THE REDBIRD REVIEW
It’s time for the latest addition to the All-DeWitt Era Team. I’ve been analyzing and choosing the top players at every position during the 28 seasons that Bill DeWitt Jr. has owned the Cardinals.
So far, I’ve picked the starting pitchers, relievers, catchers and first basemen. Today, I’m trying to work through the puzzle at second base.
The most difficult part of choosing the top five second basemen during the DeWitt Era (1996-2023) is sorting these gentlemen out. There are just so many of them.
Manager Tony La Russa (1996-2011) had a revolving cast of second-base starters during his 16 seasons. He also used the position as a time-share system.
— Some of La Russa’s best teams featured one-and-done second basemen who only held the gig for a single season: Tony Womack in 2004, and Mark Grudzielanek in 2005. Those Cardinals won 205 games over two seasons.
— From 2006 through 2008, La Russa never had a fixture at second base. The position was a shuffle of Cards including Aaron Miles, Hector Luna, Ronnie Belliard, Adam Kennedy.
— So with the one-and-done guys and the ensuing carousel ride, here’s how the playing time was allocated over the five-year period from 2004 through 2008: Miles 258 games, Kennedy 169 games, Grudzielanek 137 games, Womack 133 games, Luna 85 games, Ronnie Belliard 54 games, Brendan Ryan 40 games, Abraham Nunez 25 games, Felipe Lopez 23 games. There’s even a few others who got some playing time at second: Marlon Anderson, Abraham Nunez, Jose Vizcaino, Scott Spiezio, Brian Barden, Rico Washington, So Taguchi – and Albert Pujols.
— TLR went with casts of second basemen in a particular year. In 1999, he made extensive use of three second basemen: Joe McEwing, Placido Polanco and Adam Kennedy.
— With Fernando Vina injured for much of 2003, Bo Hart played the most games (69) and Miguel Cairo (40) received the most action at second base in 2003.
— Aaron Miles played more 2B than any Cardinal during the 2006 World Series championship season – but with a high of only 88 games. Belliard was acquired from Cleveland from Luna at the 2006 trade deadline and helped them the rest of the way. (Belliard made a crucial defensive play that protected a Game 1 win at San Diego in the ‘06 LDS.) But when the Cards reached the World Series against the Tigers, Belliard started three games and Miles started the other two.
— When the Cardinals triumphed in the World Series again in 2011, just take a look at all of the second basemen that La Russa put to work with the number of games in parenthesis: Skip Schumaker (95), Nick Punto (45), Ryan Theriot (35), Tyler Greene (25), Daniel Descalso (18), Pete Kozma (10) and Allen Craig (8).
— Schumaker is part of another category: players moved to second base from their “natural” positions. The other notable in this regard was Matt Carpenter.
— In his two seasons as manager Oli Marmol has used Nolan Gorman at second base for 1,128 innings, Tommy Edman for 988 innings, and Brendan Donovan for 526 innings.
— There have been a few locked-in starters who handled the job over multiple seasons: Delino DeShields (1997-1998), Fernando Vina (2000-2003), Schumaker (2009-2010) and – most of all – Kolten Wong (2014 through 2020.)
I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda dizzy.
But … it’s worked. Since DeWitt took over a slumping franchise in 1996 and made it great again, the Cardinals rank sixth among the 30 MLB teams for most Wins Above Replacement (78.5) at second base. While there was never a super-star caliber player there, the Cardinals have extracted positive results at second base over the last 28 seasons.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say it’s been a collective effort.
1. Kolten Wong: He held the second base job for a longer period of time than any other Cardinal during the DeWitt Era. In seven-plus seasons with St. Louis, Wong played in 785 games at 2B, starting 700 of them.
In his years as the regular starter (2014-2020) Wong led all major-league second basemen with 52 defensive runs saved. He earned two Gold Gloves for his stellar play at second base, but should have won it at least one other time. Wong finished among the top five in the majors for runs saved at second base in five of his seven seasons with the Cardinals.
Consistency was a problem for Wong offensively, but he was solid enough for such a strong defensive player. Wong batted .261 with a .717 OPS as a Cardinal. He posted a double-digit home run total in three seasons, and he swiped 15 or more bases in three seasons.
Wong’s best overall year was 2019, when he batted .285 with a .361 onbase percentage and .423 slug and won his first Gold Glove. During that ‘19 season Wong stroked 25 doubles, four triples and 11 homers with 24 stolen bases and 59 RBI. Among those who played second base exclusively for the Cardinals, Wong leads with 14.4 Wins Above Replacement.
2. Fernando Vina: Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty made a helluva trade before the 2000 season, sending pitcher Juan Acevedo and two expendable prospects to the Brewers for Vina.
The Cardinals were also-rans from 1997 through 1999, failing to make the playoffs in three straight seasons. Vina helped to shake things up. He was a tenacious, in-your-face type of competitor who irritated and distracted opponents.
Vina won Gold Gloves in two of his three healthy seasons, 2001 and 2002. He absorbed the most hit by pitches in the majors (28) in 2000 and had 51 HBP over the three seasons after that. Vina was fiery on the basepaths, going into his slides with aggression. He was known to slap opponents with extra-hard tags. The undersized but relentless Vina disrupted opponents and that made him La Russa’s kind of player.
In his first three seasons with the Cardinals, Vina did a good job as the team’s leadoff hitter with an average onbase percentage of .358.
Vina was part of three consecutive St. Louis playoff teams from 2000 through 2002. And he was outstanding in those three postseasons, batting .333 in 100 plate appearances with a .364 onbase percentage and .430 slug for a .794 OPS. And the Redbirds advanced to the NLCS in two of their three playoff runs.
When Vina started a game at second base from 2000 through 2002, the Cardinals were 238-179 for a winning percentage of .570. Vina’s 2003 season was ruined by a torn hamstring that sidelined him for three-plus months. The ‘03 Cardinals missed his energy and intensity. Their record wasn’t bad (85-77) but losing Vina’s spark and defense was a blow, and the Cards failed to make the playoffs.
3. Tommy Edman: Though he’s played multiple positions, Edman has provided excellent defense at second base. Since his promotion to the majors in June of 2019, Edman ranks third among MLB second basemen with 23 defensive runs saved. That total would be considerably higher if Edman played second base as a full-time assignment. With his superb versatility in the field, Edman ranks 10th in the majors with 45 defensive runs saved. He was awarded the 2021 Gold Glove for his defense at second base and should have been handed another GG trophy in 2022.
Edman’s speed is a significant asset for the Cardinals. Excluding the Covid-shortened 2020 season, Edman has stolen 74 bases in 87 attempts for a success rate of 85 percent. And in his four other seasons – not counting 2020 – Edman has been credited with a net baserunning gain of +137 which puts him in the top five in the majors.
The switch-hitting Edman is more effective against lefty pitching, batting .277 with a .803 OPS during his Cardinals career. Against right-handers his batting average is .261 with a .700 OPS. Unfortunately Edman has struggled offensively in the postseason, batting .224 with a .585 OPS in 64 plate appearances.
But Edman’s overall value can be assessed this way: the Cardinals have qualified for the playoffs four times in five seasons with Edman in place. And since he joined the Cardinals in 2019, Edman has 15.3 Wins Above Replacement. Among Cardinals only Paul Goldschmidt has more WAR (21.3) over that time.
4. Matt Carpenter: He played 248 games at second base for the Cardinals, and started 132 games there in 2013. This was Carp’s best MLB season, and he got a lot done. Made the All-Star team for the first time. Finished fourth in the NL voting for MVP. Won the Silver Slugger as the best-hitting second baseman. He accumulated 7.2 Wins Above Replacement, and that WAR was No. 1 among big-league 2B.
In addition to all of that, as the team’s second baseman in 2013 Carpenter led MLB in hits, doubles (55) and runs scored. He batted .318. He had a terrific .382 onbase percentage. He slugged .481. His adjusted OPS put him 40 percent adobe league average offensively. His second-base defense was minus 2 in 2013 but that still ranked 18th in the position in the majors (not bad.) And that defense was no problem at all considering Carpenter’s large-volume offense.
Carpenter’s 7.2 WAR led the team that season; no other Cardinal was close. Carp was the catalyst of an offense of a pennant-winning Cardinal machine that led the NL in runs per game. Carpenter had a huge impact as the leadoff hitter; when batting first in 2013 he hit .323, had a .398 OBP and slugged .483.
Carpenter tailed off in his final two-plus seasons as a Cardinal. But among MLB players that logged at least 885 plate appearances as second basemen from 2013 through 2019, Carpenter ranked first in park-and-league adjusted runs created (141), first in onbase percentage (.390), first in OPS (.864), fourth in slugging (.474) and fourth in batting average (.302).
I don’t think there’s any question about Carpenter’s credentials for the Cardinals Hall of Fame. He’ll get in there soon after he becomes eligible. This is the second appearance by Carpenter on the All-Dewitt ERA team. I ranked him 4th at first base. And we may see him on the list of the team’s top third basemen over the last 28 seasons. That just shows Carpenter’s added value as a multi-position player.
I didn’t put Carpenter high on this list for a couple of reasons: (A) he didn’t play as many games as other second basemen who were worthy of making this top five and (B) his 2B defense was poor when used there on a limited basis after 2015.
5. Delino DeShields: The Cardinals signed him as a free agent before the 1997 season, and he was their starting second baseman for two years. A lot of time has passed since DeShields played for the Cardinals, and it’s easy to forget how good he was.
In his first season in St. Louis DeShields put up a set of impressive numbers that included 26 doubles, a league-leading 14 triples, 11 homers, 55 stolen bases, 58 RBI and 92 runs scored. He batted .295 with a .357 onbase percentage and .448 slug for a .804 OPS.
DeShields was effective again in 1998, batting .290 with a .799 OPS and 26 steals. But he was limited to 117 games because of injuries and slumped during the second half of the season. According to the metrics that were available at the time, Delino’s defense during the two seasons was slightly above average. I enjoyed watching him. He was an exciting player that gave the Cardinals some speed and pizzazz.
Honorable mention: Tony Womack, Mark Grudzielanek, Skip Schumaker, Placido Polanco, Daniel Descalso, Aaron Miles, Nolan Gorman, Joe McEwing.
Thank you for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.