Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips often mentions that he’s ready to assume a greater leadership role. So, like Reds middle infield captains Davey Concepcion and Barry Larkin before him, he wants the Reds to be “his team.”
Now, finally, he’s playing like it.
Chalk it up to an extra year of maturity, or the greater sense of purpose in the Reds clubhouse (Cincinnati finally crashed the playoff party last season), or the fact that Phillips is in a contract year and searching for an extension.
Regardless of the reason, the Reds Gold Glover has been scalding hot out of the gate.
With a .331 batting average, Phillips has teamed with incumbent-MVP Joey Votto to keep the Reds (starting pitching woes be damned) afloat in a tightly-packed National League Central race.
At 13-13, the Reds were understandably unsatisfied with their April. However, since then, they’ve reeled off 11 wins to go with six losses, and continue to be a character-rich, never-say-die squad; a trait that developed last season and has been influenced largely by Phillips.
Watching Phillips perform at such a high level so far this season as been enthralling. A specimen at the plate and an acrobat at second, Phillips’ explosive first month-and-a-half has Reds fans wondering just how epic the future of the right side of the infield can be (assuming Phillips gets signed to a long-term deal).
And, in that vein, the Cincinnati right side tandem has this fan wondering if a better duo exists anywhere in the game.
Read on for my top 10 first/second base duos.
Even Pujols can't do it alone.
While far from scientific, my method for selecting and arranging the following ranking hinges largely on adherence to the following principles:
No Back-Carrying – For example, Albert Pujols is, as we all know, inhuman. He is ridiculously good. But without a reliable, talented counterpart to his right, this might be the only “best of” list he is left off of…ever. In short, one man does not a tandem make.
Offense Trumps Defense – Why? Because GMs say so, THAT’S why. While it's true that in recent years teams have placed a higher emphasis on defense (especially up the middle), if a guy slugs the ball like Dan Uggla and plays defense like Dan Uggla, he’s gonna’ play. A perfect example would be Dan Uggla.
Defense Still Holds Weight – I try to be as well-rounded as possible in my rankings, while conceding the fact that offensive numbers carry more weight than defensive metrics. That being said, I considered career fielding percentage and 2010 UZR (how many runs a fielder prevented compared to his counterparts) along with Bill James’ “Fielding Bible Awards,” in order to come up with fair representations of each player’s defensive abilities.
Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday – That is, order of importance when it comes to my rankings. What a player can do TODAY is by far the most important measurement. But, beyond that, I look at a player’s potential to be great (i.e. Brandon Belt) over a player who is aging but may have had an illustrious career (Todd Helton).
Injuries Matter – If you were a General Manager, would you completely ignore injury history? Of course you wouldn’t. That’s why, as this is a “who would you most want on your team” type of list, “he’s a stud when healthy” just doesn’t cut the mustard. Injuries beget more injuries. This we know.
The only reason I am able to include these two is that my Omar Infante rage has finally subsided.
Last July, everyone’s favorite turnip farmer (Charlie Manuel) had the audacity to hand one of the final roster spots on the National League All-Star team to Infante, leaving Joey Votto (eventual MVP and OPS Grand Sultan) high and dry.
Manuel’s omission of Votto was a historic snub, and proved just how talented the Phillies roster has been over the last few years (because, ya' know, even Charlie can lead them to the playoffs).
That being said, I think we can all agree that the 29-year-old Infante juuuust may have peaked. Trust me, if this utility-man extraordinaire makes another All-Star team, I will personally purchase and send ol’ Chahlie a brand-spankin'-new pair of suspenders.
Still, over the course of the season, Infante should provide an above average bat and good defense for the Marlins. So, when combined with the emerging Sanchez at first (.273 BA and 19 HR in his first full season), Florida’s duo cracks the top 10.
If this list were constructed after the 2009 season, the Lind/Hill combo might have been the Fantasy Baseball Board of Directors’ choice for numero uno.
Simply put, Lind and Hill were STUPID good.
Combined, the duo clubbed 71 home runs, knocked in 222 runs, and batted about .295.
Since then, however, the numbers just haven’t been there. Both players’ batting average hovered in the low two-hundreds in 2010 and, through the first month of this season, only Lind (.313, 7 HR) has rediscovered his stroke.
Now, it bears mentioning that Lind and Hill’s UZR for 2010 was decent (9.2 and 4.3, respectively). Also, it’s relevant that they are both under the age of 30 and were both high draft picks in their day (third and first rounds, respectively). In other words, pedigree indicates that the 2009 artillery display wasn’t a fluke—even if these guys plateau, they’ll give you above average defense.
Not the most ringing of endorsements, but enough to wedge them in at No. 9.
It was one of those images that just had to make you laugh…and then kind of cringe because you shouldn’t be laughing…and then laugh again ‘cuz, I mean, how the hell does something like that actually happen in real life?
“That,” of course, was the fateful day early last season when Kendrys Morales, following a gangbuster 2009 season (.306 BA, .924 OPS) and a good start to 2010, hit a game-winning home run, bunny-hopped into the home plate scrum, and proceeded to break his leg.
Morales’ season would end there, adding a hilariously sad new meaning to the term “excessive celebration.”
Now, due to complications with an injured left foot (related to, but not caused by the 2009 debacle), it looks like the hulking Cuban first baseman will undergo surgery and miss yet another season.
It may seem like I am breaking my own principle here, but it is WAY too early in Kendrys Morales’ promising young career to write him off as “injury-prone.” The 2009 accident could have happened to anyone (even you, you intramural softball stud, you), and there is nothing saying Morales’ recovery from this surgery won’t be a full and successful one.
When healthy, Morales is a budding bundle of talent. So, when paired with his running mate Howie Kendrick, (a career .296 hitter who has ripped the ball so far this season), the Angels duo registers at No. 8.
If it hadn’t been for Cele-gate 2010 and the resulting injury woes, I’d have them even higher.
Admittedly, this selection is based on several big “ifs."
First, Freeman, to this point, is a prospect. Nothing more.
Touted up until last year by Baseball America as one of the sport’s top prospects (11th overall), Freeman joined the Braves for 20 games at the tail end of last season and had four hits (.167 BA). So far this season, he looks to still be unpacking, as he’s managed only a .227 BA a month and a half in.
So, we’re assuming Freeman will display the same level of aptitude in the Bigs as he did in the minors (.319 BA, 18 HR) at some point. Huge “if,” obviously. However, the talent and promise cannot be ignored.
Then, there’s the question of IF Dan Uggla can carry his heavy bat from Florida to Atlanta, and if he’ll be able to manage any semblance of a respectable batting average.
We’re all aware of his club-footed rep at second base (though reports say he is working hard to change that in ATL). If Uggla continues to dance with Mendoza throughout the season (his BA currently clocks in at .198), anything short of 40 dingers (his career high is 33) could oust these two from the rankings altogether.
Not long ago, there were two second basemen you wanted on your fantasy baseball team: Chase Utley, or Ian Kinsler. After that, you might as well wait until Round 7.
Nowadays, you can get a quality second baseman a little easier, but the Kinsler name still carries a lot of cache, understandably so.
In 2008, he hit .319 (.892 OPS). In 2009, he hit 31 homers.
Yet, due to injury, Kinsler was slowed in 2010 (9 HR, 45 RBI in 391 AB), and allowed guys like Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia to leap-frog him.
Still, Kinsler packs punch at a position that traditionally has lacked it. Combined with the talented Moreland (has mashed at every level, and currently sports a .286 BA with the big club), Texas has a young duo to be proud of (both are under 30 years old).
I wanted to make sure I got this article written soon.
You know, before Prince "Teddy Ruxpin" Fielder changes uniforms.
For months, the baseball landscape has been abuzz over the possibility of Milwaukee’s cuddly slugger being shipped out at July’s trade deadline. After signing Ryan Braun long-term and taking on the contracts of Shaun Marcum and Zack Grienke, the small-market Brew Crew might be looking to unload (especially if they can’t catch up to the Reds/Cards).
Despite being a fan of their rival, the foreboding feeling in Milwaukee saddens me.
For a few years (and, to an extent, still today), Milwaukee had one of the most dynamic cores of young positional talent in recent memory. With Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, and Ryan Braun all ascending to the bigs around the same time, it looked as if the NL Central would be OWNED for years by the Crew.
Unfortunately, no one who’s ever seen the Brewers' payroll, thought that such a foundation would go uncompromised for long.
Today, they still have Hart/Braun/Fielder/Weeks, but the Prince has all but played his way to another zip code by averaging 38 HR and 105 RBI in his first five seasons. Weeks, on the other hand, will be around for awhile, having recently signed a four-year deal that pays him about $10 million per year.
Despite their sub-par defense, Milwaukee fans should cherish the Weeks/Fielder pair now, as it’s one of baseball’s best.
This is the type of situation I normally reserve for a rant/soapbox session on the demise of Major League Baseball. After all, when teams like the Red Sox ($160 million in payroll) add a guy like Gonzalez to a lineup that already has Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz (in the same offseason that they add Carl Crawford) it makes us little guys feel like knocking down a mailbox.
However, my gripe isn’t exactly appropriate in this forum, seeing as the Sox already had two great first basemen before A-Gon came along (Papi and Youk), so we can’t slough it off by saying they bought their way to the top.
Stepping past my baseball inferiority complex for a moment, it’s clear that by adding Adrian Gonzalez, Boston assured itself a piece of the “best right side” pie for at least the next four years (Pedroia is signed through 2014). The former Padre has been an All-Star the last three seasons, and won two Gold Gloves.
To his right, Pedroia has three All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, and a MVP under his belt (despite being a member of the Lollipop Guild). However, since winning the league’s top award in ’08 (.326 BA, 20 SB), Pedroia’s numbers have begun to slide (.296, .288, .245 in ‘09, ‘10, and ‘11, respectively).
There is obviously still time for him to pull his ‘11 numbers up but, should the diminutive Pedroia continue to be less like Frodo and more like a hobgoblin, he’ll pull Gonzalez down with him.
This one is near and dear to my heart.
Not because I have any kind of affinity for either player (I happen to be generally annoyed by the whole organization and 90 percent of its fan base), but more so because being a resident of Philadelphia and a sports fanatic, I torment myself by listening to Philly sports talk radio, and all the chatterheads ever focus on is the erosion of Chase Utley.
No other tandem has accumulated the numbers that these two have, so the argument could be made that Utley and Howard belong at the top of this list. As recently as 2009, these two combined for 76 HRs and 245 RBI. And, while Howard is miserable with the glove, in 2010 Utley sat at the top of Bill James Fielding Bible rankings.
However, none of that production helps them in 2011, especially as it pertains to Utley, who still sits uncomfortably on the bench recovering from a knee injury.
And, while the most dogged of Phils fans (and most are either dogged or dogfaced) will claim Utley will make a full recovery, it’s hard to ignore that it was injuries that limited him to 115 games last season.
Howard is Howard, and will be for the foreseeable future. That means he’ll be hitting monster homers, piling up RBI, and whiffing an inordinate amount until his legs give out. However, with Utley on the shelf (and many speculate that will begin to be the norm), Howard/Utley becomes Howard/Valdez.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring.
We all know about Votto. MVP. Doubles machine. OBP sensei.
Joseph Daniel Votto is God-like, and that’s not up for debate. However, it’s been the inspired play of Phillips that catapults this pair to the land of the elite.
Watching Phillips patrol the right side of the infield is like watching LeBron James play ball. Seemingly every night, he’ll drop a "holy-sh*t-no-he-di’innnnnt" type of play and make you just shake your head and stare. He’s so good, former Reds second baseman and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan recently said he could be THE best second baseman of all time, when it’s all said and done.
(And, for those of you scoring at home, this is coming from the CURRENT best second baseman of all time. Just sayin’.)
Thing is, Phillips has ALWAYS been downright scary with the glove. Now, however, it seems his bat is catching up.
As of today, he’s hitting .331 (tops for all MLB second basemen) and leads all National League second basemen with 27 runs, 26 RBI, and a .864 OPS.
Now, I’m no GM, and I definitely won't pretend I fully understand the Reds’ cost structure. However, Phillips’ recent coming of age story makes at least one decision very easy.
In the words of Teddy KGB from Rounders, "Pay heem. PAY THAT MYAN HEES MAHNEY."
It’s always nice when, for a rare moment, the underdog can push its way through the fray and nose its way to the top, against all odds and to the dismay of fair-weather bandwagonners everywhere. When the little guy finds a way to edge out the behemoth, even in a power ranking list, it makes us all sleep a little better at night knowing there is hope for the weak.
Yet, while all of that may be true, such is not the case here.
As much as it pains me to admit it, even though it doesn’t always buy them wins, the Yankees’ cash certainly does attract some good players.
To be fair, Robinson Cano is homegrown; a Yankee through and through. Mark Teixeira, on the other hand, is just one more in a line of superstar Yankee imports who could stretch the length of the equator.
With 284 career home runs and four Gold Gloves, Teixeira brought the whole package AND a bag chips with him when he came over from the Angels. In his first season in New York, Teixeira led the league with 39 home runs and 122 RBI (just going to show that $180 million really DOES go as far as it used to).
Teixeira is joined by Cano, a star since he arrived in the big leagues as a Dominican free agent and often referred to as the best offensive second baseman in the game.
Together, the two form a young (Cano is 28, Tex is 31), uber-talented duo that MIGHT JUST be enough to make up for the Yank’s suspect rotation and aging core (Posada and Jeter, anyone?).
And, if not, there’s no hole that another hundred mil' can’t patch.