With second base still a work in progress, the Cardinals didn’t quite stack up with the top dog of the NL Central.
Unlike a lot of other positions on this list, second base doesn’t have quite as many superstars or up and coming prospects. Instead, we find a lot of consistent yet average players with one stand out star at the top. The Cardinals have been working on developing Kolten Wong over the past couple of years, and while he is not helping the Cardinals reach the top of these rankings, he certainly has more room to grow.
1. Chicago Cubs
Though Zobrist will be moving to left field next season, he and Javier Baez gave the Cubs championship production throughout 2016 and they earned the top spot on this list. Zobrist was consistently excellent all year, and though Baez struggles with plate discipline, his post season performance showed a glimpse of his potential to take over series.
The only 2016 All-Star on this list, it was easy to put Ben Zobrist and the Chicago Cubs at the top. Despite being 5 years on the wrong side of thirty, Zobrist put up another excellent season. He slashed .272./.386/.446 with solid defense, not to mention his ability to play all around the diamond. Zobrist was a big part of the World Champion Chicago Cubs, but who knows how long he can stay this consistent. He is entering his age 36 season, and will probably move to left field in the wake of the Soler trade. Maybe this will finally be the year we see Zobrist begin to slow down. If not, the Cubs should be in good shape for their repeat campaign.
Javier Baez didn’t have an amazing regular season, but he really broke out in the playoffs. He slashed .273/.314/.423 with 14 HR in the regular season, and while his power and fielding are excellent, his plate discipline leaves much to be desired. He was the NLCS MVP after slashing .318/.333/.500 in 30 PAs with outstanding defense. Though Baez appeared to break out in the postseason, he regressed back to his swing in miss ways in the World Series, going 7/30 with 1 extra base hit. Although many point to his postseason performance as a breakout going into 2017, I’m willing to bet it was just a hot streak and he’ll probably go back to being a high power low contact guy. Regardless, with the Soler trade, Baez will get a lot more innings at second next year, and the Cubs will be in good hands.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates saw steady production from two average offensive players at second base in 2016. That was enough to put them in the second spot in these rankings. Both Rodriguez and Harrison are offensively average and defensively competent at multiple positions.
The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t rank this high at a lot of positions, but that may speak to the weakness of the position rather than the strength of Josh Harrison. After a monster year in 2014, everyone was wondering if he could keep up the production in the future. The answer was of course, no. That’s not to say Harrison is a bad player. He slashed .283/.311/.388 which isn’t amazing, but he played solid defense at multiple positions which really helps his value. Think of him as store-brand Ben Zobrist. A vastly inferior store brand Ben Zobrist.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals second basemen weren’t exactly world beaters as the organization waits on Kolten Wong’s development. Wong showed some more signs of breaking out this season with plus defense and a good eye, but he was derailed by injury. Jedd Gyorko stepped up in his place and became a hidden dinger mashing machine, but it wasn’t enough to propel the Cardinals beyond the third spot in this power ranking.
A lot has been said about Kolten Wong this season, but the fact is he still has plenty of room to grow. He slashed .240/.327/.355 and was one of the Cardinals’ few plus defenders in the infield. He missed a decent chunk of the season due to injury, but his ability to get on base despite a low average is an encouraging sign for his development. The Cardinals did consider trading him, and a lot of fans are frustrated with his slow growth, but it’s important to remember he’s only 25. If he doesn’t show some improvement this year, it may be time to worry, but he has all the tools to be a quality major leaguer.
Jedd Gyorko is a big reason the Cardinals are in the 3 spot instead of the 4 spot. When Wong went down, Gyorko delivered a monster month that kept him in the lineup. He finished with a slash line of .243/.306/.495 with 30 dingers. His production was a shock to most people after down years in San Diego, but his homer barrage at the end of the season was a big boost to second base production for the Cardinals.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have had a consistently excellent second baseman in Brandon Phillips for years, but this was the year we finally began to see him decline. Phillips decline on both offense and defense combined with the mediocrity of Ivan De Jesus gave the Reds just enough to avoid the bottom spot on this list.
Brandon Phillips has been a mainstay at second base for the Reds since 2006. He’s always been known for his solid offensive production and flashy defense, winning a gold glove 4 times at the position. This years Brandon Phillips is a long way off from All-star gold glove Brandon Phillips. He slashed .291/.320/.316 with 11 home runs. Although he was offensively better than Kolten Wong, both fan-graphs and baseball reference rate his defense as a negative instead of a positive for the first time in his career. He’s now 35, and the combination of his age and his declining production was enough to put Wong over him in these rankings.
Ivan De Jesus
De Jesus barely played over 100 innings at second base, with Phillips taking the lions share of the innings at second. He slashed .253/.311/.312 in 221 ABs. De Jesus production was about on par for a backup, but not excellent by any means. His minor contributions weren’t enough to offset Phillips decline in these rankings.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
The unfortunate honor of the last spot on this list falls to the Brewers. The Brewers had one player, Scooter Gennett, take the majority of innings at second. Gennett’s sub average play on both sides of the ball was a big reason why the Brewers finished under .500.
While the three middle spots on this list all have offensively average, defensively average players, Gennett struggled to meet both of those bench marks this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He slashed .263/.317/.412 with an OPS+ of 92. While those numbers aren’t horrible, his real struggle was on the defensive side of the ball. While Phillips did finish with a slightly negative dWAR, Gennett’s was a paltry -7.4 according to fangraphs. He was the only starting second baseman to have a WAR less than 1 in the NL Central. He isn’t as defensively capable as Phillips are Wong, and not nearly as versatile as Harrison. All of his faults combined have him on the bottom of this list. It’s not a completely lost cause, he’s only 26 and has shown glimpses of promise in the past, but if Gennett can’t figure out how to make positive contributions on the defensive side of the ball he’s going to hamper the Brewers instead of help them.
Gennett took the large majority of innings at seconds, leaving Aaron Hill as the only player besides Scooter with over 100 innings played at second. He was traded to the Red Sox midway through the season but while on the Brewers he slashed a competent .283/.359/.421 in 292 plate appearances. He played the majority of his innings at third base but the few innings he played at second were solid defensively. Ultimately, Hill didn’t have enough of a presence to offset Gennett’s mediocrity.
Photo Credit: Scott Rovak- USA Today