MLB 2020 Top Ten: Second Basemen

Though most of the talk in baseball right now is with the major sign-stealing scandal, it’s time to take a segway from those conversations; let’s continue on with our top ten position rankings for 2020. We’ve already looked at the top ten catchers and top ten first basemen, but now, it’s time to examine the top ten second basemen. Unlike in previous seasons, there’s an abundance of talent at the top of the list – the top four is mostly interchangeable – but for the most part, it’s still lacking depth; there are a lot of first or second-year players on this list. Because of that, this appears to be a position on the rise, but with that, comes great uncertainty. So, who’ll be the top ten second basemen next season? Let’s discuss.

Stats Used (via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant):

wrc+= Weighted Runs Created Plus; 100 is league-average (Ex: A player with a 111 wrc+ is 11% better than league average offensively, while a player with a 93 wrc+ is 7% worse)

xwOBA= Expected Weighted On Base Average

drs= Defensive Runs Saved

UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating

OAA= Outs Above Average

ISO= Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average)

Before we get into the top ten, let’s take a look at the players who just missed the cut:

  • Jonathan Villar (MIA) had a 4 WAR season last year, but that was due in large part to him drastically overachieving his expected statistics.
  • Luis Arraez (MIN) is a rare breed considering his refusal to strikeout, but average defense, and poor power and on-base skills limit his ceiling.
  • Robinson Cano (NYM) began his anticipated decline last season, and at 37-years-old, no longer is a top-ten second baseman.
  • Adam Frazier (PIT) is consistent, but he’s consistently mediocre.
  • Jurickson Profar (SD) and Jonathan Schoop (DET) will look to have bounce-back seasons this year, but haven’t lived up to their capabilities.
  • Keston Hiura (MIL) has a very impressive batted-ball profile, but has awful plate discipline and is a liability defensively.

#10: Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

lowe
Photo Cred: The Virginian-Pilot

Age: 25

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (43 Games): .233/.324/.450 114 wrc+ 0 drs 0.3 UZR 0.9 WAR

2019 Stats (82 Games): .270/.336/.514 125 wrc+ 5 drs 1.4 UZR 2.6 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .238/.300/.485 105 wrc+ 9 drs 2.5 UZR 2.5 WAR

Right before the 2019 season got underway, the Rays locked up all of Brandon Lowe’s arbitration years with a six-year extension worth $24 million, with two club options to buy out two free-agent years. Well, there’s a reason Tampa Bay’s front office continues to be ahead of the curve. In his rookie season, Lowe put together a 2.6 WAR in just 82 games, and that total would have been greater had he not missed time with multiple injuries. Now, his .377 BABIP was very high, but due to his 46.2% hard-hit rate and 18.7-degree launch angle, his expected statistics were nearly on par with his actual statistics (.354 wOBA vs. .346 xwOBA). Rather, it’s Lowe’s struggles versus left-handed pitching (77 wrc+) that should raise some concern, as should his 34.6% strikeout rate. Still, he’s a powerful slugger with about average defense (5 drs and -5 OAA), which holds plenty of value. Hopefully healthy this season, he has a good chance of having a 2-3 WAR season, even with a slight amount of natural regression; he’ll be a key part of the Rays’ postseason push.

#9: Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays

biggio
Photo Cred: athletique.com

Age: 24

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats: N/A

2019 Stats (100 Games): .234/.364/.429 114 wrc+ -1 drs -0.3 UZR 2.4 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .238/.368/.427 115 wrc+ 0 drs -0.2 UZR 3.1 WAR

The AL East is clearly stacked with young second basemen; Cavan Biggio arguably had an even better rookie season than Lowe. Displaying his versatility by playing four different positions, the 24-year-old was an on-base machine (.364 OBP), similar to Lowe, he had an impressive WAR (2.4) considering he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. As mentioned, Biggio’s best skill is his ability to get on base; he posted a 16.5% walk rate in 2019, and has generally walked at an elite level in the minor-leagues as well. Therefore, he has a very high floor offensively, so as long as he can utilize his very high 20.1-degree launch angle in order to have at least average power numbers, he’ll consistently be an above-average offensive performer. Since he’s able to play several positions at least an average level, that means that he’ll continue to be a very valuable commodity for the Blue Jays. Therefore, although Biggio may be overshadowed by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, he’s the best of the bunch at the moment, despite not previously being a well-regarded prospect.

#8: Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds

moustakas
Photo Cred: cincinnati.com

Age: 31

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (152 Games)*: .251/.315/.459 105 wrc+ 2 drs 1 UZR 2.4 WAR

2019 Stats (143 Games)*: .254/.329/.516 113 wrc+ 0 drs 0.1 UZR 2.8 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .260/.335/.489 110 wrc+ -3 drs -2 UZR 2.6 WAR

*Only Experience at 2B is 359 innings in 2019

There have been a lot of shocking moves made this offseason, but in the end, none may have surprised the baseball world than Mike Moustakas signing with the Reds on a four-year contract worth $64 million. It’s not that Moustakas is a bad player, but he’ll go from being a replaceable third baseman to a highly paid second basemen, despite essentially posting the same exact numbers he had when he was a free agent the past two offseasons. So, what does Cincinnati see in the 31-year-old? He’ll never be much of an on-base threat, but “The Moose” has at least improved his walk rate in each of the past two seasons, and has maintained his excellent power numbers. Plus he’ll certainly be much more of a high-end producer at second base than third base, so consequently, his value may improve. That is, if he can be a competent defender at second base, but in 359.2 innings there last year, he fared well (0 drs vs. 2 OAA). When it’s all set and done, I don’t see Moustakas, who doesn’t have much upside, living up to that $64 million contract. Still, the Reds are certainly getting a consistent producer, and he’ll be a key part of their attempt to win the NL Central; he’s actually much more regarded at second base than third base, which is a significantly deeper position.

#7: Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers

lux
Photo Cred: True Blue LA

 Age: 22

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats: N/A

2019 Stats (23 Games): .240/.305/.400 87 wrc+ 1 drs -0.4 UZR 0.2 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .270/.332/.440 104 wrc+ 5 drs -2 UZR 2.3 WAR

The Dodgers have made clear inquiries about acquiring superstar Francisco Lindor, but one player has held up trade talks- Gavin Lux. Los Angeles is insistent on holding onto the 22-year-old, but unfortunately for them, that’s the player Cleveland wants in a return for Lindor. As a result, Lux will almost certainly be the team’s starting second baseman, and will look to reward the front office for their confidence in him. Will he be successful? It’s worth noting that although the former first-round pick posted gaudy numbers in the minor leagues, it also came with extremely high BABIPs- it’s not a guarantee he immediately produces at a high level. Now, he’ll be a fine contributor all-around with solid plate discipline, but nevertheless, he definitely doesn’t have a standout tool, so he’s probably closer to a solid everyday option than a star. Should that preclude the Dodgers from acquiring Lindor? Probably not, but they’ve developed Lux to this point, and although I’m not sure he’ll be a star, there’s still a chance he takes off at the next level. At this point, we just need more data regarding the Wisconsin native.

#6: Kolten Wong, St.Louis Cardinals

2019 NLDS Game 1 - St. Louis Cardinals v. Atlanta Braves
Photo Cred: The Athletic

 Age: 29

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (127 Games): .249/.332/.388 99 wrc+ 19 drs 13.4 UZR 2.8 WAR

2019 Stats (148 Games): .285/.361/.423 108 wrc+ 14 drs 5.2 UZR 3.7 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .256/.332/.374 96 wrc+ 17 drs 9.4 UZR 3 WAR

When the Cardinals signed Kolten Wong to a five-year deal worth $25 million and an option for 2021 for $12.5 million, they were betting on his offensive upside taking over. That part of his game has remained inconsistent, but nevertheless, he’s undoubtedly been worth every penny so far. After all, the 29-year-old has posted a career-high WAR in each of the past two seasons, and in that span, has been the best defensive second baseman in the MLB with a combined 33 drs and 21 OAA. Still, Wong doesn’t crack the top-five, which is a direct result of his unreliability offensively. Yes, he is coming off a season in which he produced at an above-average level, but that came with a noticeable gap between his actual statistics and underlying statistics (.334 wOBA versus .308 xwOBA, .423 SLG vs .368xSLG), so that came in an unsustainable fashion. At this point, Wong is a slightly below-average hitter and an elite fielder, which is worth the $22.75 million he’ll make over the next two seasons (assuming club option exercised), but makes him more of a solid contributor than an All-Star.

#5: David Fletcher, Los Angeles Angels

fletcher
Photo Cred: Beyond The Box Score

Age: 25

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (80 Games): .275/.316/.363 88 wrc+ 5 drs 4 UZR 1.9 WAR

2019 Stats (154 Games)*: .290/.350/.384 99 wrc+ 1 drs 1.8 UZR 3.4 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .289/.349/.366 97 wrc+ 11 drs 9.6 UZR 3.2 WAR

*Only Played 239.1 Innings at 2B

With Anthony Rendon on board to play third base, Shohei Ohtani is back to being a two-way player, and Mike Trout remains one of the greatest MLB players of all time, the Angels aren’t short on superstars. However, with Rendon slotted in at third base, their starting second baseman could also be an All-Star this season- David Fletcher has the makeup of a consistent 3 WAR player. The 25-year-old has a rather unique profile, as he doesn’t hit for any power whatsoever, but at the same time, also rarely strikes out (9.4%). That’s the opposite of what you’d expect from a player in this era, but as long as he can get on-base at a high enough clip (career-best 8.4% walk rate in 2019), he should be average offensively. That’s all he needs to be; his defense is amazing. Although he’s only posted 6 drs and 3 OAA over his 234 game-career, he’s only played 600.1 innings at second base. Therefore, as a full-time second baseman, he should be near the top in every defensive metric, and if that’s the case, a 3 WAR may be his floor. He doesn’t have the superstar upside that the next four players possess, but nevertheless, Fletcher may be the unsung hero in the Angels lineup, and will be a key part of their push for Trout to play meaningful games in October.

#4: Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves

albies
Photo Cred: ESPN

Age: 23

2019 Rank: 7

2018 Stats (158 Games): .261/.305/.452 101 wrc+ 8 drs 6.7 UZR 3.8 WAR

2019 Stats (160 Games): .295/.352/.500 117 wrc+ 8 drs 2.2 UZR 4.6 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .277/.334/.462 107 wrc+ 5 drs 3.3 UZR 4 WAR

As they went through a painful rebuild, there was always a clear recognition that in a few years, the Braves would have almost too much young talent. That’s exactly what has happened, as with superstars Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman in the lineup, and Mike Soroka and Max Fried headling the rotation, you almost forget about Ozzie Albies, who was an All-Star last season. In that All-Star season, the 23-year-old was magnificent; he made drastic improvements in every offensive category, including his plate discipline numbers and hard contact rate (42.3%), and because of that, he was one of the top offensive second basemen in the game. Plus, although he gets mixed reviews from OAA (16 in 2018 and -2 in 2019), his 16 combined drs over the past two seasons paint a good picture of the type of defender he is, making him an all-around contributor. Since he’s only 23-years-old, it’s very likely that the best is yet to come for the Curacao native; the combination of him and Acuna for the next decade should leave Braves fans absolutely ecstatic for their future.

#3: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Age: 29

2019 Rank: 1

2018 Stats (137 Games): .316/.388/.451 134 wrc+ 1 drs -3.2 UZR 4.9 WAR

2019 Stats (124 Games): .298/.353/.550 138 wrc+ -2 drs -6.4 UZR 3.5 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .293/.348/.490 131 wrc+ -1 drs -5.5 UZR 4.4 WAR

At the moment, Jose Altuve is the talk of baseball, and not in a good way. Since we have no idea to know the ramifications that the Astros’ cheating scandal had on his production, we, unfortunately, have no choice but to assume that his statistics are legitimate. Even off of that basis, it’s clear that the 29-year-old no longer is the best second basemen in the MLB. He had a great run between 2014 and 2017, in which he averaged a 6 WAR, but since his 2017 MVP season, he clearly hasn’t been the same player. Not only has he dealt with minor injuries, but his offense has declined in every major area, including his plate discipline; his power did increase significantly, then again, whose didn’t? Obviously, a wrc+ over 130 is nothing to be ashamed about, yet, if he’s going to be a below-average defensive player in every defensive metric, that regression with his offense is notably. There was a time where Altuve was in the running for being a top-five player in all of baseball. Now? He falls out of the top-two in his own position, and even then, he could continue to fall down these types of lists in the future if he continues to decline.

#2: Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

marte
Photo Cred: SB Nation

Age: 26

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (153 Games): .260/.332/.437 106 wrc+ 7 drs 0.6 UZR 2.6 WAR

2019 Stats (144 Games)*: .329/.389/.592 150 wrc+ -1 drs -1.3 UZR 7.1 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .290/.350/.514 122 wrc+ 4 drs 0.7 UZR 4.7 WAR

As you’ve probably noticed by now, several of the players on this list have been signed to extremely team-friendly extensions. However, none may be better than the five-year, $24 million extension that the Diamondbacks signed Ketel Marte to, which includes two club options that could keep him in Arizona through 2024. At the time, general manager Mike Hazen was taking a chance that Marte could make good on his talent- at the time, he had a career 2.1 WAR over three seasons. The 26-year-old made serious strides in 2018, as he eclipsed that WAR total, but still, few saw him emerging into one of the game’s top players in 2019. With a 7.1 WAR, Marte would’ve received serious MVP consideration in any other year, and perhaps most importantly, his success should be somewhat replicated. An increase in hard contact (41.9%) and launch angle (11.5-degrees), and with a slightly more aggressive approach, he destroyed fastballs (26 runs above average). Now, there is enough of a gap between his expected statistics (.370 xwOBA, .521 xSLG) and actual statistics (.405 wOBA, .592 SLG) to expect some regression, but he’ll still be an excellent offensive presence, and for the most part, is regarded as a solid defender at second base; his defensive position has yet to be determined, but Hazen has indicated a preference to play him at second base. Even if he doesn’t post the gaudy numbers he did last year, a 5 WAR season is well within the realm of possibilities- he’ll lead a Diamondbacks team that’ll try to once again surprise people this season, and for many years to come.

#1: DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees

DJ
Photo Cred: Hometown Life

Age: 31

2019 Rank: 10

2018 Stats (128 Games): .276/.321/.428 87 wrc+ 18 drs 11 UZR 2.1 WAR

2019 Stats (145 Games)*: .327/.375/.518 136 wrc+ 5 drs 4 UZR 5.4 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .306/.354/.485 118 wrc+ 14 drs 9.6 UZR 5.2 WAR

*Split Time Between 2B, 1B, and 3B

When the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu to a two-year contract worth $24 million, it wasn’t met with much excitement, as Yankee fans had been calling for them to sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Well, naturally, the 31-year-old had a better season than either of those superstars; as the team dealt with an extensive amount of injuries, he was the top performer on a 103-win team. After not being able to produce offensively in Colorado, of all places, something clicked for LeMahieu in 2019, as he not only hit the ball harder (47.2% hard-hit rate, 7.5% barrel rate), but also for much more power (.529 xSLG). Therefore, although his .349 BABIP is a little high, his .375 wOBA and .518 slugging percentage are actually lower than his .379 xwOBA and .529 xSLG. In other words, he actually UNDERPERFORMED based on his batted-ball data. When you rank in the 90th percentile or better in every important statistic, you’re clearly a top offensive performer, and although we still have to ponder whether LeMahieu’s surge will continue (why is he now putting it together), I’m confident he’s become a star- he also a superb defender. There’s a general consensus that LeMahieu is overrated due to his batting average. While I’m obviously in favor of the idea that batting average cannot be used to judge players, I will argue that there is no second baseman with the type of offense-defense combination that LeMahieu presents; because of that, I’m projecting him to be the best player at his position next season.

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