Leandre: Top 10 Second Basemen Ahead of 2022by Jordan Leandre March 2, 2022 0 comments
The Top 10 second basemen of 2022 is something a bit more concrete in logic to rank. It is not a position where an analyst needs to exaggerate the importance of half the game. It’s the balance that makes middle infielders so great, particularly second basemen. The better you are at one aspect, the less important being elite at the other becomes. Being a 115 wRC+ hitter with 5-7 DRS is more beneficial to a second baseman than a player at first. Conversely, being a great defender and slightly above-average hitter could make you a Top three or four catcher.
Before I get into my top 10, I would like to preface by sharing a few disclaimers: Max Muncy and Ty France were both deemed first basemen for sake of this series. As for Kiké Hernández, I am considering him a center fielder until the Red Sox place him elsewhere. Ketel Marte is a second baseman, these rankings, despite spending the past two seasons in center field. Here are my top 10 second basemen ahead of 2022.
10. Whit Merrifield – Kansas City Royals
Merrifield is respected league-wide as sort of a blue-collar player. There is probably not a more apt description for the Royals’ Swiss-Army knife. Another guy that religiously outperforms his expected stats, he’s also an elite baserunner and defender, on top of being a slightly above-average hitter. 2021 was the worst offensive season of Merrifield’s career, but he still posted 14 DRS to lead qualifying second basemen. Moreover, he led MLB in doubles last year with 42, stolen bases with 40, and was one of only two players in the league to play all 162 games. The other heads this list.
Old-school fans love someone like Merrifield, who is a career .291 hitter with great defense and baserunning. He also led the league in sacrifice flies. He may be 16th in wRC+ at second base since the start of 2020, but his elite level of play across the other key components of the game makes up for it. Otherwise, he would not be eighth in fWAR during that span.
9. Ozzie Albies – Atlanta Braves
Notorious for overrating Albies, I think I have seen the light and finally ranked him properly. Last season, his slash line was less than impressive, aside from his .488 slugging percentage. However, he settled into a .332 xwOBA, a 107 wRC+ and played an above-average second base, defensively.
Since the start of 2020, the Curaçao native is tied for fourth among second basemen with 36 home runs, third in slugging percentage and ISO, and tied for sixth in fWAR. His 2021 gets bogged down by a tough second half. If he can replicate his first-half offense for a full season, I feel very comfortable ranking him seventh.
8. DJ LeMahieu – New York Yankees
Out of sheer respect for how 2019 and 2020 went for the New York second baseman, I cannot knock him lower than eighth in my 2022 rankings. The jury is still out on whether LeMahieu’s dominance was a product of juiced balls in 2019 and 2020, but 2021 was dreadful for him. At least compared to the precedent he had set since arriving in the Bronx.
Last season, the former LSU infielder slashed .268/.349/.362 with a 100 wRC+ and an alarmingly low 7.7 percent home run/fly ball rate. For context, he slashed .336/.386/.536 with a 146 wRC+ and a 20.9 rate in the same category. His ground ball rate was 4.6 percent lower in 2021 than in 2020, his fly-ball rate was 4.5 percent higher, but his hard-hit rate was 8.0 percent lower. However, his xwOBA was .339 and his walk rate was a career-best 10.8 percent. Defensively, he’s still fine at second base.
Due to injuries and COVID, the Yankees moved LeMaheiu around often in 2021. Much of the time he spent hurt. He also suffered defensively from playing alongside Gleyber Torres, who is one of the worst middle infielders in the league. I suspect LeMahieu will likely bounce back into the 115 wRC+ range this season with 3-6 DRS. But based on recent data and without the juiced ball, I have to knock him down to eighth.
7. Jonathan India – Cincinnati Reds
India burst onto the scene in 2021, handily winning NL Rookie of the Year. In his 150 games, the Reds’ second baseman slashed .269/.376/.459 with a 122 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR. It was certainly an excellent first impression from the former Florida Gator, narrowly keeping him out of the top five.
What ultimately kept him at No. 7 was his concerning defensive metrics (zero DRS, -7 OAA), and his pedestrian batted ball profile (36th percentile in hard-hit rate). The results spoke for themselves in the end last season, but I’m wary of ranking him higher than seventh until he improves in those areas.
6. Jorge Polanco – Minnesota Twins
A position change benefitted Polanco greatly in 2021. After averaging -10.1 DRS per 1,000 innings at shortstop between 2016 and 2020, Minnesota moved Polanco to second base. It was there that he had his first positive DRS season in his MLB career. Additionally, the bat saw a resurgence. While a 36.8 percent hard-hit rate is less than stellar, he managed to crack 30 homers for the first time en route to his second season with at least a 120 wRC+. Polanco can hit with tremendous power, it is about finding consistency in the stroke.
In the second half of 2021, he found it. Through 295 plate appearances, Polanco drilled 21 home runs, had a 144 wRC+ and his .298 ISO ranked seventh in the majors and third among second basemen. I am very high on Polanco moving forward, especially if the Twins keep him at second base.
5. Jake Cronenworth – San Diego Padres
All around, Cronenworth is a solid ballplayer. Is he a superstar? Absolutely not. However, he is simply a good hitter who fields at a high level, as well. His 118 wRC+ since 2020 is tied for fourth among qualifying second basemen, while his five DRS last season ranked in a tie for seventh despite playing the 16th-most innings. Cronenworth is exceptionally fast –– 86th percentile in sprint speed –– and has sneaky power. If the Padres can anchor him to second base, he has the potential to leap even higher in the coming years.
4. Jose Altuve – Houston Astros
The batted ball data on the Astros’ second baseman has never been overly impressive. That said, he rarely strikes out, rarely whiffs on pitches, and is in the top 30 percentile in sprint speed. Last year, his 130 wRC+ ranked third among second basemen, his 31 homers ranked fourth, and only Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison were tougher to strikeout at the position. Defensively, This is more of a track record spot for Altuve. He’s done nothing to fall outside the top four and rebounded well from a discouraging 2020 campaign.
3. Ketel Marte – Arizona Diamondbacks
Marte badly needs to convert back to second base. Despite an MVP-caliber 2019 campaign at that spot, Arizona moved him to center field following 2020. It was there that (despite maintaining elite offensive production in 2021) he spent the majority of the season on the shelf. Protect him and he will be one of the most highly sought-after commodities on the trade market this summer.
The bat is there, as Marte’s 139 wRC+ in 2021 would have ranked second among second basemen with at least 350 plate appearances. Similarly, his .377 OBP and .385 wOBA would, as well. His .532 slugging percentage would have ranked third and his .371 xwOBA would have ranked first. He’s a perennial All-Star if Arizona protects his body and keeps him at second base, where he’s also top three at his position.
2. Brandon Lowe – Tampa Bay Rays
The difference between Lowe and the No. 1 second baseman is paper-thin, in my opinion. The balance I talked about in the introduction prevails. His 141 wRC+ since 2020 ranks first among second basemen, as does his 53 homers, 136 RBI, .279 ISO, and .532 slugging percentage. What trips him up is his -7 DRS in that span as well.
1. Marcus Semien – Texas Rangers
Where Lowe is No. 1 in all offensive categories, you can pencil Semien in for second or third. His 121 wRC+ since 2020 is third, his 52 home runs are second, his 125 RBI is tied for second, and his .498 slugging percentage is second. There is one thing that gives the 31-year-old the edge over Lowe. Semien is close enough offensively to where his defensive advantage makes up the difference. Since 2020, Brandon Lowe has -7 DRS, Semien has 11, a difference of 18 runs.
Not only does he compare well offensively, but he also is the fWAR leader for second basemen since 2020. On top of that, he is going to the Rangers, where the ball will continue to fly for him. I expect huge offensive numbers from the second baseman in Texas, at least for the foreseeable future, making him the best at the position in MLB ahead of 2022.
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