Ranking the NLC Second Basemen: Brandon Phillips Comes Out on Top

Photo by Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from Brandon Phillips, the National League Central’s second base pool is rather shallow. Even the Cardinals and Brewers, who both possess devastating lineups, don’t have too much in the second base area. However, there are only a few second baseman lists that Phillips wouldn’t top, as I truly believe that he is one of the elite in the game. So, before I get too ahead of myself, here are the rankings for National League Central second basemen:

1. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

This one should have been a no-brainer. Over the past two seasons, no National League second baseman has even come close to Brandon Phillips’ mark of 10 WAR (according to FanGraphs.) Over the past two seasons, Phillips has hit .291 while smacking 36 home runs. While Phillips’ power may be a bit of a mirage (15 of Phillips’ 18 home runs last year were hit at Great American Ballpark, in less home at bats than road at bats), his other stats more than make up for it. His .291 mark between 2011-2012 is the second only to Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets, who has hit .302 over the past two years. We haven’t even mentioned Phillips’ cream of the crop yet- his defense. While he didn’t take home the Gold Glove award last season, due to Darwin Barney and his near record-breaking errorless streak, he still impressed on defense, as usual. Phillips has 3 gold glove awards- 2008, 2010, and 2011, which were all earned as part of the Cincinnati Reds’ infield. No National League second baseman has touched his 19.5 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) over the past two years, and only Dustin Pedroia had a higher mark than him with a 27.9 UZR. Phillips’ potent bat and impressive defense make him an easy choice for the number one spot.

CAIRO 2013 Projections: .279/.328/.429, 18 HR, 74 RBI.

Questions for Phillips:

1. How much of a hit will his performance take in 2013 due to age-related regression?

2. Can he regain the Gold Glove award in 2013?

 

Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2. Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates

Offensively, Neil Walker was a very similar player to Brandon Phillips last year. They hit for roughly the same average (.280 vs. .281) and had comparable home run (14 vs. 18) and RBI (69 vs. 77) last year. However, what sets Phillips apart from Walker is his glove. That’s not to say that Walker is a bad second baseman by any means- his UZR of 1.4 was good for 11th in the majors last year, but it’s hard to win a defensive battle against Brandon Phillips any way you shape it. Walker is a pretty good definition of a jack of all trades type player- he does just about everything well, but is a master of nothing. His defense, power, on base ability, and batting average were all above league average for second basemen in 2012 and for that, he earns the number 2 spot on this list.

CAIRO 2013 Projections: .266/.328/.415, 13 HR, 79 RBI.

Questions for Walker:

1. Can he improve his defense, improve his power, and challenge Phillips for the title of best second baseman in the NL Central?

 

Photo by Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

3. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers

Weeks is coming off of, arguably, his worst season as a major leaguer. His ugly overall numbers of .230/.328/.400 are mainly a product of a slump that seemed to last the entire first half of the season for him. Before the All Star break, Weeks hit only .199/.314/.343 with 8 home runs. After the All Star break, he started to hit more like himself- triple slashing .261/.343/.457 with 13 homers. Before 2012, he was a consistent threat at the plate, with good power and on base ability. Even in his slump-mired 2012 campaign, he still managed to slug 21 home runs, giving him the best power of any National League Central second baseman. The main thing that holds Weeks back from being higher on this list is his defense. In 2012, he was, statistically, the worst second baseman in baseball with a -16.0 UZR. His .974 fielding percentage and 16 errors committed were also sub-par. However, for his career, Weeks has not been this bad of a fielder. If he can avoid a first half slump and bump his defense up to his career norms, he could easily take over Walker for the number 2 spot on this list. However, as it stands now, Weeks is the third best second baseman in the division.

CAIRO 2013 Projections: .250/.342/.436, 22 HRs, 59 RBI.

Questions for Weeks:

1. Can he regain his pre-2012 hitting prowess?

2. Can he go back to playing defense at a league-average level?

 

Photo by Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports

4. Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs

Darwin Barney shocked everyone last year when he robbed Brandon Phillips of his third consecutive gold glove. It’s hard to argue that Barney didn’t deserve it, though, as his .997 fielding percentage was just unreal. He only committed 3 errors all season, and posted the best UZR for any second baseman last year with a 13.1 mark. However, this is where all of Barney’s value was- his defense. According to ESPN, he was a 4.7 WAR player last year, which is a good mark for a second baseman. However, 3.7 of those wins came from his defense. He really doesn’t do too much at the plate, triple slashing a mediocre .254/.299/.354 with only 7 home runs and 44 RBI. In addition, his gold glove year could have been a fluke. In his only other full season, 2011, he posted a .981 fielding percentage and committed 12 errors. These numbers are not nearly as good as his numbers from 2012. Barney needs to improve at the plate, as well as prove that his defense in 2012 wasn’t a fluke in order to move higher up on this list for me.

CAIRO 2013 Projections: .259/.303/.346, 4 HRs, 43 RBI.

Questions for Barney:

1. Can he improve his hitting ability in order to become one of the NL’s top second baseman?

2. Can he keep up his defensive work from 2012, or was it just a fluke?

Photo by Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

 

5. Daniel Descalso, St. Louis Cardinals

There really isn’t too much to say about Daniel Descalso other than that he is just a mediocre player. His triple slash of .227/.303/.324 last year was pathetic, and his 4 home runs and 26 RBI weren’t too much better. It’s surprising to see that the Cardinals, who host an otherwise daunting lineup, have such a lacking player on their starting roster. Descalso’s defense last year was also uninspiring, posting a .986 fielding percentage with 15 errors and a -3.0 UZR. He is, easily, the worst second baseman in the division, and it isn’t particularly close. The Cardinals could go to other options for second base, such as Matt Carpenter, but it appears like their choice for second base is Descalso right now.

CAIRO 2013 Projections: .249/.321/.359, 6 HRs, 43 RBI.

Questions for Descalso:

1. Will he reward the Cardinals’ patience by finally delivering them a solid season? If not, how long until their patience runs out, and he’s replaced?

 

Topics: MLB, NL Central, Spring Training

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