Top Tigers Countdown #7: Lou Whitaker

Lou Whitaker throws out the first pitch during the ALCS against the Red Sox in 2013 - Mike Ehrmann

Since Alan Trammell was No. 6, it figures that Sweet Lou Whitaker has to be No 7 on the all time greatest Tigers list.

Whitaker and Trammell, Trammell and Whitaker. The two names are synonymous. They came up together in the Tiger organization and occupied the middle infield for the Tigers for two decades, from 1977 to 1995. They remain the longest tenured double play duo to play for the same team together in major league baseball history.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1977 37 0 2 2 .250 .333 .281 .290 72 -0.3
1978 567 3 58 7 .285 .361 .357 .332 103 3.4
1979 520 3 42 20 .286 .395 .378 .355 113 3.8
1980 568 1 45 8 .233 .331 .283 .291 74 1.3
1981 382 5 36 5 .263 .340 .373 .327 107 3.4
1982 619 15 65 11 .286 .341 .434 .344 112 4.8
1983 720 12 72 17 .320 .380 .457 .370 130 6.0
1984 629 13 56 6 .289 .357 .407 .343 114 3.8
1985 701 21 73 6 .279 .362 .456 .359 125 4.7
1986 651 20 73 13 .269 .338 .437 .341 112 4.5
1987 684 16 59 13 .265 .341 .427 .337 106 3.1
1988 477 12 55 2 .275 .376 .419 .358 127 3.5
1989 611 28 85 6 .251 .361 .462 .367 131 5.1
1990 552 18 60 8 .237 .338 .407 .333 108 3.5
1991 572 23 78 4 .279 .391 .489 .389 141 6.1
1992 544 19 71 6 .278 .386 .461 .382 138 4.4
1993 476 9 67 3 .290 .412 .449 .386 134 3.5
1994 372 12 43 2 .301 .377 .491 .373 121 2.1
1995 285 14 44 4 .293 .372 .518 .382 126 1.3
Career 9967 244 1084 143 .276 .363 .426 .353 118 68.1

Whitaker was selected by the Tigers in the fifth round of the 1975 amateur player draft out of Martinsville High School in Virginia. He and Trammell were called up to the majors in September of 1977. They made their debut together on September 9th against the Boston Red Sox and they never looked back.

Whitaker was the American League's Rookie of the Year as the Tigers starting second baseman in 1978, hitting .285/.361/.357/.718 with three home runs, 58 RBI, and seven steals. He followed that by hitting .286/.395/.378/.774 with 20 steals in his sophomore season. He would never reach the 20 stolen base mark again, but he developed quite a bit more power.

In 1985, Whitaker set a record for Tiger second basemen with 21 home runs. In 1986, he was a member of a Detroit infield in which every member hit at least 20 home runs. He hit 20 or more home runs four times in his career, including 28 in 1986. In 1992, he recorded his 2,000th hit and his 200th home run.

By the time he was done, Whitaker compiled a career batting line of .276/.363/.426/.789 with 244 home runs, over 1,000 RBI, 1,386 runs scored, and 2,369 hits. He made five All-Star teams, won four Silver Slugger awards, and three Gold Gloves.

Both Trammell and Whitaker deserve to be in baseball's Hall of Fame based on the numbers that they put up by comparison with others in the hall at their respective positions. Both have better numbers than half of the others at their position who are in the Hall of Fame. Sabermetrics, ancient metrics, take your pick. They belong, period.

Here is where Whitaker ranks among second basemen who are in the Hall:

Longevity
Stat Rank Total
Games 7th 2390
At-bats 10th 8570
Batting stats
Stat Rank Total
Run 11th 1386
Hits 12th 2369
Doubles 11th 420
Home runs 4th 244
RBI 10th 1084
Stolen bases 13th 143
Walks 3rd 1197
Batting average 15th .276
On-base percentage 12th .363
Fielding stats
Stat Rank Total
Fielding percentage 2nd* .984
Put-outs 10th 4771
Assists 6th 6653
Double plays 3rd** 1527

*Only Ryne Sandberg had a better career fielding pct than Sweet Lou among HOF 2nd basemen.
**Only Bill Mazeroski and Nellie Fox turned more double plays than Whitaker and Trammell.

Among the all-time Tiger greats, here are some of Whitaker's rankings.

Stat Rank Total
WAR 4th 74.8
Offensive WAR 6th 67.0
Defensive WAR 2nd 15.4
Games played 3rd 2390
Plate appearances 4th 9967
Runs scored 4th 1386
Hits 6th 2369
Home runs 6th 244
Total bases 6th 3651
RBI 8th 1084
Walks 2nd 1197
Stolen bases 10th 143
Runs created 5th 1388
Sacrifice flies 2nd 91
RE24 (situational hitting) 4th 283.7
Win probability added (WPA) 4th 192

Whitaker did not receive enough votes in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame to be on the ballot in the second year. The voters completely whiffed on that one, but there is a good chance that the Veterans committee will take a look at both Whitaker and Trammell and do them justice by putting them in the Hall.

Bill James named Whitaker the 13th best second baseman of all-time.

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