Superdupersubs (Part 4:  1990-2007)

We’ve examined the Superdupersubs of 1901-1940, 1941-1970, and 1971-1989. Now we’re ready to meet the Superdupersubs of the modern era.

As a reminder, a Superdupersub is a player who meets the following criteria:

- He must appear in at least 100 games in a given season, and come to the plate at least 300 times;
and
- He must appear in at least 20 games at three or more defensive positions (and if it’s just three positions, they can’t all be in the outfield);
and/or
- He must appear in at least 10 games at four or more defensive positions;
and/or
- He must appear in at least five games at five or more defensive positions;
and/or
- He must appear in at least one game at six or more defensive positions.

And he has to do this in at least two seasons.

Bobby Bonilla

Year Club       G     PA   OPS+   WS         Games by Position
1986 CHW-PIT   138   496    87    10   LF 76  1B 34  RF 28  CF 10  3B 4
1995 NYM-BAL   141   614   151    22   3B 70  RF 38  LF 32  1B 10

Our capsule of Bonilla in Crossroads said this:

Bonilla never even attempted to kid anyone that he was a good third baseman, but neither did he ever surrender to the notion that he couldn’t be. He always took it seriously, worked very hard, gave it his best. Bonilla was assuredly slow, but he had quick hands and a passable arm, and maintained himself as a presentable enough third base defender to appear there in nearly a thousand games in thirteen separate major league seasons.

Indeed Bonilla played more frequently at third base than any other position, though he was only intermittently a full-timer there. Bonilla’s defensive versatility was a skill very rarely displayed by players as huge as he was (6-foot-3, 240 pounds), and it was among his several significant assets. What a terrific player he was.

Casey Candaele

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1987 MON      138   495    78    12   2B 68   CF 45   SS 25   RF 16    LF 8    1B 1
1992 HOU      135   360    56    4    SS 65   3B 29   LF 20    2B 9    CF 1    RF 1

He was such a light hitter that his major league status verged on the marginal, but Candaele was such a good defender that he kept getting chances anyway.

His mother was quite a remarkable ballplayer.

Bip Roberts

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1989 SDP      117   387   133    18   3B 37   LF 34   RF 21   SS 14    2B 9    CF 1
1992 CIN      147   601   132    28   LF 69   2B 42   3B 36   CF 16

Roberts was a player who didn’t seem to get the recognition he deserved. He was rather injury-prone, and thus only at his best for a few seasons, but when at his best he was just terrific: a high-average hitter with good plate discipline, excellent speed, and of course remarkable defensive versatility.

Alas, for the past several years Roberts has been employed as an “in the stands” reporter on the Giants’ local home-game cable TV broadcasts. Now, “in the stands” reporters serve no positive purpose under the best of circumstances, and when Roberts is the “in the stands” reporter, well … how to describe his on-camera skills? “Awful” would be putting it charitably.

Tony Phillips

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1989 OAK      143   524   100    14   2B 84   3B 49   SS 17   LF 13    RF 4    1B 1
1990 DET      152   687   101    22   3B 104  2B 47   SS 11    RF 4    LF 4    CF 1
1991 DET      146   655   123    23   3B 46   2B 36   LF 25   RF 23   SS 13    CF 9
1992 DET      159   733   118    23   2B 57   RF 35   CF 24   3B 20   LF 14    SS 1

One of the most remarkable careers of his era, or any era for that matter.

Alex Patton’s guidebook following the 1994 season included this comment on Phillips, written by Bruce Buschel:

Last season may have been his best ever, in an odd career that keeps pushing its peak backward. Thirty-six is not normally prime time. Perhaps energy is finite and Phillips has stored up the unexpended energies from his platoon and part-timer days.

Perhaps it’s simply will power — he is an intense man who came to stardom late and revels in every minute. Watch him before a game. There is purpose to every swing, every shagged fly. Don’t expect to see Tony Phillips smile. He’s not having fun in the traditional sense.

Nor is he talented in the traditional way; he was not blessed with great speed, power, or size. That’s not to say he’s not one of the best 25 players on earth. It’s the Pete Rose Profile — while everyone thought Rose did not possess much “natural ability,” what he had was excellent eyesight, superb eye-hand coordination, great endurance, ungodly determination and world class instincts.

Are those not natural gifts? Are we now entering the debate of nature v. nurture? Yes, entering and exiting.

Lenny Harris

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1989 CIN-LAD  115   358    66    4    2B 46   3B 24   LF 20   SS 18    RF 1
1991 LAD      145   485   100    13   3B 113  2B 27   SS 20    LF 1
1992 LAD      135   380    78    9    2B 81   3B 33   SS 10    RF 8    LF 7
1996 CIN      125   333    92    10   3B 24   LF 23   RF 18   1B 16    2B 8    CF 1
1998 CIN-NYM  132   317    76    3    RF 73   LF 34   3B 10    2B 2    CF 1    1B 1    P 1
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Not especially good at any single thing, Harris was a round-bodied left-handed hitter who was competent at getting on base, at running the bases, and at making the routine play at just about any defensive spot. Thus manager after manager found him a useful guy to have around, and indeed he matched Don Demeter with the all-time record for most superdupersub seasons, at five.

Harris was so handy that following his superdupersub days, he hung around as a standard utility man just about forever, and eventually accumulated the all-time record for pinch-hits, with 212. It’s true that the record was less a testament to Harris’s sheer quality as a hitter than it was to his getting a whole lot of pinch-hit at-bats, but the at-bats were a function of the fact that Harris brought a variety of skills to a ball club’s bench, for a very long time.

Mike Gallego

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1990 OAK      140   447    57    7    2B 83   SS 38   3B 27    RF 1
1993 NYY      119   465   112    13   SS 55   2B 52   3B 27

An unusual superdupersub in that not only did he practically never play in the outfield—that single right field appearance you see there in 1990 was his lone outer garden deployment in 13 seasons and nearly 2,000 major league games—but additionally, Gallego’s infield appearances were strictly limited to second base, shortstop, and third. Of course, the fact that he was the sort of player who put the “short” in shortstop may explain his absence of first base assignments.

Gallego survived testicular cancer before reaching the major leagues.

Cory Snyder

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1992 SFG      124   420   118    11   RF 48   1B 27   LF 22   3B 14   CF 13    2B 4    SS 3
1993 LAD      143   570    99    12   RF 113  3B 23   1B 12    SS 2    LF 2    CF 1

The authors of the 1994 guidebook Essential Baseball had such a keen eye for supersubs that they coined the term “IMP”—for Impact Multiposition Player—and deployed it as its own category for presenting and comparing players.

Here’s what they had to say about Snyder:

An IMP who may have found a home in RF though his TOPR [Total Offensive Production Rating] would have put him well below that of an average NL RF … Career seemed much like Lazarus a couple of years ago — dead. But he’s arisen from a string of horrible seasons to prove he belongs in the bigs. But unlike Lazarus who was commanded to rise and walk, Snyder doesn’t walk. If only he did! Just 47 BBs and 147 Ks … Still has occasional power but nothing like the belter he was when he arrived with Cleveland in the late ’80s … Some will blame the hitting theories of White Sox instructor Walt Hriniak for messing him up. But in truth Snyder’s decline was already at full speed when he arrived in the Windy City and made it even windier (one “fan” every 3 at-bats) … But still has a remarkable throwing arm and can play several spots afield … The kind of player you love to have as a “tenth man.”

Indeed it’s the case that Snyder’s offensive profile was atypical among superdupersubs; they tend to be slappy line-drive types, not all-or-nothing power guys. Snyder joins 1950s slugger Frank Thomas as the only Homeruncentricity Trifecta men to be superdupersubs.

Randy Velarde

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1992 NYY      121   461   102    13   SS 75   3B 26   LF 14    RF 7    2B 3    CF 2
1995 NYY      111   432   102    13   2B 62   SS 28   LF 20   3B 19    RF 1

An interesting take on Velarde from Glen Waggoner’s 1996 guidebook:

At some point, guys like Velarde hurt teams more by blocking the development of young players more than they help by providing some versatility and production. It’s not Velarde’s fault — he is what he is, a good utility man who can best help a team by coming off the bench and filling it at a number of positions. It’s just that the presence of a guy like that gives a timid front office an excuse for not taking a chance on younger, untested players with bigger upsides.

Well, then. The younger, untested player with bigger upside in question was some kid named Jeter. I don’t know, but I’m not thinking that having Derek spend his age-21 season in triple-A was all that tragic.

But what this vividly illustrates is just how differently the Yankees’ organization was seen at that point than it would be shortly thereafter, and certainly than it’s become since. The Yankees haven’t not been in the post-season in any of the years since that was written, but when it was written the Yankees had just made their first post-season appearance in a decade-and-a-half, and been eliminated in the first round. Thus the mid-1990s view of the Yankees was as a rather hapless operation with a “timid front office,” a perspective that would quickly become quaint.

Dave Martinez

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1995 CHW      119   349   113    10   1B 47   RF 32   LF 30    CF 5    P 1
1996 CHW      146   498   122    16   CF 73   RF 73   1B 23    LF 3
1997 CHW      145   573   104    15   RF 75   1B 52   CF 45    LF 4

Joining Jimmy Wasdell, Tom McCraw, and Gene Richards as just the fourth lefty-throwing superdupersub in history.

Waggoner’s 1999 one-liner on Martinez nailed it: “He should be able to hit .280 in his sleep, don’t you think?”

F. P. Santangelo

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1996 MON      152   467   104    18   CF 76   LF 33   3B 23   RF 18    2B 5    SS 1
1997 MON      130   440   100    10   RF 51   LF 40   3B 32   CF 13    2B 7    SS 1
1998 MON      122   462    68    6    LF 72   2B 35   CF 23    3B 1    RF 1
1999 SFG      113   325   107    10   CF 49   LF 26   2B 11    RF 9    3B 3    SS 1

In the opening installment of this series, we made the point that while superdupersubs come in many different varieties, the archetype is the undersized battler who makes up in sweat what he lacks in smoothness. Such players are self-made, not natural-born, as they spend their careers working every angle that will endear them to management, gaining competence (though rarely mastery) in a breadth of skills, doing “the little things” right, and so on.

This was true at the beginning of the 20th century, and it remained true at the end, and rarely over the decades has a player more purely exemplified this type than Santangelo. Here’s what The Scouting Notebook had to say about him in 2000: “Average speed and arm strength are about the only notable physical tools that Santangelo can claim. The rest he has to make up through hard work and scrappy effort.”

Craig Paquette

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1996 KCR      118   462    87    5    3B 51   LF 47   1B 19   SS 11
2000 STL      134   420    80    9    3B 86   1B 28   LF 18   RF 16   2B 13
2001 STL      123   370   102    12   3B 33   LF 33   RF 26   1B 23    2B 4

The Crossroads series a few years back discussed the role that third base plays as the midpoint, the intersection, of the defensive spectrum. As such, quite a few superdupersubs have been “natural” third basemen, pivoting in either direction.

Paquette was that sort. He was pretty good with the glove at the hot corner, but not dependable enough with the bat to hold a regular job there (he had good power but zero, absolutely zilch, strike zone discipline). So, his teams found fill-in uses for him at first base and as a corner outfielder (where he was better than average defensively), and occasionally as a middle infielder (where he could hold his own on a short-term basis).

Mark Loretta

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1997 MIL      132   482    94    12   2B 63   SS 44   1B 19   3B 15
1998 MIL      140   491   112    16   1B 70   SS 56   3B 22   2B 13    LF 1
1999 MIL      153   664    90    14   SS 74   1B 66   2B 17   3B 14
2007 HOU      133   511    89    11   SS 72   2B 49   1B 24   3B 23

One of the better superdupersubs of this or any era, Loretta had a couple of seasons in mid-career—his age-31 and age-32 years, with the Padres—in which he was deployed as a full-time second baseman, and he played as a bona fide star, indeed something close to a great player. Thus, in retrospect, perhaps it was a mistake for the Brewers to use Loretta as they did through his mid-to-late 20s, when presumably he was at his physical prime. But even if that’s the case, it’s clear that Loretta’s anywhere-in-the-infield versatility and consistently useful line-drive bat delivered a lot of value anyway.

And late in his career, with Houston Loretta has returned to the supersub role and picked up right where he left off.

Bill Spiers

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1999 HOU      127   444    91    12   3B 71   LF 25   SS 13    RF 9    CF 7    2B 4    1B 1
2000 HOU      124   409    92    11   3B 51   SS 27   2B 26    LF 6    RF 4

The thing that stands out in Spiers’s otherwise unremarkable utilityman career was his the degree to which he improved his management of the strike zone in his 30s. Many players will show an increase in walk rate over the course of a career, but rarely as dramatically as in this case. It transformed Spiers from a guy with just another backup infielder’s bat to someone with meaningful offensive value.

Denny Hocking

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1999 MIN      136   421    72    8    SS 61   2B 56   LF 17   RF 13   CF 11    3B 6    1B 2
2000 MIN      134   433    97    11   2B 47   CF 21   RF 19   3B 16   LF 16   SS 15   1B 12
2001 MIN      112   363    72    5    SS 47   2B 17   1B 11    3B 6    LF 6    CF 5    RF 5

Hocking would fit the “scrappy” stereotype of superdupersubs, except that it was really asking too much of him to be in the lineup that frequently. He was a utility man whom Twins’ manager Tom Kelly relied upon more heavily than he should have. The Scouting Notebook put it this way:

Hocking is a useful utility player who struggles when overexposed. His best efforts usually come as a defensive sub and emergency substitute, but he shouldn’t be expected to play regularly, even for a couple of weeks.

Frank Catalanotto

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1999 DET      100   315    99    5    2B 32   1B 32   3B 21
2001 TEX      133   512   128    17   LF 78   RF 15   2B 13   3B 11    1B 5

“Cat” is one of those guys whose best position is batter’s box, but in his 20s Catalanotto was at least nominally a second baseman. Since then he’s been mostly a left fielder, and among the better platoon hitters of his era.

Joe McEwing

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
1999 STL      152   574    84    11   2B 96   LF 32   CF 23   RF 19    3B 6    1B 2    SS 1
2001 NYM      116   319   106    8    LF 48   3B 25   RF 25   SS 12    2B 5    1B 3    CF 2
2003 NYM      119   313    61    5    2B 55   SS 42   LF 16    1B 5    3B 2    RF 2    CF 1

“Super Joe” displayed the gritty/hustling mode as well as any superdupersub ever has, but he really wasn’t a good enough hitter to have justified as much playing time as he got. McEwing was quite streaky at the plate, and could get hot for a few weeks (he hit .386 in April as a rookie in 1999) and that image seemed to overshadow the far more frequent reality of him struggling with the bat.

Melvin Mora

Year Club       G     PA   OPS+   WS         Games by Position
2000 NYM-BAL   132   464    92    12   SS 96  CF 16  LF 12  2B 5   3B 4   RF 3
2002 BAL       149   652   101    16   LF 74  SS 41  CF 31  2B 12  RF 5

As remarkable a career as you’re ever going to see. Here’s what we said when discussing Mora in the context of Non-Batting Batters:

The most impressive story here, and probably the most impressive story among any of the non-batting batters in history, is that of Melvin Mora. Signed by the Mets as a scrap-heap 27-year-old free agent with no major league experience, Mora was used by manager Bobby Valentine in 1999 in a last-guy-on-the-bench garbage-time non-batting batter mode. But the next season, Mora played his way into a semi-regular role, and after being traded to Baltimore, he has emerged in his thirties as an outstanding player, a two-time All-Star.

Geoff Blum

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2000 MON      124   379    94    9    3B 55   SS 44   2B 13   1B 11
2001 MON      148   514    71    8    3B 73   LF 35   2B 25   1B 14    SS 4
2002 HOU      130   421   107    15   3B 104   LF 9    RF 3    SS 2    2B 1    1B 1
2003 HOU      123   449    72    5    3B 83   2B 25   SS 11    1B 6    RF 1    LF 1
2005 SDP-CHW  109   351    72    6    3B 46   2B 21   SS 20   1B 14

And here he is, tying Demeter and Harris for the all-time lead with five superdupersub seasons. Exactly why, I can’t figure out.

Blum is a lot like Lenny Harris, but not as capable: he doesn’t have Harris’s speed on the bases nor his defensive range, and modest a hitter as Harris was, Blum isn’t quite as good with the bat. In short, while Blum is a guy I’d be happy to include on my roster, his role would be strictly utility. The semi-regular playing time he’s been granted over the years hasn’t really been warranted.

Jeff Conine

Year Club       G     PA   OPS+   WS         Games by Position
2001 BAL       139   601   123    24   1B 80  LF 22  3B 17  RF 16
2005 FLA       131   384   110    10   1B 45  LF 37  RF 28
2006 BAL-PHI   142   539    86    9    1B 73  LF 68  RF 26

Not too many guys have their first full major league season at age 27 and then go on to a 17-year, 2,000-game career.

I played in a Fantasy league for many years in which one of the guys just loved Conine. He could be counted upon to pay a premium price for “The Barbarian,” but then Conine would reliably deliver solid offense, and his defensive versatility was just as useful in Fantasy ball as it was in reality.

Mark McLemore

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2001 SEA      125   487   115    18   LF 63   3B 36   SS 35    2B 9    CF 8    RF 2
2002 SEA      104   407   110    13   LF 82   3B 14   CF 12    2B 2    SS 1    RF 1

One of the more interesting careers of all time: A study in perseverance.

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McLemore was given a shot by the Angels as a regular second baseman in his early 20s, but was overmatched at the plate. He fell back into part-time status and then back to the minors, and hit bottom in a ten-month period at ages 25-26, when he was discarded by the Angels as a player to be named later, then released by the Indians (after hitting .150 in 28 games), and then released by the Astros (after hitting .148 in 21 games).

But McLemore just kept at it. He always had good speed, and he developed defensive versatility. He became an adequate hitter, and then became a downright good hitter. The career that had been as good as dead wound up lasting 19 seasons. McLemore achieved his career highs in hits, doubles, and RBIs at age 28; in batting average and OBP at age 31; in walks at age 33; in plate appearances and runs scored at age 34; in triples, stolen bases, slugging, OPS, and OPS+ at age 36; and in homers at age 37.

Albert Pujols

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2001 STL      161   676   157    29   3B 55   1B 43   RF 39   LF 39
2002 STL      157   675   151    32   LF 117  3B 41   1B 21    SS 1    RF 1

Generally, of course, superdupersubs are just overgrown subs, fill-in guys who work their way into the starting lineup, more or less by accident. But once every few decades, it seems, a flat-out great hitter finds himself deployed in the superdupersub role. In the 1900s it was Honus Wagner, in the 1950s it was Stan Musial, in the 1980s it was Pedro Guerrero, and in the 2000s, at the outset of his career, it was Prince Albert.

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Pujols is comparable to Jimmie Foxx not only in that both are among the best right-handed hitters ever to swing a bat. They also share the attribute of being graceful and well-rounded athletes, quick on their feet despite carrying tremendous upper-body strength, and with nimble hands, resulting in outstanding defensive aptitude. In both cases their teams spent several years toying with them at different defensive positions before finally settling with them at first base. In both cases it wasn’t because of poor fielding at the other positions, but simply that their offensive production was so spectacular that their teams decided to not mess around with this kind of franchise-player talent, and just allow him to focus on his hitting.

And in both cases, once settled at first base they became superb at the position. In Foxx’s day there was no Gold Glove award, but I suspect if there was he would have bagged a few; Bill James’s Win Shares system has Foxx leading AL first basemen in defensive Win Shares multiple times, and overall gives his defense the letter grade of “A.” And Pujols has been a Gold Glove winner.

Ramon Martinez

Year Club       G     PA   OPS+   WS         Games by Position
2001 SFG       128   446    81    9    3B 70  2B 42  SS 24
2003 CHC       108   333    84    7    2B 42  3B 37  SS 32  1B 2

The sort of guy who’s handy to have on your bench, but if he’s getting this much playing time, you have injury problems.

Desi Relaford

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2001 NYM      120   340   118    13   2B 54   SS 25   3B 20    P 1
2002 SEA      112   376    92    9    SS 40   3B 38   LF 25   2B 11   RF 10
2003 KCR      141   557    77    11   2B 89   3B 33   RF 15    SS 6    CF 5    LF 1
2004 KCR      114   430    56    4    3B 42   2B 36   LF 22   SS 12    RF 9    CF 3

Though he was a real little guy (listed at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds), Relaford had nice pop in his bat. But his batting average, and his walk rate as well, were just all over the place.

Jolbert Cabrera

Year Club       G     PA   OPS+   WS         Games by Position
2001 CLE       141   312    75    6    LF 36  CF 35  2B 28  3B 27  RF 18  SS 14
2003 LAD       128   380   104    9    2B 59  CF 38  LF 31  SS 9   1B 8   3B 5   RF 4
2004 SEA       113   391    83    8    3B 36  1B 23  LF 21  2B 18  SS 14  CF 1   RF 1

Orlando’s big brother was an interesting player: he never threatened for a second to be a regular at any position with any team, but he was so exceptionally flexible defensively that he was used as a one-man bench by three different teams in succession.

Offensively, Jolbert wasn’t a good hitter overall: He had no semblance of plate discipline, and tried to pull everything. But with his long skinny arms he was remarkably adept at hooking hump-backed liners down the left field line for two bases. In 2003 he had 98 hits, and 32 of them were doubles, about as high a proportion as you’re ever going to see.

Kevin Millar

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2001 FLA      144   495   140    20   RF 66   LF 27   1B 15   3B 10
2004 BOS      150   588   117    17   1B 69   RF 55   LF 20

Mr. “Cowboy Up” has never exactly wowed observers with his athletic grace—this would explain why he appeared in only two major league games before he was 27—but while Millar has never played any position especially well, he has been able to handle several. And for most of his career he’s been a very fine hitter.

Craig Counsell

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2001 ARI      141   533    82    14   SS 58   2B 55   3B 38    1B 2
2007 MIL      122   334    65    5    3B 50   SS 27   2B 24

He isn’t a bad player by any means, but I’ve never understood why Counsell has gotten as much regular playing time as he has over the years. He’s a reliable fielder at second, short, or third, and as a hitter he’s, well, not an embarrassment: that adds up to utility man, I would think, not first-stringer. Yet Counsell has started nearly 1,000 major league games.

Jose Vizcaino

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2002 HOU      125   438    90    11   SS 58   3B 30   2B 25    1B 5
2004 HOU      138   385    75    8    SS 64   2B 37   2B 21    1B 8

Vizcaino’s career, on the other hand, followed a perfectly sensible arc. He spent his initial few years establishing himself as a utility player, then broke through as a solid-but-unspectacular starting shortstop through his late 20s. Then in his 30s Vizcaino appropriately receded back into the utility role, in which his defensive versatility and his switch-hitting served him well.

Rob Mackowiak

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2002 PIT      136   439    96    12   RF 76   CF 42   3B 26    2B 3    LF 2
2004 PIT      155   555    90    15   RF 79   3B 55   LF 25   CF 19    1B 1
2005 PIT      142   512    91    12   3B 65   CF 41   RF 23   2B 20    1B 3    LF 1

A modestly-sized fellow who generates surprising power; all in all a very useful player.

Brad Wilkerson

Year Club       G     PA   OPS+   WS         Games by Position
2002 MON       153   603   117    17   CF 73  LF 72  1B 23  RF 3
2003 MON       146   602   115    18   LF 95  CF 42  1B 27  RF 16
2004 MON       160   688   119    22   1B 86  LF 59  CF 18  RF 10
2005 WSN       148   661   103    23   CF 92  LF 38  1B 25  RF 6

The fifth left-handed-throwing superdupersub in the history of superdupersubs put together an extremely nice several-year run with the Expos/Nationals. You never knew which of his four possible positions Wilkerson was going to play, but you knew he was going to be in the starting lineup, delivering consistently sound offense.

Chone Figgins

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2004 ANA      148   638   101    20   3B 92   CF 54   2B 20   SS 13    RF 2    LF 1
2005 LAA      158   720   103    22   3B 56   CF 50   2B 42   LF 15    RF 8    SS 4
2006 LAA      155   683    89    17   CF 96   3B 34   LF 16    2B 9    RF 6    SS 2

In nearly every respect, Figgins is a current-day replica of Cesar Tovar: For all practical purposes they’re the same player.

Just like Tovar, Figgins delivers consistent high-average line-drive hitting, outstanding speed, and competent (though not brilliant) defensive work at third base, second, or the outfield. Just like Tovar, Figgins is unfazed by being yanked around from one position to the other, game-to-game or even inning-to-inning.

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And just like Tovar, this mode of deployment has caused observers to congregate in two camps. On the one hand are those who assert that this fine talent isn’t being allowed to develop to its fullest, that if his team would just settle him in at one position—any position—he could develop superior defensive skill to go along with his offense, and truly blossom. On the other hand are those who say that so long as the juggling is truly serving a larger team purpose, and isn’t simply a function of indecisiveness, then this very special talent is already being leveraged in a creative and competitively advantageous way.

Myself, I’ll equivocate to the extent that each case really does need to be considered on its own, but my bias is in favor of the latter point of view. The value of a “set” lineup is generally quite overrated, I think, and while the typical player no doubt benefits from being allowed to focus on a limited set of challenges, the flexibility afforded by the player able to perform multiple tasks creates extra value.

Ryan Freel

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2004 CIN      143   592    96    19   3B 56   RF 46   CF 42   2B 15   LF 12
2005 CIN      103   431    96    12   2B 48   LF 25   CF 18   RF 13   3B 10
2006 CIN      132   523    93    13   CF 54   RF 42   2B 13   3B 13   LF 13

A stocky guy with great speed and not much else, but doggone it he plays good baseball. Freel’s scrap-heap pickup-who-makes-good story is one of the best. Most players in the majors have more raw talent than Freel, but most have achieved, and will achieve, far less than Freel.

Mark DeRosa

Year Club      G     PA   OPS+   WS          Games by Position
2006 TEX      136   572   108    14   RF 60   3B 40   2B 26    SS 7    LF 5    1B 1
2007 CHC      149   574   102    17   2B 93   3B 37   RF 22    1B 9    SS 1    LF 1

Speaking of feel-good stories … DeRosa was just a good utilityman through his 20s, but has broken through as a first-rate superdupersub in his 30s.

But am I the only one who, on occasion, has gotten him confused with Mark Loretta?

References & Resources
Alex Patton, Patton’s 1995 Predictions for Rotisserie Baseball, New York: Wings, 1995, p. 183.

Norm Hitzges and Dave Lawson, 1994 Essential Baseball, New York: Penguin, 1994, p. 48.

Glen Waggoner, editor, Rotisserie League Baseball: 1996 Edition, Boston: Little, Brown, 1996, p. 82.

Glen Waggoner, editor, Rotisserie League Baseball: 1999 Edition, Wilton, CT: Diamond Library, 1999, p. 135.

John Dewan, Don Zminda, and Jim Callis, editors, The Scouting Notebook 2000, Morton Grove, IL: STATS Publishing, p. 679.

John Dewan, editor, The Scouting Notebook 2002, Morton Grove, IL: STATS Publishing, p. 180.

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