Absolute zero is the coldest temperature theoretically possible. Molecular movement slows to the point of near stoppage, preventing energy transfer from one molecule to another, leaving all energy at the lowest point possible. The snag is that this temperature cannot possibly be reached by any means because no matter how insulated the system, no matter how remote the nebula, nothing can be completely detached from the entropy of the universe. This is oddly comforting and is also the reason that even the Pittsburgh Pirates can have an all-decade team, even without a winning season. You can find the other entries in this series here.
Freddy Sanchez, 2004-2009
Sadly, Sanchez could’ve qualified as either second baseman or third baseman of the decade (more on the third base debacle tomorrow!), but he spent more time at second base and was always more of a second baseman than a corner guy, so he gets the nod here. Also, the only other option was Jose Castillo.
Sanchez isn’t actually a bad choice for second base, even if his whole Pirate career could be used as a lightning rod for the argument over whether or not a .300 batting average is a useful standard when determining a good offensive player. It’s funny to think back to 2003 and remember that Pirate fans were actually a little peeved when Sanchez originally arrived in Pittsburgh. About two weeks before the trade deadline that year, the Pirates sent Scott Sauerbeck and Mike Gonzalez to Boston for Brandon Lyon and a minor league pitcher named Anastacio Martinez. After the trade was signed, sealed, and delivered, Dave Littlefield decided that he wasn’t happy with Lyon’s health and he complained about the deal. Rather than deal with a grievance, the two teams re-worked the deal with Gonzalez moving back to Pittsburgh with Freddy Sanchez and Lyon and Martinez going back to Boston with Jeff Suppan. The short-hand math said that the Pirates traded Suppan (who was a solid starter at the time) and Sauerbeck to Boston for an injured second baseman. (Click after the jump for more)
While Pirate fans moaned about the deal, a friend of mine from Boston repeatedly told me that he liked Sanchez, that he could hit, and that the Pirates had gotten the better of the deal. That didn’t immediately bear itself out as Sanchez missed most of 2004 and the early part of 2005 with injuries, but he settled in to the third base position nicely in the second half of 2005, ending the season with a .300/.347/.436 line after August 1st.
Dave Littlefield promptly responded by signing Joe Randa to be the starting third baseman in the off-season, and as a result Sanchez only started seven games in April of 2006. Seriously, that seems crazy just typing it out and reading it back to myself. Randa went on the disabled list in early May and Sanchez responded by winning the freaking National League batting title, finishing 2006 with a .344/.381/.466 line.
**Aside: at this point, two of the three players on the WHYGAVS team of the decade were royally screwed by Dave Littlefield at one point or another in their careers. If not for the lack of talent and obvious choices at other positions, this would probably be more of a trend**
So Freddy Sanchez could hit. And while I might take issue with his .301 career average with the Pirates because it was only good for a 99 OPS+, you could just as easily point out that that’s a good line for a second baseman or that much of Sanchez’s career was affected by injury or that his 2008 slump was marked by some remarkable bad luck. I’ll just concede the point that for a middle infielder, Sanchez could hit even if his best season came at third base
The reason Sanchez belongs at second base (beyond the fact that he really played there a lot more) is that even know, it’s impossible to separate him from Jack Wilson in the infield. We’ll get to Wilson on Thursday (oh, don’t act surprised, the last regular shortstop before Wilson was Pat Meares in 2000), but this is Freddy’s post. The Pirates tried to find Jack Wilson a second baseman for a long time. Pokey Reese had great range and Jose Castillo had a cannon for an arm and they both made their share of highlight plays and turned some nice double plays with Jack in their days in black and gold, but they were either too frail or too inconsistent to really be an everyday second baseman.
There’s something to be said for statistical analysis, for digging deeper than a .300 batting average or a coach’s word that a player is a good defender, and I certainly try to do my share of that. But at the same time, as a baseball fan, there’s also something to be said for watching two guys that have turned double plays together since high school do it daily on a Major League level. There might not be a stat to back up Wilson and Sanchez as the best double play combo in baseball between 2007 and the trade deadline in 2009, but whenever Wilson would go way behind second base to stop a ball, make the glove flip to second, and Freddy would turn the throw to first in one fluid motion it was hard to believe two guys were better at that anywhere in the sport. Boiled down, baseball is a sport, sports should be fun, and while the Pirates were rarely fun it was always obvious that playing together was fun for those two. As a fan, it’s hard to forget that.
In fact, it’s hard to forget the Freddy Sanchez that exists outside of baseball. The kid that overcame a club foot to become a batting champion, and who then in turn gave his time and money off the field to making sure other kids had the same chance. Not every athlete is easy to root for, but it was never hard to want to see Freddy Sanchez succeed.
Honorable mention: Jeff Reboulet’s mustache, Pokey Reese’s range, Jose Castillo’s arm and that one week during the summer of 2006 when he killed the ball.
Dishonorable mention: Just about everything else about those three guys.