B/R MLB 300: Ranking the Top 25 Second Basemen of 2016
We have 25 second basemen to get to, and this year we'll be scoring them differently than in the past. Second base has experienced a huge power spike, setting records for home runs and slugging percentage, so the power category looms larger this year:
- Hitting: 30 points
- Power: 30 points
- Baserunning: 15 points
- Defense: 25 points
Before we move on, here's a reminder that this year's B/R MLB 300 is different from past versions in a key way. Rather than use the events of 2016 to project for 2017, the focus is strictly on 2016. Think of these rankings as year-end report cards.
For more on how the scoring and ranking work, read ahead.
How They're Ranked
It takes a minimum of 50 games in the majors to qualify for this list, and most of the second basemen ahead have also played at least 50 percent of their games at the position.
The scoring is based mostly on statistics—current through Tuesday, September 20—from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant and MLBfarm.com. The numbers at these sites leave few blind spots when looking at each player's performance, allowing for analytical scouting reports that cover the following:
Hitting: We know the average second baseman is hitting .278 with a .336 on-base percentage. We want to know how each second baseman is living up to that standard and assorted MLB norms with his patience, discipline, ability to make contact and make good contact, as well as, ideally, use the whole field.
Power: The average second baseman is slugging .437, way up from last year's .393 mark. This is a cue to look at not only raw power, but how well each hitter gets the ball in the air and how else (i.e. a steady pull habit) he maximize his power potential.
Baserunning: This neck of the woods features more gray areas, so we'll keep it simple with a few questions for each player. Can he steal bases? Can he take more than one base at a time when the opportunity arises? Does he avoid running into outs?
Defense: This is where it's most necessary to do video scouting, but there are also helpful analytics to consult. Defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating are helpful guiding stars. Ditto for Inside Edge fielding data and the fielding plots available on each player's FanGraphs page.
The individual scores are meant to mimic the 20-80 scouting scale while also taking sample sizes into account. Perfect scores are reserved for players who have excelled throughout the entire season, with extra points possible under extraordinary circumstances. Anything else becomes a judgment call.
Last but not least: If any two (or more) players end up with the same score, we'll make another judgment call on the player (or players) we'd rather have.
25. Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins
G: 118 PA: 389 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .285/.375/.420 HR: 5 SB: 1
Derek Dietrich's numbers just keep trending up. After searching for equilibrium the last couple of years, he's found it with his approach. He's not nearly as passive as he was when he had a 41.0 Swing% in 2014, and he's not trying to pull every pitch like he was in 2013 and 2014. Now he's a guy who looks to put the ball in play and spray line drives to all fields. As long as there's not a lefty or a guy who can spin the ball on the mound, he's good.
With more consistency has come less power. Dietrich hasn't gotten under the ball as much as he did in 2015, with his average launch angle down from 16.3 degrees to 12.1. He hasn't hit the ball as hard either. His exit velocity on line drives and fly balls is just 90.8 mph, easily under the MLB standard of 92.3 mph. His one saving grace is that he hasn't sacrificed any gap power.
Dietrich is part of the new breed of second basemen: not unathletic, but bigger (6'0", 205 lbs) and not very fast. He's generally been good for one steal per year as a major leaguer. He's also more of a station-to-station runner than an aggressive runner, taking only seven extra bases on non-hits and the extra base on hits just 33 percent of the time. To boot, he's run into nine outs.
Dietrich is a utility guy who was pressed into action at second base by Dee Gordon's suspension. Second base is probably his best position, though. He's not going to light anyone up with his range, as he moves about as quickly on defense as he does on the basepaths. He does show a good internal clock, however, and good arm strength for the position allows him to finish off what plays he can make.
Without a good glove or good legs, Dietrich needs to hit in order to earn his keep. Fortunately for him, the approach he's used in 2016 has allowed for much greater consistency at the dish.
24. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
G: 135 PA: 558 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .291/.322/.420 HR: 11 SB: 10
Brandon Phillips' favorite activity is still swinging his bat, as he's pushed his Swing% closer to 60 and his chase rate (O-Swing%) north of 40. But he makes wild swinging work better than, say, a Jonathan Schoop. He remains an outstanding contact hitter and has continued a late-career transformation into a line-drive hitter. To boot, he's keeping his approach geared up the middle and the other way. These are good ways to make up for how he doesn't sting the ball with 86.9 mph exit velocity.
The 20- to 30-homer power Phillips once had is long gone. His swing isn't good for getting the ball airborne, as his 9.7 degree average launch angle is safely under the MLB average of 11.5. His exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is also substandard at 88.9 mph. The only time pitchers are in trouble is when Phillips ambushes and pulls a pitch in the air to left. He mostly has gap power now.
After stealing 23 bags last season, Phillips is only 10-for-17 this season. He still reads pitchers well and gets good jumps. But at 35, the old burst is gone. And that doesn't just hurt him stealing bases. His 38 percent success rate taking the extra base on hits is on track to be the lowest full-season mark of his career, and he's not making up for it in other areas.
Phillips' mix of athleticism, coordination and creativity once made him arguably the best second baseman in the game. The latter two things are still there and still make him one of the more stylish and entertaining second basemen out there. But the athleticism, not as much. It's telling that he's rarely or never making "unlikely" or "remote" plays.
It's no secret by now that Phillips is past his prime. But relative to many over-the-hill stars, he's still useful. His bat and his glove both have life left.
23. Chase Utley, Los Angeles Dodgers
G: 130 PA: 538 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .253/.317/.390 HR: 12 SB: 2
After last year's horrid showing, let's mark this as a return to form for Chase Utley. It helps that he's been more picky with his swings, particularly outside the zone in dropping his O-Swing% from 25.5 to 22.5. He's also making hard contact at a higher rate than he has in years with a 37.8 Hard%. His exit velocity peaked early, however, and the increased rate at which he's pulling the ball has meant more sacrifices to the shift gods.
Utley's vintage power is long gone, but he hasn't let go of power completely. Frequently using his only remaining power alley frequently is helping. He also has a solid average launch angle of 12.4 degrees. His raw power doesn't impress, as he's averaging just 91.4 mph exit velo on fly balls and line drives. But with good loft and a steady pull habit, raw pop is more a luxury than a necessity.
Utley was once a masterclass in how to do baserunning. Now he's 37 years old and, not surprisingly, kinda ordinary on the bases. He's 2-for-4 stealing bases. And while he's still good at taking bases on non-hits, doing so 18 times, his success rate taking extra bases on hits is just 34 percent. That's far from vintage Utley.
It's been several years since Utley made the defensive metrics swoon. That's his age at work, as he just can't make some of the plays he used to. It's not for lack of effort, though. Utley still plays defense like he's plugged into a nuclear reactor, and his sheer energy is good enough to allow him to make a decent number of both difficult and routine plays. He's no longer a good defender, but he's passable.
Utley is getting close to the end of what could be a Hall of Fame career. It's not as pretty as the beginning, but the fact he's still useful on both sides of the ball is extraordinary.
22. Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh Pirates
G: 131 PA: 522 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .283/.311/.388 HR: 4 SB: 19
Josh Harrison's groin injury brought an early end to a season in which he continued to drift further from his 2014 breakout. He was still hacking at everything with a 54.2 Swing%, making it imperative that he hit everything and hit it well. He was still fine at making contact, posting an 82.2 Contact% and a 14.6 K%. But his coverage of the outer part of the plate evaporated and his exit velocity was just 86.9 mph. His contact habit was thus his only standout quality.
Harrison didn't provide power reminiscent of his 2014 breakout either. He was fine at getting under the ball, posting a 14.3 degree average launch angle. But two things made that go to waste: his subpar exit velocity of 89.5 mph on fly balls and line drives and an up-the-middle power alley. He owed his collection of 25 doubles and seven triples as much to his speed and hustle as anything.
This aspect of Harrison's game is fine. He stole his 19 bases in 23 tries, showing good speed and making it better with good leads and jumps. He also continued to run wild on base hits, taking the extra base 51 percent of the time. He also ran into nine outs, but overall there was more good than bad.
This season was the first time Harrison got a chance to stick at one position. He made it count. The energy and scrappy style he plays with on defense suit him well at second base, where he specialized in tough plays with his range, his hands and his arm. Only trouble is, he occasionally got overenthusiastic and paid for it.
Harrison isn't the big star he pretended to be in 2014, particularly on the offensive side of things. However, his legs and his glove are still assets.
21. Starlin Castro, New York Yankees
G: 146 PA: 593 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .273/.304/.439 HR: 21 SB: 4
There's nothing wrong with a .273 average. Starlin Castro (6'2", 230 lbs) has gotten his by adding some muscle and cranking up his exit velocity from 86.5 mph to 88.9 mph. But he hasn't simultaneously cured his aggressive swinging, pushing his Swing% north of 50 and keeping his O-Swing% well north of 30. And since pitches with spin have only become harder for him to hit, it's no wonder he's seeing fewer fastballs. There are thus a lot of whiffs and few walks in between all the hard contact.
Regarding the muscling up part, Castro's exit velocity revival has helped his power much more so than his consistency. He hasn't specialized in cheap home runs. His average of 92.1 mph on fly balls and line drives may be slightly under the MLB average, but it comes with a launch angle that's improved from 7.2 degrees to 9.1 degrees. Add in a par-for-the-course pull tendency, and it all makes sense.
Castro used to be a 20-steal guy and an all-around solid baserunner. Not anymore. He's slowed down as he's gotten into his mid-20s, turning into a guy who will only go if pitchers neglect to watch him. To boot, the 26-year-old's become more of a station-to-station runner, dropping his success rate taking extra bases on hits from 44 percent to 37 percent.
With his athleticism not what it once was, second base is undoubtedly a better fit for Castro than shortstop. He makes the routine play at second more frequently than he did at short, and he turns the double play well for a relative newcomer. One thing that hasn't changed is his occasionally odd decision-making for how to play balls, which has led to too many botched makeable plays.
It's high time everyone gave up on Castro once again being the rising star he was earlier in his career. But at least he can play second base without embarrassing himself—and with some pop on the side.
20. Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies
G: 144 PA: 571 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .289/.360/.388 HR: 6 SB: 17
Here's a good hitter who gets zero attention. Sure, it doesn't help that Cesar Hernandez doesn't excel at any one thing. What he does do is work off an approach that features a strong eye and strong discipline, allowing him to make the most of a line-drive swing that targets all fields. He's not a big exit velocity guy, averaging just 87.0 mph. But that's at least better than what he managed in 2015, and it's combining with his other talents for good consistency.
This is another reason Hernandez's performance feels so quiet. There's virtually no loft in his swing, as he's managed an average launch angle of just 5.5 degrees. He also has unimpressive raw power, averaging only 90.9 mph exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. All he has is gap power and pretty good speed, which is what's allowed for his dignity-salvaging nine triples.
Hernandez stole 19 bases with a less than stellar success rate of 79.2 percent last year. It's been the same old song in 2016, as he's been successful in only 17 of 30 attempts. His speed is fine, but his reads and jumps must get better. On the bright side, at least he's taken the extra base 55 percent of the time on base hits, going first to third in 11 of 24 opportunities.
Hernandez is one of those guys who doesn't have a true home at any position, but second base is probably the closest thing to it for him. His athleticism and hands could play at shortstop, and these things allow him to be a relatively consistent defender who can make the easy plays. But even at second base, his arm strength (or lack thereof) is an issue. This is why he doesn't pop up in many highlights.
The Philadelphia Phillies did the right thing when they moved Hernandez to leadoff in July. His bat profiles well at that spot. Now all he needs are some other defining qualities.
19. Ryan Schimpf, San Diego Padres
G: 79 PA: 300 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .223/.340/.550 HR: 19 SB: 1
We haven't seen much of Ryan Schimpf, but the way his OBP is so much better than his AVG is reflective of a good approach. He chooses his swings carefully and is plenty willing to take his walks. As for Schimpf's average, there are good reasons it's not higher. His uppercut swing creates holes all over, leading to whiffs. Said uppercut swing is also designed to pull the ball and get it in the air, leading to a laughably low 0.3 GB/FB ratio. That's good for extra-base hits, but not hits in general.
This is the bright side of Schimpf's swing. Albeit among hitters with limited ABs, Schimpf's average launch angle of 28.0 degrees is easily the highest in baseball. He makes good use of it too, hitting his fly balls and line drives at an average of 95.6 mph. This plus his pull habit equals easy power. There's no ignoring his small sample size, but he's been the most powerful hitter in MLB on strictly a rate basis.
Schimpf's one and only stolen base likely represents the best it's going to get for his base stealing. But Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospectus observed some high-effort aggression on the bases when Schimpf was in the minors. Now that he's on the most aggressive baserunning team in the majors, it's not surprising to see Schimpf taking the extra base 67 percent of the time on hits.
Schimpf gives the same kind of effort on defense that he does on the bases and appears to be technically sound. But his 5'9" height limits his range. He tries to make up for iffy arm strength with a quick release, but even that only does so much and doesn't help with his accuracy. He's not one to make high-difficulty plays, and even routine plays give him trouble.
As a 28-year-old rookie, it's fair to call Schimpf a late bloomer. The fact we're talking about him at all is something, and he mainly owes that to his emergence as a lethal power threat.
18. Joe Panik, San Francisco Giants
G: 116 PA: 487 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .242/.318/.382 HR: 10 SB: 5
Joe Panik's 2016 hasn't been as fun as his 2015. He's missed time with a bad back and concussion woes, making it tough to get in a groove. Nonetheless, we're still looking at an advanced hitter. Panik's approach and superb ability to put the bat on the ball haven't changed, and he's still spraying the ball around. The quality of his contact is the one thing that has backtracked. His 86.5 mph exit velocity isn't a big departure from 2015, but his line-drive swing hasn't produced as many line drives.
Panik has maintained decent power despite his diminished exit velocity. He hasn't been hitting as many line drives in part because he's been getting under more balls, boosting his launch angle from 11.9 degrees to 12.9 degrees. And while he's not a pull hitter, he doesn't waste what he does pull. What holds him back is that his all-fields stroke doesn't produce power to all fields.
Panik isn't a fast runner by any means. But as his five-of-five showing stealing bases proves, he will take off if his opponent doesn't give him proper respect. His 40 percent success rate taking the extra base on hits is solid. Beyond that, he's taking a whopping 25 other bases on non-hits. This is good instinctive baserunning.
The best thing about Panik's defense is his reliability. With good hands and an accurate arm, he's a smooth defender who's not prone to making mistakes. He has one of the highest success rates on routine plays of any second baseman. His range is less impressive, although he's hardly a statue on defense. And with good footwork and a quick transfer, he turns the double play well.
Injuries have done Panik no favors this season, particularly at the plate. He remains an advanced hitter, however, with decent power and underrated baserunning and defensive talents.
17. Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
G: 151 PA: 603 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .269/.300/.461 HR: 24 SB: 1
Jonathan Schoop's AVG and OBP haven't changed much from 2015 because he hasn't changed much from 2015. He still swings at over 60 percent of all the pitches he sees and is coming up empty on those swings far more than his decreased strikeout rate would suggest. When he does make contact, he's still all about trying to crush the ball to his pull side. And with his exit velocity down from 90.8 mph to 87.8 mph, he doesn't do as much crushing. Bottom line: He's not a good hitter.
As always, power continues to be Schoop's saving grace. It's worth noting just how small Oriole Park at Camden Yards is, but he'd be a home run threat even at Kauffman Stadium. Schoop's launch angle is up to a solid 11.8 degrees, and his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is a solid 93.2 mph. His pull habit also helps.
Schoop is a big dude who's logged a fair number of at-bats atop an Orioles lineup that sits back and waits for the long ball. It's therefore worth a tip of the ol' cap that he's been more active than usual on the basepaths, taking 22 bases on non-hits and taking the extra base on hits 41 percent of the time.
Schoop (6'1", 225 lbs) is so big it feels like we should be lobbying for a position change. But he has his merits as a second baseman. He has some of the best arm strength you'll see at the position. That and nifty footwork for a big guy not only let him make some tough throws, but also allow him to be one of the best at finishing double plays. However, his size limits his range about as much as you'd expect.
Schoop's profile remains the same as always: It can be painful to watch him hit, but he's got serious pop and is surprisingly well-rounded.
16. Jedd Gyorko, St. Louis Cardinals
G: 118 PA: 405 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .246/.309/.495 HR: 27 SB: 0
Jedd Gyorko hasn't put himself back on the map by trying for more consistency. He's geared his game toward power, hunting for middle-in mistakes and trying to pull everything. It's an Edwin Encarnacion-style approach, but Gyorko's swing has more holes. He survives because he's not necessarily an aggressive swinger and because he makes good contact. His exit velocity may be down from 89.2 mph to 88.0 mph, but his 34.3 Hard% is the same ol', same ol'.
Gyorko was already good at getting under the ball, and now he's even better. His launch angle has improved from 12.6 degrees to 15.2 degrees. And while his overall exit velocity is down, he's added it where it counts. Fly balls and line drives off his bat now travel at a solid 93.0 mph. Throw in his increased pull rate, and there are three legit explanations for his improved slugging. But the weird part? He's hit only nine doubles. It's virtually all home run power.
Gyorko is neither a base stealer nor an especially flashy baserunner. But he's been deceptively productive on the bases. It's worth something he's run into only two outs all season. He hasn't been station to station either, taking double-digit bases on non-hits and upping his success rate taking the extra base on hits from 28 percent to 38 percent.
Gyorko has also filled in at third base, shortstop and first base, but he has spent most of his time at second base in 2016. He's not the type to wow anybody with his athleticism or his arm strength, two issues that are most apparent when he fills in at short. But he's a technically sound defender with a good internal clock, good footwork and accurate throws. If nothing else, he nails it on routine plays.
It's happened under the radar, but 2016 has arguably been Gyorko's best season. He's not the most well-rounded player, but power and reliable defense come in handy.
15. Devon Travis, Toronto Blue Jays
G: 92 PA: 393 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .309/.338/.461 HR: 10 SB: 4
Post-shoulder injury Devon Travis is proving to be just as good as pre-injury Devon Travis. He's come back swinging more aggressively than he was before, leaving more walks on the table as a result. But he's made to hit for a high average. His short stroke not only allows for consistent contact, but also extra time to see the ball. This is why he collects so many hits to center and right field. When you can do that, you can get away with modest 87.1 mph exit velocity.
Travis is a smaller dude (5'9", 190 lbs) who doesn't gear his approach toward power. And yet, there it is in solid supply. Our friend launch angle can help explain, as Travis' has doubled from 5.5 degrees to 11.0 degrees. And while he's not a pull hitter, you'll know he's trying to drive a pitch if he does pull it. Left field is where he does virtually all of his power hitting, giving him a Christian Yelich-like tendency to only pull the ball when he means business.
Travis was a double-digit-steal guy in the minors, but his four in five tries at the major league level this year is more indicative of his speed. It more so comes in handy taking extra bases. He's nabbed 16 on non-hits and has been successful 56 percent of the time on hits.
Travis is better than the sum of his parts on defense. He's not blessed with a strong arm or easy range. But he does cover ground with quick reactions and his willingness to go all-out on every play, and he makes up for his lack of arm strength with a good release. His effort level can get him in trouble, though, as he's made 11 errors and been less than a lock on routine plays.
We've yet to see Travis over a whole season, but he's given us a good idea of what it would look like. Although none of his tools are great, they're all good.
14. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
G: 132 PA: 420 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .269/.310/.426 HR: 13 SB: 12
Rather than cut back on his wild approach in 2016, Javier Baez has doubled down on it. His Swing% is the highest it's been, and only three players go fishing more often. And yet, Baez's strikeout rate has taken another turn for the better anyway. The key element is a much-improved 62.8 O-Contact%, which is the nerdy way of pointing out he's turned himself into a bad-ball hitter. The fact he can still have solid 89.2 mph exit velo despite that speaks to the thump in his swing.
Baez has two necessary ingredients for great power. He gets under the ball, posting a 15.4 degree average launch angle, and he pulls most of what he puts in play. What he struggles to do is consistently display his immense raw power when he puts the ball in the air. He only hits his fly balls and line drives at an average of 92.2 mph. He can give the ball a ride, but he also mishits plenty of balls.
Baez has always had speed to go with his power, and the former has been on display more consistently in 2016. His 12 steals have come in 15 attempts. He's also taken 13 bags on non-hits and has taken the extra base 54 percent of the time on hits. He's run into eight outs, sure, but four of those were at home. He's not entirely to blame for those.
Baez has all the tools to be a defensive wizard, and they've been on display at third base and shortstop in addition to second base. He makes plays with smooth actions, arm strength and soft, quick hands that allow for not only quick throws, but great tags as well. He's the only player in the league who can turn simple tags into highlight-reel plays. Relatively limited playing time aside, he's been one of the most exciting defensive players in the league this year.
Baez still has holes in his swing to patch before he can live up to his superstar potential. But for now, he's turned out to be a useful utility guy.
13. Neil Walker, New York Mets
G: 113 PA: 458 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .282/.347/.476 HR: 23 SB: 3
Before back surgery ended his season, Neil Walker did what Neil Walker basically always does. You can set your watch to his production, in part because his approach is so consistent in terms of his discipline and ability to make contact. The only big difference in 2016 involved him getting under more balls. His launch angle went way up to 17.1 degrees. That didn't cost him any exit velocity, as his stayed steady at 89.5 mph. But that many balls in the air does raise questions about how he kept his BABIP afloat.
Surprise! Turns out a higher launch angle and no exit velocity decline equal more power. Walker's launch-angle increase sent his GB/FB ratio south of 1.0, and he hit fly balls and line drives at a solid 92.7 mph. That's not booming raw power, but it's good raw power that he could amplify with his pull habit. He was yanking balls over the fence to his pull side as both a left-handed and right-handed hitter. But like with Jedd Gyorko, it was all home run power. Walker clubbed only nine doubles and one triple.
Walker isn't a fast runner, but that doesn't render him useless on the basepaths. Although he doesn't steal bases, he continued to be OK at taking the extra base on hits with a solid 36 percent success rate. He also took a hint from the nine outs he ran into last year, running into only two in 2016.
Over seven years, the defensive metrics have made their minds up that Walker is a below-average defender. They're not wrong. He has the hands and the arm for the position, and these things at least allow him to turn the double play well. But he brings little range to the table, to a point where even routine plays are a challenge.
Walker's big redeeming quality remained the same as it ever was: His bat is good for both consistency and power.
12. Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
G: 142 PA: 603 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .277/.302/.508 HR: 31 SB: 14
Don't read into Rougned Odor's .277 batting average. He tried to move toward a more disciplined approach in 2015 but has reversed course and gone full Pablo Sandoval with his Swing% and O-Swing% in 2016. That's been especially true since he returned from his timeout for punching Jose Bautista. He's also acted like a power hitter, getting under everything and basically just trying to make screaming contact to his pull side. This isn't a total waste, but it's not helping his consistency.
This is where all of the above is working in Odor's favor. He's almost doubled his launch angle, going from 7.9 degrees in 2015 to 14.1 degrees this year. Meanwhile, his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is 94.1 mph, well above what he did in 2015. And while he has some power the other way, his emphasis on his pull side has helped. All this is worth a few bonus points.
To some extents, Odor is an ideal baserunner. He's fast and aggressive, swiping 14 bags and taking the extra base 60 percent of the time on base hits. But all this is balanced out by his reckless side, as seen in his seven caught-stealings and 12 other outs (!) on the basepaths. He can only pin two of those on the third-base coach. There's more good than bad here, but the bad can't be ignored.
I want to love Odor's defense. He plays with a ton of energy, ranging all over the yard and making plays with good improvisation, quick reflexes and good arm strength. But man does he make too many mistakes. And not just on tough plays either. His success rate on the easy ones is one of the lowest at the position. The athleticism and the enthusiasm are there. His consistency needs work.
Odor is a fun player to watch, as you never know when he's going to hit a ball a mile or make a dazzling play in the field. It's everything in between that he needs to get better at.
11. Logan Forsythe, Tampa Bay Rays
G: 115 PA: 515 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .279/.350/.470 HR: 19 SB: 6
Good health and a good, old-fashioned opportunity allowed Logan Forsythe to break out in 2015. A broken shoulder blade interrupted the good-health part this season, but his breakout has otherwise continued unabated. What's always been a very good approach is still very good, featuring a sub-40 Swing% and an O-Swing% in the low 20s with lots of contact to boot. His exit velocity has gone from 89.0 mph to 91.1 mph. He can still be beaten up in the zone, but that's his only exploitable flaw.
Forsythe has also doubled down on the power that helped define last season's breakout. This is where his extra exit velocity is coming in handy. His average launch angle is down a tick, from 14.9 degrees to 13.8 degrees. The 93.9 mph he's averaging on fly balls and line drives is what's saving his power. Add in more power the other way, and he's not wasting what he does get airborne.
Forsythe's not as fast as he is powerful. His six steals come with six caught-stealings, the kind of figure that defeats the purpose. He's better taking extra bases in other ways. Although he's taken the extra base only 33 percent of the time on hits, he's taken a career-high 25 bases on non-hits.
Given that he's not blessed with top-notch athleticism, Forsythe is a more rangey second baseman than you'd expect. That comes from quick reactions, a good internal clock and a quick release on his throws. That quick release doesn't help with his accuracy, though, which has also been an issue in general. That helps explain why he hasn't had an easy time making easy plays.
It's easy to overlook Forsythe, but at least we know now that his 2015 breakout was legit. The other parts of his game are limited, but he can hit.
10. Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs
G: 138 PA: 596 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .263/.377/.420 HR: 15 SB: 5
Ben Zobrist's stats are both good and also understating how good a hitter he is. With more walks (89) than strikeouts (79), he's getting everything he can from one of the most disciplined approaches in the sport. When he does swing, it's a line-drive stroke that's producing better contact than in 2015. His exit velocity is up from 89.1 mph to 89.9 mph. His only real weakness is a big one: He relies heavily on his pull side, and that's hurt him more than ever with shifts.
Zobrist's power peaked years ago, but it's still not going quietly. His overall exit velocity gain hasn't had as big an impact on his raw power, as he's averaging just 92.7 mph on fly balls and line drives. But his launch angle is up from 7.9 degrees to 10.1 degrees. That's helped him hit line drives more so than fly balls, but his pull habit helps when he does get the ball in the air—especially when he's batting lefty, as the bulk of his power has come on balls pulled to right field.
Zobrist's baserunning also peaked years ago. He used to be a 20-steal guy. Now he's 35 and all but finished stealing bases. He's refused to become a station-to-station runner, though. Zobrist has taken the extra base 48 percent of the time on hits and has added 21 extra bags on non-hits, all while running into just two outs the whole season.
Zobrist hasn't needed his trademark versatility as much in 2016. He's spent most of the year at second base. It was probably his best defensive position to begin with anyway, as it allowed him to show off his soft, quick hands and mechanical know-how while hiding his modest range. That range has become even more modest at this stage of his career, but everything else is still good. That shows up in the fact he's the surest bet of any National League second baseman to make routine plays.
We're past the point where we can bicker and argue about WAR and it's opinion of Zobrist as one of the best players in the game. But with an advanced bat to go with a dependable glove, he's still useful.
9. DJ LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies
G: 140 PA: 612 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .349/.421/.494 HR: 10 SB: 11
Coors Field helps, but it's not the sole reason DJ LeMahieu has been on fire all year. He took on a different approach in 2015, becoming far more patient and more disciplined. He's only doubling down on that now. One benefit has been an elite contact level. Another has been substantially better contact, as his average exit velocity is up from 90.6 mph to 92.6 mph. And from looking at his spray chart, you'd swear he was Derek Jeter. He goes up the middle and away almost exclusively.
The catch with LeMahieu's slugging percentage is that his batting average inflates it quite a bit. It's hard to hit for power when you have an opposite-field approach as extreme as his, and it's even harder when your average launch angle is just 6.1 degrees. However, his extra exit velocity has led to more gap power. Hence his career highs in doubles (31) and triples (eight).
When he stole 23 bags in 26 tries last year, LeMahieu finally seemed to have developed the instincts to match his solid speed. But now he has 11 steals in 18 tries. It's a good thing he's maintained his aggressiveness rounding the bases, taking 22 bases on non-hits and the extra base 42 percent of the time on hits.
It's not always the case, but the defensive metrics backed up the Gold Glove LeMahieu won in 2014. These same metrics have since turned on him, but they exaggerate his decline. LeMahieu still looks the part of a good defender, showing good instincts, good hands and a good arm. These things allow him to make both routine plays and more difficult plays that require more range.
The degree to which Coors Field has helped LeMahieu's offensive surge shouldn't be ignored. But neither should the things he's done to push the envelope even further.
8. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
G: 144 PA: 650 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .325/.384/.452 HR: 13 SB: 7
Dustin Pedroia really likes batting leadoff, but there's more to his surge than his lineup position. He's always had the right baseline for consistency, using a disciplined approach and rarely coming up empty on swings. Apart from good health, the difference this year is that he's not trying to force his vintage power to return. He's gone back to a line-drive stroke that uses more of the whole field. And he's doing so with solid authority, averaging 89.3 mph exit velocity.
The pivot in Pedroia's approach hasn't cost him any exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, but his average of 91.4 mph leaves something to be desired all the same. Ditto for his launch angle of 9.1 degrees. He can still give the ball a ride when he turns on it, but there's no ignoring how Fenway Park makes that habit look better than it is.
Pedroia isn't the same guy who used to be a lock for 20 stolen bases. He's swiped only seven in 11 tries this year. He's not what he once was taking extra bags, either. He's taken 16 bases on non-hits and the extra base 35 percent of the time on hits, both short of his career peaks. In a related story, he's 33.
He has his four Gold Gloves, and ultimate zone rating has Pedroia as by far the best second baseman in the business since 2008. He got away from this reputation in 2015, prompting Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to order a change in his offseason training. That's paid off. The spring Pedroia was lacking in his step last season has returned. Combined with his instincts, his hands, his quick release and his throwing accuracy, Pedroia can once again make any play there is.
With his power and his baserunning hurt by age, Pedroia's not the all-around marvel he used to be. He can still hit it and pick it, though.
7. Jean Segura, Arizona Diamondbacks
G: 142 PA: 650 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .318/.365/.487 HR: 17 SB: 30
Jean Segura has indeed looked the part of a guy with a new swing and a new outlook. He's never struggled to make contact, but now his old wild hacker self is gone and has been replaced with a more selective self with career-best Swing% and O-Swing% marks. This new selective hitter is miles better at driving the ball, upping his exit velocity from 87.3 mph to 89.9 mph. He's pulled that off while continuing to spread his batted balls around.
It's no accident Segura's hit five more home runs than he did in 2014 and 2015 combined. That's a natural benefit of not only more exit velocity, but a higher launch angle as well. His has gone from 6.0 degrees to 11.0 degrees. And while he's done most of his damage to his pull side, another benefit of having a more powerful swing is more opposite-field power.
Speed was the one redeeming quality Segura had the last two seasons. His 30 steals are his most since his rookie season in 2013. Meanwhile, he's also taking the extra base about 58 percent of the time on hits, adding 26 on non-hits. The only drawback? He's been caught stealing nine times and has also run into 13 other outs.
Moving Segura from second base to shortstop was necessary for two reasons: He didn't have good range at shortstop despite his speed, and his less than great throwing accuracy was more of a problem there. Lo and behold, Segura's range at second base is pretty good. And with shorter throws to make, his accuracy issues have popped up less often. He's handled routine plays just fine.
The Diamondbacks' change-of-scenery play on Segura has worked to perfection. He's found himself again and has been one of the most well-rounded second baseman in the game as a result.
6. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
G: 146 PA: 645 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .277/.344/.468 HR: 22 SB: 14
Jason Kipnis has had a strong second half for once, and he's earned it. He still blends patience and discipline, and he is better at making contact than his 20.6 K% lets on. He also still has a line-drive swing that's produced a solid 90.3 mph in exit velocity. He's even handled lefties well for a change. One gripe is that his pull habit has invited more shifts, but otherwise, even his solid numbers don't do him justice.
After disappearing in 2014 and 2015, Kipnis' power has returned with a vengeance in 2016. He's on record saying he's been looking to pull more pitches after going with an opposite-field approach in the last couple of seasons, per Cleveland.com's Zack Meisel, hence the pull habit that's invited more shifts. But his extra-base hits have indeed clustered to right field. It also helps he's gotten under more balls, upping his launch angle from 9.4 degrees to 14.0 degrees. All this plus his exit velocity improvement equal a good recipe for power.
Kipnis' 30-steal days appear to be over. But his speed hasn't declined to a point where it's no longer a weapon. He's swiped 14 bags in 17 tries and continues to show solid aggression otherwise. He's taken the extra base 37 percent of the time on hits, and he's taken 19 other bases on non-hits.
Kipnis (5'11", 195 lbs) has the perfect kind of build and athleticism to play second base. That shows in his ability to make tough plays, in which he turns his speed and solid arm strength into good range. He's not blessed with great hands, though. That hurts him on double plays and also in making routine plays. He's never had a high success rate on those, and it's downright low this year.
Now that Kipnis has his power back, he once again looks like one of the most well-rounded second basemen in the game.
5. Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
G: 150 PA: 663 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .294/.345/.512 HR: 33 SB: 0
After Robinson Cano came into 2016 healthy following an illness in 2015, we shouldn't be surprised at his rebound. He's not doing it with an improved approach, as his Swing% and O-Swing% are higher than they've been in years. But the quality of his contact is better. His exit velocity may have declined from 91.5 mph to 91.0 mph. But his 35.6 Hard% is his highest since 2013, and he's cut back on ground balls. That's allowing him to fight back against shifts.
And now for another tangible benefit of Cano's good health. His ability to get more balls airborne is no fluke, as he's doubled his launch angle from 5.4 degrees to 11.5 degrees. That makes up for the fact that his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is also down, although still good at 93.3 mph. And while he's still mostly a pull-power guy, good health has also allowed him to regain some of his old opposite-field power.
In becoming more of a power hitter, Cano has been running like one again. His one and only steal attempt this season was unsuccessful, and he otherwise doesn't round the bases like he used to. His 36 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits is below his career norm, and his number of bases taken on non-hits is down from 22 to 17.
The defensive metrics have gone back and forth on Cano's defense, which highlights how difficult he is to assess as a fielder. Sometimes he makes things look too easy. Other times, he makes it look like he's trying to make things look too easy. But what's true either way is that he's one of the smoothest fielders around, showing effortless actions, good hands and a strong, accurate arm. And this year, good health has revitalized his ability to make tough plays. This is one of his good years.
Even in what was an off year in 2015, Cano wasn't that terrible. Now he's back on again, showing a lethal bat and good defense in his return to stardom.
4. Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
G: 141 PA: 581 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .347/.391/.596 HR: 25 SB: 5
So much for last October being a fluke. Daniel Murphy's approach hasn't changed at all, and he's still one of the best there is at making contact. The big key last year was getting closer to the plate and allowing himself to pull the ball more often. That's still going on. Teams have tried to adjust by shifting on him more. That's not working in part because he's hitting the ball harder. His exit velocity has improved to 91.3 mph, and his Hard% has skyrocketed from 31.0 to 38.3.
Although his NL-high .596 slugging percentage overstates things a bit, the power Murphy showed last year has also carried over. A higher pull rate and more hard-hit balls will do that for you. But there's something else you shouldn't overlook. His swing has always had loft potential, and it's showing in his launch angle, which has risen from 11.1 degrees to 16.6 degrees. That's a big jump that's brought him not only his 25 home runs, but his MLB-high 47 doubles.
Murphy was quietly one of the best baserunners in the league a couple of years ago, stealing bases and aggressively taking extra bags left and right. His power has decreased the need for him to keep doing this, but he hasn't fully transformed into a station-to-station slugger. He's swiped his five bags in eight tries and has taken the extra base 50 percent of the time on hits.
As always, this is the dent in Murphy's armor. He's not a good defensive second baseman no matter which way you slice it. He's not blessed with either good hands or quick-twitch athleticism. These things severely limit his range and make it tough for him to make difficult plays. And with a 96.9 success rate on routine plays, even the easy ones are no picnic.
Murphy isn't the athlete he once was, and that limits him to a bat-only player. But man-oh-man is that bat good.
3. Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers
G: 144 PA: 638 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .277/.335/.469 HR: 26 SB: 14
Ian Kinsler has made adjustments to generate more power, and these have manifested a higher launch angle (18.3 degrees), very few ground balls (31.0 GB%) and more exit velocity (87.4 mph). Adjustments such as these could have hurt his consistency, but a couple of things have kept it going. He hasn't sacrificed his disciplined approach and has continued to be a strong contact hitter. He probably deserves a worse BABIP than the one he has, but he's mostly making his new style work.
The other benefit of going for more power? Surprise! It's more power. At 90.6 mph, he gets subpar exit velocity on his fly balls and line drives. But what he lacks in quality, he makes up for in quantity with a career-low 0.68 GB/FB ratio. Throw in a steady pull habit, and you get a spray chart crowded with extra-base hits on one side of the field.
Now 34, Kinsler is not as fast as he was when he was stealing 30 bases way back when. But he's swiped 14 bags in 20 tries anyway. He's crafty with his leads and his jumps when he does decide to go, often getting walking starts. To boot, he's taking the extra base on hits 52 percent of the time.
The Inside Edge numbers show Kinsler has had a tough time making high-difficulty plays this year. But the eye test tells a different story. Kinsler can't burst after balls on defense like he once did, but his instincts and effort level allow him to get to plenty of balls, and his quick release and throwing accuracy allow him to finish of plenty of plays. His defense used to be better, sure, but it's still good.
Kinsler is still one of the most underrated players in the game, albeit in different ways. He's not the athlete he used to be, but he still does everything well and now has more power.
2. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
G: 150 PA: 669 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .336/.395/.540 HR: 24 SB: 27
Jose Altuve has finally hit a wall in September, but it's still time to pay homage to a great season. He was dangerous enough when he was an aggressive swinger who made lots of contact. Now he's a more disciplined swinger who makes lots of contact, and it's notably better contact. His exit velocity has risen from 86.1 mph to 88.8 mph. We could gripe about how he barely uses the opposite field. But since teams know better than to open the right side by shifting on him, that's a nitty nitpick.
And now for the surprising part: Altuve's newfound power. This traces back to how hard he's hitting the ball, as his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is also up from 90.3 mph to 92.3 mph. That makes up for a GB/FB ratio that hasn't really budged despite a higher launch angle at 11.5 degrees. And though he barely uses right field, his extra exit velocity is helping him hit for more power to right field than ever before. One thing, though: The short porch at Minute Maid Park has done him a few solids.
A dirty secret is that Altuve's baserunning was significantly less than perfect in years past. In 2013 and 2015, especially, he ran into way too many outs. He's been better at that in 2016, running into "only" 10 outs in addition to "only" being caught stealing nine times. And indeed, 27 steals and a 55 percent success rate taking the extra base on hits are enough good to outweigh that much bad.
The 5'6" Altuve makes the most of what he has on defense. In addition to his good speed, he covers ground with his sheer effort level and is able to get throws off in a hurry. He doesn't have much arm strength, however, and his height limits his range and makes him a tough target to find on double plays. It's therefore imperative for him to make the easy plays. Fortunately, he does that well with a 99.2 conversion rate on routine plays.
The idea that Altuve somehow isn't the best second baseman might sound like blasphemy. But while there's no mistaking he's had an amazing season, he's not obviously the best hitter at the position and isn't quite the power hitter or baserunner that his surface-level numbers make him out to be.
1. Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
G: 146 PA: 651 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .281/.353/.572 HR: 41 SB: 16
Brian Dozier started 2016 as cold as he finished 2015, batting .202 with a .294 OBP through the end of May. He got out of his approach, chasing too many pitches away and costing himself hard contact. But he's been cruising ever since. He's gone back to hunting on the inner half of the strike zone, resulting in two things: extreme use of his pull side and more consistent contact. You can't ignore those first two months, but Dozier has been a quality hitter for most of the year.
It makes perfect sense that Dozier has gone on a home run tear in the final two months of the season. He's not only an extreme pull hitter who's improved his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives from 92.5 mph to 94.5 mph, but he's also a guy who has no trouble getting the ball in the air. His average launch angle is 15.7 degrees. There are more powerful players than him, but only David Ortiz has hit for more power among qualified batters. A helping of bonus points is appropriate, as he'd profile as elite here at first base, let alone second.
Dozier has ratcheted up the power but hasn't lost any speed. He's swiped 16 bags in 18 tries and has taken the extra base on hits 47 percent of the time. He hasn't been as mistake-prone as he was in his other big season, either. He ran into 10 outs in 2014. He's run into half that many this year.
The 5'11, 200-pound Dozier isn't a physical marvel at second base, and yet he continues to make the easy plays, the tough plays and everything in between. That has less to do with his athleticism and more to do with his effort level, instincts and quick release of the ball. All these things allow him to cover quite a bit of ground, and the last one comes in handy when turning double plays.
Dozier owes his top ranking here to his bonus power points, but even those underrate just how dangerous his power has been in 2016. Throw in a good on-base talent, quietly good baserunning and quality defense, and you get the best second baseman in the business.