Today I will be continuing our preseason positional coverage looking at Second Base through the eyes of the Data Monster. The Second Base position is definitely not as top-heavy as its middle infield counterpart but the depth is better than people give it credit for. Additionally, like much of the game of baseball, the position has slanted more offensive in recent seasons. There are a number of interesting players that each have their flaws and warts that occupy the top ranks in the position. Let’s take a look at how the Data Monster views the position.
There a number of different second basemen who find themselves at or near the top of the 2020 Whiffs leaderboard. Tommy La Stella, David Fletcher, and Luis Arraez are all top five in baseball with respect to In_Whiff. Not too far behind them is Ketel Marte is had a down 2020 despite coming off a massive performance in 2019. His issue certainly was not tied to his ability to make contact as he posted a career-best K%. One of the biggest issues for Marte seems to be a newfound passive approach which seemingly hindered him at the plate. He had an 18th percentile SAE after posting values well above average in both 2018 and 2019. With Marte’s contact ability he will likely benefit from more in-zone aggressiveness.
Unsurprisingly, second base actually has a representative on the opposite end of the Whiff spectrum. Among all players with 500 pitches seen, Keston Hiura was the third-worst hitter in baseball by this metric. His 2020 season was significantly worse than 2019 in this regard despite little to no change in the underlying expected whiff rate. Fastballs seem to be Hiura’s biggest 2020 weakness but it does not appear that anything massive changed in the approach of pitchers. I think that we can expect Hiura’s whiff rates to come down a bit which should allow him to take advantage of his power a bit more.
As I’ve said in the past, in isolation the swing rate tables do not tell us as much about hitters as the other charts. At the top of the in-zone leaderboards (most aggressive hitters), we see Jeff McNeil and Ozzie Albies, two hitters who are known for being super aggressive and that aggression is part of why they are successful. On the other end, we have David Fletcher. He is as we noted before a hitter who makes a ton of contact, but despite not grading out well in my plate discipline metrics, I believe that Fletcher does this on purpose in order to maximize the pitches he swings at. I believe his pitch selection could be looked at as a large part of why he is able to maintain a high average.
In terms of swings outside of the zone, Jon Berti is the best hitter in all of baseball. He posted an insanely small out of zone swing rate, despite having a 4th percentile (insanely high) expected swing rate. Pitchers tried to get him to fish and he refused. In a number, I truly have to see to believe Hanser Alberto lapped the field in out of zone swing rates swinging at over 50% of the pitches he saw out of the zone. It is impressive that despite this insane amount of aggressiveness, Alberto was still able to post an average of around .300. Despite likely getting a chance at at-bats with the Royals he is not a guy I have much interest in.
Looking over the wOBA leaderboard, Dylan Moore is the top-ranked second basemen. If you have not checked it out our own Matt Williams did a great breakdown of Moore on Twitter. The Seattle Mariner is one of the more hotly debated players within the fantasy industry and I am not sure what to make of this jump. The Data Monster saw him as a slightly above-average hitter in 2019 as well but in 2020 he took a big step forward. Looking into the batted ball data, his barrel rates and exit velocities rose. It largely seems that overall he became a better hitter and the numbers seem to show that as well. Interestingly, and surprisingly for me, Moore is actually above average at Whiff avoidance. His high K numbers seem to be tied to his passive approach especially in 2020. He had a 12th percentile IZ meaning he swung at pitches in the zone for less than expected. Much like David Fletcher, I wonder if this is him changing the pitches he swings at in order to maximize his own hot/cold zones. While my plate discipline metric saw this as a negative, it is one area where the metrics might not tell is the full story.
On the other side of the coin, Nicky Lopez was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball. Pitchers seem to have no fear with Lopez at the plate as his xLwOBA is in the 94th percentile. Pitchers attack him because they are confident that he will not do too much damage. He is well off the fantasy radar as he will likely continue to post poor BABIP/AVG results unless he can improve his batted ball quality.
As we discussed in the 1B article, Max Muncy has some of the best Plate Discipline in all of baseball. He is able to maximize his talent by choosing the best pitches to swing at. This skill did not go away in 2020 and he should be a decent bet o bounceback in 2021. Chris Taylor is yet another second baseman who excels at this skill and it should also allow him to remain productive despite what might not be considered elite offensive ability.
Unsurprisingly, based on what we have looked at so far two players near the bottom are Hanser Alberto and David Fletcher. Both guys appear here for different reasons. Alberto swings at bad pitches with low xLwOBA values while Fletcher is so passive in the zone he takes a lot of pitches that have high xLwOBA values. In terms of plate discipline, both are bad ideas, but the presence of Fletcher here makes me wonder if there is a level of player specificity that I am missing with the model. This gives me some ideas for ways to improve the model in the future!
Overall, second base is a really interesting position with some players that are really extreme in their own rights. Most of the players that excel in a particular skill are lower ranked among the overall second base rankings giving us as fantasy managers some players to target late in drafts who could be extremely successful due to their unique skill sets.