Throughout January and February, MLB Network will rank the top 10 players right now ahead of the 2019 season. Here at M-SABR, we are specifically interested in MLB Network’s most statistically-influenced list, compiled by “the Shredder.” In this series, we will react to the Shredder’s list and offer our own, based on our own statistical analysis. Check back every Monday and Wednesday for our recaps of the lists, which release at 9:00 PM Eastern every Saturday on MLB Network. Today, we are looking at the Shredder’s top 10 second basemen.
MLB Network’s 2019 Top 10 Second Basemen Right Now
- Jose Altuve [2018: 1]
- Jed Lowrie [2018: NR]
- Whit Merrifield [2018: NR]
- Robinson Cano [2018: 2]
- Chris Taylor [2018: NR]
- Scooter Gennett [2018: NR]
- Joey Wendle [2018: NR]
- Gleyber Torres [2018: NR]
- Ben Zobrist [2018: NR]
- DJ LeMahieu [2018: 5]
Reaction to the Shredder
For the fourth year in a row, Jose Altuve sits atop the Shredder’s list. While Altuve finished tied with Jed Lowrie for the third-best fWAR of any second basemen in 2018 with 4.9 wins above replacement, it’s hard to argue with this ranking. After all, Altuve has posted 4.4 fWAR or better every season since 2014. He was third in baseball with 21.2 fWAR in baseball this past season, behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.
Robinson Cano, despite putting up a smaller fWAR in 2018 (3.2) than 2017 (2.9), saw a huge return to form last year, as he produced his 2.9 fWAR in only 80 games. Chris Taylor, meanwhile, rounds out the top five despite falling from 4.8 fWAR in 2017 to 3.1 in 2018 and posting a slightly underwhelming .335 wOBA (though he still had a 113 wRC+). He sits at #4 this year.
After Altuve and Cano, things get interesting. Eight of these second basemen were not ranked on the list last year. Brian Dozier, Daniel Murphy, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Schoop, Ian Kinsler, Neil Walker, and Cesar Hernandez all failed to make this year’s list after making last year’s list.
Jed Lowrie is number two on the Shredder’s list, following up a career year for the Athletics in 2017 (3.6 fWAR) with an even better year in 2018, posting a 4.9 fWAR as mentioned. Lowrie is only three years removed from posting -0.6 fWAR in 87 games, however, so it’s pretty clear the Shredder isn’t looking too far into the past. Whit Merrifield has established himself as a top-three second baseman after posting a 5.2 fWAR season, as he posted a 120 wRC+ for the tanking Royals.
One name notably missing from this list is Javier Baez, who tops the Fangraphs WAR leaderboards for second basemen with 5.3 fWAR in 2018. Baez will be part of MLB Network’s shortstop list, but not the second basemen list. That said, where is Ozzie Albies? Albies was #6 on Brian Kenny’s list, and #3 on Harold Reynolds’ list, so new-school and old-school analysts alike believe in Albies. Perhaps the list wants multiple years of production from its players, but that would not explain why Rays rookie standout Joey Wendle made the list. The only reason he may have missed the list is due to his poor second half, in which his hard-hit rate fell to 27 percent after sitting at 38.5 percent in the first half of 2018 (Albies hit only four of his 24 home runs in the second half).
M-SABR’s 2019 Top 10 Second Basemen Right Now
- Jose Altuve
- Jed Lowrie
- Scooter Gennett
- Whit Merrifield
- Robinson Cano
- Chris Taylor
- Ozzie Albies
- Gleyber Torres
- Ben Zobrist
- Joey Wendle
First, Jose Altuve is king at second base. Let’s leave it at that.
While we don’t see eye-to-eye with the Shredder on everything, we do agree that Jed Lowrie is the best non-Altuve second baseman in the league. Lowrie was sensational in 2018. He posted a 123 DRC+, tied with Scooter Gennett for the best among all second basemen, and walked at an 11.5 percent clip and mashed 23 home runs. Lowrie also drastically improved his defense in 2018, as he went from being worth -0.1 runs in 2017 to being worth 7.1 runs in 2018. Although he is getting up in age, Lowrie should be very productive for the Mets in 2019. (He will not be playing second base for the Mets, but as he primarily played second base in 2018, MLB Network considered him a second baseman and for the sake of comparison, we will too.)
Our pick for number three second baseman, Cincinnati Reds breakout star Scooter Gennett, is a bit of a hot take, but hear us out. Gennett has mashed 50 home runs over the past two seasons, and while he does not post an exceptional walk rate, he has learned how to hit and how to field since coming to Cincinnati. Gennett posted a 2.2 fWAR in 2017 for the Reds, but that number would have been much higher with his 2018 fielding. Similar to Lowrie, Gennett was worth -6.4 runs in the field in 2017 but was worth 3.9 runs in the field in 2018. That’s nearly a 10-run swing! Furthermore, matched Lowrie’s 123 DRC+. The only reason he sits below Lowrie is his 2018 BABIP, which at .358 sits much higher than Lowrie’s more sustainable .304 BABIP.
Outside of our top three, Whit Merrifield sits at number four after posting a sensational 5.2 fWAR, best among the second basemen on this list. Cano rounds out the top five despite his suspension for PEDs due to his consistency over the years. As for the rest of the list, Chris Taylor sits at number six due to his reliability over the past two seasons, even if his 2018 was not as good as his breakout 2017 campaign. Ozzie Albies 3.9 fWAR doubled that of Gleyber Torres, who finished at 1.9 fWAR. Both players stuck out to us as stronger plays due to their age moving forward than Ben Zobrist, who does not play every day and posted a 0.4 fWAR in 2017, and Joey Wendle, who posted a 3.7 fWAR himself but is entering his age-29 season.
We have omitted DJ LeMahieu, not so much because of his down year in 2018, but more because to his extreme splits during his tenure in Colorado. LeMahieu has a career 96 wRC+ at home and only an 81 wRC+ in his career on the road.
In conclusion, our list omits DJ LeMahieu, includes Ozzie Albies, and values reliability and past prospect hype a bit more than MLB Network’s list. We may be playing it a little safe, but we don’t want to pick eight guys who won’t make next year’s list.
Check out MLB.com analyst and Statcast guru Mike Petriello’s list here.