2020 Positional Power Rankings: Second Base

On Monday, Jay Jaffe kicked off our positional power rankings series by evaluating the league’s first basemen. If you need a refresher on the series, Meg Rowley wrote a handy explainer. Today, we stay on the infield and turn our attention to second base.

Second base has become a decidedly unsexy position. Teams are more willing than ever to keep players at shortstop, leaving the keystone increasingly populated by the guys with weak arms, not enough glove for short, or not enough bat for third base. Throughout history, shortstops have generally hit worse than second basemen, which makes sense given that short is the tougher defensive position. But in 2018, after years of slowly gaining ground, shortstops outhit second basemen, with a 97 wRC+ vs. 95 at second; in 2019, they did it again (100 vs. 96).

It hasn’t helped the position that there’s been a talent drain. Chase Utley, Ben Zobrist, Ian Kinsler, and Brandon Phillips are all gone, Robinson Canó, Brian Dozier, and Jason Kipnis are nearly so, and it’s an open question whether Dustin Pedroia plays again. Only José Altuve is all that is left standing of the elite second basemen from the 2010s. Meanwhile, there are only seven second basemen with a future value of 50 or better on THE BOARD, compared to nine at third base and 14 at shortstop. Inevitably, some of the shortstops will end up as second basemen, but that’s kind of the point; the shortstops that shift will likely be the ones who didn’t make the cut at short. Players like Gavin Lux and Nick Madrigal will provide new blood, but they’re likely at least three or four years away from their peak years.

But when the league zigs, it provides teams an opportunity to zag. With clubs getting less out of the position than in past seasons, it’s easier to find an average player there and sets the bar to find a real difference-maker significantly lower. It only takes six runs over 60 games to move from 30th on our second base depth charts (Red Sox) to ninth (Dodgers). There’s also a chance for players who don’t fit the modern major leaguer mold — like the no-power Madrigal or contact-freak Luis Arraez — to collect significant value when they might otherwise be lost among the new age, power-hitting shortstop phenoms teams are collecting.

Don’t take this as a statement that the position is devoid of talent. Ozzie Albies and Ketel Marte would be legitimate stars at any position and if the roster situations on their respective teams had been different, they’d both be manning shortstop in 2020. Altuve may be entering his decline years, but so long as the sign-stealing scandal doesn’t stick to him for too long, he’s on a Cooperstown path. And players like Mike Moustakas having success at second or Keston Hiura sticking there might herald a new trend of using the position to stuff another offensive star into the lineup. Nearly everything in baseball is cyclical; if you don’t like something, just wait a decade.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Jack Cashionmember
3 years ago

Not a good start for the Red Sox in these rankings!

3 years ago
Reply to  Jack Cashion

But 3rd base is next.