2015 Positional Review: Second Base

This is the third part in our 2015 review series. We’re looking at second base, which was pretty good, but could have been better.

=====

How Dodger second basemen fared (MLB ranks in parenthesis):

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.281 (8th) .330 (8th) .421 (7th) 5.7 (21st) 18.0 (16th) 109 (4th) 4.4 (6th)

After Dee Gordon broke out in 2014, the Dodgers traded him to Miami to get a lot of quality players — including a couple of guys who would play second base. Howie Kendrick came over from Anaheim for Andrew Heaney and Enrique Hernandez was quite the pleasant surprise from Miami. Chase Utley was acquired in August for his Veteran Presents, while Jose Peraza came over in a trade deadline deal. Ronald Torreyes — a player I think has some value going forward — came over from Toronto.

Howie Kendrick

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.295 .336 .409 5.5 16.6 109 2.1

When the Dodgers landed Kendrick, it was on the night that almost broke baseball. And it looked like a good get at the time. The Dodgers needed a second baseman after moving Gordon earlier in the day. They sold high on Dee and brought in what they would hope was a stabilizing presence in the lineup.

I thought bringing in Kendrick to replace Gordon was great. I thought giving up Heaney was a higher price to pay than I’d have paid, but I was happy with the potential improved offense and defense.

“Say what you will about defensive metrics (they aren’t perfect by any means), but there aren’t other statistical ways to evaluate a player … yet. And Kendrick passes the eye test. In his career, he has 28 defensive runs saved and a 5.6 UZR/150 in 8,413 innings at the position. He’s saved the ninth-most runs and his UZR/150 ranks as fifth-best in the majors since 2006, behind some premium defenders at second base. It’s easy to see why Andrew Friedman liked him, after having Ben Zobrist work his magic in Tampa Bay for so many years. In 2014, Kendrick was fifth in DRS (seven) and seventh in UZR/150 (6.7). By comparison, Dee Gordon checked in at 14th (-5) and 12th in UZR/150 (-3.5). Yes, Gordon has better range and a stronger arm than Kendrick, but he isn’t as consistently good a defender as him at the position.

Offensively, Kendrick, 31, is a huge upgrade over Gordon. The only thing Gordon does better than Kendrick is run. Last season was Kenrdick’s second-best offensive season by FanGraphs’ “Off” statistic, and his triple slash was solid, save the sub-.400 slugging percentage. Now, Kendrick isn’t the right-handed power the Dodgers allegedly lack, but he possesses a plus-hit tool and posted a career-best 7.1 percent walk rate last season.”

Early on, it looked like my declaration would turn out to be true. Things started off well for Kendrick, as he hit .298/.349/.429 in the season’s first three months. He was hitting cleanup a lot, something the fans couldn’t quite understand because he wasn’t a traditional cleanup hitter. But he was producing plenty to hit in that spot. He was playing a below-average second base, which was surprising. At the end of June, Mike looked at why the defensive metrics hated him.

“Making a ‘Routine’ play doesn’t add a lot of value, but missing one does. Conversely, missing a ‘Remote’ play won’t hurt that much, but making one adds considerable value. Let’s run those categories again, this time showing Kendrick’s percentage made and rank among second basemen.

  • Impossible (0%) 0, obviously. It’s impossible.
  • Remote (1-10%) 0, tied for 9th with a dozen others.
  • Unlikely (10-40%) 33.3%, tied for 11th.
  • Even (40-60%) 66.7%, tied for 7th.
  • Likely (60-90%) 63.6%, tied for last.
  • Routine (90-100%) 98.9%, 6th.

He hasn’t really done much in the three hardest categories to stand out and provide extra value, and while he’s done fine with the ‘Even’ plays, the fact that he’s failed to get to a higher percentage of ‘Likely’ balls than everyone really hurts him. This kind of thing can be influenced by extreme shifts, but as we’ve discussed, the Dodgers really aren’t shifting.

It’s possible, however, that after nearly a decade in the big leagues, Kendrick has simply begun to slow down a little, and you can see that in other areas. Like clockwork with the Angels, he’d be good for 15-20 stolen base attempts a year; with the Dodgers, it’s just 4. FanGraphs’ ‘Speed’ metric is more a fun toy than anything that’s rigorously tested, but at 3.2, it’s down to ‘poor,’ after years of marks between 4.5 and 6.”

He looked better than the metrics indicated, but he wasn’t exactly prime Roberto Alomar out there, either. Out of 18 qualified second basemen, Kendrick finished 14th in UZR/150 (-6.0) and Defense (-2.8), and he finished tied for last in the majors in defensive runs saved (-12).

He also injured his — wait for it — hamstring(!) in August and played just 12 games the rest of the regular season. He was less than impressive when he came back from the injury (.289/.289/.333) and wasn’t much of a factor in the postseason (6-for-22 with a home run).

Kendrick was offered — and declined — the qualifying offer. He is currently a free agent and his market has yet to develop.

Enrique Hernandez

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.307 .346 .490 5.0 21.1 132 1.7

I’m going to be honest: I didn’t know much (i.e., anything) about Hernandez when the Dodgers acquired him from the Marlins. I couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup and I didn’t know much about his profile. That has absolutely changed, and at age-24, his future is incredibly bright.

Mike has been on Hernandez from the start.

“So! After all that, what do we have? A guy who probably doesn’t have the bat to be a full-time starter or the arm to be more than a fill-in at short or third, but with outstanding versatility everywhere and enough of a bat to make it worthwhile. No one’s suggesting that he’s going to give you a 4 WAR season or anything, but that’s the kind of thing that’s potentially very valuable in the National League, especially with Don Mattingly‘s proclivity for double switches.

Hernandez is on the 40-man roster and still has options, and so most likely he’ll return to Triple-A as one of the only Dodger prospects with experience in Oklahoma City, since he played in 67 games there in 2014 when the city was still a Houston affiliate. That’s fine, though, because the roster is still a little overstuffed and uncertain. It’s easy to see him as the first one up if and when injuries strike, and there’s potential for him to be a mini-Ben Zobrist (but without, most likely, the bat that Zobrist has provided) at a low cost for the next several years. Hernandez is no centerpiece, but he’s not just a toss-in like Miguel Rojas was, either. He’s a guy you’re happy to have.”

We saw what Hernandez could do during the season. He was the most valuable bench piece the Dodgers had and was an absolute destroyer of lefties (.423/.471/.744). His versatility worked in his favor, as he played six positions for the Dodgers in 2015. His best is second base, but he was capable filling in at shortstop when Jimmy Rollins struggled and was passable (I suppose) in center field while Joc Pederson limped through the second half.

Oh, and let’s not forget this:

#Minions #HappyFlight #WinningIsFun @yungjoc650 @redturn2

A video posted by Kike Hernandez (@kikehndez) on

He’s the best. He’s making next to no money and, if he isn’t traded, should be a fixture in Los Angeles for quite some time.

Chase Utley

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.202 .291 .363 7.1 20.6 84 0.5

The Dodgers acquired Utley in August for John Richy and Darnell Sweeney and, despite not hitting that well, still had a positive impact on the team. He was able to be a half-a-win guy in 34 games with the Dodgers, thanks to some strong defense. He still hit the ball hard and was unlucky with his BABIP all season (not just with LA).

Some opined he was brought in because Pederson struggled so badly in the second half. That was probably true, but he was also brought in because the front office thought he had something left.

“Hernandez has played well since Kendrick went on the disabled list, and this acquisition isn’t about sending Hernandez back to the bench. It’s about maintaining his utility. He’s the primary backup at second base, shortstop and center field. With Joc Pederson struggling to make contact, coupled with Hernandez’s ability to mash against lefties, Hernandez could see a little time in center field to give Pederson a physical and — more importantly — mental break.”

Then, the playoffs happened. I could go on and on about the “slide” that broke Ruben Tejada‘s leg, but we’ve read about everything there is to be said on the situation. There will likely be a rule change because of this, and that’s a good thing. But it was not a good look and the thing Utley will be most remembered for in his time in LA (or possibly in his career). He was suspended, appealed and said appeal has yet to happen. He was brought back on a 1-year, $7 million deal, which I am OK with. Second base is far from settled and having a left-handed option (who can also backup the corner infield spots) is a good thing. If Utley has anything left in the tank, the Dodgers are going to get it out of him.

Jose Peraza

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.182 .250 .318 8.0 8.0 44 0.0

The Dodgers made a 3-team, 13-player trade ahead of the July 31 deadline, and one of the players they (surprisingly) received in the deal is Peraza. The 21-year-old was a top Braves’ prospect heading into the 2015 season, but his prospect shine had dimmed a bit with a decent-not-great Triple-A campaign. He possesses elite speed and a good glove, but he isn’t exactly going to be an offensive juggernaut.

He was recalled on Aug. 10 in a move most didn’t expect. I like it, but only if he stuck around for a bit.

“The more I think about it, the more having Peraza there makes sense — as long as he’s here for an extended period of time. With Justin Turner due back later this week and his ability to play second base (not well), Peraza could very well be headed back to Oklahoma City. If that’s the case, the Dodgers should have just recalled a guy like Andy Wilkins or Scott Schebler, left Peraza in Triple-A and let Hernandez play second base for a few days. I don’t think the front office would have recalled Peraza just to have him play for a few days and go back down. Then again, they did that with Schebler, and it was for just one game.”

Naturally, he was sent back to the minors a few days later. He came back up, but not until Aug. 29. He only had 25 plate appearances, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions from that. His first taste of Triple-A ball this season wasn’t great, but he wasn’t God awful (for his skill set), either. He should be in the second base mix throughout spring training, but it won’t be at all surprising to see him begin the season in Triple-A. Keith Law even suggested the Dodgers move him back to shortstop while there to see if he can still handle it. Perhaps it’s something to consider, but he’s young, versatile, talented and cheap. The Dodgers will get production out of him.

Ronald Torreyes

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.333 .429 .500 12.5 12.5 162 0.1

Weird name, right? (Coming from a guy named Nosler). Torreyes, 22, was “purchased” from the Blue Jays on June 12. He was solid in the minors, posting a .293/.347/.406 triple slash in 75 games in the Dodgers’ system while playing second-, third base and shortstop. He got a cup of coffee in September. Despite multiple opportunities to designate him for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot, the front office thought it wise to keep him around (of note: the Dodgers are his fifth organization since he debuted in 2010). He has a good glove at the middle infield positions and has shown the ability to put the bat on the ball. He’s basically a slower version of Peraza and they could very well be the Oklahoma City middle infield to begin the 2016 season.

=====

Second base wasn’t as great as we were hoping. It was a much more formidable offensive position early in the season and a who’s who of players toward the end. With Ultey coming back, it looks like a strict platoon situation with him and Hernandez to start. Peraza could also be in the mix, while Torreyes is on the outside looking in.

Next up: Third Base

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.