Last week, I talked through the best catchers and first basemen from 2010-2019. For more information on the series and methodology, click above to read the catcher article (and read first base while you’re at it).
Now, for the men manning the keystone:
Fangraphs Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)
Baseball Reference Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)
If you want an explanation of any of the more advanced metrics in the tables, click here or navigate to the top of the page and click on the post titled “Best of the Decade: Catchers.”
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Ep. 5: Josue Matos, July 4th, Athletes Sitting Out, Minor Leagues – Podcast By Committee
Robinson Cano outplayed his competition at second base by so much over the past decade that he gets his own heading. Prior to his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, he was nearly a lock for the Hall of Fame. Before his 2018 suspension, Cano had accrued 64.4 rWAR, a .305/.354/.494 triple-slash, and 2376 hits in 13 seasons. The suspension put a damper on his Hall of Fame chances but it doesn’t change the fact that he was far and away the best second baseman of the decade.
From 2010-2019, no second baseman had more WAR, hits, home runs, RBI, or a better slugging percentage, wOBA, or wRC+. If that alone isn’t enough to convince you that Cano was the best second baseman of the decade, consider this: Cano played in 1264 games out of 1296 team games played. That’s 97.5% of games which means that, on average, he missed four games per season for eight years. I always say that the best ability is availability and Cano was nothing if not available over the past decade.
Even after the suspension, Cano showed that he can still it; he triple-slashed .303/.374/.471 with 10 home runs in 80 games in 2018. After the 2018 season, he was shipped to the Mets where he had a disappointing 2019 season. It’s possible that age is finally catching up with the Dominican, but that does not change the fact that he was the best of the best at second in the 2010s.
Second Tier Second Basemen
It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite wire-wearer: Jose Altuve. Say what you will about the Astros’ cheating scandal, Altuve can flat-out hit. Since his debut in 2011, he has the most hits among all MLB players. He also has the third-highest batting average (Jeff McNeil, Miguel Cabrera) and the third-most doubles (Robinson Cano, Daniel Murphy) in that timeframe. He already has 1568 hits and has only played nine seasons, which puts him on a Hall of Fame trajectory. It’d be impossible to have a conversation about the best second basemen of the past decade without Jose Altuve.
Ian Kinsler hasn’t played his best baseball in at least five years but remained a productive ballplayer into his mid-thirties, which is what helped him get toward the top of the 2010 WAR leaderboard. In 2010, Kinsler was already 28 years old and still managed to finish among the top second basemen from 2010-2019 despite playing his age-28 through age-37 seasons. That is, in large part, thanks to his excellent plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills; Kinsler walked 8.1% of the time in the last decade and struck out just 12.5% of the time, both excellent marks compared to the average second baseman in that span (7.5% BB% and 17.8%). Kinsler was one of three guys with at least 100 home runs and 100 steals in the 2010s (Altuve and Brandon Phillips were the others), a combo rather unusual for second basemen.
It’s hard to call Ben Zobrist a second baseman because doing so would betray his true title: Swiss Army Knife. Zobrist appeared at least once at every position except catcher in the 2010s, even throwing one scoreless inning with a strikeout for the Cubs in 2019. Still, though, he saw the most time at second base, so that’s where I will write about him.
Zobrist was an integral part of World Series wins in both 2015 (Royals) and 2016 (Cubs) and took home the World Series MVP award in 2016 for triple-slashing .357/.419/.500, including the go-ahead hit in the deciding game. He was better than every other second baseman in the decade at drawing walks and brought his teams a ton of value by being able to slot in just about anywhere on the diamond.
Dustin Pedroia has had a precipitous fall from grace; he has appeared in just nine major league contests in the past two seasons. The 5’9″ Pedroia is known as “Muddy Chicken” due to the fact that he always seems to have a dirty jersey thanks to his hard-nosed style of play. Pedroia, at his peak, was an elite tablesetter who hit around .300 with 15+ home runs and steals. Injuries over the past few seasons have derailed an otherwise excellent career and even though we may not see much more of him, Pedroia deserves a shout-out among the best second basemen of the 2010s.
DJ LeMahieu and Ozzie Albies are both coming off career-best seasons despite being at completely different stages in their respective careers. LeMahieu was a top-10 second baseman by rWAR over the past decade (he was 13th by fWAR) but still managed to have his best year by WAR at age 30 in 2019. In 2019, LeMahieu slashed .327/.375/.518 with a career-high 26 home runs in his first campaign as a Yankee. Prior to that, he was a hit machine with the Rockies, slashing .309/.369/.429 from 2015-2018 and picking up the batting title in 2015 with his .348 average. LeMahieu is also an excellent defender, leading the league in Outs Above Average dating back to 2017, which is when OAA began to be tracked. He figures to have a solid decade in the 2020s as well so long as he stays in the hitter-friendly parks he has been playing in over his career.
Ozzie Albies is a little bit of a different story. Unlike LeMahieu, the 23-year-old Curaçaoan played just two seasons and change in the past decade. Like LeMahieu, though, Albies is currently at the top of his game and among the cream of the crop for second basemen in the majors right now. He’s been a bastion of durability, missing just seven games since his debut in August 2017 (he’s played in 98.1% of the Braves’ contests since his debut). He led the National League in hits and at-bats in 2019. In just 375 games (1630 PA), Albies has triple-slashed .279/.332/.473 with 54 home runs and 37 swipes while playing stellar defense; he’s fourth among second basemen in Outs Above Average since his debut. He’s on an extremely team-friendly deal with the Braves so Atlanta fans should be ecstatic that they have second base locked down for the next eight years.
Whit Merrifield, I thought, was too good to put into the “Quick Hits” category but isn’t quite one of the top second basemen of the past decade. For starters, Merrifield didn’t debut until his age-27 season in 2016 but since his debut has done nothing but hit. There’s a ton of black ink on his Baseball Reference page meaning he has led either the American League or all of baseball in a handful of categories in his debut. In 2017, Merrifield led the AL in steals. In 2018, he led all major league hitters in steals and hits. In 2019, he was first in games, at-bats, triples, and steals. I don’t know that we’re going to see standout numbers from Merrifield for much longer, but he has been one of the best second basemen the past few seasons so I wanted to give him some love for that.
It’s hard to call Howie Kendrick a forgotten friend after his monster 2019 playoff run in which he hit the go-ahead home run in Game Seven of the World Series. Kendrick was otherwise really solid over the past decade, triple-slashing .292/.339/.430 with 103 homers and 93 swipes. He was also somewhat versatile, playing first, third, and left field in the 2010s. I obviously hate him because he destroyed the Mets as a National in 2019, but he deserves props for slotting comfortably into the top ten second basemen of the decade by WAR.
Brian Dozier has a special place in my heart because I had him on my fantasy team during his breakout 42-homer season in 2016. Dozier’s 192 home runs since 2010 are the second-most among all second basemen despite him spending 2010 and 2011 in the minor leagues. Hitting for average is not Dozier’s calling card—he has a measly .245 batting average since his 2012 debut—but he can hit for power. He can also run pretty well; his 105 steals are seventh among second basemen since 2010. He’s been a solid contributor for whatever team he’s been on since he debuted and, like Kendrick, is squarely in the top 10 by fWAR and rWAR over the past decade.
Jason Kipnis was never really one of the premier second basemen in baseball but he had a few solid seasons in 2013, 2015, and 2016 that moved him up the second base leaderboards. He’s never led the league in any statistical categories but he did hit over .300 in 2015, which was one of his two all-star seasons. He’s not gone from the league but he’s accrued just 2.8 rWAR over the past three seasons, a far cry from his 3-5 WAR seasons of old. Still, Kipnis was one of the better second basemen in the 2010s.
Brandon Phillips was one of the smoothest second basemen in the game before he retired. Phillips played the bulk of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, teaming up with Joey Votto on the right side of the infield from 2007 to 2016. Prior to retiring after the 2018 season, the Georgia native triple-slashed .281/.324/.415 with 117 homers and 100 steals in the decade. His production fell off a cliff after 2015—he totaled just 0.9 rWAR over 294 games in four seasons. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs both rate Phillips as the #12 second baseman over the last ten years despite not playing in two seasons and having stunted production in the back half of the decade. I’d say that’s about right.
Frankly, I didn’t realize Neil Walker was still playing in the majors. I looked him up for this article and saw that he played 115 games with the Miami Marlins last season. Miami is definitely not the place to be if you want to get noticed, so I suppose that if his goal was flying under the radar, he did his job. Walker spent time with five teams in the past ten years, hitting .268/.339/.429 with 149 home runs. Walker, like Phillips and Kipnis, was a steady presence at the keystone over the last decade. He never did anything flashy, but flashy doesn’t necessarily land you at #11 on the WAR leaderboard.
I hate Chase Utley but it’d be a crime to not give him a shoutout in this article. He has as good a Hall of Fame case as any player in this article aside from Cano (though when all is said and done, I think Altuve passes him) thanks in no small part to his consistency in the first half of the decade. From 2011-2014, Utley had between 3.1 and 3.8 rWAR in each season, and this was on the heels of a monster 5.8 rWAR season in 2010. Hate the guy but he could play.
Jonathan Schoop was a highly-touted prospect who didn’t break out until 2016, his third full year in the big leagues. He followed 2016 with a 160-game campaign in which he triple-slashed .293/.338/.503 with 32 home runs. He hasn’t done much since, but he was good for a few years.
Much like the aforementioned Jonathan Schoop, Scooter Gennett had a brief moment of glory before returning to relative obscurity. After being designated for assignment by the Brewers just before the 2017 season, Gennett ascended to a higher plane with the Reds, triple-slashing .303/.351/.508 with 50 home runs between 2017 and 2018. Then, he started being bad again. At least he will forever be in the history books as the 17th player ever to hit four dingers in a game.
Yoan Moncada figures to be one of the more interesting third basemen in the game going forward but from 2016-2018 he was a second baseman. He wasn’t much good at the keystone, triple-slashing .234/.319/.399 with 303 strikeouts in 211 games but really broke out at third in 2019. For his sake, I hope he stays there.
It’d be a disservice to Mets legend Daniel Murphy to not include him on this list. Murphy had the second-highest batting average of any second baseman over the past decade and also holds the record for most consecutive postseason games with a home run (6). He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past 10 years and has one more season with Colorado where he should be able to continue to add to what has already been a very solid career.
I’m only including Dee Gordon here because he is fast. He has stolen 330 bags since 2010—the most in that time span—and led the league on three separate occasions. He also led the league in triples once (2014) and hits once (2015), which netted him the batting title. His 54 triples are fifth-most since 2010. He can fly.
In the Wings
Assuming the universal DH does not get approved with the next collective bargaining agreement, Keston Hiura is poised to become the next Robinson Cano sans the smooth defense. Hiura is a defensive liability but can rake at second base. He triple-slashed .303/.368/.570 with 19 home runs in 84 games in his 2019 rookie campaign, good for a 139 wRC+, which was fifth among rookies and would have ranked third among qualified second basemen behind Altuve and LeMahieu. KestDaddy, as he refers to himself on Twitter, is here to stay.
Brendan Rodgers has been touted as the next big thing in the middle infield since he was drafted by the Rockies in 2016. Unfortunately, that hype hasn’t translated to production; the Florida native slashed .224/.272/.250 through 25 games in 2019 before succumbing to a labrum injury. Perhaps 2020 will see him bounce back.
Nick Madrigal won’t hit for much power but he figures to be the White Sox everyday second baseman in 2020 and beyond. Since being drafted in 2018, he has hit .309 in his minor league career. Even more impressive, he has struck out just 21 times in 705 plate appearances. That’s 3%. He has 51 walks to his name, meaning he has walked with a frequency more than double that of his strikeouts. I don’t expect him to be hitting bombs any time soon, but Madrigal will be a force to be reckoned with atop the White Sox order for years to come thanks to his ability to hit.
Last but not least, Vidal Brujan and Xavier Edwards represent an interesting combo of Rays minor league second basemen. Brujan broke out in 2018 with a .320/.403/.459 triple-slash and 55 steals across two levels of A-ball. He’s going to be a solid defender up the middle with excellent speed and will likely be the Rays’ everyday second baseman at some point in the near future thanks to his proximity to the big leagues; Brujan topped out at AAA last year.
Edwards, much like Brujan, has game-changing speed. The switch-hitting middle infielder has 56 swipes (and just 12 caught stealing) in 168 minor league contests to date. He also has good feel to hit from both sides of the plate, having slashed an aggregate .328/.395/.399 with 79 strikeouts and 75 walks across four minor league levels. Edwards doesn’t have much in the way of pop—he has just one home run in his career—but his ability to hit and play good defense up the middle will allow him to be a great trade chip for the Rays if not an impact up-the-middle player.
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