A Slightly Sabermetric (But Not Really) Ranking of NL East Second Basemen

Next stop on our NL East positional rankings: Second Base

  1. Brandon Phillips – Braves – 2016 WAR: 0.9

There isn’t much to be said about the 15 year veteran that hasn’t been said many times this offseason. While he may not be living up to the all star caliber performances that fans were used to seeing him put up a handful of years ago, he is still, in my opinion, an effective big leaguer.

Phillips has not put up a wRC+ over the league average of 100 since 2012 and even that season it was only 101. In fact, Phillips has barely been above league average in all 12 seasons with at least 300 plate appearances, except for one. His numbers are obviously adjusted due to him spending the majority of his career in the most hitter friendly park in baseball, but if you look at average alone and take out the adjustments, Phillips has posted his second and third highest batting averages of his career over the last two seasons.   

Year wRC+
2003 44
2006 89
2007 104
2008 90
2009 100
2010 104
2011 122
2012 101
2013 90
2014 88
2015 97
2016 92

The big concern when it comes to Phillips is the decline in his defense. It is possible that we as baseball fans were just spoiled by his five year run where he was a web gem fixture? He posted a UZR in the double digits three different times over his career and outside of his first full big league season, posted a negative UZR for the first time last year. One down year from a guy who played at such a high level defensively for so long is, in my opinion, not cause for too much concern. I expect Phillips to take prospect Ozzie Albies under his wing in 2017 and help pave the way to the Braves dynamic duo of Albies and Swanson up the middle. In the meantime, Phillips will be a fun guy for Braves fans to cheer for this season.

  1.  Cesar Hernandez – Phillies – 2016 WAR: 4.4
Photo: H. Rumph Jr./AP

Hernandez took over as the Phillies full-time second baseman in 2015 and had what many could see being his “breakout” season last year when he posted a slash line of .294/.371/.393, a wRC+ of 108, and a surprisingly high WAR of 4.4. Hernandez is your prototypical second baseman, he has a good contact tool with above average speed that led to 17 stolen bases last season. The arm is good enough for second base and he has even been moved around the infield a little bit over his career because the glove is considered to be a plus tool of his. While it may have taken a while for Hernandez to get the call up to Philly, I think they got the timing right. He is certainly a three tool player and one could argue, due to having a sufficient arm for his position, he is a borderline four tool player. I would like to see another productive season out of Hernandez to ensure he will be a solid big leaguer for the next few years and not just a flash in the pan. If I were in Philadelphia’s shoes, I would be comfortable with looking at Hernandez as the second baseman through the rebuild. He does turn 27 this season, but he may be a late bloomer. If he can continue to put up the numbers he did from last year, maybe bump up the SLG. slightly, he will be a valuable piece for the next few years.  

  1. Neil Walker – Mets – 2016 WAR: 3.7
Photo: Patrick E. McCarthy

Unfortunately an injury limited Walker to just 113 games in his first season with the Mets, but he still played relatively well. He is in a tough position because when Mets fans look over at second base they expect to see the production of their once beloved, Daniel Murphy. While I do think Walker is an above average second baseman, I think it is fair to say he is no Daniel Murphy. Last year he slashed .282 (Second highest of career)/.387 (Second highest of career)/.476 (Career high), pretty decent numbers at the plate, and he also hit 23 homers which tied his career high. Walker had made many improvements at the plate since coming over from Pittsburgh in the previous offseason. It seemed as though he was seeing the ball well in all aspects at the plate as he posted a pretty good BB/K ratio at 0.5 on the dot.

We have spent some time discussing Walker’s improved approach at the plate, but I read a lot about the praise he gets for his defense, which I find interesting. Sure, he hardly ever makes an error, but he has never posted a positive UZR until last season. There is a huge difference between having a good glove and being good defensively. In fact, up until last year the highest he has ever ranked among second baseman in terms of UZR was 14th. I think 2017 for Walker is all about him staying healthy. He put up arguably his best professional season in 2016 while missing sometime with an injury. If he can post similar numbers over 150 games or so in 2017, Daniel Murphy will soon be forgotten by Mets fans… until he hits a couple homers in a September game at Citi Field…

  1. Dee Gordon – Marlins – 2016 WAR: 0.9

It is hard to believe that Dee Gordon has played in over 100 games only twice in his career. He has been a pretty well-known name around the game since his prospect days back in 2009. After bouncing between the Dodgers and the minors for years, Gordon finally earned the full time second base position in 2014, only to be traded to Miami the following offseason. In his first season with the Marlins he slashed an impressive .333/.359/.418 en route to his second straight all-star appearance. Gordon also, won a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and finished 16th in MVP voting that year. Please just take a moment to appreciate the greatness that is Dee Gordon’s 2015 Stat line.

Dee Gordon 2015 Slash Line: .333/.359/.418

H 205
SO 91
K% 13.9%
SB 58
BsR 4.9
wRC+ 114
wOBA .337
WAR 4.7

We know that speed is the name of Gordon’s game, but one thing that has stood out to me over his career is the way he handles the bat. He consistently posts high contact numbers, but the way he spreads the ball around the field is more impressive than the sheer amount of contact. Quite often we hear about guys that can “hit the ball to all fields”, but very few can do it like Gordon can. His bat lines up ideally with what you want to see from a speedster. Take a look at where Gordon’s batted balls have ended up throughout his career

Pull% Center% Oppo%
30.5% 35.8% 33.7%

Gordon knows what he does well and sticks to it. I think he will bounce back from last year’s suspension and return to his all star form.

  1. Daniel Murphy – Nationals – 2016 WAR: 5.5
Photo: Anthony J. Causi

When we think of Daniel Murphy we all tend to think of his bat, and for good reason. However, I want to very briefly talk about his defense. He posted a well below average UZR of -6.9 at second base in 2016, but, like Walker prior to 2016, a majority of that has to do with his range factor and not necessarily his glove. He has never been praised for his defense, but everyone has just seemed to live with it. As long as he isn’t making 25 errors a season and keeps slashing absurd numbers like he did in 2016 (.347/.390/.595), Murphy will be the top second baseman in the division.

The Slightly Sabermetric

There weren’t many second basemen that hit the ball harder in 2016 than Daniel Murphy.

Batted Ball 2016

Soft% Med% Hard%
12.9% 49% 38.2%

When you hit the ball hard and consistently it typically results in a good BABIP like the .348 he put up last season. Not enough evidence? How about an ISO of . 249?  

The Not Really Sabermetric

The moral of Murphy’s story is that he hits the ball hard. Good things, like 25 HR’s and 47 doubles, tend to happen when you hit the ball hard. When people want to attempt to knock Murphy down a peg they will attack his defense. As long as the defense stays the exact same as it did last year, he will be in the running for the MVP yet again.

Let me know what you think! Who is the top second baseman in the NL East? Tune in next week when we debate the top third basemen!

Feature Photo Courtesy of: Pedro Portal/Miami Herald

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