Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Major key: Second basemen surging at plate

March 29, 2017

Second base is no longer playing second fiddle in the Major Leagues. Long considered a position for an infielder without the range to play shortstop -- or the range in the field or power at the plate to play third base -- second base has emerged as a focus in

Second base is no longer playing second fiddle in the Major Leagues. Long considered a position for an infielder without the range to play shortstop -- or the range in the field or power at the plate to play third base -- second base has emerged as a focus in the current decade.
In 2016, Major League second baseman combined for a .771 OPS, the highest OPS ever totaled by players at that position in a season. Ditto for the combined 585 home runs hit by second basemen. A record 15 of them hit 20 or more home runs
In fact, the past 10 years have featured 10 of the top 19 seasons in terms of both home runs and RBIs by second basemen, as well as 10 of the top 33 OPS seasons.

This isn't a one-man show, either, like the early years when there was Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby and the rest. Hornsby has the top five OPS totals for a second baseman, and eight of the top nine. He has the top three RBI totals and five of the top nine. Hornsby had six of the top eight single-season averages for a second baseman, and his .424 average still stands as the National League record for second basemen (Nap Lajoie hit .426 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901).
There's power, run production, high averages and fancy fielding from the likes of Jose AltuveRobinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips, Daniel Murphy and DJ LeMahieu.
Altuve, in the American League, and LeMahieu, in the NL, won batting titles last season, the first time that the batting champions of both leagues were second basemen.
The current decade has the makings of being for second baseman what the 1980s was for third baseman, a decade which featured the likes of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, George Brett and Wade Boggs, along with Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish, Bob Horner and Ron Cey.
It could be what the 1990s were for shortstops, including Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ozzie Smith, as well as Omar Vizquel, Ozzie Guillen and Tony Fernandez, not to mention Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.

Second basemen are stronger and bigger than they used to be, which shouldn't be a surprise considering the growth of the average human being over time. It has, however, taken time for Major League managers to get comfortable with accepting that a second baseman can have size.
LeMahieu of the Rockies, who is 6-foot-4, is the tallest everyday second baseman in Major League history. The only player taller than 6-foot-3 to even play 100 games in a season at second base was George "High Pockets" Kelly, a Hall of Fame first baseman who Giants manager John McGraw played at second base in 108 games in 1925.
LeMahieu won an NL Gold Glove Award in 2014, made the NL All-Star team in '15 and won the NL batting title in '16 with a .348 average, the 29th-best average for a second baseman in Major League history, the highest by a second baseman since 1975, when Rod Carew hit .359 for Minnesota.

At the other extreme is the 5-foot-6 Altuve, who has won the AL batting title two of the past three seasons. Altuve has been an All-Star four times, including each of the past three seasons, and won a Gold Glove in 2015. And for good measure, he had a career-best 24 home runs last year, only two fewer than LeMahieu's career total in 2,303 games.
There are others who have made their presence felt with power. And yes, strikeouts are up as players have become more power focused, but it's worth nothing that second baseman struck out 17.7 percent of the time last year, the lowest percentage among the eight non-pitching positions.

Five of the top single-season home run totals for a second baseman came last season, including James Dozier of the Twins, whose 42 home runs was one shy of the second-base record set by Davey Johnson in 1973 with the Braves. Robinson Cano hit 39 homers last season, to tie Hornsby and Alfonso Soriano for the fifth-best total for a second baseman. Eight current second basemen have combined for 18 of the top 49 single-season home run totals for a second baseman, according to STATS, Inc.
Cano has five of those seasons. In addition to last season, he hit 33 home runs in 2012, 29 in '10, 28 in '11 and 27 in '13. Utley is among the top 49 four times, and Kinsler is there three times.

And there is another rush of highly touted second baseman on the way. Yoan Moncada of the White Sox is ranked as the second-best overall prospect in the Minor Leagues. There are eight second baseman ranked among the top 82 prospects, including No. 10 Ozzie Albies of the Braves and No. 15 Brendan Rodgers of the Rockies.
Baseball is in an era second to none in terms of second baseman.

Tracy Ringoslby is a national columnist for MLB.com.