There are some crazy-good ballplayers who ply their trade at second base. There’s Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Phillips, Robinson Cano, and Ben Zobrist. There are other good — if not crazy-good — second basemen, like Rickie Weeks and Danny Espinosa. None of these good-to-crazy-good second basemen plays for a team in the National League West.
Which raises two interesting questions:
- Who will play second base in the National League West in 2012?
- How do you think they’ll perform?
In other words, it’s time to get in your 2012 Fan Projections for NL West second basemen.
Aaron Hill landed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in late August of 2011 in trade that saw Kelly Johnson go the Toronto Blue Jays in return for Hill and John McDonald. After a career-year in 2009 with the Blue Jays (following a season-ending concussion in 2008), Hill’s offensive production fell off a cliff in 2010 and the first five months of the 2011 season. His triple slash in 2010 was a meager .205/.271/.294 with a wOBA of .292. In 2011, through the end of August, his wOBA had dropped even further to .275.
Hill’s time in the Arizona desert told a different story. In 108 plate appearances in September, he posted a wOBA of .365 and saw his slugging percentage climb more than .100 points higher than in any other month in the season. A product of Chase Field, perhaps, but it was enough for the Diamondbacks to re-sign Hill to a two-year/$11 million contract. Was Hill rejuvenated by the trade? If so, what factors contributed to his late-season success? Will those factors be present in 2012?
After eight-and-a-half seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Mark Ellis is now on his third team in the last six months. The A’s traded Ellis to the Colorado Rockies at the end of June after Jemile Weeks took over second base for Oakland. When the season ended, Ellis signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for two years and $8.75 million. He will be the Dodgers’ everyday second baseman, replacing the tandem of Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles who covered the right side of the infield for the Dodgers last season.
Ellis has always been known as a light-hitting but slick-fielding second baseman. He posted very good numbers in 2005, good numbers in 2007 and decent numbers in 2010. The other seasons were not productive at the plate at all. Entering his age-35 season in 2012, Ellis is surely past his prime. The question is whether he can produce at or near his 2010 levels: .291/.358/.381 with a wOBA of .326 and a wRC+ of 104. If he does, Ellis will essentially replace the (surprising) production the Dodgers got out of Carroll last season. If not, he’ll look more like Miles did in the Dodgers lineup. Can Ellis rebound? Will he do much to support Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and the Dodgers pitching staff?
Orlando Hudson will be in the second year of his two-year deal with the San Diego Padres. Hudson came into the league in 2002, the same year as Ellis, although Hudson is six months younger. In those ten seasons, they’ve each amassed approximately 24 career WAR.
Unlike Ellis, Hudson’s strength over his career has been offense, not defense, but his offense is in decline. Hudson averaged a .352 wOBA between 2006 and 2009, but has not sustained that level of production in the last two seasons. His wOBA fell to .320 in 2010 and to .308 in 2011, his first season playing at spacious PETCO Park. Hudson’s BABIP also fell below .300 in 2011, the first time since 2005, which may very well be the result of his declining line drive rate.
Hudson also has a tough time staying healthy, having played a full season only once, in 2006. Last season, he saw two DL stints with a right thigh strain and played through less severe injuries. So there are big question marks about Hudson heading into 2012 in terms of his ability to stay healthy and be productive at the plate.
When San Francisco Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez is healthy, he is a solid defender with a productive bat. But when is Sanchez healthy? Since being traded to the Giants midway through the 2009 season, Sanchez has missed considerable time with knee and shoulder injuries requiring surgery. He played only 60 games in 2011, leaving a big hole in the lineup and on the diamond for the then-defending World Series champions.
Sanchez doesn’t walk very much and doesn’t hit for power but he does put the ball in play. He’s enjoyed an above-average BABIP for most of his career with a solid line drive rate, but like Hudson, Sanchez’s LD rate is in decline. Heading into 2012, there are big questions about Sanchez’s surgically-repaired right shoulder and his ability to be a productive hitter in his age-34 season.
And that brings us to the Colorado Rockies. Until the Rockies traded for Mark Ellis at the end of June, manager Jim Tracy used a platoon of Jonathan Herrera and Chris Nelson at second base. Ellis is gone, leaving Herrera, Nelson, Eric Young, Jr. and newcomer D.J. LeMahieu to battle for the second base job in spring training. The Rockies acquired LeMahieu in the trade that sent Ian Stewart to the Cubs.
Herrera and Young are switch hitters. Herrera is better from the right side; Young from the left. Nelson and LeMahieu are both righties. In 320 plate appearances in 2011, Herrera posted a .276 wOBA; Nelson’s was slightly better — a .289 wOBA over 189 plate appearances — and Young’s the best of the three: .316 over 229 PAs. Mathieu’s minor league stats don’t suggest much in the way of power or patience at the plate.
Right now, it’s unclear who has the edge for the everyday job for the Rockies at second base, or whether Jim Tracy will mix and match until he finds something that works.
Not a lot of glory at second base in the NL West. But some interesting story lines for the 2012 season.