The 2020 Replacement-Level Killers: Second Basemen and Shortstops

For the full introduction to the Replacement-Level Killers series, follow the link above, but to give you the CliffsNotes version: yes, things are different this year, and not just because the lone trade deadline falls on August 31. We’ve got just a month’s worth of performances to analyze (sometimes less, due to COVID-19 outbreaks), about a month still to play, and thanks to the expanded playoff field, all but six teams — the Pirates, Angels, Red Sox, Mariners, Royals, and Rangers — are within two games of a playoff spot.

While still focusing upon teams that meet the loose definition of contenders (a .500 record or Playoff Odds of at least 10%), I’ll incorporate our Depth Charts’ rest-of-season WAR projections into the equation, considering any team with a total of 0.4 WAR or less to be in the replacement-level realm (that’s 1.1 WAR over the course of 162 games, decidedly subpar). I don’t expect every team I identify to upgrade before the August 31 trade deadline, I’m not concerned with the particulars of which players they might pursue or trade away, and I may give a few teams in each batch a lightning round-type treatment, as I see their problems as less pressing given other context, such as returns from injury, contradictory defensive metrics, and bigger holes elsewhere on the roster.

Note that all individual stats in this article are through August 25, but the won-loss records and Playoff Odds include games of August 26.

Today, I’ll address second basemen and shortstops.

2020 Replacement Level Killers: Second Basemen
Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR ROS WAR Tot WAR
Phillies .169 .211 .270 26 -8.9 0.6 -0.6 -0.6 0.3 -0.3
Braves .170 .184 .313 26 -10.8 -0.6 0.0 -0.8 0.6 -0.2
Nationals .279 .306 .433 96 -0.7 0.3 -2.3 0.1 0.0 0.1
Reds .154 .250 .253 39 -8.1 0.5 0.3 -0.2 0.4 0.2
Rockies .229 .289 .385 66 -5.2 0.5 1.2 0.1 0.1 0.2
Marlins .272 .313 .315 77 -2.8 1.2 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.4
Statistics through August 25. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

Phillies

The Phillies reshuffled their infield this past winter, non-tendering third baseman Maikel Franco, letting second baseman Cesar Hernandez depart in free agency, and signing shortstop Didi Gregorius, a series of moves that bumped Jean Segura to the hot corner and freed up Scott Kingery for the keystone. Alas, the latter — who rebounded from a dreadful rookie season to deliver a 101 wRC+ and 2.7 WAR in a superutility role — began the season in a 4-for-40 slump, so the Phillies recalled third base prospect Alec Bohm, the number three pick of the 2018 draft, and moved Segura back to second and Kingery back into the center field mix. The good news is that Bohm is off to a hot start, and that Segura, though he hasn’t hit as well since the move, is still carrying a 98 wRC+, up six points from last year. The bad news is that Kingery’s .123/.174/.138 (-15 wRC+) showing through 69 PA won’t help the Phillies at any position, but otherwise, the infield is stabilizing.

Braves

A bone contusion in his right wrist hampered Ozzie Albies to the point that he went on the Injured List after playing just 10 games and batting .163/.200/.279 through 45 PA. Neither Johan Camargo nor Adeiny Hechavarría has been much help filling in for Albies, or in any other capacity for that matter; the former is batting .186/.231/.360 (54 wRC+) in 91 PA overall split between second and third base, while the latter is at .200/.231/.240 through 26 PA. Albies has resumed baseball activities and is taking swings from both sides of the plate; there’s optimism that he could return soon, but wrist injuries can be notoriously difficult to shake, and the team’s perch atop the NL East allows them some patience.

Nationals

Newcomer Starlin Castro hit a lopsided .267/.302/.450 (97 wRC+) through 63 PA before fracturing his right wrist while diving for a groundball on August 14, an injury that required surgery and could sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. While his offense was adequate for the position, his glovework was surprisingly subpar (-2.3 UZR), though admittedly, investing much faith in 16 games worth of defensive stats is rather silly; it’s worth noting that he had 1 DRS in that same span, and was in the black via both metrics last year. Anyway, the team recalled 20-year-old top prospect Luis García from its alternate training site, and the kid is off to a hot start (.324/.342/.459) that owes everything to a .393 BABIP. Via our Depth Charts, García projects to produce just a 66 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR going forward; he may well exceed that, but not if he doesn’t improve upon his 83.4 mph average exit velocity. Unless the Nationals believe that utilityman Josh Harrison — who himself has hit for just a 63 WRC+ with -0.4 WAR in 548 PA since the start of 2018 — is an adequate insurance policy, the defending champions should find some help from outside the organization. Then again, given their 11-17 record, 17.5% Playoff Odds, and the loss of Stephen Strasburg, maybe they should just concede that this may not be their year.

Reds

It still feels weird to think of Mike Moustakas as even a part-time second baseman, but he’s been about average there defensively through 60 career games. He’s been limited to just 13 games there this year due to absences caused by COVID-19 symptoms and bruises on his left forearm and left quad, and while his overall numbers aren’t good, they’ve been particularly dragged down by a 3-for-19 showing since returning from the IL. Meanwhile, the fill-ins at second base (Josh VanMeter, Kyle Farmer, and Christian Colón) have gone just 7-for-54 with two doubles and two walks in that capacity. The likelihood is that the Moose will come around, but the fact that none of those alternatives are more than replacement level fodder should spur the Reds — another team sputtering along at 11-17, with 30.0% Playoff Odds — to consider improving their depth.

Rockies

The Rockies are 3-for-3 in making the Killers lists, and their situation at second base is more than a little tied into that of first base. Ryan McMahon, who has started 17 games at second and nine at first, has hit better at the latter stop, but even his overall 95 wRC+ (.213/.324/.457) is an improvement upon Daniel Murphy’s lifeless stick (.256/.292/.378, 62 wRC+). Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers has arrived from the alternate site, though the 24-year-old second sacker, who was the third pick of the 2015 draft and who place 31st on this year’s Top 100 Prospects list, has started just three times in a week while going 1-for-15. Exactly what the Rockies — who have slipped from 11-3 to 16-15, with 39.9% Playoff Odds — are waiting for remains to be seen, but leaking oil at every position won’t get them back to the playoffs.

Marlins

Amid their team-wide COVID-19 outbreak, 24-year-old Isan Díaz, a former Top 100 prospect who struggled mightily in his first taste of major league action last year, became one of the league’s youngest and least-established players to opt out of playing this season. Meanwhile, against all odds, a patchwork Marlins squad has not only stayed afloat but managed the NL’s fifth-best record (14-11). They’ve used four other players besides Díaz at second, with ex-speed skater Eddy Alvarez, Logan Forsythe, and Jonathan Villar all getting six starts apiece, and noted base thief Jon Berti five. Villar (.270/.321/.370 overall) and Berti (.262/.361/.344) are the only ones who have provided any semblance of offense in the grand scheme, and with shortstop Miguel Rojas having returned from his bout of COVID-19, Villar has gotten most of the work at second. A four-win player last year, he should stabilize the position if given the chance.

Completeness mandates that I include all of the non-pitching positions in this roundup, but this is a rather amusing coincidence even given that both teams barely meet the threshold for inclusion:

2020 Replacement Level Killers: Shortstops
Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR ROS WAR Tot WAR
Mets .232 .246 .357 63 -5.3 1.4 0.5 0.1 0.3 0.4
Yankees .236 .333 .303 83 -2.2 -0.1 -2.8 -0.1 0.5 0.4
Statistics through August 25. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

Mets

Not long ago, Amed Rosario was being hailed for a breakout (.319/.351/.453) during the second half of his age-23 season, but the combination of a slow start, a left quad injury and a chance for 21-year-old Andrés Giménez to play has generated a flurry of headlines about who should be playing shortstop in Queens. Rosario has hit a grim .212/.212/.329 without a single walk in 85 PA — no, that’s not even close to a personal record, let alone a franchise one — and his quality of contact has fallen off significantly by just about every measure (average exit velocity from 89.4 mph to 86.0, xwOBA from .329 to .271, etc.), but he’s far too young and full of potential to give up on. Giménez had never played above Double-A before this season, and hit just .254/.290/.339 in 62 PA before going on the IL for undisclosed reasons on August 25. That buys Rosario time to sort himself out, and it’s difficult to imagine the Mets (who have the league’s fifth-worst record at 13-16 but the eighth-best Playoff Odds at 58.9%) going out of their way to add another infielder given the state of their pitching staff.

Yankees

Gleyber Torres was the only member of the 2019 Yankees’ intended starting lineup to avoid the IL, but the bug finally bit him last Friday, when he suffered Grade 1 strains of both his left quad and left hamstring. After hitting for a 123 wRC+ over the past two seasons, the 23-year-old shortstop was off to a slow start (.231/.341/.295, 85 wRC+), and his defense at his new-old position — he took over full-time after Gregorius’ departure — had been shaky as well, but there’s nothing to suggest the Yankees remain less than fully committed to keeping him there. His loss for two to three weeks leaves Tyler Wade to once again demonstrate that despite years of organizational hype, he is not in fact the next Ben Zobrist; the 25-year-old utilityman owns a career .198/.270/.296 line through 269 PA. Thairo Estrada, a 24-year-old rookie who played shortstop in the minors, and who has hit .253/.289/.443 in 84 PA in 2019-20, offers an alternative, but he’s already filling in at second base for the injured DJ LeMahieu, though the latter should be back next week. The Yankees, being the Yankees, can afford stronger fortifications.





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.

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DDD
Member
DDD

The wRC+ for the Nats at 2B (96) and Yanks at SS (83), while below average, aren’t too bad. But their Fld is terrible (Nats: -2.3, Yanks: -2.8).

London Yank
Member
London Yank

You can’t take the fielding numbers too seriously, however, anecdotally, Gleyber has been pretty awful in the field this year. His problem has been simple mistakes. It’s a bit surprising to me because last year he was a better defensive player at SS than at 2B, and the difference was he made many fewer mistakes at his natural position (SS). This year at SS has just been a gaffe fest though.

dukewinslow
Member
Member
dukewinslow

I wonder how different the UZR boards would look if standardized against a “normal” year (I think they may already do that? Like the prior year has less weight as the season moves on maybe?). But looking at the board, things are WEIRD.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

Besides, defense aside from catcher is overrated by WAR, anyway.