It’s been a long time since Roberto Alomar manned second base for the Toronto Blue Jays, and boy do they miss him. What was once a point of strength and consistency for the ballclub has become a revolving cast of players.
Since Alomar moved on to Baltimore after the 1995 season, second base has seen the likes of Homer Bush, Aaron Hill, Orlando Hudson and most recently Kelly Johnson come and go. Fans of the early 1990 Blue Jays have had to deal with a lengthy stretch of average play from their second basemen—save for Aaron Hill’s 2009 campaign that netted him his only All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger—and it appears that trend will continue.
This year there are two new faces that will be battling for playing time on the right side of the infield. Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis are both offseason acquisitions for the Blue Jays, but which one of them will get the nod as the starting second baseman is still up in the air.
Looking at their offensive numbers leaves little room for comparison as they posted nearly identical numbers. Bonifacio had a batting average of .258 compared to Izturis’ .256 last season. Their on-base percentage differed by just 10 points and Bonifacio crossed the plate just five time more than Izturis last season.
Their career averages are similar as well as Bonifacio is a career .267 hitter with a .329 OBP while Izturis has hit .273 with an OBP of .337 over his career.
Both players will bat out of the bottom of an already powerful Toronto batting order, and their ability to get on base to give the top of the order a chance to produce runs may become a large factor in divvying up the playing time.
In my opinion, Maicer Izturis will be the starting second baseman for the 2013 edition of the Blue Jays. Although Izturis has a very slight advantage in some key offensive categories, for argument's sake we can assume the difference between their offensive production over the course of a full season will be negligible. Izturis still has a clear advantage in a few key areas.
The first is experience. Izturis, five years Bonifacio’s senior, has played 168 games at second base in his career. Compared to Bonifacio’s 75 games played at the position, there is a noticeable difference in experience.
This experience is reflected in their defensive statistics as well. Izturis has a career range factor per nine innings of 5.06 compared to Bonifacio’s career mark of 4.51. Range factor per nine innings has a simple formula that combines a player’s number of putouts and assists divided by the innings they’ve played to generate a crude score of their defensive capabilities. The higher the number, the larger a player’s range.
Another telling statistics is that although Izturis has played 93 more games at second base, he has committed two fewer errors. In Bonifacio’s career at second, he has been charged with 12 errors, compared to Izturis’ 10.
One last factor tipping the scale in the direction of Izturis, is of no fault to Bonifacio. In fact, it is his versatility as a fielder that makes him more valuable as a bench player than as a starter. By having Izturis man second base on a day-to-day basis, it will allow manager John Gibbons to deploy Bonifacio around the diamond as needed to provide off days or to exploit pitching matchups.
In 2011, Bonifacio spent time playing every position on the field except for pitcher, catcher and first base. His versatility is a valuable skill set to have coming off the bench and means Izturis is more likely to be the second baseman.
Before Bonifacio was acquired from the Miami Marlins, general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired Izturis via free agency to fill the hole left by preceding second baseman Kelly Johnson. Anthopoulos signed Izturis to be the team’s second baseman, and I believe that is how the season will play out.
All statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com