Position Roundtables: Starting Second Base
Dave: Starting Second Base: Bret Boone.
2004 was a disaster for Bret Boone, especially in light of his recent
performances, including his excellent 2003 season. His performances
went down across the board, dropping to a mediocre .251./317/.423
line. More disturbingly, there doesn’t seem to be a single culprit
that led to the struggles; he just got worse across the board. He
swung more often and made less contact. When he hit the ball, it
didn’t go as far, and it was turned into an out far more often. Even
his stolen bases fell, but he was caught more often. In addition, his
defense appeared to have purchased a 20 game plan, only bothering to
come to the park on select days.
He turns 36 before the third game of the season. He’s played almost
1700 games at a position known for wearing down players earlier than
expected. I know Boone thinks he just had an off year, and he’s done
the lasik thing to claim that his increased vision is going to help
him return to previous levels of stardom, but I just don’t see it.
The Bret Boone of 2001-2003 is just a memory at this point, and all
we’ve got left of that Boone is the jersey and the contract.
I don’t expect another massive slide for Boone, at least not this
year. I think he’ll hit something like he did last year or maybe a slight improvement, say
.260/.320/.440, which is still a pretty decent second baseman. With
the impending move of Jose Lopez to second base, however, Boone’s
replacement is waiting in the wings, so this is probably his swan song
in Seattle. It was a great run, but I just don’t see Boone hooking up
the juvenation machine and reliving the glory days again.
Derek: I agree, though I also think there’s a bounce possible. Even the
bad-hitting pre-Mariner Boone hit better than last year’s version.
Boone’s an obvious example of a player that didn’t peak at 27-28. While
on a larger scale we know that players peak then and then decline, and
we can talk about the shape of careers (as we did in Sexson’s case) many
players peak early, or late, and in general a player who had a nice,
easily distinguishable career year at 27 and then declined softly and
steadly until 35, when they crashed would be the exception. When Boone
was supposed to be at his best, in 1995-1997, he wasn’t: his 1994 year
was really good, his 1995 good, and then he stunk it up for two years
until he put up some decent numbers, and then 2001 and 2003 were
stellar. 2002, by istelf, was impressive but wouldn’t have been
unbelievable on its own. Compared to 2001 and 2003, it looks anemic.
My point is that Boone’s career may have taken an unexpected late turn,
but I look at his 13-year career and in trying to guess at what next
year’s performance would be like, I keep looking back at the bad and
decent years that have made up the bulk of his lines. If he hit
.240/.300/.350 next year, that wouldn’t be surprising.
Really, are there cases where LASIK has dramatically improved a hitter’s
performance this late in their career?
Other interesting fact, though: while nearly every defensive stat you
can point to showed Boone as a below-average defender and in many cases,
far below average, UZR had him at +5 which I think has to be some kind
of fluke. Defensive metrics are all subject to strangeness. As much as
I’ve looked to UZR in the past for answers, in this case I think there’s
something odd going on.
Lopez should be a good player and a contributor to the next truly
competitive team, and there’s an excellent chance he’ll be promoted
during the season if he takes to second well and Boone doesn’t rebound well.
Jeff: Once again, I am in concordance with what Dave and Derek have said. One small addendum: I think continued productivity by Jeff Kent (a player of similar vintage, and Boone’s top PECOTA comparison) indicates that a rebound is possible.
To help undermine the site’s reputation as a source for factual information, though, I also offer this parody of Robert Service’s poem ‘Boon Soul.’
With profound apologies to Robert Service
Behold! He is old; frosted hair soon white;
Bret’s years-eroded swing
a sometimes troubling sight,
absent now what it once did bring.
The raucous second baseman’s skills
held through select all-star years,
one-hundred sixteen wins, viewed thrills
where facing Boone ranked in pitchers’ fears.
But in watching him this year you’ll see
(along with an inevitable decline, belated)
observers muse of how next year he’ll be
himself among the For Assignment Designated.
Yes, I know that letting a player walk in free agency is not the same as designating him for assignment. Poetic license.
Jason: For starters, I think we should be glad 2005 is the last year of Boone’s
current contract. Maybe he just looks young, but I was marginally surprised
to see he turns 36 in April; not that I thought he was 30 or anything, but
he just doesn’t seem 36.
Moving on. As I said at the USSM Feed a few months back, Boone’s not as good
as he was in 2003 but not as bad as he was last season, either. Nobody’s
mentioned this yet, but he was slowed by nagging hip/back injuries that
certainly hurt him at the plate, even though he still managed to play 148
games. Assuming those problems are gone, we should see a small bounce back
in his offensive numbers. I think we should look for something similar to
his 2002 season — I’ll say he posts a .270/.340/.480 line.
That sort of production won’t mean he’s worth his $9M salary, but it’s
certainly not awful for the position. It also helps that he shouldn’t have
to be the team’s only power option next season; you can afford to have that
line from your fourth- or fifth-best hitter (Ichiro, Beltre, er, Sexson…),
but not from your second-best.
I don’t think we’ll see much of Lopez in 2005 unless Boone’s hurt or the M’s
fall way back in the race the way they did last season. I suppose there’s a
third option as well: Boone’s playing well but the M’s aren’t, and Bavasi
manages to unload him in July.
Peter: For some reason my memory had displaced just how
stinky Boone’s 2004 had been. Then I see him ranked
7th in the AL VORP for 2B, sandwiched between Adam
Kennedy and Omar Infante. Yikes!
The holy books of baseball history leave much to be
desired when it comes to 36-year-old second basemen.
Hmm… let’s see. There’s the 1939 version of Charlie
Gehringer. He played on l18 games for the Tigers, yet
put together a .308 EqA (adjusted for all-time). In
1923, Eddie Collins batted a .302 EqA (again,
era-adjusted) in a full season of 152 games. Those
fellas are enshined in Cooperstown, though, and a Hall
of Famer Bret Boone is not.
More modern and mortal examples include Willie
Randolph (1991, 124 games, .315 EqA), Lou Whitaker
(1993, 119 games, .314 EqA), Tony Fernandez (1998, 138
games, .299 EqA) and Randy Velarde (1999, 95 games of
.286 EqA for Anaheim and 61 games of .306 for
Oakland). However, none of these guys resemble Boone’s
skillset or career arc.
On the other hand, his ginormous season of 2001 seems
to have warped our historical perspective of what we
Mariner fans should expect from their second basemen.
Prior to Booney, the best offensive season we had seen
from a second sacker was Joey Cora of the Kingdome
(1997, 11 HR, 54 RBI, .284 adjusted EqA). In that one
season, Boone hit more homers than Cora did his whole
One interesting tidbit from Boone’s latest tenure in
Seattle: The trend in his
pitches-seen-per-plate-appearance is going up, yet his
plate-appearances-per-strikeout is tanking
dramatically. He saw 3.96 P/PA last year, the very
same as Edgar Martinez.
2001, 3.69 P/PA, 6.27 PA/K
2002, 3.68 P/PA, 6.61 PA/K
2003, 3.93 P/PA, 5.64 PA/K
2004, 3.96 P/PA, 4.87 PA/K
Perhaps he was pressing in a lost, nighmare year.
Perhaps his vision was terrible. And maybe the Lasix
will help. And maybe the presence of Beltre and Sexson
in the lineup will take some pressure off. I’d like to
PECOTA has Boone pegged around .260/.330/.450 and 25
homers in 490 AB. I, for one, wouldn’t cry to see that
line from Booney. As has been read in this space
before, PECOTA is based on comparable players, and
there just aren’t that many for Boone.
If Boone can manage those solid numbers and the
Mariners find themselves swimming ’round .500 by July,
flipping Boone for some prospects isn’t out of the
question. It would have made for a good run.
I am going to love double plays this summer. I’m just
imagining Dave Niehaus tripping through “Booney to
Pokey, Pokey to Booney.” It’s gonna be great.
Dave: Actually, I think Lou Whittaker is a pretty decent comparison. Not
perfect, but decent. Boone doesn’t possess Whittaker’s ability to
control the strike zone, but both were .270-.300 hitters with some pop
despite not being over 6’0 tall. And though he couldn’t stay healthy
at the end of his career, Whittaker was a pretty good hitter until the
day he retired. So maybe I’m underestimating Boone a little bit.
And, also, I think we’d be remiss to not mention the fact that Boone
is the case study for the type of right-handed power hitter who isn’t
affected by Safeco Field. From 2002-2004, he hit .274/.340/.471 at
home and .276/.342/.478 on the road. That’s a statistical tie, for
all intents and purposes. Why? Look at his hitting
chart. He’s peppering the ball to right field consistently, the
part of Safeco that favors hitters.
By my subjective count, Boone’s career extra base hit numbers at Safeco Field:
Left Field Line: 18 doubles, 0 triples, 2 home runs
Left Center Gap: 14 doubles, 1 triple, 16 home runs
Center Field: 4 doubles, 0 triples, 10 home runs
Right Center Gap: 11 doubles, 2 triples, 15 home runs
Right Field Line: 17 doubles, 1 triple, 15 home runs
Now, trying to divide center field from right center gap by looking at
a hitting chart isn’t perfect, and squinting to see if there are one
or two “D” marks on the chart is a challenge, so these numbers
probably have a 5% margin of error. But the general idea is still
true. Boone drives the ball the other way far more often than he does
to left field. He’s the tailor made Safeco Field power hitter. If
the M’s want right-handed bats who aren’t going to be affected by
Safeco, they should find hitters like Bret Boone.