The Second Base Conundrum

I was a junior in high school when I realized how much I hated Fernando Vina.

Until the spring of 2003, I liked Vina. He was the only consistent Cardinal second baseman of my lifetime and his scrappy, dirtied-up jersey appealed to my 17-year-old sensibilities.

Then my girlfriend, who turned out to be my ex-girlfriend a short time later, and someone who would string me along for the remainder of the school year, told me she was in love with Fernando Vina.

I was incensed and now viewed him as my mortal enemy.

I looked at his picture and couldn't figure out what he had that I didn't. A closely cropped goatee? A turtleneck that he wore when the weather was chilly? How did this appeal to my girlfriend? I was confused.

Ten years after Vina left the Cardinals for a short stint with the Detroit Tigers that ended with retirement, I have lessened my hatred for his stupid looking goatee and stocky shoulders. While Vina was merely an average player as a Cardinal, I would welcome that consistent, averageness (?) now.

From 2000-2003, the four seasons Vina occupied second base for the Cardinals, he accumulated over 8 fWAR. St. Louis was 10th in the league during that time in WAR from second base, getting almost 12 wins from the position.

In the nine seasons since then, the Cardinals have treated the position with all the care of a rental car. Which is fitting since that's how they regularly employ second basemen -- as rentals. All they have to show for it is 20.2 fWAR, which is 21st and ahead of solidly run organizations like Houston, Washington, the Mets, Seattle, the White Sox, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Kansas City.

Yes, those are the only franchises in baseball that have gotten less out of their second basemen in the past nine seasons.


At this point, you are probably prepared to poke holes in the argument you already know I'm going to make: that the Cardinals' strategy at second base was derailed by Adam Kennedy's sourpuss attitude. That Skip Schumaker fought the good fight. That good second basemen are hard to come by. All of these are valid in their own way, but they don't account for the pure laziness and uncreative ways they've botched the position as a whole.

St. Louis cut bait on Mark Grudzielanek after the 2005 season in which he posted a .294/.331/.407 slash line and 3.4 fWAR. They balked at giving him multi-years and a raise, instead opting to go internal with Hector Luna and short person Aaron Miles.

Cardinal second basemen went from 4.2 fWAR in 2005 (8th) to 1.2 fWAR in 2006 (23rd). Grudzielanek essentially repeated his 2005 season in Kansas City while posting 2.8 fWAR.

The Cardinals saved a couple million bucks, but also had two fewer wins to show for it.

Great call!

Adam Kennedy was supposed to change all that, but a balky knee rendered him useless in 2007 as the Cardinals slumped to -0.3 fWAR at second base and 27th in the league.

But the situation improved in 2008. Kennedy was a slick defender and was worth 1.7 wins. Felipe Lopez cared about baseball again after being cut by the Washington Nationals and he was worth 1.7 wins in a two-month fury. Aaron Miles BABIP'd his way to 2 wins.

This motley crew combined for 6 wins and were fourth in the league.

Then the Cardinals got silly.

Three years of a ridiculous experiment that saw Schumaker suck up close to 1,000 plate appearances netted just 4.2 wins, good for 22nd in MLB. The only saving grace during this period was Nick Punto's 1.8 wins in 2011.


Somebody might say that, while the Cardinals have not gotten much value out of second base over the past nine seasons, they also haven't put much money into the position and you get what you pay for, which is utterly ridiculous.

It's not just that the Cardinals have treated second base as a revolving door for misfits, outcasts and Caucasian players who look and play vaguely like second basemen, but it's the total disdain for the position. Second base is not some position that you throw up your hands and say "screw defense!" but it is the philosophy Tony La Russa favored for years while John Mozeliak went along with it.

They played make believe about Schumaker's defense, even though it was painfully obvious to anyone watching that after three years of his white-man work ethic he had all the graceful footwork of an inebriated hippopotamus on ice skates. [1] Contrary to what the Schumaker Defense Force might insist, his bat was simply not enough to overcome his terrible field.

We don't know what will become of Kolten Wong, but we know the Cardinals have every intention of letting him become the team's no-doubt-about-it guy at second base. I'm more interested in what the Cardinals' strategy will be if Wong fails, though. Do they continue operating the merry-go-round, letting the next Aaron Miles hop on board? Do they identify a potential trading partner? Do they get creative?

All those questions won't be answered for a few years, but 2013 will be another year of uncertainty, fluidity and probably frustration at second base. This is concerning because the team is not a juggernaut that can sustain getting next to nothing out of one position. A team with as many question marks as the Cardinals must get some value of it.

So here's to you, Daniel Descalso. May you do your best Joe Morgan impression. Here's to you, Kolten Wong. May you be every bit the player scouts and experts think you will be.

And here's to you, too, Fernando Vina. Because you're missed more than you'll ever know.

[1] Don't snicker; I know one.

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