Comparing the NL East: Second Base

The old adage says that to be a good baseball team, you have to be strong up the middle. The second basemen in the NL East all have some warts and question marks heading into 2013, so let's figure out who is the best of the bunch.

For the past two seasons, veteran Dan Uggla has anchored second base for the Atlanta Braves. While he's not the player that he once was, Uggla can still do some pretty good things for a team.

Uggla, 32, led the National League in drawing walks last season with 94 bases on balls. While that's not a major stat, it did help to push Uggla's on-base percentage to .348, which is 30 points above the National League average.

On the downside, Uggla's average fell for the second straight season, ending on a disappointing .220 for the season. It was just 2010 when Uggla hit .287, but that fell to .233 in 2011 before hitting his career-low at the .220 mark. Uggla also dropped to career-lows in home runs (19) and RBI (78).

Defensively, Uggla is still pretty much the same that he has always been. His fielding percentage (.984 in 2012) has remained right around the league average, while his range factors are slightly above average.

No, there's no denying that Uggla isn't the same player he once was, but he's still able to make the defensive plays and get on-base at a decent clip.

Omar Infante handled the second base chores for the Marlins last season, but like most veterans who called Miami home in 2012, Infante is gone. That leaves the second base job open for 25-year old Donovan Solano.

Solano played in 93 games with the Marlins last season, playing second, third, short and left for Miami. In his first shot at the majors, Solano had a slash line of 2-28-.295/.342/.375 with the Marlins.

Solano committed four errors last season - two at second base and two at third base - for an overall fielding percentage of .986 on the season. At second base, Solano had a .992 fielding percentage, nicely above the league average of .984 for the position.

There's a big difference between playing in 93 games and being expected to play everyday at a position, so there's no exact science that tells us Solano will be able to put up the type of numbers - either offensively or defensively - that he did in 2012. The bottom line though is that he appears to have good skills and should be able to handle the job long-term for Miami.

Daniel Murphy hasn't always been a second baseman and it shows defensively. The Mets put Murphy at second in 2011 and most of his games over the past two seasons, have been at that position. His fielding percentage of .974 over that period is well below the league average and he's also somewhat lacking in range.

Offense is why the Mets want to keep Murphy in the lineup. Murphy, 27, has played in 469 games in the majors and sports a career average of .292 for the Mets. He's only hit 26 career home runs and has a total of 194 major league RBI. In other words, his offense isn't anything to be in awe of, but it's the best that the Mets have for second base. Because there are bigger holes to fill, the Mets are happy with Murphy, at least for now, and don't figure to replace him at this point.

Things didn't go anywhere near like what the Phillies expected at second base in 2012. Chase Utley showed up to camp with balky knees that never did come around completely and cost him about half of the season. Utley has played in just 301 games over the past three seasons, a far cry from the guy who routinely played 150 games per season for much of his career.

When Utley returned, he homered in his first at-bat of the season, but the offense didn't continue. By the end of the year, he hit .256 - a career-low with the exception of his rookie season when he played in just 43 games - and had 11 home runs.

Utley was in much the same spot as first baseman Ryan Howard, who was playing, but wasn't near being 100% in 2012. Utley changed his off-season training regimen and the early reports are that he's in excellent shape and has his knee issues under control.

Now, we just have to wait and see if he's back to being the type of player that he has been in the past.

The Washington Nationals are blessed with a young middle infield duo. Ian Desmond, 27, has planted himself at shortstop and 25-year old Danny Espinosa has taken over at second.

Espinosa isn't the player that Desmond is, but he'll hit some home runs - he's got 38 over the past two seasons - and he's a tick above average defensively.

The most important part is that Desmond and Espinosa play well together up the middle and while the Nats have considered trading each of the players at one time or another, it's always a gamble to break up a good middle-infield tandem.

Espinosa finished sixth in National League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011 when he hit 21 home runs and had a .236 average. Last season, his home runs dipped to 17, but his average increased slightly to the .247 mark. The downside is that Espinosa led the National League with 189 strikeouts, a scary number for a guy who isn't near the 40-home run mark.

Defensively, Espinosa is pretty much average at second base, but occasionally comes up with highlight-type plays and will cover a slightly above-average amount of ground.

Ranking the NL East Second Basemen:

  1. Chase Utley (Philadelphia)
  2. Dan Uggla (Atlanta)
  3. Donovan Solano (Miami)
  4. Danny Espinosa (Washington)
  5. Daniel Murphy (NY Mets)

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