Braves 2020 Position Ranks: Second base

dfu19033041 braves at phillies

Our Braves 2020 Position Ranks took a small breather over the last 5-7 days as the country’s focus has predominantly turned towards the current global pandemic impacting not just sports but everything and everyone. The COVID-19 virus has been and will be the dominating storyline — as it perhaps should be, but I also think it’s crucial we continue to discuss the season ahead — whenever the 2020 campaign begins — if for no other reason than to hopefully provide a distraction to what’s happening in our world today. Here are the positions covered thus far:

2020 NL East Position Rank Series 

And now to our series disclaimer…

In this series, we’ll look at each position group one at a time, while ranking all five NL East clubs according to their projected WAR total for each respective position for the 2020 season. We’ll be using 2020 ZiPS projections for all rankings, and all WAR figures will be compiled from FanGraphs. The order of these posts will correspond with each defensive position-number on the field (1: pitcher, 2: catcher, 3: first base… etc.).


2020 NL East Second Base Ranks

As far as second base play is concerned, the NL East has been about as well-rounded as any other division in the majors. Over the last five seasons (since the 2015 season), each of the five teams within the division have at one point posted a top-10 season in collective second base WAR, including the Nationals’ first-place finish in 2016 — a sign that there have been several strong performances from second baseman in the NL East recently. As for the Braves, the development from a special someone who debuted in 2017 has quickly made them one of the best teams in baseball at second base. Will that trend continue in 2020?


Braves — 5.4 WAR

  • O. Albies — 4.8
  • A. Hechavarria — 0.6

Over the last decade, the Braves have been set at first base with Freddie Freeman holding down the position. Well, you can now add second baseman Ozzie Albies for the next ten years as he has quickly surged near the top among keystones in the majors and was pegged as the 46th best player in all of baseball on Tuesday (via ESPN). Albies brings speed, elite defense, and a solid amount of power to the Braves, and it’s just a matter of time before the 23-year-old rips off his first 20-20 campaign. Last season was his breakout year (4.6 WAR), but the next three appear to be even better as he continues to mature at the plate (ZiPS WAR projections for the next three seasons, counting 2020: 4.8 /  5.0 / 5.4).

There are only a handful of regulars on this Braves’ team that very rarely ride the pine, and Albies is one of them, so playing-time at second base for Adeiny Hechavarría will probably come sparingly. Although, middle-infield depth is all Hechavarría is at this point, in terms of available utility players on the team’s bench. He played just 26 games there in 2019, but his elite defense at shortstop during his career easily makes him overqualified for second base. Also, the soon to be 31-year-old Hechavarría seemed to enjoy his time with the Braves, as he hit .328 with 10 XBHs in 24 games last season after coming over from the Mets (which he thanked God for, by the way).


Mets — 4.5 WAR

  • R. Cano — 0.8
  • J. McNeil — 3.7 

Entering his age-37 season, Robinson Cano’s 2020 projections depict a player on the decline, as he’s not even expected to reach 1 WAR. Whether you agree with that prediction or not, the former Yankee and Mariner is coming off his worst season in 12 years when he posted 0.1 WAR in the Bronx in 2008. The 2019 season featured hand, quad, and hamstring injuries, with the latter of those three causing him to miss a full month in August, which resulted in a season wRC+ of just 93 ( 32 points below his career mark). Cano has regressed as he has aged, but don’t be surprised if he bounces back in 2020 (if he remains healthy).

Jeff McNeil was a jack-of-all-trades in 2019, playing 30+ games at four different positions for the Mets (LF: 71 / RF: 42 / 2B: 37 / 3B: 31). He also made huge strides with the bat and wound up posting a .318 AVG with 23 home runs — good for a career-high 4.6 WAR (he also tied teammate Pete Alonso for the highest wRC+ on the team at 143). Cano will most likely start the season as the team’s starting second baseman, but the Mets will make certain McNeil is in the lineup at least as much as he was last season when he finished with 133 games. 


Nationals — 2.3 WAR

  • H. Kendrick — 0.5
  • S. Castro — 1.8 

The Nationals’ hero last season, Howie Kendrick, will enter 2020 as an about-to-be 37-year-old (his birthday is in July) with 14 big league seasons under his belt. But don’t let his age fool you… Kendrick is still one of the game’s best contact-hitters, illustrated by his .344 AVG in 121 games with the Nats in 2019. The second base situation in Washington isn’t as concrete as it is for a team like the Braves, given the Nationals have at least three different players that could see time at the keystone in 2020. Also, Kendrick played more first base (48 games) than anywhere else last season (23 games at 2B, 15 games at 3B, 7 games at DH). However, the Eric Thames/Ryan Zimmerman platoon at first in 2020 should mean a lot more second for Kendrick going forward.

Some believe Starlin Castro, who signed a 2-year, $12 million deal with Washington this offseason, will be the Nationals primary second baseman in 2020. Castro did play 117 of his 162 games there in 2019 with the Marlins and is coming off a solid 1.3-WAR season in which he hit .270 and slugged 22 home runs (91 wRC+) as a 29-year-old veteran. One thing to consider, though, is both Castro and Kendrick’s splits. Castro has started to struggle against right-handed pitchers, holding a solid 93 wRC+ for his career but just a 78 mark in 2019, while Kendrick seems to essentially have zero preference regarding the flavor of pitchers (career 115 wRC+ vs. LHP / 107 wRC+ vs. RHP).


Marlins — 3.4 WAR

  • I. Diaz — 1.0
  • J. Villar — 2.4

Losing Castro this offseason was a big hit for the Marlins, but many believe Isan Diaz is the second baseman of the future in Miami, which is why I have him listed here as the starter. Diaz was horrendous in his first taste of the big leagues in 2019, batting just .173 in 49 games (-1.2 WAR), but his 102-game stint in Triple-A last year is what has folks excited (.305 AVG / 26 HR). Unfortunately, Spring Training has also been a struggle. Diaz went just 3-for-29 (.103 AVG) with zero XBHs in 13 games this spring. The Marlins may wait to hand over the reigns.

Acquiring Jonathan Villar in early December was a steal for the Marlins. Miami traded away rookie-level left-hander Easton Lucas to the Orioles in exchange for Villar, who played all 162 games in 2019 and posted a career-season with 4.0 WAR in Baltimore (.274 AVG / 24 HR / 40 SB). For me, adding Villar almost perfectly replaces Castro and is perhaps even better, especially when looking at both of their last four seasons:

4-year averages (2016-19)

Starlin Castro: 145 G, .278 AVG, 18 HR, 4 SB

Jonathan Villar: 145 G, .268 AVG, 17 HR, 40 SB

Villar didn’t have a great spring camp either for the Marlins, though his .214 AVG and two home runs may be just good enough to win him the second base job in 2020.


Phillies — 3.3 WAR

  • S. Kingery — 1.2
  • J. Segura — 2.1 

According to reports from the Phillies’ camp and how the team deployed its roster during the abbreviated Spring Training period, Scott Kingery will be the starter at second base in 2020. Kingery played mostly in center field in 2019 (65 games), but in his two major league seasons so far, he has accrued roughly 200 games in the infield (primarily at shortstop). The former second-round pick (2015) is coming off a big season last year, as he hit .258 and belted 19 home runs (101 wRC+) for a total of 2.7 WAR in 126 games — much better than his rookie season in 2018 when he posted -0.1 WAR in 147 games. Kingery also provides plenty of speed on the base paths, shown by his 15 stolen bases in 2019.

Jean Segura spent his entire 2019 season at shortstop, where he took a small step back compared to his 2018 season. He still can’t seem to replicate that 5-WAR campaign in 2016 while with the Diamondbacks, but Segura is still a lock hit for at least ten home runs and 10-15 stolen bases with a .280-.300 AVG. The kicker is that according to reports coming out of the Phillies’ camp, Segura is set to be the team’s starter at third, meaning his production shouldn’t mean much for second base. Still, it appears if Kingery were to go down with an injury, Segura’s experience at second looks to be Philadelphia’s best option regarding a backup. Utility-player Neil Walker could be a candidate as well.


Next up: Third base


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