Roberto Alomar or Craig Biggio? Ranking MLB's Top 20 Second Basemen of the 1990s
Who's ready for some nostalgia? Over the past few weeks, we've been taking a position-by-position look at the best MLB players of the 1990s.
Up next, the second basemen. Who will claim the No. 1 spot between Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Roberto Alomar?
A player's peak performance, his full statistical body of work during the 1990s and his postseason production were all taken into account when determining the final rankings.
While no single stat was the be-all and end-all in this conversation, OPS+ and WAR/500 are two important ones to know.
OPS+ is a hitter's on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted to take into account the ballparks in which he is hitting. An OPS+ of 100 is league-average, while each number above 100 represents one percentage point better than the league average.
WAR/500 is my creation. It's a hitter's WAR total divided by his plate appearances and then multiplied by 500, thus giving us his WAR per 500 plate appearances. The idea is to make it easier to contextualize WAR totals across different sample sizes.
Let's kick things off with some honorable mentions.
These players received serious consideration for the final list but came up short:
- Luis Alicea
- Bret Boone
- Mariano Duncan
- Damion Easley
- Scott Fletcher
- Mark McLemore
- Jody Reed
- Harold Reynolds
- Steve Sax
- Fernando Vina
20. Mark Lemke
Stats: 3,540 PA, .248/.319/.324 (71 OPS+), 30 HR, 258 RBI, 6.3 WAR
Postseason: 257 PA, .272/.335/.353, 1 HR, 25 RBI, One-time WS winner
Mark Lemke was the Atlanta Braves' starting second baseman for seven seasons from 1991 to 1997, teaming with Jeff Blauser to form one of the more reliable double-play combinations during that span.
He stepped up his offensive game in the postseason, turning in standout performances in the 1991 World Series (10-for-24, 4 XBH, 4 RBI) and 1996 NLCS (12-for-27, 3 XBH, 5 RBI).
He spent his final MLB season with the Boston Red Sox in 1998 before retiring at the age of 32.
19. Joey Cora
Stats: 3,983 PA, .280/.350/.375 (92 OPS+), 30 HR, 280 RBI, 8.1 WAR
Postseason: 118 PA, .173/.283/.224, 1 HR, 2 RBI
After spending the 1990 season with the San Diego Padres and then the next four years with the Chicago White Sox, Joey Cora joined the Seattle Mariners in free agency prior to the 1995 campaign.
In his four years with the M's, he hit .293/.355/.406 for a 98 OPS+ while serving as a complementary piece on a star-studded roster that included Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson.
He made his lone All-Star Game appearance in 1997 when he hit .300/.359/.441 for a 110 OPS+. He set career highs in home runs (14) and RBI (54) while scoring 105 runs and tallying more walks (53) than strikeouts (49).
He was traded to the Cleveland Indians at the 1998 waiver trade deadline in exchange for third baseman David Bell, and his final MLB game was in the ALCS that season.
18. Mickey Morandini
Stats: 4,678 PA, .269/.340/.363 (88 OPS+), 32 HR, 322 RBI, 11.0 WAR
Postseason: 34 PA, .233/.294/.300, 0 HR, 3 RBI
The Dandy Little Glove Man spent the first seven seasons of the decade playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, including as the team's starting second baseman during their run to the World Series in 1993.
He was an All-Star in 1995 when he hit .283/.350/.417 for a 103 OPS+ with 47 extra-base hits and 65 runs en route to a 2.5-WAR season.
The Chicago Cubs traded for Morandini following the 1997 season after Ryne Sandberg retired for the second time, and he finished second on the team in WAR (3.9) for the 1998 squad that won the NL wild card.
He hit .296/.380/.385 with 172 hits and 93 runs that year while setting the table for NL MVP Sammy Sosa out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup, and he actually received some down-ballot MVP support himself.
17. Mike Lansing
Stats: 3,621 PA, .278/.332/.408 (89 OPS+), 65 HR, 346 RBI, 11.2 WAR
Mike Lansing spent the first two seasons of his career in a super-utility role before settling in at second base in 1995 and eventually joining up-and-comer Mark Grudzielanek to form one of the more underrated double-play combinations of the decade.
He had the best season of his career in 1997 when he hit .281/.338/.472 for a 111 OPS+ with 45 doubles, 20 home runs, 70 RBI and 86 runs for a career-high 3.9 WAR.
The Montreal Expos sold high on the heels of that performance, flipping him to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for a package of three prospects that included right-hander Jake Westbrook.
After a solid 1998 season, injuries limited him to just 35 games in 1999. Two years later, his MLB career came to a close.
16. Quilvio Veras
Stats: 2,634 PA, .267/.371/.356 (96 OPS+), 24 HR, 177 RBI, 9.6 WAR
Postseason: 64 PA, .204/.328/.259, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Quilvio Veras made an immediate impact as a rookie for the Florida Marlins in 1995, leading the NL in steals (56) while posting a .384 on-base percentage and leading the team with 86 runs. That was good enough to finish third in NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Hideo Nomo and Chipper Jones.
He was traded to the San Diego Padres ahead of the 1997 season, and in his three years with the team, he was one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in baseball.
He hit .270/.366/.353 in San Diego while averaging 29 steals, 83 runs and 1.9 WAR, posting a career-high 3.6 WAR during the team's run to the World Series in 1998.
Despite playing just five seasons in 1990s, his 151 steals were tied for 44th during the decade.
15. Mike Gallego
Stats: 2,374 PA, .240/.322/.336 (82 OPS+), 34 HR, 205 RBI, 12.5 WAR
Postseason: 40 PA, .194/.275/.222, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Mike Gallego essentially served as a third starting middle infielder for the Oakland Athletics during their three straight World Series appearances from 1988 to 1990, bouncing between second base and shortstop while averaging 390 plate appearances per year.
After finally being handed the everyday second base job in 1991, he responded by posting a 103 OPS+ with 12 home runs and 49 RBI in a 4.1-WAR season in a contract year.
That performance was enough to land him a three-year, $5.1 million contract from the New York Yankees in free agency. He had the best season of his career in 1993, hitting .283/.364/.412 for a 112 OPS+ with 20 doubles, 10 home runs and 54 RBI.
His 4.5 WAR that season trailed only Jimmy Key (6.3) and Mike Stanley (4.8) on the Yankees roster.
14. Randy Velarde
Stats: 3,465 PA, .280/.357/.412 (104 OPS+), 70 HR, 340 RBI, 19.6 WAR
Postseason: 24 PA, .176/.417/.176, 0 HR, 1 RBI
Randy Velarde spent the first nine seasons of his career seeing semiregular playing time as a member of the New York Yankees, averaging 73 games and 242 plate appearances per year.
He hit .278/.375/.392 with 27 extra-base hits in 432 plate appearances in 1995—the final season of that nine-year stretch—before joining the California Angels in free agency ahead of his age-33 campaign.
He went on to hit .288/.376/.427 for a 106 OPS+ in parts of four seasons with the Angels before he was traded to the Oakland Athletics at the 1999 deadline in the midst of the best year of his career.
The 36-year-old wrapped up the '99 season with a .317/.390/.455 line that included 25 doubles, 16 home runs, 76 RBI, 105 runs and 24 steals en route to a staggering 7.0 WAR.
That was the sixth-highest single-season mark by a second baseman during the 1990s.
13. Ray Durham
Stats: 3,284 PA, .278/.348/.414 (99 OPS+), 60 HR, 296 RBI, 10.7 WAR
Ray Durham debuted in 1995 and split his prime pretty evenly between the 1990s and the 2000s. So while he had a better overall career than some of the guys listed ahead of him, it's tough to rank him any higher based solely on his '90s production.
He hit .257/.309/.384 with 40 extra-base hits and 18 steals as a rookie to finish sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, and he quickly developed into one of the best second basemen in the AL.
Over the final four seasons of the decade, he hit .282/.356/.420 for a 102 OPS+ while averaging 31 doubles, 13 home runs, 61 RBI, 105 runs and 2.8 WAR.
He made his first career All-Star appearance in 1998 when he posted a career-high 4.4 WAR and hit .285/.363/.455 with 35 doubles, 19 home runs and 36 steals.
12. Robby Thompson
Stats: 2,986 PA, .256/.331/.412 (106 OPS+), 82 HR, 269 RBI, 19.3 WAR
The NL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 1986 and an All-Star in 1988, Robby Thompson still had a handful of prime seasons left at the start of the decade.
Over the first four seasons of the 1990s, he hit .270/.340/.438 for a 118 OPS+ while averaging 25 doubles, 17 home runs, 54 RBI, 70 runs and 4.3 WAR.
In 1993, he hit .312/.375/.496 with 30 doubles and 19 home runs to earn his second All-Star selection while taking home Silver Slugger and Gold Glove honors. He also finished 15th in NL MVP voting and posted a career-high 6.3 WAR.
Shoulder issues limited him to 35 games in 1994 and plagued him throughout the final three seasons of his career, but at his peak, he was one of the best two-way second basemen in baseball.
11. Lou Whitaker
Stats: 2,801 PA, .277/.379/.464 (129 OPS+), 95 HR, 363 RBI, 23.4 WAR
One of the premier second basemen of the 1980s, Lou Whitaker was 33 years old with 13 MLB seasons under his belt when the 1990s arrived.
Despite his age, he put together an elite-level season in 1991, hitting .279/.391/.489 for a 141 OPS+ with 26 doubles and 23 home runs while posting a career-high 6.8 WAR.
He went on to play through his age-38 season in 1995, hitting .293/.372/.518 with 14 home runs in 285 plate appearances in a part-time role to close out his career.
His 75.1 career WAR ranks sixth all-time among second basemen, behind five Hall of Famers and ahead of 14 others. It's a crime that he's not enshrined in Cooperstown.
10. Eric Young
Stats: 3,816 PA, .289/.369/.395 (93 OPS+), 43 HR, 338 RBI, 13.7 WAR
Postseason: 18 PA, .438/.500/.688, 1 HR, 2 RBI
The Colorado Rockies selected Eric Young with the No. 11 pick in the 1992 expansion draft after he turned in a 49-game audition with the Los Angeles Dodgers the previous season.
He hit .269 with a .355 on-base percentage and 42 steals as the leadoff hitter and starting second baseman for the team in its inaugural season.
That was followed by dynamic table-setting seasons in 1995 and 1996:
- 1995: 109 OPS+, .317/.404/.473, 35 SB, 68 R, 2.2 WAR
- 1996: 98 OPS+, .324/.393/.421, 53 SB, 113 R, 3.3 WAR
He made his lone All-Star Game appearance and won Silver Slugger honors in '96 before he was traded to the Dodgers the following season.
His 292 steals during the 1990s trailed only Delino DeShields (393), Craig Biggio (319) and Roberto Alomar (311) among second basemen and ranked 11th among all players.
9. Bip Roberts
Stats: 3,976 PA, .296/.358/.381 (99 OPS+), 26 HR, 315 RBI, 18.1 WAR
Postseason: 68 PA, .246/.303/.328, 0 HR, 5 RBI
Baseball card collectors and kids of the 1990s might remember Bip Roberts from this commercial with Tony Gwynn when he confused the value of his rookie card with that of Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts.
While he debuted in 1986, it was not until the 1990 season when he first saw everyday playing time with the San Diego Padres. He made the most of it, hitting .309/.375/.433 with 46 steals, 104 runs and a career-high 5.4 WAR while bouncing around defensively.
He ended up splitting his time between second base (404 games) and left field (348 games) during the decade, also seeing some action at third base (108 games).
The Padres traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for closer Randy Myers prior to the 1992 season, and he promptly turned in the best performance of his career. He hit .323/.393/.432 for a 131 OPS+ with 44 extra-base hits and 44 steals en route to a 5.0-WAR season and an eighth-place finish in NL MVP voting.
He earned the nod at second base for the Padres in my article selecting each team's all-time starting lineup in April.
8. Delino DeShields
Stats: 5,418 PA, .269/.353/.373 (98 OPS+), 62 HR, 428 RBI, 20.4 WAR
Postseason: 17 PA, .188/.235/.188, 0 HR, 0 RBI
Delino DeShields was the standout of a hyped rookie class for the 1990 Montreal Expos, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting and ahead of teammates Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker in the balloting when he hit .289 with 42 steals.
After four seasons, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for a young Pedro Martinez in one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history.
He went on to average 39 steals per season over the course of the decade, and he filled up the stat sheet for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997 when he hit .295 with 26 doubles, 14 triples, 11 home runs, 55 steals and 92 runs in a 4.2-WAR season.
During the 1990s, his 393 steals led all second basemen and trailed only Otis Nixon (478), Rickey Henderson (463) and Kenny Lofton (433).
7. Carlos Baerga
Stats: 5,202 PA, .291/.330/.427 (102 OPS+), 124 HR, 686 RBI, 19.6 WAR
Postseason: 69 PA, .292/.333/.385, 1 HR, 9 RBI
During his brief four-year stretch from 1992 to 1995, Carlos Baerga was one of the most productive offensive players in baseball:
- 1992: 128 OPS+, .312/.354/.455, 20 HR, 105 RBI, 6.3 WAR
- 1993: 124 OPS+, .321/.355/.486, 21 HR, 114 RBI, 5.1 WAR
- 1994: 119 OPS+, .314/.333/.525, 19 HR, 80 RBI, 2.7 WAR
- 1995: 108 OPS+, .314/.355/.452, 15 HR, 90 RBI, 2.7 WAR
His production dipped significantly during his age-27 season in 1996 and he was shipped to the New York Mets at the trade deadline in exchange for Jeff Kent.
He posted a middling 76 OPS+ over the final four years of the decade, but his peak performance earned him a spot inside the top 10. During that four-year span, he earned three All-Star selections and won two Silver Slugger Awards.
6. Julio Franco
Stats: 3,569 PA, .304/.387/.439 (122 OPS+), 83 HR, 457 RBI, 21.9 WAR
Postseason: 17 PA, .133/.176/.133, 0 HR, 1 RBI
Julio Franco had a unique decade.
A knee injury limited him to 35 games in 1992, he spent the 1995 and 1998 seasons in Japan, and he played in just one game for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999.
That said, in the six full seasons he did play stateside, he was extremely productive.
He earned All-Star nods as a member of the Cleveland Indians in 1990 and 1991, and his 13.0 WAR during that two-year stretch trailed only Cal Ripken Jr. (19.0), Barry Bonds (17.7), Rickey Henderson (14.5) and Ryne Sandberg (14.1) among all position players.
He also won the AL batting title in in 1991 when he hit .341/.408/.474 with 45 extra-base hits and 36 steals to finish 15th in AL MVP voting.
In his first and only season with the Chicago White Sox in 1994, he hit .319/.406/.510 with 20 home runs and 98 RBI for a career-best eighth-place finish in MVP balloting.
He was 40 at the end of the decade and he went on to play seven more seasons.
5. Jeff Kent
Stats: 4,160 PA, .276/.335/.477 (114 OPS+), 161 HR, 668 RBI, 22.4 WAR
Postseason: 21 PA, .222/.300/.611, 2 HR, 2 RBI
Jeff Kent made his MLB debut with the Toronto Blue Jays on April 12, 1992, and a few months later, he was traded in the deal that brought ace David Cone to the eventual World Series champions.
He bounced around a bit the next four seasons, playing with the New York Mets, Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants and posting a 106 OPS+ while averaging 19 home runs and 78 RBI.
After logging a 105 OPS+ in a 29-homer, 121-RBI season with the Giants in 1997, he took his game up a notch to close out the decade, emerging as one of baseball's elite offensive performers.
- 1998: 142 OPS+, .297/.359/.555, 31 HR, 128 RBI, 4.5 WAR
- 1999: 125 OPS+, .290/.366/.511, 23 HR, 101 RBI, 3.5 WAR
He won NL MVP honors in 2000 and a good portion of his peak-level production came after the 1990s concluded. Otherwise, he would rank even higher.
4. Ryne Sandberg
Stats: 3,897 PA, .284/.348/.470 (118 OPS+), 143 HR, 512 RBI, 30.3 WAR
It's hard to rank Ryne Sandberg any higher than the No. 4 spot considering he played just six full seasons during the 1990s and only produced at an elite level in three of those seasons.
Still, at his best, he was arguably the best all-around second baseman of the decade.
From 1990 to 1992, he hit .300/.368/.519 for a 141 OPS+ while averaging 31 home runs, 96 RBI, 21 steals and 7.3 WAR. He was an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner in each of those three seasons and he also took home a pair of Gold Glove Awards.
After a slight dip in production in 1993, he slumped to a .238 average and 83 OPS+ in 57 games to start the 1994 season before announcing his retirement on June 13.
He sat out the 1995 season before returning to action as a 36-year-old with a 25-homer, 92-RBI campaign in 1996. Sandberg played one more year before hanging it up for good.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his third time on the ballot in 2005.
3. Chuck Knoblauch
Stats: 5,994 PA, .298/.388/.419 (113 OPS+), 78 HR, 523 RBI, 44.2 WAR
Postseason: 170 PA, .278/.371/.361, 2 HR, 12 RBI, Three-time WS winner
Chuck Knoblauch burst onto the scene in 1991 to win AL Rookie of the Year honors for a Minnesota Twins team that went on to win the World Series.
The following year he was an All-Star for the first time in a 5.3-WAR season and steadily emerged as an underrated superstar from there.
During the four-year span from the strike-shortened 1994 season through his final season with the Twins in 1997, he hit .319/.413/.468 for a 127 OPS+ and racked up 26.1 WAR.
Here's a list of all the players who had at least 25 WAR during that stretch:
- Greg Maddux: 33.2
- Barry Bonds: 31.6
- Ken Griffey Jr.: 29.0
- Jeff Bagwell: 28.2
- Roger Clemens: 27.5
- Chuck Knoblauch: 26.1
- Craig Biggio: 25.8
That's elite company.
Knoblauch was traded to the New York Yankees prior to the 1998 season for a package of four prospects built around Eric Milton and Christian Guzman. He closed out the decade with two more World Series rings.
2. Craig Biggio
Stats: 6,796 PA, .297/.386/.441 (125 OPS+), 136 HR, 641 RBI, 53.2 WAR
Postseason: 50 PA, .119/.260/.143, 0 HR, 1 RBI
Craig Biggio made his first All-Star Game appearance in 1991—as a catcher.
He moved to second base and returned to the Midsummer Classic the following year before a breakout 1993 season vaulted him to star status.
Thanks to his mix of average, power, speed and defense, he was worth at least 4.0 WAR every season from 1991 to 1999, peaking with a 9.7-WAR campaign in 1997.
That year he hit .309/.415/.501 for a 143 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 22 home runs, 81 RBI, 146 runs and 47 steals to finish fourth in NL MVP voting.
He earned seven All-Star selections and four All-Star Game starts during the decade while also adding four Silver Slugger and four Gold Glove Awards.
For the decade, he ranked among the MLB leaders in hits (1,728, third), runs (1,042, second), doubles (362, second) and steals (319, fifth). His 6,796 plate appearances led all players.
1. Roberto Alomar
Stats: 6,270 PA, .308/.382/.460 (122 OPS+), 135 HR, 732 RBI, 45.6 WAR
Postseason: 240 PA, .325/.392/.459, 4 HR, 30 RBI, Two-time WS winner
Roberto Alomar was a 10-time All-Star, eight-time All-Star Game starter and eight-time Gold Glove winner during the 1990s.
There's a strong case to be made that he's the best defensive second baseman in MLB history, and he was also a disruptive force offensively.
He hit at least .280 every year during the decade, eclipsing the .300 mark seven times, and he averaged 31 steals and 95 runs while serving as a table-setter.
He also discovered his power stroke during the second half of the 1990s, averaging 33 doubles, 17 home runs and 79 RBI from 1995 to 1999.
At his peak in 1999, he was a bona fide MVP candidate for the Cleveland Indians, hitting .323/.422/.533 for a 140 OPS+ with 40 doubles, 24 home runs, 120 RBI, 138 runs and 37 steals in a 7.4-WAR season to finish third in the AL balloting.
He was also a standout performer in the postseason, winning ALCS MVP honors in 1992 and going 12-for-25 during the 1993 World Series while winning back-to-back titles with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Biggio vs. Alomar debate is a compelling one and both players were among the faces of the decade, but Alomar comes out on top.