all batters around baseball. But if you were to rate Cano and Jeter against their positions only, their OPS+ would be astronomical.

What we probably take for granted is not the norm around baseball and it certainly hasn’t been the norm for the Yankees over the last fifty years. Shortstops and second baseman usually bat in the bottom of the batting order, not at the top. Shortstops and second basemen that hit like Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano…usually end up in the Hall of Fame.

About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

6 thoughts on “A historical perspective on Jeter and Cano

  1. But isn't this true of baseball as a whole during this period? I think of people like Mark Belanger, Bert Campanaris, Bud Harrelson (with the immortal double-play platoon of Ken Boswell and Al Weis). Shortstop almost always seemed to be a weak-hitting position, and the second basemen who could his, as I noted yesterday, like Rose and Carew, got moved to other positions. Joe Morgan was the major exception, and there's a decent argument that he's the greatest second baseman of all time. But then, as you note, came Sandberg, Yount, Robby Alomar (and Ripken and Molitor), and the day of the big-hitting middle infielder arrived. So I think the Yankees situation mostly mirrored that of MLB as a whole.

    Also, and I hate nit-picking like this, Sandy Alomar, Sr., who is on your list, was a second baseman; his son, Sandy, Jr., was the catcher.

    • I'm glad you nitpick, because you are always right. And the text has been updated. As to your other point, I agree that more offensive shortstops and second basemen have been around than in the past. But they are still the exception to the rule as today's OPS for SS and 2Bs show. So, in the end, the Yankees' situation does not mirror a trend…at least in my opinion.

  2. "[B]ecause you are always right." I'm gonna have to show that one to my wife!

    I feel guilty nitpicking because I worry that it makes me seem ungrateful for interesting and engaging posts, but I'll feel free now. :-)

    • As long as you're not a jerk about it, an extra layer of proofreading is always appreciated. At least by me.

  3. Did Mr. Boras provide you with those numbers? ;)

    I'm spoiled. I'm a Yankee fan. I like my team to be 20 ahead (just like Nick said.)

  4. I knew Bobby Richardson was an overrated offensive player, but I didn't realize Tony Kubek was that bad. Although to be fair, 1963 through 1965 were after he broke his neck in the Army. His 1961-62 numbers were pretty good. And the positive defensive metrics for Clarke are certainly surprising. Interesting stuff.