Continuing on with our top ten lists, it’s time to look at the top ten second basemen. Second base is definitely one of the weaker lists, with a clear #1 and a clutter of solid players. Yet, no one outside of the top player is a star, which makes it tougher to rank these players. I really wanted to fit Brian Dozier on this list, as a low BABIP and an injury likely caused his down season, but his defense combined with his uncertainty caused him to barely miss. Still, he should definitely be on this list next year, especially if he bounces back with the Nationals. This is a very interesting list with a mix of young players, veterans, and players of completely different styles. Let’s look at the top ten second basemen!
#10 DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees
Projected Stats: .290/.349/.422 (.771 OPS) 12 HR 13 drs 3 WAR
Now with the Yankees after signing a two-year deal with the club this offseason, DJ LeMahieu kicks off this list at #10. The 29-year-old broke out in 2016 with a 130 weighted runs created plus (wrc+) and a 5.3 WAR, but has regressed since. In the past two seasons, he’s posted a wrc+ of 90 and a .766 OPS. Those are discouraging offensive numbers, especially in Colorado, yet there’s some optimism for a LeMahieu breakout this season. For starters, his hard contact of 35% was right around where it was in that 2016 season. LeMahieu’s ground ball rate also decreased, and if that trend continues, he’ll be able to take advantage of the short dimensions at Yankee Stadium. As for as the concern of him playing in Colorado goes, it is true that his OPS did drop to .698 on the road, yet that drop in production may not be legitimate. On the road, LeMahieu’s BABIP dropped to .232, while his hard contact rate (39.1%) was actually higher than it was on the road (31.6%). Now with New York, I wouldn’t be surprise to see LeMahieu put together his first twenty home run season, but even if he doesn’t, his fielding makes him a very valuable asset. LeMahieu posted 18 defensive runs saved (drs) last season, earning him a Gold Glove. That defensive output certainly wasn’t a fluke, considering his career drs was 66, and I feel comfortable labeling him as the best defensive second baseman in the MLB. DJ LeMahieu is a very underrated player, and I personally believe this will be the season he finally breaks out into an all around player. If he does so, LeMahieu will go from fringe top ten second baseman to possibly a top five player at this position.
#9 Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Stats: .262/.339/.445 (.784 OPS) 19 HR 0 drs 4.3 WAR
When you play twelve games at second base, you’re no usually considered a second baseman. However, in the case of Chris Taylor, he doesn’t actually have a position. Still, the Dodgers have a big hole at second base, so we can assume that’s where Taylor will slot in this season. After flaming out with the Mariners, the 28-year-old has saved his career as a member of the Dodgers, posting a wrc+ of 120 in his two full seasons with the club. Taylor was solid in 2018, with a .775 OPS and a 4.1 WAR, though he didn’t come close to matching his 2017 production, where he posted an .850 OPS. When looking at his other offensive numbers, there really is one concern, and it’s his strikeout issues. Taylor’s strikeout rate jumped to 29.5%, while his contact rate on pitches in the zone regressed to 78.5%. Yet, Taylor’s chase rate remained the same, while his hard contact rate jumped to 38.4%. Therefore, there should definitely be optimism that Taylor’s offensive numbers will improve this season. His small sample size shows that he’s at least an average fielder at second base, and with above average offensive production for the position, he definitely deserves a spot on this list.
#8 Joey Wendle, Tampa Bay Rays
Projected Stats: .280/.344/.404 (.748 OPS) 8 HR 5 drs 3.2 WAR
Before last season, did anyone have Joey Wendle on their radar? Does anyone have him on their radar heading into this season. If you don’t, you probably should. Out of nowhere last year, the 28-year-old put together an unexpected breakout season with Tampa Bay posting a 118 OPS+ and a 4.3 WAR. He did do so with a .353 BABIP, a high ground ball rate, and a 35.9% chase rate, though his 37% hard contact rate isn’t awful. I’m not convinced he’ll replicate those numbers, and STEAMER isn’t as well, projecting just a 85 wrc+ for Wendle. Still, Wendle’s value outside of offense helps keep him in the top ten. His defense (5 drs, 4.3 UZR) graded out well last year, as did his base running (3.0 BsR). Even if Wendle can be an average hitter next season, he’s solid enough in other facets to be deserving of a top ten spot, especially considering the stellar season he just had. There’s too much concern with Wendle for him to rank higher, but if his breakout season was legitimate, he could possibly skyrocket up this list in the future.
#7 Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
Projected Stats: .266/.329/.444 (.773 OPS) 20 HR 6 drs 3.9 WAR
The Atlanta Braves have an incredible young core. With so many young pitchers, the NL Rookie of the Year in Ronald Acuna, and an MVP candidate every year in Freddie Freeman, some players can get lost in the fold. For instance, Ozzie Albies. The 22-year-old had a tremendous first half, posting an .834 OPS and earning a spot in the All Star game. However, Albies was practically unplayable in the second half, with an OPS of .624. It’s easy to see why; his hard contact rate dropped to 27%. However, his plate discipline improved (walk rate jumped to 2%), and there were no other regressions from first half to second half. Considering his former standing as a premier prospect, it’s safe to say Albies has all the upside in the world. Therefore, I’m going to take an educated guess that the Albies we saw in the first half offensively is more like the Albies we’ll see in the second half. Either way, Albies definitely brings a lot more to the table than solid offensive production. He posted a drs of 8.7 and a UZR of 6.7 this past season, and also graded out as a well above average base runner (5.6 BsR). Albies still has room to grow, especially offensively, but he could be an all around superstar in short notice. I’m betting on him by putting him higher than more proven commodities such as LeMahieu and Taylor, but I truly belive Albies’ production this season will certainly validate this ranking.
#6 Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds
Projected Stats: .285/.344/.465 (.809 OPS) 24 HR -5 drs 3.3 WAR
For some reason, a lot of the top second basemen seem to have broken out later in the career, perhaps even with a different team. That trend continues with Scooter Gennett, who’s become an All Star since dropped by the Brewers and picked up by the Reds. In two seasons with Cincinnati, the 28-year-old has posted an .861 OPS and a 124 wrc+, and made the All Star team this last season on his way to posting an .847 OPS and a 124 OPS+. Gennett has seemed to establish himself as one of the game’s top offensive second basemen, so why isn’t he in the top five? Well, for starters, it’s unclear how much longer Gennett will be able to produce at this level offensively. His BABIP of .358 is remarkably high, and it isn’t backed up by his good, but not great hard contact rate (38.4%). He is a regression candidate, which is reflected by his pedestrian .775 OPS in the second half, despite his BABIP remaining high at .339. If that trend continues, which I believe it may, his offense will suffer, which he can’t afford to do. That’s because of his below average defense (-5 drs the past two seasons), which is always a concern at a position where defense tends to be valued over offense. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s possible that Gennett can keep producing at a high level offensively, while his defense continues to improve. However, I don’t believe that’s the case, and for that reasons, sixth is the highest I can rank Gennett on this list.
#5 Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
Projected Stats: .268/.342/.469 (.811 OPS) 22 HR 0 drs 3.5 WAR
With ranking Ozzie Albie at number seven, I’m betting on upside over a proven track record. However, what if I could have a 22-year-old who just posted an .820 OPS and a 118 OPS+ last season? That’s the case with Gleyber Torres, who could very well turn into one of the best hitters in an elite Yankees lineup this season. Torres broke out with New York as soon as he was called up in late April, posting a .905 OPS and earning an All Star game appearance. However, he suffered a hip injury right before the All Star break, and he wasn’t the same player once he came back, as he posted just a .733 OPS the rest of the way. Still, there’s definitely reason to believe that the injury was the main cause of this regression. None of Torres’ numbers regressed in the second half besides hard contact (down around 8%), and as a matter of fact his walk rate increased 3%, while his soft contact rate decreased as well. Back healthy this season, I expect a healthy Torres to continue to improve in those facets offensively, meaning that he’ll be one of the top offensive producers at the position. Defensively, rated out right around average (-1 drs) last season, but he was regarded as a solid fielder when he was one of the game’s top prospects, so there’s reason to believe he’ll improve defensively as well. If he can slightly improve his defense, which I belive he’ll do more than that, Torres will become a superstar as soon as next season. In reality, though, all he needs is another season like last season, and he’ll vault into the top three of this list in the future.
#4 Jed Lowrie, New York Mets
Projected Stats: .263/.350/.432 (.782 OPS) 17 HR 0 drs 4.4 WAR
One of two second basemen that the Mets have added this offseason, Jed Lowrie comes in at #4 on this list. The 35-year-old Lowrie signed a two-year deal with New York, and will be expected to be a major contributor at the top of the order. How that deal turns out remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain, Lowrie is as consistent as it gets. He’s posted nearly identical seasons the past two seasons in terms of OPS (.808 in 2017, .801 in 2018), wrc+(119 in 2017, 122 in 2018), and wOBA (.347 the past two seasons). Furthermore, he’s had back to back four win seasons, and rather than regress with age, he actually improved. His hard contact rate jumped to 40.1%, his WPA jumped to 3.97, and his defense improved (1 drs, 6.1 UZR). His strikeout rate did jump, but since his chase rate remained relatively the same, I’m not overly concerned about that. There’s not a lot to say about Lowrie, other than he’s a valuable asset. He may not be flashy nor have one particular strength, but he doesn’t have many weaknesses, and that’s more than enough to make him deserving of a spot in the top five, though the next three are on a different level.
#3 Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
Projected Stats: .288/.342/.437 (.779 OPS) 15 HR 7 drs 4.6 WAR
Remember that trend we discussed with late breakout stars at second base? Well, no player fits that mold more than Whit Merrifield. Despite not making his debut until his age 28 season in 2016, the 30-year-old has averaged a 4.7 WAR in his first two full seasons. To take things even further, Merrfield has gotten better in every season. This season, he increased his walk rate (8.6%), wOBA (.349), wrc+ (120), hard contact rate (36.9%), and line drive rate (29.8%). His BABIP of .352 is definitely a little high, yet Merrifield’s speed and high line drive rate would explain it for the most part. At this point, Merrifield has established himself as a one of the best pure hitters on this list, but his value comes from more than that. He played six different positions this past season, and rated as a tremendous defender at second base with 8 drs. Even more incredible, he led the league with 45 stolen bases, and his BsR of 7.4 is also tremendous. It may have taken longer than it should have, but Merrfield has become an all around star. He’s the type of player that could help any team under any circumstances, and if the Royals do decide to trade him, he should have a tremendous market. Either way, Merrfield is definitely a top three second basemen, and if it wasn’t for the other two elite players at this position, he’d have a much better shot at ranking #1 on this list.
#2 Robinson Cano, New York Mets
Lowrie is a terrific player, but no addition the Mets have made this offseason will impact the team more than Robinson Cano. The 36-year-old is an eight time All Star, a five time Silver Slugger, and has averaged a 5 WAR throughout his fourteen year career. Cano was suspended for 80 games last season after testing positive for Performing Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), but don’t let that overlook how outstanding of a player he was after the suspension. Cano posted an .860 OPS after returning from the suspension, and was practically the same player he had previously been. Overall for the season, he had an .845 OPS and a 3.2 WAR despite only playing in 80 games. Had he played the same amount of games (150), he was on pace for a WAR of 6, which would have led all second basemen. With an improved hard contact rate of 41.5% and an increased walk rate (9.2%), Cano continues to fight off father time to be an effective hitter, and I don’t expect that to change. His defense may regress as some point, but he’s posted 15 drs in the past three seasons, so it’s safe to say for the moment he remains a solid defender. We keep waiting for Cano to finally regress as he continues to age, yet he continues to show no sign of it. Until he does, he deserves a spot in the top three, as he remains a star at a position that lacks star power.
#1 Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Projected Stats: .315/.393/.478 (.871 OPS) 19 HR 2 drs 6.7 WAR
With all due respect to all the other players on this list, Jose Altuve is undoubtably the best second baseman in baseball. The 2017 AL MVP is a six-time All Star, five-time Silver Slugger, and a has won the batting title three times, yet he’s only 28-years-old. Furthermore, he’s posted five straight seasons with at least an .812 OPS, and has averaged a 6.4 WAR in that span. Altuve did have a down year last season, with “just” an .837 OPS and a 5.2 WAR. However, that was largely due to a knee injury that required him to have surgery in the offseason, so it’s actually impressive that Altuve was able to post those numbers despite of this. There’s not much in Altuve’s numbers to warrant concern. His hard contact rate increased, as did his walk rate, and his line drive rate. On None of his other numbers relapsed, meaning that he’s still the same player offensively that he was in that 2017 MVP season. On defense, Altuve’s numbers (1 drs, -3.2 UZR) rated him as an average to below average defender, which is fine considering his elite offensive ability to go along with his above average base running (4.7 BsR, 17 SB). Altuve is the only true superstar on this list, and also the only one to ever win an MVP. As usual, he ranks as the best second baseman on this list, and he’ll almost certainly rank #1 on this list next year as well.