In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.
Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.
Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.
81. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: -0.6)
I would feel worse about Ackley if the rest of this list wasn’t as good as it is. I whiffed on this one. Ackley might have a future yet in MLB, but he’s not going to be a top 2B for 2013 unless something otherworldly happens. MISS
26. Aaron Hill, Dbacks (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.5)
Hill’s rate stats are great, he just got hurt and has only played 30 games after fracturing his hand. That’s not an “injury-prone” kind of injury, so it’s not like the kind of thing you should account for when considering a ranking because it could happen to anyone. This one is off, but for good reason. MISS
13. Ian Kinsler, Rangers (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.4)
Kinsler is much the same as Hill, as he missed time with an injury. The rate stats are good, but he hasn’t accumulated the value because he’s about 20-25 games short of his competitors. No sweat. PUSH
12. Neil Walker, Pirates (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 1.5)
Walker, too, is having a good season but missed a bit of time with an injury. He’s still pretty close to on track to finish 7th among 2B, so no issues here. HIT
10. Brandon Phillips, Reds (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: 2.0)
Phillips is pretty much who I thought he’d be. A low on base, solid power guy who plays good defense. His precise ranking isn’t dead on, but it’s very close and there’s no reason to think he won’t be right around 6-8 when all is said and done. HIT
9. Marco Scutaro, Giants (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.1)
Scutaro is a guy who has gotten better as he’s aged and is doing a nice job getting on base and limiting strikeouts. I had him out of the top 9, but not that far. I’ll call it a push and see how things go. He’d certainly have been 10-13th before the season. PUSH
8. Ben Zobrist, Rays (Preseason Rank: 2 among RF, 2013 WAR: 2.2)
Zobrist started the year in RF and I could only rank him in one place. I ranked him as the 2nd best RF in baseball. Nothing you can do about that. PUSH
7. Omar Infante, Tigers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.4)
Infante has done a very nice job improving his defensive and baserunning game, which has done a lot to improve his overall value. Infante was a middle of the pack guy for me, so I undershot him a little to this point. MISS
6. Howie Kendrick, Angels (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.4)
Kendrick is another guy who I left just outside the list, and that’s on me. He’s having a strong year with the bat and it’s carrying him onto the list. MISS
5. Chase Utley, Phillies (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 2.6)
I’m a huge Utley fan and ranked him first as a bit of bold prediction that he’d stay healthy. He’s the best 2B in baseball in my book but he’s had trouble staying healthy, and despite missing about 25 games, he’s still 5th on this list. If he plays 65 games the rest of the way at the pace he’s on, we’re talking about a 5+ win player in 130 games. I’ll stand by him. He won’t finish first, but he’s definitely going to stick in the top five. HIT
4. Jason Kipnis, Indians (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 3.4)
Kipnis was one of those young players coming into the season who could easily have taken the leap or faded back. He’s done the former and has established himself as one of the game’s better power hitting second basemen with .514 SLG to go with his .383 OBP and good baserunning. Kipnis may not sustain this pace, but he’s a very good second baseman who I expect to finish in the 4-7 range this season. HIT
3. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.7)
Number 3, nailed it. Pedroia is just a great all-around player. I don’t think much else needs to be said about a guy who gets on base, hits for solid power, plays good defense, and runs the bases well. Pedroia is great. HIT
2. Robinson Cano, Yankees (Preseason Rank: 2, 2013 WAR: 3.8)
Another direct hit. Cano is a very good hitter, trailing only Kipnis and the guy who is 1st on the list in wRC+ and his defense and baserunning are about average. He’s been the only Yankees who can stay healthy and he’s setting himself up for a big payday. HIT
1. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 4.3)
I really like Carpenter as a player, I just had no idea he was going to turn into this guy. Pretty much everyone will tell you he’s turned himself into a much better player and when I wrote the original list he wasn’t even a lock to get the 2B job. He’s done a great job. He’s the best hitting 2B in baseball right now and is playing great defense. MISS
Over the last two weeks we’ve revealed our nine best catchers and first basemen for 2013 and today we’re talking about those who man the keystone sack. This was a surprisingly tough group to rank because there are a lot of similar players in this crop. As with the catchers and first basemen, I’m thinking about 2013 only.
Note: Ben Zobrist is considered an OF for 2013 by STT.
9. Dustin Ackley (Mariners)
A look at Mr. Ackley’s 2012 numbers might not breathe life into his candidacy here, but there is a lot to like. His minor league numbers suggest he has the ability to get on a base at a high level and could easily be a 15+HR player, especially with the fences coming in at Safeco. Additionally, his defense, while originally a question seems to be playing at the big league level. Entering his age 25 season, I like this as a breakout year for the former top prospect.
8. Jason Kipnis (Indians)
I’ve seen a lot of Kipnis in the AL Central over the last two seasons and his minor league numbers also support the fact that he has a good command of the strikezone and can hit for power. I expect him to be a top five or six offensive second basemen in 2013 entering his age 26 season, but his defense will hold him back on this list a little bit. He’s not a huge liability, but he is far from great with the glove.
7. Neil Walker (Pirates)
Walker enters his age 27 season in 2013 and has confirmed his ability to walk at a league average or better pace while putting up 15-20 homeruns a season from the second base position. That should be good enough to make any list of this nature when combined with solid defense. If we take the past as a predictor, Walker belongs somewhere near the bottom third of this list. But, I’m pegging Walker for a power breakout in 2013 and expect him to be close to 20-25 homeruns, which should shoot his value north. And, being a switch hitter who is brother-in-law to Don Kelly doesn’t hurt either.
6. Brandon Phillips (Reds)
This may seem a tad low for @datdudeBP, but I’ve always found him to be a tad overrated. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good player, but there are facets of his game that bother me. First, he’s entering his age 32/33 season, which means he’s not likely to improve on his past performances, even if he can sustain them. While he hits for power as well as almost any second baseman around, his extremely low walk rate (4.5% in 2012, 5.8% for his career) really bothers me. Driving in runs is important, but you need to put yourself on base so someone can drive you in as well. His defense is often raved about, but I’m more skeptical than most in that regard. The metrics put him firmly above average to great, but he makes a lot of hotdog plays (behind the back, between the legs) that he doesn’t have to make. He’s a showman and as his physical skills decline with age, I think that will bite him. Phillips is a very good player, but he has a couple holes that are two big to ignore.
5. Ian Kinsler (Rangers)
Kinsler was a tough one to place for me. He is consistently above 20 homeruns and a league average or better walker. He limits strikeouts. He steals bases. The batting average is on the low side of average. The defense is viewed well, but I’m not a huge fan of it. But he is also going to turn 32 this season and he might not get to play second base for the whole season with Jurickson Profar, baseball’s number one prospect, waiting in the wings. I thought about all of these factors and thought fifth made sense. He’s definitely no higher than fourth and no lower than sixth, so I did the lazy thing and put him in the middle of those two.
4. Aaron Hill (Diamondbacks)
This could go a lot of different ways. Aaron Hill was phenomenal in 2012. He was a top tier second baseman in every way. No doubt. But in 2011 he was a mess. A giant mess. In 2010, he hit for power but with no average. In 2009, he was excellent. So this has a wide distribution of possibilities, but I’m betting on the top end. I think it’s safe to say the power is for real, it’s just a question of if he can hit enough for it to show up. I think that he can. If you take out 2010-11, his average is pretty stable between .270 and .300. If I let myself believe that he has gotten himself straightened out, I can easily talk myself into another good year. Probably not another 6.2 WAR, but to put himself fourth on this list, I’m only asking for 4.5 WAR or so. His defense has also generally been slightly above average and I don’t see any reason why that can’t continue. I’m bullish on Aaron “Two Cycle” Hill.
3. Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox)
I don’t have a bad thing to say about Dustin Pedroia. He hits and hits for power. He steals bases and plays superb defense. Going into his age 29 season, he should be one of the top second basemen in the game and could easily be the best. He also gives hope to small human beings everywhere.
2. Robinson Cano (Yankees)
I would imagine I’m in the minority in placing Cano anywhere but first on my list, but I have good reason. Cano is a very good hitter. High average and power, but a somewhat pedestrian walk rate. Even in his most patient years, he’s only league average. His defensive numbers are very scattered. Some years he’s great, some he’s terrible. I lean more toward the latter. I actually think Cano is below average in the field, but gets good marks from some because he rarely makes boneheaded plays, so he always looks good even when a ball is getting past him. He’s an excellent player and is very durable, but he’s not the guy who I think will be the best in 2013.
1. Chase Utley (Phillies)
My view that Utley will be the best second baseman in baseball in 2013 is predicated on his ability to stay healthy. If he can do that, I have no doubt he’s the best player on this list. But he hasn’t played a full season since 2009, so I am going out on a proverbial limb here. But let’s say Mr. Utley can stay on the field, consider what he can do. He hits for average, hits for power, has a good eye, runs the bases well, and plays excellent defense. If you look at his numbers year by year, the only complaint you can make is that for the last three seasons, he hasn’t played enough games. When he plays, he is very good. When he plays healthy, he is incredible. Now I know he’s 34 and likely past his peak, but I’m buying into one more great year from a great player. From 2005-2009, the list of players to accumulate more WAR than Utley is short. It has one name: Pujols. So while his best days may be behind him, his best days are better than anyone on this list for me. And I’m banking on one more great season.
Sound off on this list in the comments section and share your own!