What’s all this, then? For an explanation of this series, please read the introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.
Due to an unfortunate data error, the numbers in this story did not include park factors upon publication. We have updated the data to include the park factors, and the data you see below is now correct. We apologize for the mistake.
The second base position across the major leagues is in a bit of disarray. Second basemen (.718 OPS) were outhit by catchers (.701 OPS) in 2012, the first time that had happened since 2006. Sure, there have been a bevy of young, talented catchers joining the league in the last few years, but no position is selected less for their offensive skills than the catcher — second basemen should outhit them every year.
So it seems fair to call it a down era for second basemen, at least at the plate. As such, there is a good amount of clustering in these rankings. 12 teams fall between 2.0 and 3.0 projected WAR per 700 plate appearances. If a team finds a breakout second baseman this year, it is an asset to be treasured. If a team already has a star at the position, it gives them a big advantage over the rest of the league.
To the rankings!
The ineffable Robinson Cano makes the Yankees a clear choice atop these rankings. Cano’s combination of contact and power skills is simply unmatched at the position. Observe:
Above, the 201 qualifying second base seasons from 2003 through 2012 are plotted, with strikeout rate on the horizontal axis and isolated power on the vertical axis. The giant navy blue stars are Robinson Cano’s seasons. The green dots are everybody else’s. Cano dominates the upper left corner, where the best contact hitters and power hitters lie.
On 41 occasions has a second baseman recorded an above-average strikeout rate and an above average ISO for the position. Seven of those 41 (17 percent) have come from Robinson Cano’s eight qualifying seasons as a major leaguer.
The power/contact combination is the most potent a hitter can offer. The power hitter with contact abilities gets more chances to use his home run power in practice. Cano puts the ball in play often, and he puts it in play with vigor. He may not be the best glove at second base — that allows players like Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley to approach his level — but Cano’s bat is untouchable among second basemen at this point in his career.
#2 Red Sox
Somehow, Pedroia is just 29 years old, and as such, his dropoff 2012 season shouldn’t be much of a concern. He still hit .290/.347/.449 (113 wRC+), still brought an above-average contact-power combination, and still played solid defense. But it was a definitive step down — Pedroia posted wRC+ marks of 132 and 128 in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
But that just means Pedroia was merely an All-Star quality player instead of an MVP quality player. Pedroia only walked 7.7 percent of the time in 2012, a four percent drop from 2011. His plate discipline statistics don’t show any glaring warning signs, though — he didn’t start swinging at extra pitches out of the strike zone and he didn’t start swinging more often.
With the disaster of 2012 behind Pedroia and the Red Sox, there’s little reason to doubt a bounceback year from Pedroia. He has been one of the league’s best second basemen since he broke through in 2007, and there’s little reason to expect that to change at age 29.
Chase Utley is healthy in camp for the first time in three years. If he stays healthy, it’s huge for the Phillies. Utley projects just a hair behind Cano and Pedroia on a per-plate appearance basis, so even if he plays in just 60% of the Phillies games — roughly what he’s done the past two seasons, the Phillies still project as a top-3 team at the position.
Even in injury-limited seasons, Utley has shown the patience, contact and power skills necessary to keep up his performance. Neither his raw power nor speed are at their peak levels, but Utley has so far to fall stepping down a couple of rungs still leaves him near the elite.
Having two semi-competent backups helps. Galvis is a question mark coming off a PED suspension, but he isn’t expected to hit, merely to play solid defense. Frandsen, meanwhile, was shockingly good last season — a 127 wRC+ in 210 plate appearances — and if he maintains even a fraction of his improved production, he’ll bring value off the bench.
Ian Kinsler’s days at second base could be numbered. Jurickson Profar’s play and pedigree are demanding playing time, and fast. Even in a down year last season, Kinsler hit .256/.326/.423 (99 wRC+), still league average and therefore well above the second base position average. He still sported decent patience (8.2 percent walk rate) and contact (12.3 percent strikeout rate) skills; the problem was a mere .270 BABIP. After a .243 BABIP in 2011 (offset by a .223 ISO), there may be some worry that Kinsler, now 31, is losing his singles stroke. A 14.2 percent infield fly rate (per fly ball) is a bit concerning.
However, Kinsler has always hit a few more infield flies than the league average. He still hit for good power in 2012 (.166 ISO, a touch under his .188 career mark, particularly when we account for the decrease in leaguewide offense since 2006). Kinsler posted wRC+ marks of 105, 114 and 122 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively, and that’s enough of a track record to expect a bounceback in 2013.
In 2010, 28-year-old Kelly Johnson hit .284/.370/.496 with 26 home runs, good for a 129 wRC+ and 5.8 WAR. I was excited. He combined patience and power in a way we almost never see from middle infielders (at least, outside of Robinson Cano/Dustin Pedroia/Chase Utley types). His peak was still in front of him. It was easy to see a couple of All-Star appearances in his future.
Johnson lost the ability to make contact in 2011 and 2012 as strikeout rates exceeding 25 percent led to wRC+ marks of 92 and 86 respectively. He still has power — he’s hit 37 home runs over the past two years, seventh among second basemen — and he can still draw a walk. If he can improve his contact rate at all, the 31-year-old can make a pretty nifty left side of a platoon.
Johnson will likely share the platoon with Ryan Roberts. Roberts struggled mightily in 2012 but owns a .259/.341/.434 (105 wRC+) line against left-handed pitching and should hit for a bit more power this year.
The Johnson/Roberts pair will open the season at second base, most likely, with Ben Zobrist manning right field until Wil Myers is ready (read: his service time clock is held back enough) for the majors. Zobrist, of course, is a known commodity. He hits, he fields, and he runs. With the second base crop in a relatively weak state, half a season of Zobrist and half a season of the Johnson/Roberts platoon looks like one of the better second base units in the league.
One can be forgiven for finding Neil Walker a boring, if consistent presence. Pittsburgh will take it. Observe, seasons by a Pirates second baseman over the past 25 seasons (minimum 400 PA) by wRC+:
And by WAR:
Neil Walker just keeps chugging along. Just three years — and 8.1 WAR — into his career, it’s clear he’s the best second baseman to suit up in Pittsburgh since Johnny Ray held the keystone in the early 1980s.
“Every night it’s Brandon Phillips!”
Home announcer excitement aside, Brandon Phillips is clearly an excellent fielder — a +4 run projection likely shortchanges his abilities. However, his .327 projected wOBA is less impressive given the inflating effects of Great American Ball Park.
Still, even above average hitters at second base are hard to find these days. Despite a lack of patience at the plate — Phillips walked in just 4.5 percent of plate appearances last year — he remains productive by putting the ball in play. Phillips struck out in under 13 percent of plate appearances last year, making him one of just eight players to do so (and qualify for the batting title) in each of the past four seasons.
Kipnis’s season was a tale of two halves. He burst onto the scene in the first half as he hit .277/.345/.419 (113 wRC+) with 11 home runs and a tremendous 20 steals in 21 attempts. Neither the power nor the speed held up into the dog days. Kipnis mustered just a .233/.322/.328 (86 wRC+) line in the second half and was caught in six of his 17 stolen base attempts.
The question, then, is which Kipnis to believe in for 2013. Was Kipnis merely exhausted by the rigors of his first full major league season? Did pitchers adjust in the second half? Can he adjust back?
Regardless, Kipnis showed enough in his excellent first half and over his minor league tenure to put him in the league’s upper third of a weak second base class. He put up a 130 wRC+ at five different minor league levels and in a 36-game stint in the majors in 2011 before last season, and that’s a track record worth believing in.
Logan Forsythe was a sharp stopgap second baseman last year. As a 25-year-old, he hit .273/.343/.390, good for a sharp 110 wRC+ thanks to Petco Park. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but he was effectively average (or slightly above) in the four key hitting rates (K%, BB%, ISO and BABIP).
But it looks more and more like the Padres’ second base job will go to converted third base prospect Jedd Gyorko. Forsythe, as such, will be relegated to a utility role — a role in which he should be very efffective.
Gyorko hit well in Double-A and absolutely mashed (.328/.380/.588, 24 2B, 24 HR) in 92 games at Triple-A Tucson. He’ll find a chance in San Diego at some point this season. He has good patience and has shown solid power for a middle infielder in the minors. Will it translate to Petco Park? Will his rather average contact rates hold up in the majors? Those are the questions he’ll have to answer, but he’s an exciting prospect, and as such the Padres are looking good according to the projections.
The devastating ankle injury Weeks suffered in 2011 seemed to linger. Between his return for the 2011 playoffs and the first half of 2012, Weeks hit a brutal .197/.314/.347 from Sept. 10, 2011 through the 2012 All-Star Break.
But after the break, Weeks was more or less the same hitter he was in 2010 and before the injury in 2011 (his only All-Star campaign to date). Weeks hit .261./.343/.457 (118 wRC+) in the second half, just a tick under his 127 and 125 wRC+ marks from 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Weeks has one of the best bats at the position, and although a good chunk of his value is offset by a poor glove, he still ranks as one of the better players when healthy. And perhaps even his brittleness is a bit overstated — he’s played in at least 118 games in five of the last six seasons.
Aaron Hill was ruined for a couple years in Toronto after he hit 36 home runs in 2009 — he managed just a 77 wRC+ in both 2010 and 2011. But throughout that period, Hill continued to make contact — his career-worst strikeout rate is a still sharp 15.5 percent. As such, it was possible to envision a resurgence if only Hill could fix what had turned from a fly ball swing into a pop-up swing.
Hill couldn’t hit the high pitch for power in 2011 — he hit 100 fly balls off pitches in the upper third of the zone or higher and managed just two home runs, two doubles and three triples. In 2009, 2010 and 2012, Hill posted at least a 12.0 percent HR/FB on such pitches. If he can keep making powerful contact in the upper third of the strike zone, he should be able to maintain his resurgence.
Kendrick produced an exciting 2011. As a 27-year-old, he hit a sharp .285/.338/.464 (123 wRC+), and the future looked bright with his first All-Star game appearance in tow.
Prior to 2011, Kendrick was a solid if unremarkable second baseman for Anaheim, hitting for a mostly-empty batting average but knocking enough singles to outpace the majority of the second base crop. When the bottom fell out of the power behind his 2011 season, he reverted to the slightly above-average player he’s been for the bulk of his career.
It wouldn’t be shocking if we saw Kendrick regain some of his lost power as a 29-year-old, but given his 8.9 percent HR/FB both over his career and in 2012 alone, it seems unlikely he’ll ever show the 20-homer ability he flashed in 2011.
Dustin Ackley‘s 2012 was a disaster. He hit .226/.294/.328 (75 wRC+) and in just one month (May) did he produce an above-average wRC+. He didn’t hit for power (12 HR in 668 PA; .102 ISO) and he didn’t hit for average (18.6 K%, .265 BABIP).
Adjusting for SafeCo Field helps, but projections for Ackley are still a bit disheartening compared to where we thought he’d be last season. There’s still room for hope, though. Ackley flashed the leather last season well enough to save him from complete uselessness. More importantly, he was sharp with the bat for 90 games in 2011 and has a solid minor league track record and pedigree to build on.
With the fences coming in at SafeCo Field this season and Ackley entering his age 25 season, excuses will be running out quickly. IF the potential the Mariners saw in Ackley shines through, however, the Mariners will be looking good in a bleak second base era.
In truth, Danny Espinosa is a shortstop playing second base. At second base, he’s one of the best fielders around. His strong arm combined with vast range leads to multiple plays like the one above.
Espinosa has a major flaw: his inability to make contact. He swung and missed at 15.2 percent of the pitches he faced in 2012, a new career high, and he set a career high with a 28.7 percent strikeout rate as well. As such, he needed a .333 BABIP just to hit .247, and as such his offensive ceiling is limited despite average patience and good power.
But Espinosa has hit for enough power (.172 ISO) to be roughly average at the plate — 94 wRC+ last year, 98 career. And so between his semi-competent bat and shortstop-quality glove, the Nationals have themselves a solid, if occasionally frustrating, option at the keystone.
The Little Hit Tool That Could proved it last season. Altuve posted a sharp .290/.340/.399 (104 wRC+) with 33 SB (11 CS). He probably won’t ever become a star — at 5-foot-5 and a dense 170 pounds, it’s hard to imagine him putting up too many double-digit home run seasons. Still, he’ll make enough contact to bang out singles, get on base, and use his speed to wreak havoc on opposing batteries.
The bigger question might be his defense. Both DRS and UZR hated his range in 2012, and defense was one of the sticking points for scouts slow to jump on the bandwagon.
Still, the answer to the defense question is the difference between Altuve being an average second baseman and a fringe All-Star type. Not a bad place to start for Houston on the long climb back to respectability.
Dan Uggla has been good for a roughly half-season long slump each of the past two seasons. It’s all in the BABIP:
Last year, his power fell off a bit as well, as he hit under 20 home runs (under 27, for accuracy’s sake) for the first time in his career. Uggla’s patience and still-good power — particularly for a middle infielder — allowed him to remain a viable option, even if his strikeout (26.7 percent) and popup (16.9 percent of fly balls) heavy ways were infuriating.
Expect more of the same, except with a few more fly balls sneaking over the fence — Uggla is too strong to post an 11.4 percent HR/FB (his career low mark from 2012) again. Even with his myriad fielding issues (Remember the 2008 All-Star Game? It hasn’t gotten much better.), he should provide league-average or better production for Atlanta.
And he might be their worst position player, a scary thought for National League pitchers.
A .337 wOBA may sound high for Rutledge, 24-year-old who skipped Triple-A and has just 73 major league games under his belt. It may seem especially high when he posted just a 3.1 percent walk rate last season, with much of his value coming from the most unstable parts of offense, power (.195 ISO) and BABIP (.315).
But consider Rutledge destroyed the High-A California league as a 22-year-old (.346/.412/.513, 139 wRC+) and the Double-A Texas League (.306/.338/.508, 132 wRC+) as a 23-year-old. And also consider Rutledge’s .332 wOBA in the majors in 2012 translates to just a 94 wRC+ thanks to Colorado’s thin air and massive outfield.
Perhaps it’s a touch optimistic to think Rutledge can be a near league average hitter this season, but there’s also plenty of room for optimism above league average. There’s a lot of volatility in this projection, but given the state of second basemen in the league right now, volatility with upside ranks decently well.
Murphy owns a typical middle infielder skillset at the plate, based on lost of contact and little else. Murphy struck out in 13.4 percent of plate appearances last year, still a good total despite marking his worst mark since he became a major league regular in 2009.
Murphy hits enough line drives to be an effective bat up the middle. He doesn’t field well enough or hit for enough power to be anything more than average. He is the proverbial second-division starter. Similarly, Justin Turner is the proverbial second division backup. Jordany Valdespin merely hopes his genitals won’t be making any more news for the rest of the year.
If ranking the Giants — and therefore, Marco Scutaro — 19th seems harsh, consider teams 12 through 24 on this list all fall between 2.0 and 3.0 projected WAR. If Scutaro (or, it should follow, anybody else near him on this list) outperforms his projections by just a little bit, he could easily be in the top half of the position.
Scutaro’s schtick is well known at this point: when he swings, he makes contact. Only Juan Pierre has a lower strikeout rate (min. 1000 PA) than Scutaro’s 7.5 percent over the past two seasons. He doesn’t have much power — especially not built for cavernous AT&T Park — and he isn’t overly patient. But he’ll hit enough singles and make enough plays to give the Giants plenty of stability at second base.
Omar Infante was the less-heralded part of the Tigers’ trade to bring in Anibal Sanchez, but one could argue he was more important to the squad. The Tigers had absolutely nothing going at second base last season — non-Infante Tigers second basemen combined for -2.3 WAR in 604 PA.
Infante was actually pretty terrible at the plate himself — he hit .257/.283/.385 (78 wRC+), but that was still easily better than Ramon Santiago (53 wRC+ in 259 PA) and Ryan Raburn (28 wRC+ in 222 PA), and Infante appears to be a superior fielder to both players as well.
Infante just couldn’t get singles to drop in as a Tiger — he recorded a .269 BABIP in his post-trade at-bats — but his overall season line — .274/.300/.419 — gives a good idea of his general quality. He makes a ton of contact, rarely walks, and will occasionally pop a home run. Infante is noothing special, but after enduring a practical black hole in the lineup at the position the Tigers will happily trot him out at second base every day this season.
Second base is one of the few question marks for the Cardinals. Long-term, it’s Kolten Wong‘s position. For now, it looks like a mix of Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter, depending on how Carpenter’s work at the position has gone over the offseason.
Descalso is the typical glove-first utility man. Over 302 career games, he owns an 80 wRC+, and his major asset is an ability to play third base and shortstop as well as second base. If he ends up playing the majority of the games at second base, he’ll be a hole in the Cardinals’ lineup, but one the rest of the big boppers can mask.
Carpenter, however, is intriguing. He has a good minor league track record and hit a sharp .294/.365/.463 (125 wRC+) in 114 games last season. But he has just 18 innings under his belt at second base between majors and minors (where he was almost exclusively a third baseman). If he can make the transition, his bat will play extremely well at second base. It’s just too early too say right now if his glove will allow the Cardinals to use him there full time, though.
“There are so many things that could have gone wrong on this play, and he makes it look routine!” Cubs color announcer Bob Brently hits the nail on the head here. This play is so illustrative of the value Barney brings in the field; it shows both his excellent range and strong arm.
Barney isn’t much of a hitter. Although he makes loads of contact — he struck out in 9.9 percent of plate appearances last season — Barney can’t do much with it. He lacks power and has a tendency towards ground balls. His best hope is probably an empty batting average in the .270s or .280s — see his .276/.313/.353 (80 wRC+) line from 2011.
Still, if Barney really is the elite defender he looked like last season — +13 UZR, an absurd +28 DRS, and loads of plays like the one above — he’s worth a starting job in the major leagues.
For as much money as the Dodgers have spent, and for as many moves as the Dodgers have made, they still have holes. Second base is one of them. Mark Ellis‘s bat lacks punch. At 36 years old, it’s difficult to expect much out of him. He draws walks, but can he do enough to force pitchers to nibble? He’s had a good glove his whole career, but can his defense stay sharp through his late 30s?
Steamer and ZiPS both expect a bit of a drop-off from last year, when Ellis hit a respectable .258/.333/.364 (98 wRC+). It’s difficult to ignore Ellis’s 2011, when he hit .248/.288/.346 (68 wRC+) despite spending half of the season in Colorado.
Neither Skip Schumacher nor Nick Punto are exciting options off the bench. The Dodgers will need their trade hauls from other positions to cover this hole.
The story for Oakland at second base is less about Scott Sizemore winning the job but more about the fall of Jemile Weeks. Weeks hit an atrocious .221/.305/.304 (73 wRC+) in 2012 and may open the season in the minors. It’s a stark drop for Weeks, who burst onto the scene in 2011 with a .303/.340/.421 line (110 wRC+) in 97 games as a 24-year-old.
Sizemore likely would have had a starting spot in Oakland last year — at third base — but he missed the entire season with an ACL tear. If he is back at 100 percent this year, he should bring a stable if unimpressive bat to the Athletics lineup. His patience (39.5 percent swing rate in 2011) leads to high walk and strikeout rates, with enough power to make him a roughly league-average bat.
Second base is Sizemore’s natural position, but he isn’t a highly regarded defender. Put it all together, and you get a slightly below average, if playable option.
#25 White Sox
In 2009, just one year after the White Sox selected him with the eigth pick of the 2008 draft, Gordon Beckham came up and hit .270/.347/.460 (109 wRC+) with 14 home runs in just 103 games. In the three years since, the White Sox have been waiting for that Gordon Beckham to show up again.
In the three years since, Beckham has posted wRC+ marks of 86, 71 and 79. The power he flashed has never materialized; his .137 ISO in 2012 was his highest since his .190 rookie mark.
Beckham did take one definitive step forward in 2012, though, as he set a career best with an 8.3 percent swinging strike rate. He struck out in just 15.3 percnt of plate appearances, in line with his 2009 rate. A .254 BABIP prevented it from translating into better results, but this improved contact is the basis behind his projected .251 average (and the improved on-base and slugging the extra singles provide). It isn’t what was hoped for when Beckham first broke into the majors, but if Beckham can keep making contact, he’ll be semi-useful for the White Sox this year.
#26 Blue Jays
It still isn’t clear who will get the bulk of the second base playing time in Toronto between Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio. Bonficacio is certainly the more exciting player — he has 70 stolen bases over the past two seasons despite playing just 216 games — but his only above-average hitting season needed a .372 BABIP. Izturis, meanwhile, is more of the boring utility infielder type. As with many of the players on this list, Izturis makes a ton of contact but doesn’t add much power or patience.
Neither is likely to hit much. Both are exceptionally versatile and add value to a bench. Both are switch-hitters. The decision, realistically, shouldn’t make much of a difference in the Blue Jays’ fate. If one of them jumps out to a hot start in April, he’ll probably win the job long-term.
The Royals hope this can be Johnny Giavotella‘s year. It was supposed be 2012, but Giavotella tanked during spring training and hit a putrid .238/.270/.304 (55 wRC+) when he got a chance at the majors later in the year. He was productive at Triple-A (.323/.404/.472, 130 wRC+) in 89 games, so he should have another shot at it this year.
If not, the Royals are stuck with Chris Getz. Although Getz has major league ability — he has great contact skills, as he struck out in just 8.1 percent of his 210 plate, and he can run — he’s limited to the point where he’s best suited as a utility player, not a starter. He simply doesn’t have any power — he hasn’t homered since 2009 as a member of the White Sox.
Brian Dozier struggled in his debut season last year, and the result appears to be a shift from shortstop to second base. If he’s going to stick at second base, he’ll need to improve drastically with the bat. He was below average in three of the four major hitting rates (BB%, ISO and BABIP) and scarcely above average in the fourth (K%). He’ll need to find his form from Double-A in 2011, his best professional stint — in 78 games (351 PA), he hit .318/.384/.502 (145 wRC+).
Jamey Carroll is expected to bounce between shortstop and second base this year. He doesn’t have the bat for second base — he hit just .268/.343/.317 last year, the sixth straight season his OBP has outpaced his SLG — but he makes contact and will play solid defense when given the chance.
There are two problems with the Orioles at second base: we don’t know if Brian Roberts will stay healthy, and we don’t know if he’s still any good. Roberts has taken just 513 plate appearances over the past three seasons and he has hit just .244/.308/.340 (78 OPS+).
The three years prior, Roberts hit .290/.370/.444 (114 OPS+), so it’s understandable for there to be some excitement in Baltimore surrounding his return to the opening day lineup. However, at age 35 and with a three-year history of injuries and ineffectiveness, it seems overly optimistic to expect much out of Roberts.
Twins castoff Alexi Casilla and second-year player Ryan Flaherty don’t add much off the bench. The pair combined for a .268 wOBA last year, although Casilla at least brings a quality glove to the equation.
You could do worse than Donovan Solano in 2012. He hit .295/.342/.375, stole seven bases without a failure, and played a competent second base. But looking at his peripheral numbers, it’s hard to see a repeat. He didn’t show patience (6.6 percent walk rate), exceptional contact skills (18.4 percent strikeout rate) nor power (.081 ISO). His year was propped up by a .357 BABIP, and that’s where our pessimistic projection is derived.
Solano will be backed up by Nick Green. The former Red Sox member is a career .236/.303/.347 hitter, and lest that make you feel optimistic, keep in mind most of those plate appearances came in the more offensively robust seasons of the mid-2000s.
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