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July 10, 2000

Catching the Damn Ball

Second Basemen

by Gary Huckabay

This is the first in a series of rankings of major-league defenders, highlighting the top ten and bottom five at each position. The ratings are a combination of Zone Rating, Range Factor and my best (and admittedly grossly flawed) assessment of the job they're doing.

The Top

1. Bret Boone, Padres. Boone has a very quick first step and a throwing motion that is very compact and efficient. He's not the best double-play turner on this list, but his Range Factor and Zone Rating are both in the upper half of the league. He looks a lot like that guy from Ferris Bueller's Day Off who is now on Spin City.

2. Pokey Reese, Reds. Reese has amazing balance moving in any direction. A lot of players lose their balance a little if they favor one direction more than the others; watch Randy Velarde closely for an example. He covers a lot of ground and releases the ball well. He's near the top in both RF and ZR.

3. Ray Durham, White Sox. Durham sits at the top of a surprisingly crappy group of American League second basemen. He has an unorthodox defensive style; he probably doesn't get the defensive recognition he deserves because he doesn't do a full crossover step, and as a result looks awkward. He's probably the best second baseman in baseball at turning the double play without being clobbered.

4. Ron Belliard, Brewers. Belliard could probably play shortstop if he had a slightly better arm. His release on turning the DP is fantastic, and he has great instincts about where to take a ball in its path; when he gives ground to a ball, he doesn't buckle and go back on his heels like most other guys. He leads the league in DPs turned, thanks primarily to having a copious supply of runners on base. He's solid in both ZR and RF.

5. Fernando Vina, Cardinals. Vina goes to his left as well as anyone, and makes some really boring, predictable throws when off balance. I've watched him a few times on tape to figure out how he does it, but I'm always impressed. Great ZR, middle of the pack RF.

6. Warren Morris, Pirates. When I hear Morris discussed on local and national broadcasts, they're almost always apologizing for his defense. Why? Morris has little speed, but a lightning-fast crossover, great balance and his arm is outstanding, if a bit erratic. If Morris played in New York, he'd be a Gold Glover and the entire Olbermann family could sleep at night.

7. Homer Bush, Blue Jays. Bush has good speed and makes better use of it than other blazers (read: Luis Castillo). He gets the ball out of his glove quickly, and Frank Castillo has an ERA of 4.23. I can't make any observations that say more than that. I mean, this is Frank Castillo.

8. Eric Young, Cubs. Young also has great speed, and is probably the best athlete of the second basemen I spent a lot of time watching. He could be the best defender in baseball if he had better instincts for where to take the ball in its path, and did some training on his first step. He's still outstanding, but has some correctable holes in his game.

9. Edgardo Alfonzo, Mets. Alfonzo was an shortstop in the low minors, when Dorian Kim would bend my ear about what a great player he was going to be. Dorian was right: Alfonzo is great and steady on both offense and defense. One thing that Alfonzo does very well is execute his technique when receiving the ball from the outfield. (It sounds minor, but bear with me.) His release on getting the ball back in is beautiful: plant, turn head, acquire target, pivot and throw. Fun to watch. I guess when you plan to play both Darryl Hamilton and Rickey Henderson, your infielders better be good at that...and at picking up balls on a hop.

10. Roberto Alomar, Indians. This is the top of the middle tier. Alomar is turning into the Carney Lansford of second basemen, but he's still solid. His arm is a little weak, but his release has gotten better over the years. Still favors his glove side too much, and that won't ever change. He could be the worst second baseman in baseball in three years.

The Bottom

1. Chuck Knoblauch, Yankees. Even aside from his unfortunate and heart-wrenching case of the yips, Knoblauch is still pretty bad these days. He's favoring his glove side like Carlos Baerga used to, and his first step has moved into geologic time measurements. I hope he'll snap out of it. All of it.

2. Miguel Cairo, Devil Rays. Hey, at least he makes up for it with his bat.

3. Jose Vidro, Expos. Vidro might be giving up 15 runs a year with his glove. I think Felipe Alou can live with that. If Vidro could move forward and throw accurately, that would help. He'll get better with time, but right now, he needs help keeping his balance and turning the DP. He doesn't need help hitting lasers, though.

4. Luis Alicea, Rangers. Alicea looks like he's aged about ten years in the last two. His first step has slowed and his footwork has gotten sloppy. It shows in his technique as well as his numbers. Maybe when he gets healthy, he'll pick up. I doubt it.

5. Jay Bell, Diamondbacks. Bell trails everyone in ZR and RF, and makes me think he's on cold medication when I watch him. His technique and everything else is steady or solid, but slowed down compared to others. It's really kind of bizarre.

That's all for now. Other positions will follow, so if you have any comments, questions or suggestions (preferably limiting yourself to those that are anatomically possible), feel free to e-mail me at huckabay@baseballprospectus.com.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

Related Content:  Frank Castillo,  Balance

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