MLB Power Rankings: Who Are the Top 10 Second Basemen?

Tim MorelandContributor IIApril 9, 2012

MLB Power Rankings: Who Are the Top 10 Second Basemen?

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    The following players are ranked as if a general manager were able to start a team with any second baseman he wanted, without any salary considerations. This team would then be dismantled after the 2012 season ended.

    As a result, the players’ salaries and potential in future seasons are not considered.  However, defense and base running are included in the evaluation of the players. These are not fantasy rankings.

No. 1 Robinson Cano

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    Robinson Cano has been the most consistently-great offensive second baseman over the past few years.  His defense also ranks amongst the best in the majors.  He earned his first Gold Glove in 2010. 

    Amongst Cano’s many assets, he has also been consistent in being on the field: he's played in at least 159 games in each of the past five seasons. This gives him an advantage over some of the other similarly-talented players at his position who have missed large pieces of recent seasons. When a star player misses time, this means the team has to rely on an inferior player to fill his spot. Since 2006, Cano has not put his team in that position.

    Over the past few seasons, Cano has developed additional power at the plate. It appears that some of this power has come through a more aggressive approach at the plate, which can be seen in both an increased tendency to swing at pitches outside the zone and a higher strikeout rate. However, this change has not come at the detriment of his batting average or on-base percentage.

    With Silver Slugger awards in each of the past two seasons to go with a Gold Glove, it is hard to argue with Cano as the top second base selection. As a high-average hitter with power and strong fielding, Cano projects to be one of the better position players for the foreseeable future.

No. 2 Dustin Pedroia

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    Dustin Pedroia missed most of 2010 with a fractured foot, but he has been completely healthy outside of that season. In 2011, he played in 159 games, showing no ill effects from the previous year’s injury. Thus, fans should not expect injuries to hamper Pedroia this year. 

    Defensively, Dustin Pedroia has won the Gold Glove twice, in 2008 and 2011. He is likely the best defensive second baseman in the game right now.

    While Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano are as good, or better, than Pedroia offensively, the Red Sox second baseman does bring a tremendous amount of value with his bat. Second base has never been a position known for offense. Yet, Pedroia’s bat would hold up among first baseman. His .861 OPS ranked 13th in all of baseball in 2011.

    In addition to top-tier fielding and offense, Pedroia is an asset on the base paths. He routinely steals at least 20 bases, with a career 81 percent success rate. This well-rounded repertoire of skills makes Pedroia the second-best player at his position heading in to 2012.

No. 3 Ian Kinsler

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    Ian Kinsler may arguably be the best player at second base, but he frequently misses extended periods of time in every season. Although, he did manage to stay healthy through all of 2011. However, it is somewhat hard to believe that injury issues are suddenly behind Kinsler, as he turns 30 this year.

    Kinsler’s .255 batting average last season was well below his career average of .276, but this was likely due to bad luck (.243 batting average on balls in play). This decrease was offset by an increase in power, as Kinsler had his best offensive season since 2008. Kinsler was more selective at the plate last season than he has ever been. It will be interesting to see if this conservative approach, which seemed to work quite well in 2011, will be his strategy moving forward.

    Outside of his brilliant offense, Kinsler brings stellar fielding and exceptional baserunning to the team. He has not won a Gold Glove yet, but he certainly could earn one in the future. On the base paths, Kinsler is a 30-steal guy, swiping bases at a high success rate (88 percent in 2011). This makes him one of the top power-speed combos in baseball.

No. 4 Ben Zobrist

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    Ben Zobrist has logged innings at every fielding position other than catcher, but his primary position is second base. Not only can Zobrist play anywhere on the diamond, but he can also do so with above-average skill. He makes for a solid Gold Glove candidate at both second base and outfield.

    At the plate, Zobrist has 20-homer power. However, last season, he was a doubles machine, hitting a career-high 46 doubles, good for third in the American League. 

    Although he has passed over to the wrong side of 30, Zobrist shows no signs of slowing down. He has become one of the more valuable players in the league, twice receiving votes for MVP. Similar production to last season's lies ahead in 2012.

No. 5 Chase Utley

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    The 33-year-old Utley’s best days are behind him. Not only did he used to be the best second baseman in the National League, but he was also among the top five or ten position players in the NL. Nowadays, his numbers put him in the middle of the pack at second base, and injuries have caused him to miss large parts of the past two seasons. 

    Among his career accomplishments, Utley has five All-Star appearances and four Silver Slugger awards at second base.  

    Unfortunately, his offensive skills seem to have degraded considerably over the past few years. What used to be 30-homer power has become 20-homer power. He was a .300/.400/.500 type player in his prime. A more realistic expectation for 2012 looks like .275/.360/.450. For a second baseman, these are strong numbers, but not strong enough to place him in the upper-echelon at his position.

    On the plus side, Utley remains one of the best fielders at second base.  He has also been one of the smarter baserunners. This can be seen in his career stolen base numbers: 110 steals in 123 attempts.

No. 6 Dan Uggla

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    Unlike the guys ahead of him on this list, Dan Uggla hurts his team in the field. He likely ranks as the worst defensive second baseman in the game. Fortunately, his bat has usually made up for this deficiency.

    That being said, Uggla does not come without his troubles at the plate. He may be the safest bet in the game for 30 home runs, but the rest of his stats fluctuate rather wildly. His season-by-season batting averages look like this, starting in 2006: .282, .245, .260, .243, .287 and .233. That does not scream consistency.

    Fortunately, Uggla walks often, so he still gets on base at an acceptable rate, even when his batting average disappoints. Also, as mentioned, there are few guys as reliable as Uggla in terms of power production.

    While he plays a more one-dimensional game than the better second baseman, Uggla’s reliable and dominant power makes him one of the most valuable second basemen in the majors.

No. 7 Daniel Murphy

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    Daniel Murphy may not be the “sexy” pick here, but he holds his own at second base.

    Defensively, Murphy plays a well-above-average second base. He can also play a respectable first and third base. The outfield has not been as kind to him.

    Murphy hit .320 in 2011, but that was above his potential. He should settle in as a .290 major-league hitter, with little in the way of power or on-base skills. This means his offensive value will be driven by his batting average. Fortunately, he should be able to collect enough hits to justify this ranking.

No. 8 Howie Kendrick

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    The former top-prospect, who everyone thought was a lock for multiple batting titles, has not lived up to that potential. However, he has been a slightly-above-average, major-league player. 

    His new-found power in 2011 was a pleasant surprise, but the questions remain about whether that was a fluke or not. His career-high 41 doubles in 2010 appear to have translated into home runs in 2011. This suggests those power gains are authentic.

    The defensive metrics do not agree on whether Howie Kendrick should be regarded as average or Gold Glove caliber. Fans seem to suggest he falls somewhere in between, making him an above-average defender.

    At 28-years-old, this may be the best we are going to get from Kendrick. If that is the case, then he should be very proud of his career. However, the potential for one more leap forward from this former minor-league phenom still exists.

No. 9 Rickie Weeks

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    Rickie Weeks has never been short on offensive production in the majors. However, he has been able to stay healthy for only one complete season, in 2010. 

    That guarantee of a lengthy stay on the disabled list knocks Weeks out of the top five. In his healthy season of 2010, Weeks ranked among the top-fifteen most-valuable offensive players in the NL. He slugged 29 home runs, stole 11 bases, drove in 83 and scored 112 runs. 

    Defensively, Weeks possesses slightly below-average fielding skills. While not a defensive liability on the scale of Dan Uggla, he still leaves something to be desired.

    As always, the question for 2012 revolves around the health of Weeks. If he plays a full season, then he should be better than nearly everyone on this list. The odds are, however, that he will miss dozens of games, forcing his team to play their backup second baseman for long stretches.

No. 10 Danny Espinosa

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    Danny Espinosa fields second base solidly, with potential for Gold Glove caliber play.

    However, his real strength comes at the plate, in the form of power. And, he has a lot of it. In 2011, his first full season, Espinosa hit 21 home runs, 29 doubles, and 5 triples. His swing is designed to put the ball in the air, which means it will not be a surprise if he ends up hitting close to 30 home runs in 2012, a rare amount of power for a second baseman.

    Not only does Espinosa bring power, but he also has potential to be a solid power-speed combo player. In 2011, he stole 17 bases. Espinosa was a good base stealer throughout his minor league career. Fifteen to twenty steals per year seems within reason.