The 2019 Replacement-Level Killers: Second Base

Rougned Odor’s play in 2019 has been a serious liability for the once-surging Rangers. (Photo: Keith Allison)

While defensive concerns generally outweigh offensive ones when it comes to second basemen, it nonetheless rates as a surprise that the position’s denizens are producing just a 90 wRC+, their lowest in the period covered by our splits (since 2002) and the lowest of any position this year save for catcher. After all, in 2016, the group reached its high-water mark for the period with a 106 wRC+. Even as teams have squeezed offense-minded players like Mike Moustakas and Max Muncy into the keystone, the collapses of several formerly solid second-sackers — Robinson Cano, Starlin Castro, Brian Dozier, Josh Harrison, Kolten Wong, and many others mentioned below — have eroded the overall production here, as have the shifts of Daniel Murphy and Neil Walker to first base and the possibly career-ending knee woes of Dustin Pedroia. Perhaps that’s the point; the core of players that shined in 2016 has aged, and as Baseball Prospectus’ Aaron Gleeman suggested last month, it may just be a changing-of-the-guard moment.

Among contenders (which, for this series, I’ve defined as teams who are above .500 or have playoff odds of at least 10.0%, a definition that currently covers 17 teams), five have gotten less than 1.0 WAR at the position thus far. I’m including a sixth here, since we’ve had a bit of a reshuffle since I began writing the series: the Giants have won nine out of 10 and 16 out of 19 to climb to 51-50, while the Rangers have lost eight straight to fall to 50-50, that after I’d already written their entry, and I’m not making two stops. As at the other positions I’ve examined thus far, a closer look suggests that some of these teams are likely to remain in-house while shuffling through potential solutions rather than make a deal before July 31, but given the finality of this year’s deadline, this is an exercise worth doing at this juncture nonetheless.

Replacement Level Killers: Second Basemen
Rk Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR
28 Athletics .209 .269 .389 72 -14.5 1.4 -5.1 -0.2
27 Giants .246 .313 .331 72 -16.0 -2.6 1.5 -0.1
23 Red Sox .260 .316 .373 79 -11.2 -2.0 1.6 0.4
20 Indians .238 .306 .373 76 -12.7 0.1 2.1 0.5
18 Rangers .216 .275 .429 75 -13.7 1.2 2.7 0.6
15 Cubs .223 .307 .390 81 -10.5 -0.2 3.8 0.8
All statistics through July 22. Rk = WAR rank among all 30 teams.

Athletics

The three-way December trade that sent Jurickson Profar to Oakland appeared to be the former top prospect’s big break given the Rangers’ commitments to Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor in the middle infield, but this one hasn’t worked out so well for either team. The 26-year-old Profar has hit just .210/.274/.395 (75 wRC+), though to be fair, the real damage he did was in the season’s first five weeks; he’s produced a 97 wRC+ with 12 of his 14 homers since May 1. Top prospect Franklin Barreto, still only 23, is just 5-for-38 since returning from Triple-A and briefly being anointed the starter; his inability to control the strike zone (44.9% O-Swing%) or hit the ball hard has already sent him back to the bench in favor of Profar. That’s a surprisingly quick reversal, but on the other hand, his career line of .198/.232/.401 (66 wRC+) with 77 strikeouts and seven walks in 190 PA spread out over three seasons is of greater concern, and perhaps he’s being showcased for a trade.

Among their other options, Chad Pinder, who’s made 10 starts at the keystone, is making outs galore at every position he plays (.247/.286/.414, 84 wRC+). At Triple-A Las Vegas, 24-year-old Jorge Mateo has played some second base in addition to shortstop, and while his .293/.327/.505 line look solid, it’s good for just a 96 wRC+; what’s more, his 4.2% walk rate is worrisome. Odds are that the A’s wait for one youngster or another to step forward and secure the job, particularly because pitching upgrades appear to be a much higher priority.

Giants

They’re above .500, which means it’s Panik time, baby! And perhaps panic time as well, as general manager Farhan Zaidi feels the pressure to hold onto his trade chips — primarily Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, and several other relievers — rather than further the team’s much-needed rebuilding effort. Incumbent Joe Panik has started 81 games here but is hitting just .239/.314/.323; his 72 wRC+ marks his second straight year below 75. Backup Donovan Solano has hit a sizzling .330/.358/.446 in 120 PA, but his previous history suggests that’s completely unsustainable. If Zaidi deals Bumgarner, a long-term alternative could be part of the package, particularly as the system’s two prospects, Abiatal Avelino (24th on their list, and now at Triple-A), and Jalen Miller (22nd, and at Double-A) have underperformed this year and at best look like stopgaps themselves.

Red Sox

Recall that with Pedroia on the shelf due to continued inflammation in his surgically repaired left knee, the Red Sox opened the season with an Eduardo Nunez/Brock Holt platoon at second base. Both got injured, and Pedroia took an indefinite leave of absence, opening the door for Michael Chavis, a third baseman, to give a shot at the position, Moustakas style. He started hot, and when Holt returned and first basemen Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce both landed on the injured list, Chavis shifted to first. Holt has hit a searing .387/.429/.509 (145 wRC+) since returning from the IL on May 27, and despite not drawing a walk in 65 PA, backup Marco Hernandez has hit well in spot duty (.339/.359/.500, 123 wRC+). The turn of events — including a 104 wRC+ from all Sox second basemen since Holt’s return — led the team to release Nunez on Saturday. With Moreland returning, Chavis should be back in the mix for more playing time at second; he has just two starts there since June 2. Unless the sudden need to call upon Holt’s versatility arises, the likelihood is that the Sox ride with what they have here.

Indians

Credit the Indians with consistency: with Jason Kipnis getting the bulk of the duty at second base, they made this list a year ago, and here they are again. The 32-year-old Kipnis is now four years removed from his last All-Star appearance, and three years removed from his last wRC+ above 90. While starting at second 74 times, he’s hitting just .247/.306/.373 (5 wRC+), and his defense has been a mixed bag (2.7 UZR, -5 DRS), too. Brad Miller came and went while Kipnis began the season on the IL; since then, Mike Freeman has hit .288/.383/.450 in 98 PA while filling in for Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, but there’s little to suggest he can sustain that given a .385 BABIP but just an 82.9 mph average exit velocity.

With Kipnis in the final guaranteed year of his contract, making $14.67 million while the team leads the Wild Card race and closes in on the Twins, the time for the Indians to find a better solution is overdue. The Blue Jays’ Eric Sogard and Freddy Galvis and the Marlins’ Neil Walker are all pending free agents on teams going nowhere; all could fill the second base spot adequately, though Galvis and Walker would have to shift from positions where they’ve seen more action this year. The Orioles’ Jonathan Villar, who has one year of club control remaining, could fit the bill as well. Of course, if the team deals Trevor Bauer, a second baseman for the present or the future could be part of the return.

Rangers

While plummeting to .500, the Rangers are now 3-for-3 in inclusion within this series. Regular second baseman Rougned Odor is as lost as can be, hitting .196/.256/.405 with a 33.0% strikeout rate; this month, he’s struck out 26 times in 62 PA while walking once. While manager Chris Woodward believes he’s swinging the bat better — and he did hit his 15th homer on Monday night — the Rangers have too many holes in the offense to remain complacent.

Odor, who beyond this year is guaranteed a minimum of $36 million through 2022, does have minor league options remaining, but with five years of service time, he can’t be sent down without his permission. The Rangers have other options, too, without even going outside the organization — leaving open the possibility that Odor could still help the team later this year. Logan Forsythe (105 wRC+) is better deployed here, where he’s started just seven times, than at first base, where he’s started 26 times, and Danny Santana, who’s played all over the place, is just on fire (170 wRC+ this month, 125 overall). Nick Solak, who was recently acquired from the Rays in trade, and who’s currently the number 93 prospect in the game, is hitting for a 111 wRC+ at Triple-A.

Cubs

Along with center field, second base has been one of the Cubs’ weakest spots, though the situation has improved since the start of the season. With Addison Russell having been supplanted at shortstop by Javier Baez during his 40-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy, the team opened the season with Daniel Descalso, who was coming off a career year with the Diamondbacks, getting the bulk of work at second, supplemented by David Bote and Ben Zobrist. Descalso has been dreadful (.182/.280/.264, 48 wRC+) while making 38 starts here, though Russell (.248/.331/.407, 91 wRC+) hasn’t been too bad; his overall numbers are propped up by a 150 wRC+ in 30 PA as a shortstop. Bote, who’s made 19 starts here and 40 at third base, bumping Kris Bryant to an outfield corner, has hit .253/.339/.426 (99 wRC+).

If Theo Epstein is serious about shaking things up — and if Zobrist, who’s been on the restricted list since May 7 while dealing with a divorce, isn’t returning anytime soon — an addition here seems likely. The team has been connected to the Royals’ Whit Merrifield, a potentially Zobristian solution who would require a significant package to acquire, and the Blue Jays’ Eric Sogard, a short-term rental more easily secured, and surely there are other names in the mix. One way or another, it seems more likely than not they add to their options here.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

newest oldest most voted
sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

Merrifield to the Cubs makes a ton of sense on a lot of different levels. Nico Hoerner is an ideal piece going back in that scenario, Adbert Alzolay looks like a good tertiary piece, so the real question is whether it would require Brennan Davis or Miguel Amaya, and whether the Cubs would be willing to give them up. Another team might top that package, but on the surface that’s the sort of deal that could entice the Royals.

MikeS
Member
Member
MikeS

The Cubs are making noises like they are happy with Robel Garcia, but that could very well just be misdirection. I don;t think they expect him to continue to post an .800 SLG, and his defense has been hard to watch.

kbpms2
Member
Member
kbpms2

His defense has been mostly fine. A couple misplays, but he’s looked pretty great on DPs, his speed gives him solid range, and his arm seems fine. I wouldn’t judge too hard on 57 innings for a guy who’s played more 3rd than 2nd and never at this level. There’s going to be a learning curve.